Sony Ericsson 2006
Sony Ericsson's big product launch for 2006. Hands-on in NYC with the new K790, W300, and more.
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Sony Ericsson is starting off 2006 with a bang. The company started off in January with the W810, an upgraded version of its popular W800 Walkman phone, for North America. Then a month later it followed up with the M600 messaging phone. Little more than a week later, the company revealed the W950 3G Walkman phone.
In 2005 Sony Ericsson scored several smash hits with its stylish and powerful Walkman phones. This success has given the company the momentum (and cash) it needs to surge forward and expand it lineup in a big way. That's why - just two months into the year - the company today held its fourth major product launch of 2006, and is already talking about more phones to come.
Of the six phones announced globally today, four are headed for U.S. shores.
The big flagship phone announced globally today is the K800, a high-end 3G phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera and a bevy of other high-end features. This model represents the evolution of the series that started with the T610, and progressed to the K700, K750 (and W800), and finally this newest iteration.
One of the hallmark features of this series has always been a relatively small size. Unfortunately, the K800 breaks that mold with a significantly bulkier profile. It's not huge, just not as pleasantly pocket-friendly as the K750 / W800 / W810:
Since the K800 is a 3G phone for Europe and Asia, and Sony Ericsson isn't doing 3G phones for the U.S. just yet, the company has fortunately decided to create a non-3G version just for us - the K790. This version is identical to the K800, just without WCDMA and the extra camera for video calling. WCDMA is fortunately replaced with EDGE, so data rates shouldn't be too bad.
The prototype K790 they had on hand at the New York City launch event was very "beta". The camera didn't really work, and the keys were... well, terrible. Aside from the joystick, there literally wasn't a single key on the phone that was remotely ergonomic or easy to press. Sony Ericsson reps promised that the keys were being re-designed for the final version. However, the keys were so bad that we really hope they're redesigning the keys from the ground up and not just doing some minor tweaking.
One interesting note about the keys was the presence of two extra keys just above the display, just like on the W600. These provide extra softkeys in camera mode, and extra keys for landscape-mode gaming as well. But again, the keys were awful. I actually had to use my fingernails to press them. Again, the version we tried was by no means final, so everything could be fixed by final release, but it's something to look out for.
The K790 finally brings Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo audio to the core of the Sony Ericsson lineup. Sony Ericsson has been a little late to the game with stereo Bluetooth, which is odd since they basically invented Bluetooth.
The K750 (and W800 variant) were fairly ground-breaking with their high-quality 2 megapixel auto-focus camera module. The auto-focus - featuring an actual moving lens - is a major contributor to that phone's amazing photo image quality.
The K790 carries the torch and upgrades to a 3.2 megapixel auto-focus camera. It also adds a true xenon flash - that's the bright strobe type in nearly all standalone cameras - instead of the LED-type flash common to most camera phones.
Another camera upgrade is a new "BestPic" feature that is basically a turbo-charged multi-shot function. When enabled, it will take 9 full-resolution shots within 1 second. By default the middle one will be saved, but if someone blinked or moved, etc., you can simply move the joystick left or right and select the shot that's composed the way you wanted.
The 3.2 megapixel resolution, auto-focus, xenon flash, and BestPic all come together to make this a pretty powerful camera phone. That's why Sony Ericsson chose to make this their first model to carry Sony's "Cyber-shot" brand, usually reserved for their standalone digital cameras.
It's basically the same thing they did with the Walkman brand, including bringing the user interface (UI) over. A Walkman phone has a music interface similar to a standalone Walkman music player. Similarly, a Cyber-shot phone has camera interface similar to a Cyber-shot camera. Unfortunately, that interface wasn't quite finished on the prototype we tried, but enough of it was working to give us a rough idea how it would work, and the potential was pretty impressive. Certainly their current camera interface on phones like the W800 is excellent, (and also based on the Cyber-shot UI,) so we trust it will only be better on the final K790.
One last comment about the camera - the actual camera module and lens don't seem to add much to the thickness of the phone - but the lens cover is positively huge and makes the phone much thicker than it would be otherwise. I love the idea of a lens cover - and especially an active one that activates the camera when you open it like the K790 - but in this case I'd gladly give it up to make the K790 a more pocketable phone.
The K790 also sports a nice QVGA display. It's brighter than the K750 and W800, although not as bright as the W810.
Other features include the full list of everything you'd expect from a flagship phone, including a memory card slot, music player, etc.
Although Sony Ericsson's press release stated a Q2 release for the K790, Sony Ericsson's U.S. press reps told us to expect it much later: Q3 at the earliest, or possibly Q4.
The other exciting phone announced today is the W300, another key expansion of the company's Walkman line of music phones.
As you can see from the comparison shots below, the W300 is based on the Z530, which was announced today for Asia, where clamshell phones are gaining popularity. The Z530 is something of a successor for the Z520, adding a memory card slot. The W300 is the better phone though, adding quad-band GSM, EDGE, and of course the Walkman music software.
The W300 is designed to be an affordable music phone, similar to the W600. However - as you might guess from the model number - it's decidedly lower-end, with a lower-resolution display and camera. The W300 one upgrade over the W600 is the inclusion of a memory card slot, something sorely missing from the W600.
This is made possible by the tiny new M2 (Memory Stick Micro) card format. It would be so wonderful if Sony would just drop the whole proprietary Memory Stick thing, but at least they're keeping up with the times and shrinking their format to match the size of microSD (TransFlash). This allows them to add a memory card slot to significantly smaller and cheaper phones.
With the memory card slot, the W300 looks like a pretty decent music phone considering its expected entry-level price. Quad-band, Bluetooth, and EDGE class 10 (the fastest practical class for a phone) make this an especially promising contender.
My only gripe with the W300 was the keypad. While it looks a bit like the W600's keypad, they keys unfortunately lack the convex shape of the W600's keys that made them easy to tell apart.
Look for the W300 around mid-year here in the States.
The K510 and K310 round out today's announcements with a couple of entry-level bar-style phones.
The K510 (above) is designed to be one of the most affordable GSM camera phones with megapixel resolution. In Sony Ericsson tradition, it also includes Bluetooth.
The K310 (above) is almost the same phone, but strips out the Bluetooth and steps down to a VGA-resolution camera.
Both phones have features Sony Ericsson is known for on its lower-end phones, such as speakerphone and user-changeable covers.
Both phones also have an interesting new feature Sony Ericsson is bringing down to its lower-end phones: a full HTML web browser with RSS feed capability.
Both phones will have an Americas version that is tri-band GSM 850/1800/1900.
Look for both phones here in the States in the 2nd quarter (April - June) or possibly early Q3 if things slip with carriers.
Sony Ericsson also announced several accessories today.
Three new headsets were announced, one in each of the three major form factors: clip-on, in-ear, and behind-the-ear. The HBH-IV835 and HBH-GV435 support Bluetooth 2.0 for improved audio and radio performance.
One thing Sony Ericsson used to be known for was its great accessory connector, which remained unchanged for many years and product cycles. Its innovative modular design worked equally well for both phones and small accessories like headsets.
Last year, Sony Ericsson upset many of its long-time followers by abandoning the old connector. The change was necessary, however, to allow for a smaller size (for smaller phones) and upgrades like USB 2.0 and stereo sound.
At the time, we thought Sony Ericsson had abandoned the idea if a modular connector. But the company had a trick up its sleeve, and its newest headsets bring back the modular idea, revised to support the new connector design:
This means Sony Ericsson users will once again be able to use the same charger for both their phone and headset.
The other major accessory announced today is the HCB-100 combination speakerphone and portable car kit.
This interesting accessory contains nearly all the functionality of a full-fledged car kit in a compact unit that can clip your car's sun visor above the driver's head. A small microphone arm flips down for optimal outgoing sound quality. Its design also makes it well-suited for placing a desk and using as a high-quality Bluetooth speakerphone accessory.
if the W300 and the Z530 are of different cost (the w300 being more expensive) and the Z530 still has some type of media player, i'm taking the Z530, walkman branding is not THAT important to me.
Great job, Rich...
So does this mean that the W810 phone is not coming to the US?
Why would you think that? No, the W810 is definitely still coming to the US.
TAKE OFF PROPRIETARY COMPANY
The pressures too great