Sanyo debuted their media-centric M1 mobile phone for Sprint at CES in January 2007. The clamshell handset features 1GB of onboard memory, an integrated music player with included stereo headphones, and compatibility with Sprint's Power Vision EV-DO data network and entertainment offerings. A two megapixel camera rounds out the M1's spec sheet, putting it at the upper end of Sprint's multimedia phone lineup.
Sanyo's not one of the larger players in the American mobile phone market, but they have made something of a name for themselves with solidly built and easy to use, if sometimes less than stylish, phones. The M1 is no exception - it's myriad features are easy to use and navigate, and its physical controls are well designed and labeled. About the only thing to fault with the M1, in fact, is its somewhat "unorthodox" styling. While this clamshell is compact, it's also rather thick and boxy-looking. While beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, it's hard to make a case for the M1's looks. In fact, nobody I showed the review sample to found it particularly appealing. Still, there's a lot under the hood of the M1. But is there enough to get people to look past its odd looks?
On the one hand the M1 is shorter and narrower than most clamshell handsets out there. On the other hand it's quite a bit thicker and noticeably heavier than most of them, too. At 91.5 x 48 x 23 mm and 108g, the M1 is a tiny brick of a phone with a small - but heavy - footprint.
Finished in black with silver trimmed plastic, the M1 packs alot into a small package. The front panel features an external display flanked by stereo speakers and an LED status light above it and a wheel-shaped set of music controls below. The phone's flip hinge is actually located at the top of the front panel, and not on the rear edge like most clamshells. As such, the rear edge actually is on a slant - the bottom of the phone is somewhat longer than the top. While that's not really noticeable in itself, the overall effect is that the hinge is quite large and chunky looking - particularly when the handset is open.
Flipping the phone open reveals a 1.9" color display on the upper portion of the flip and a keypad on the lower half. The display is framed by silver plastic strips running vertically along the left and right sides of the screen and a Sprint logo beneath it. A Sanyo logo adorns the very top of the lower portion of the housing, just above a five-way directional pad flanked by two softkeys and dedicated buttons for Camera, Back, and Speaker. Though it's a small detail, I really appreciated Sanyo's decision to label the "Back" key as such - most phones use a "C" or left-facing arrow instead, and Back is much more obvious in its meaning when you're deep into online service or entertainment menus.
The rest of the keypad is laid out in a standard 12-button dialing configuration with dedicated Talk and End buttons added to the top edge. Buttons are large, clearly labeled and easy to see - they're finished in silver plastic with black labels, which contrasts nicely against the black panel of the phone's housing. The M1's buttons are also easy to price and provide good tactile feedback. The somewhat "robotic" look of the numerals adds to the M1's overall blocky industrial design, but it'd also be pretty hard to misread a 6 for a 9 on this phone.
The left side of the handset houses buttons for voice recording and volume and rubber-capped 2.5mm headphone and AC charger ports. A sole accessory port is mounted on the bottom edge of the handset, and dedicated camera and voice command keys are found on the right side.
Flipping the handset over, the back side is largely taken up by the battery. A spring latch edge locks and releases the battery, and to the left of that is the camera housing. A 2.0 megapixel sensor is framed by a silver plastic circle, and a small circular LED flash assist light sits to its left.
The M1 isn't going to win the "Sleekest Handset" award anytime soon, but it's chunky, industrial look has something of a practical aesthetic to it. Don't get me wrong - at roughly twice the thickness of your standard "slim phone," this handset bulges noticeably in the pocket of all but the baggiest pants. But one could make the case that the M1 is appealing in a utilitarian sort of way with its big buttons, and big solid hinge. Unfortunately, nobody I encountered while testing the M1 wanted to make that argument - by and large he consensus was that the M1 is not a particularly good looking mobile phone.
Sanyo built the M1 to be a media-centric handset, with its 1GB on onboard memory, music player with dedicated controls, and 2 MP camera. The phone works well with Sprint's online music store and you can also load it up with your own unprotected music files by way of Bluetooth or USB data transfer. I was a bit surprised to find that Sanyo didn't include a memory card slot to supplement the onboard memory ? while 1GB is room enough for a few hundred mp3 music files by themselves, your available space will be noticeably less should you start taking two megapixel photos and loading the phone up with video clips and games. The lack of user-expandable memory means the M1 is less attractive to power users now and prone to become obsolete in general that much more quickly.
Though it's no iTunes, the Sprint music player and music store interface was easy to navigate, and the store offers a good selection of music for sale even if its $2.50/song (or three for $5) is pretty high. Each purchase also includes a high quality PC download of the same song available through Sprint's Web site. Songs were available for playback using the M1's built-in stereo speakers or over your own stereo headphones using the included 3.5mm adapter.
The M1also works very nicely with Sprint's Power Vision TV and multimedia offerings. Available channels on Sprint TV include CNNtoGo, ABC News, the Weather Channel, the Cartoon Network, Music Choice, Access Hollywood, Diva for beauty tips, Fox Sports, and the Discovery Channel. Sirius Sattelite Radio and Rhapsody streaming music services are also available for use on the M1, as are a plehtora of gaming options including arcade, strategy, and "classic" games. I developed a bit of an addiction to "Monopoly Here and Now" while testing the M1, and appreciated the choice of solo (against the computer) and online (against other people) gaming options. Access to Power Vision content was generally speedy thanks to the EV-DO data connection. Of course, all of this premium content requires a Power Vision subscription plan.
A GPS receiver built into the M1 allows for e911 services. Push-to-Talk capabilities on the M1 come via Sprint's Ready Link service, and the phone is also compatible with the network's new Wireless Backup feature for remote storage of your contacts list on Sprint's servers. Speaking of contacts, the M1's 500-entry address book was quite robust, with fields for Web URLs and memos along with the usual contact information. Contacts may be assigned photo, ringtone, and even video IDs as well as gathered into contact groups.
Calendar features on the M1 were good, as well, with the standard array of appointment, to-do list, and reminder alarms at the ready. The handset also features voice command, a voice recorder, and world clock, countdown timer, and stopwatch features.
Sanyo is touting the M1 as a high-end multimedia phone, and accordingly built it with a 2.0 megapixel camera with flash assist light. While phones are moving to 3 and even 5 megapixel shooters, 2MP is still at the high-end of handsets carried by US service providers.
The M1's camera performed only decently considering its specs. Image quality was too often fuzzy and lacking depth or warmth. Not a true flash, the LED assist light could only go so far in terms of correction for low-light conditions. As such, pictures taken with the light on at night or in dim indoor lighting tended towards grainy and/or oddly colored results. A few of my shots came out quite well, but I honestly don't know what I did differently to capture them as opposed to the less pleasing majority of my photos. Fiddling with the myriad photo settings and editing options didn't seem to help much. That being said, the phone does offer USB, Bluetooth, and PictBridge as means of transferring images and they all work quite well.
A camcorder mode is also available on the M1. Videos are shot in resolutions up to QVGA (320 x 240), which is impressive. Unfortunately, the quality of those videos is on par with the M1's still image quality - generally lackluster. Videos can be sent as MMS messages, saved to the phone, or transferred to a computer via USB or bluetooth.
Both of the M1's color displays yielded excellent results. The internal 2" QVGA (320 x 240) TFT LCD screen is capable of displaying 262,000 colors, and generally rendered crisp images with sharp, clear color. The only trouble I had reading the display came under direct, fairly intense sunlight. Navigating menus, browsing the Web, playing games and watching videos were all a delight on this display. While color depth isn't quite state-of-the-art (16 million colors is the current upper range for mobile handsets), most users won't notice any sort of lack in this department.
The external display on the M1 was also very functional and easy to read. This display shows all necessary information related to Caller ID, date, time, signal strength, and even music player functionality. Both displays can be customized with various wallpapers and even be made to flash various colors when an incoming call is detected.
The handset also supports 3D gaming. As mentioned, I happened to take a shine to the Monopoly game available for purchase and download from Sprint. While Monopoly isn't a 3D shooter, I did test out a few more graphically robust titles and the results were generally quite good. The M1 won't replace your Playstation 3, but it is a solid choice for casual mobile gaming.
I tested M1 on Sprint's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reception and performance on this dual-band CDMA handset were very good for calling. Calls on the built-in speakerphone were very loud and clear, as were ringtones and other audio alert tones. The M1's dual stereo speakers also performed very well for music playback ? so far as cell phone speakers go, anyway.
The M1's retail package included a 3.5mm headphone adapter with built-in microphone and a set of stereo earbuds. While the included earbuds work fairly well for calls and stereo music playback, the adapter allows for the use of higher quality stereo headphones, which really open up the M1's music player capabilities.
The M1 supports the A2DP stereo Bluetooth profile for wireless audio playback with compatible devices. While the handset works perfectly well with mono Bluetooth headsets, the use of A2DP-compatible stereo headsets allows for static free wireless music playback.
One annoyance is that the M1 does not support user-installed ringtones. While ringtones purchased from the Sprint store can be used on the phone, user-installed audio (including music tracks) will not be recognized as ringtones.
The M1 has support for SMS, MMS, and Email messaging. My review sample came with a full Sprint Power Vision plan, and it was easy to send any type of message from the handset.
Combining a high resolution main display with large, easy to use buttons, the M1 makes reading and composing messages quite easy to do. The M1 relies on Sprint's standard navigation and messaging screens, which are functional if not the most elegant UI implementations to be found on a mobile handset. However, the QVGA screen resolution allows for text rendering that's crisp and easy to read even at the smallest font size setting. In fact, when set to display the smallest font size, the M1 can show an entire 160 character outgoing message without scrolling.
The M1 also features support for AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! instant messaging and email, as well as Sprint's own PCS email. While heavy users of email and messaging will likely want a smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard, the M1's large keys, easy to read display, and fast EV-DO data speeds make it a solid choice for messaging nonetheless.
Internet access on the M1 comes by way of Sprint's Power Vision network. While the M1does have a Web browser capable of displaying many HTML websites (pages are reformatted to a one-column layout), Power Vision Internet access is all about Sprint's custom content. Sprint's EV-DO data network allows for some of the zippiest wireless data access in the United States right now.
Power Vision service is not cheap, and Sprint's TV, Movie, and Music content is - dare I say - a bit overpriced itself. But the M1 handles all of Sprint's content with ease, and streaming video looks particularly good on the handset's QVGA display. A nice feature of the M1 is its ability to play video clips in either portrait or landscape mode, the latter approximating the widescreen format of film and HD video.
Sprint's online offerings also include games, ringtones, themes, and wallpapers available for purchase, download, and use on the M1. Again, this premium content isn't cheap, but it does work very well on the handset. The Sprint stores are relatively well designed and easy to browse, though some pieces of content are found in odd and/or multiple locations.
The M1 is a dual-band CDMA handset with support for Sprint's EV-DO data network. It only works on Sprint's network. Wi-Fi support is not included on the M1.
Bluetooth includes support for audio devices including the A2DP stereo profile as well as file transfer and wireless printing and use of the M1as a cellular modem. In a somewhat odd move, Sanyo built the M1 with Bluetooth v. 1.2 and not 2.0. The phone also comes with a data cable that plugs into the bottom-mounted accessory port and allows for syncing via the included connectivity software, and use of the phone as a USB flash drive with a PC (though placing/receiving of calls is disabled in USB mode).
The M1also features a 2.5mm stereo headset jack that works with the included earbuds. A 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter is also included to allow use of any standard headphones with the handset.
The phone features 1 gigabyte of internal memory available for user storage. There is no removable memory card slot for memory expansion.
I recently reviewed the LG Fusic for Sprint and found it to be a winner of a multimedia phone. The Fusic is compact, stylish, and features a solid music player with external controls and a 3.5mm stereo headset adapter for compatibility with high-quality standard headphones. While the Sanyo M1 trumps the Fusic in every department on the spec sheet, it doesn't deliver as good an overall experience mainly due to its styling.
The M1 falls into a bit of a gap between super slim, super stylish "mid range" phones with 1-megapixel cameras and music players and high-end phones with 3 MP cameras, WiFi connectivity, and smartphone features. With its 2MP camera and 1GB of embedded memory, the M1 basically offers "a little more" of the same things phones like the LG Fusic and VX-8500/8600, and Motorola V3m RAZR and K1m KRZR do, but not as much as multimedia powerhouses like the Nokia N73 or Sony Ericsson K790. That wouldn't be a bad thing except for the fact that the M1's styling is so chunky and unappealing to the mass market.
With mobile phones truly becoming more like "multimedia computers" every day, all but the cheapest of current cell phones offer some form of camera and music player. It's the inclusion of "exotic" features like WiFi connectivity, a 3-megapixel or better camera, and smartphone functionality - or eye-catching high style design - that really set certain handsets apart from the pack. Sanyo has built a solid multimedia handset in the M1, but unfortunately they didn't go far enough in the features department to offset some poor design decisions. If it was thinner and lighter, the M1 might prove a winner for Sprint. As it is now, it's hard to imagine this phone catching on in a world of ultra-chic slim phones.