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Review: Sanyo MM-5600

Article Comments  17  

Jun 6, 2005, 5:00 PM   by Eric Lin

In-depth review of the Sanyo MM-5600 high-end clamshell CDMA camera phone for Sprint.

Form

Is It Your Type 

The Sanyo MM-5600 for Sprint is a high-end feature phone that, while packed with features, still falls short as a power user's dream phone. However an excellent camera, beautiful screen, memory card slot and more make this an excellent imaging phone. It has enough other features to appeal to most other users as well.

Body 

Form Factor

The MM5600 is a slightly larger than average sized clamshell phone. At the hinge it's just over an inch thick and fairly wide, but it tapers in both directions at the other end. It's weighty, but not heavy - just solid.

That solid feeling is like a theme for this phone. Every aspect of the phone exudes attention to build quality - the hinge is solid, the screen is sharp and bright, the buttons all have a solid feel to them.

Unfortunately the 5600 is not the perfect union of both solid and comfortable. The bottom half of the phone is more of a rectangle with flat sides than a nice oval shape, and the rectangle is too wide too sit inside the palm of your hand. Dialing, texting or doing anything but talking on the phone is not terribly comfortable.

Once you switch your hand position to talk and put the phone up to your ear, it is much more comfortable. The inside is smooth, comfortable and fits well against the face. With the hand positioned to hold the phone for talking, the space between the top of the flip and the antenna even provides a nice perch for the index finger.

Keypad

Each button on the keypad is just slightly raised, and has a small but noticeable indentation around it. While each bump and indentation is subtle, it still makes using the keypad easy to do without glancing down, especially when just navigating using the D-Pad and softbuttons. The predictable button placement and feel also makes using the number pad without looking possible.

The sides of the phone are lined with buttons as well. Except for the Push to Talk (ReadyLink) button, most are small and hard to press. The volume buttons are best toyed with holding the phone away from your face, otherwise they can only be pressed with your pinky when holding the phone in your right hand. There is also a small camera and voice command button on the other side.

There is a second camera button on the main keypad, however instead of taking you directly to the camera interface, it opens up the pictures application, where you can access the camera as well as the photo gallery and other options. It's confusing why there are two separate camera buttons with two different functions.

There is also a dedicated button on the internal keypad to activate the speakerphone.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

The screen is bright, high resolution 320 x 240 display. It is rather small compared to most other QVGA displays, but that works to the screen's advantage, making it look exceptionally sharp. The screen is bright, high contrast, and has an anti-glare coating that makes it viewable even in direct sunlight.

The external screen, though color, primarily displays high contrast black and white text that is easy to read in all light conditions. In standby mode, the backlight turns off and the screen displays the time with the clarity of a modern lcd watch.

Both screens set a standard all phones should be held to.

Signal

Although the signal strength indicator on the MM 5600 fluctuated, that was the only indication that the signal might have been weaker at any given point during our testing. It seemed like the phone's signal strength was almost always strong.

However if the phone manages to lose signal, prepare for some major frustration. We probably wouldn't have noticed it happened at all, except that while the phone is trying to re-contact Sprint or find a roaming partner, status messages fill the home screen and lock you out from doing anything. It's not just that you can't do network related operations like make a call or use the browser, you can't even access the menus to play a game or change settings.

Sound

The 5600 has only 4 volume settings, which could best be described as soft, softer, softest and deafeningly loud. The loud setting is actually too loud for the speaker, so it is both loud and distorted. This phone is desperately in need of a "loud enough" volume setting.

The same 4 settings are used for the ringer too. Only the loudest one can be heard in noisy environments. Worse, the vibrate mode and ring volume are tied together in the settings. You cannot turn on vibrate for any volume setting only for the softest and loudest, though there is a silent option with vibrate as well.

Between the loudness of the highest volume setting and the violent vibrate motor, you will not miss a call on that setting to be sure.

Volume can only adjusted using the volume up / down sidekeys.

Battery

Even under heavy usage, the battery lasted about 4 days, which is already quite impressive. With lighter use, it usually lasted at least 5 days. All that thickness apparently pays off in battery size.

Function - Basics

Menus 

The MM 5600 takes advantage of the beautiful display with a full screen wallpaper. A clock and date readout can also be displayed over the picture. There is also an annoying little rat in overalls that runs around the home screen while the display is on but idling. For the life of us we couldn't figure out how to make him go away until we discovered he is called "my buddy" in the display settings. The home screen is better off without him.

Hitting select on the D-Pad brings up the main menu, which is a finely rendered grid of easy to recognize icons. Each of the 9 icons is mapped to the corresponding number on the keypad as well as accessible using the D-Pad. It can also be set to a text list, but that is not as interesting, nor is it as usable since only 8 of the 9 choices can be seen at once.

The menus in the applications are clear and well organized, the phone is easy to use in most situations. The right softkey always displays options and the left is usually defaults to a common option like send or call. Options are displayed in a small window overlaying the current screen. Using the D-Pad select and back buttons on the keypad takes you forward or back one level, respecitvely. The only trouble is that most things seem to require one extra step than should be required, even reading a text message has an extra click or two.

Although the application menus are clear and straightfoward, the settings menu is anything but. Beneath a clear top level of categories lies is a series of poorly labeled functions with even more poorly labeled options. Each category also has inconsistent select and back schemes, further confusing us.

Excellent application design but confusing setting menus is actually a fairly common, but unfortunate problem on many Japanese manufactured phones.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls / Contacts 

Calls

During a call the right softkey is still and options button and not only allows you to mute or turn speaker phone on, but also access call options without having to tap in any CDMA codes. Although there is a hardware button to activate the speakerphone, there is an option for that in the menu as well.

Voicemail and all other calling functions work as expected.

Contacts

Each contact can store 6 phone numbers, an email address and a web URL. After selecting new contact, you can enter the information in any order. The fields are all shown and you just select the one to fill in. Each contact can also be assigned a picture for photo caller ID and a custom ringtone from within the contact card.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

The MM 5600 is among Sprint's new handsets that has mobile originating SMS. This means you can compose and send text messages right on the phone without logging on to Sprint's WAP site. Tapping up on the D-Pad opens the messaging app, after which Send Message is the first option. Then, like on Sony Ericsson phones, you choose the type of message.

The 5600 asks to address the message before composing the text. You can choose a number from your phone book, recently messaged numbers or manual entry. Once this is complete you'd expect to proceed to a text entry window, but after you hit Next, you're taken to an odd screen to edit a number of options, including the message text if you click in the blank field.

The MM 5600 uses T9 for its predictive text, and it is very fast on the phone. The dictionary is already populated with common text and IM abbreviations, further speeding up typing in a message.

Receiving messages works as it should with alerts and a dialog box on the home screen. All messages, even voicemail alerts are displayed like emails from the late '80s (remember Pine?) with lots of text description and dash line dividers as opposed to the more standard modern email type displays common in most phones.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Function - Extras

Camera 

As previously stated, there are two camera buttons on the MM 5600, the side button starts the camera, while the keypad button merely opens the camera application's main menu. The camera is a 1 megapixel sensor with good resolution and color. There is also an LED flash.

The camera, flash, and a small switch to select regular or macro mode are mounted on the lid of the phone. The camera can be used to take self portraits with the lid closed using the secondary LCD to frame the shot and the side camera button to take the picture.

The lens and both viewfinders are in portrait orientation, so the phone must be turned sideways to capture landscape pictures. The phone can be held easily with one hand when taking portrait type shots, but holding it sideways requires two for a good, steady shot.

Starting the camera or camcorder by holding down the side button takes almost 4 seconds When starting it from the camera application menu, the lag is shorter. After a shot is taken it takes less than 2 seconds to store it to the phone, but about 3 to store it directly to the Mini SD card.

There is no night or low light mode, and pictures literally come out black when taken in dark bars, even with the flash. With a little bit of light, the auto-brightness seems to kick in and pictures come out pretty well. However both brightness and white balance can be adjust manually by using keypad shortcuts or from the options menu. There are also keypad shortcuts zoom and the flash. These are the same for both the camera and video modes, despite the fact that they use two different interfaces.

There are 2 different resolutions for video mode 176 x 144 and 128 x 96. There are 3 different quality settings too. Each quality setting has a preset length as well, the higher the quality, the shorter the clip (15 - 30 seconds). Using the lower resolution setting does not increase the recording times. There is a special high quality mode that is saved to the MiniSD, which can record for up to 90 seconds on the included 16 MB card. This mode is capable of recording clips up to 90 minutes long on cards with 128 MB or greater capacity.

The lowest video quality setting is noticeably pixelated and the video is choppy. it will flow smoothly for a few seconds, pause, skip and then start moving again. This problem is pervasive among all the recording qualities. It is definitely a recording issue and not playback related, as it occurs in playback both on the phone and on every computer we tried.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures and Videos 

The MM-5600 has 20/50 vision, which is about what is expected from a 1.3 Megapixel camera with decent optics. The camera features a macro switch, however the eye chart macro test picture came out better in regular mode than in macro mode. Macro mode works best for close ups about 5 inches away. Although the colors are slightly desaturated (greyish), they are amazingly accurate. A quick trip to any photo program's saturation or level adjustments could fix this quickly. The still life shows no color shift and reproduces all colors truely. Low light shots without a flash, such as the "Pop's" sign came out dark, but once the bright LED flash can help, low light pictures come out bright enough to capture a night out with friends.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

(pup2)
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 144 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browser

The browser takes about 3 seconds to connect to Sprint's data service, on average, and then renders pages reasonably quickly. Since the phone is sold directly through Sprint, it comes preconfigured, and Sprint's Vision site is set as the homepage. However the browser is not locked to Sprint's portal, allowing you the freedom to browse the mobile web at will. It loads XHTML (WAP 2.0) sites with a great deal of accuracy, even complex ones. It does not, however seem to deal with simple desktop web pages as well as some other browsers.

The browser can take advantage of the incredibly sharp screen by rendering text on pages in a tiny font. This fits a great deal of text onto a page but may cause excessive squinting. The font size can be adjusted to one of four sizes in the browser's menu, from tiny to positively huge. Most pages will render in the font size you choose, however the browser will allow a page to override your choice.

Customization

The MM 5600 plays both midi and mp3 ringtones. In addition to downloading ringers, you can load your own ringtones onto the phone. They can be transferred to the phone's memory by using the included USB cable, or simply stored on the MiniSD card. However mp3s stored in the card's "Media" folder for playback in the phone's audio player cannot be used as ringtones.

The home screen and menus can be highly customized, but the menus to do so are confusingly named. For instance there are 3 menu color schemes (including a high contrast black and white for the visually impaired) which are called "backgrounds" in the menu. The wallpapers, meanwhile, are chosen in a different "standby display" menu as screensavers. There are additional clocks, graphics and even the animated rat that can be added to the home screen, should you manage to correctly identify the menu to activate (or deactivate) them.

The flash is actually a multi colored LED which can be programmed to display different colors or patterns for various alerts and activities. Initially it is set to strobe through a rainbow of colors during a phone call. In dark rooms this could cause the "Pikachu effect" and cause seizures among those prone to them.

File Management

There is no centralized file manager. Each type of media (pictures, video, downloads, music) is managed through the application that uses them. There is an application called MiniSD, but it is not a manager, instead it simply provides a way to access all the files stored on the card, or reformat the card completely. It cannot delete or move individual files.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Watch

As with most dual display clamshells, this phone makes an excellent watch. The external display is bright, has high contrast and is easy to read under all light conditions when the backlight is on. When the backlight is off, the display switches to monochrome, becoming a virtual digital watch. The phone does not need to be opened to tell the time. If, however the phone is open there are a number of clocks for the home screen to choose from.

Java

The MM-5600 scored 2271 in JBenchmark's MIDP 1 test. This places the phone well within the top 25% of all phones, an rating generally dominated by smartphones. It scored 110 in the MIDP 2 test. Although this doesn't rank quite as high, it is still respectable and better than many high-end phones.

Extras

There is an easy to use calculator, with each function mapped to a direction on the D-Pad. The alarm clock has multiple alarms, each with a variety of repeat preferences. Although there is a stopwatch, there is no countdown timer. Sprint and Sanyo include a USB cable in the box, but when the phone is attached to a PC, it is simply a mass storage device, it does not support syncing of contacts / calendars.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Wrap-up 

The MM 5600 is for people who want all the power user features, or what they think are the power user features, but are not power users. Without Bluetooth or PC syncing or any email client, the MM 5600 will not meet the needs of true power users. However it will meet the needs of people who want lots of powerful sounding, and even useful features. The screen alone will impress their friends and coworkers. It will also be great for people who love to snap pictures.

Unfortunately these not-quite-power users may become easily frustrated with the difficult to understand organization and naming conventions of the settings menus should they decide to delve into customizing their phone (and most do). But no one uses settings as often as they use phone applications, and the MM 5600 has very good contacts, messaging and browsing.

The size of the 5600 isn't too much of a problem, even though it is a bit large. It's a tight fit in small pockets. At least the camera, screen and battery life are all excellent, justifying the bulk. Plus the size the MiniSD slot adds pays off as storage for pictures and media.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
How Do ALL of these features WORK????? EXPLAIN!!! ESKO1 Jul 28, 2005, 11:14 PM
Great phone but still needs a lot of improvement. KevC84 Jun 6, 2005, 9:25 PM
End of life already? nickatomic Jul 13, 2005, 5:17 PM
Article Correction! nickatomic Jun 11, 2005, 11:26 AM
Nice review, but major ommission docbrown88 Jun 21, 2005, 4:04 PM
 
 
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