When the Sony Ericsson Cybershot-branded K800i was released back in the middle of 2006, it was received with much fanfare due to its impressive 3.2mpx digital camera. Less than a year later, the K810i was released. The K810i assessed one of the K800i’s main criticisms: it’s size. The same camera was retained in the new model, along with most of the internal functionality.
Now, more than a year after the release of the K810i, the Cybershot line has received an upgrade – and aptly named it the K850i. The K850i builds on what the K800i (and subsequently the K810i) started, holding a strong focus on mobile imaging. A top-of-the-line 5mpx camera module, complete with auto-focus and a professional Xenon flash, has replaced the 3.2mpx camera found in the older models.
The K850i is first 5mpx offering from Sony Ericsson, but is not the first ever 5mpx camera phone. Asian markets have long had 5mpx+ camera phones, and in the mainstream market Nokia beat all other competitors with their 5mpx camera-equipped N95 model earlier this year.
The K850i further blurs the line between dedicated digital cameras and mobile phones. With more 5mpx camera phones not expected until at least the middle of next year, has Sony Ericsson done the right thing in rushing to the post and releasing the K850i? How does it perform in real life? Is it worth the upgrade? Let’s find out.
Features the K850i has gained on the K810i include HSDPA data connectivity, better battery life, new Java Platform 8 (JP-8) and keypad layout, support for microSD memory cards, and of course the Cybershot 5mpx digital camera. Most other features are carried over from the K810i.
HSDPA up to 3.6Mbit/s is supported on the UMTS 850, 1900, and 2100MHz networks, with regular GPRS and EDGE data offered on GSM 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz networks. Bluetooth 2.0 (with EDR) and USB version 2.0 is included for local connectivity.
Sony Ericsson have long used their own memory format for external store on their handsets, but have recently started to support the microSD format along with their Memory Stick Micro format. The K850i can support microSD and Memory Stick Micro cards up to 4GB – a 512MB Memory Stick Micro is included in the Australian sales package.
Sony Ericsson’s adoption of the JP-8 standard keypad layout is an interesting move, considering the company has long retained the same two-soft-key configuration for many years. The new layout does take some getting used to if you’ve stuck with Sony Ericsson since the beginning, but the pros definitely out-way the cons.
The Cybershot camera is the K850i’s highlight feature, at a whopping 5mpx and with additional high-end features such as a Xenon flash, 16x digital zoom, image stabiliser, and dedicated camera keys.
The K850i, although quite similar to its predecessor the K800i, has undergone several physical changes. Most notable is the new navigation system, a result of Sony Ericsson moving to the Java Platform 8 (JP-8) and standardizing the key layout. The Cybershot aspect of the K850i has added several new buttons, and changed the way the battery, SIM card, and memory stick are accessed.
Two colour variations are available for the K850i: Luminous Green and Velvet Blue. I received the Velvet Blue model for review, which is identical to the other model except it has silver sides with blue finishes around the edges and under the navigational pad. The Luminous Green model replaces silver with black and blue with green.
Starting at the front of the K850i, at the top there is the standard Sony Ericsson text logo with video call camera and ambient light sensor on either side. Below this is the large 2.2” TFT LCD display. Sony Ericsson are moving toward the standardized three soft-key configuration with all their new JP-8 platform handsets, so instead of the usual two soft-key layout we’ve come to expect from Sony Ericsson, there are now three soft-keys – and by soft key I mean touch-screen control. Three small vertical silver lines indicate where the “keys” are located.
Below these “keys” are four dedicated functionality keys. On the left is the pick-up and Activity Menu key, and to the right is the cancel (backspace) and hang-up key. You might have noticed that there is no longer a “back” key – this is another by-product of the JP-8 standardization, which “changes how Java ME applications and games interact with the phone, and therefore the end-user experience.”
The typical 12-key numerical keypad has small, square black keys, which don’t look pleasant to use but surprisingly, are. The 4-way navigational pad is positioned around the 2 and 5 keys, supposedly to reduce the amount of space required for the keypad. For 5 years Sony Ericsson have used (relatively) the same keypad layout, so the new layout does take time to get used to. More detail can be found in the problems and issues section on page three.
On the right hand side of the handset are all the Cybershot-related buttons. The volume up/down rocker is located here, which also doubles as the zoom in/out rocker. Anyone who has used a Sony Cybershot camera will recognize the camera switch, used to change between still image capture, video capture, and video/image playback. Just to the left of the switch is the two-stage shutter button, and the camera on/off button which will launch or close the camera application when pushed.
The back cover of the K850i cannot be removed – most probably due to the space the 5mpx camera occupies and the sensitivity of the hardware. This means the battery, SIM card, and memory stick are now accessed from the bottom of the K850i after sliding away a small cover. A bright orange battery release holds the battery in position, while the Memory Stick Micro and SIM card are held in push-release slots. Everything fits in snugly and is easy to insert and remove. The Fastport interface connector used for USB connectivity and other wired accessories can also be found at the bottom of the handset.
The K850i weighs in at an acceptable 118 grams, but is slightly thicker than the average handset, at 102 x 48 x 17mm. This is the same thickness as the K810, but much thinner than the original K800i, which was 22mm.
User interface & display
The K850i’s display has had a small boost to 2.2” (2” in the K800i), but still sits at 262,144 colour support and the common 240 x 320 pixel resolution. The user interface is the new Sony Ericsson A200, which includes the Java Platform 8 (JP-8). Most users will not notice the difference between the A200 and its predecessor, the A100, as a lot of the functionality is behind-the-scenes.
Historically, Sony Ericsson handsets have had two soft keys, a 5-way navigational pad (or stick), a dedicated back key and a dedicated cancel (backspace) key. In the K850i this all changes, and Sony Ericsson have gone down the path that Nokia have been following for some time now. There are now three soft keys, dedicated pick-up and hang-up keys, the Activity Menu key, a dedicated cancel key, and the navigational pad. This is to increase compatibility with the Java ME platform, and will become the standard for all other JP-8 platform handsets in the future.
The changes to the UI make coming from any other previous Sony Ericsson handset to the K850i a little troublesome to begin with, as one must relearn what Sony Ericsson have been teaching for the last 5 years with their two soft-key configuration. Thankfully, the learning curve isn’t that steep, and most users should have it down pat within a week or so with the handset. That said, I did find that I still had trouble moving directly from the numerical keypad to the navigational keypad because of its location (around the 2 and 4 keys). The use of on-screen soft keys played a few tricks on my mind to start off with, as only the bottom section of the display is responsive – tapping anything else on-screen will do nothing!
The small, square keys are unlike anything we’ve seen on Sony Ericsson handsets before, but are quite easy to use. The navigational pad has large bumps on its four quadrants for easy navigation.
Moving onto the actual UI, in true Sony Ericsson style it is very colourful and now includes many more transition effects than any other Sony Ericsson handset I’ve used. Menus will now pop up and retreat into the bottom left hand corner, and items that contain lists will gradually fill up the screen from top to bottom. Most of the time the UI is fairly quick, only suffering from lag with processor-intensive tasks. However, some actions – such as pushing a numerical key while in the contact book, to quickly jump to a letter – will slow the K850i to a grinding halt. Adding recipients to an SMS or MMS message has the same effect.
The 240 x 320 pixel display has four brightness levels (50% - 100%), and can be viewed fairly well in direct sunlight. Themes on the K850i can include flash-based wallpapers and screensavers, as well as colour scheme changes. Menu layout and icons cannot be changed by themes. Crystal and Laser Precision are the only two pre-installed themes; any additional ones must be downloaded from the Sony Ericsson website or transferred from a PC to the handset.
Sony Ericsson’s Activity Menu is launched by pressing the small button next to the pick-up key. There are four tabs: New events, Running apps, My Shortcuts, and Internet. New events contains things like missed calls and new messages, while running apps can be used to manage open applications, as the K850i is somewhat capable of multitasking. My Shortcuts contains Bluetooth, TrackID, and the main menu by default, but any function or setting can be added. Internet contains a quick link to bookmarks stored in the web browser, as well as links to the most visited websites.
Making and receiving calls
Video and voice calls are supported by the K850i, with integrated Bluetooth connectivity for use with compatible headset and hands free devices. Sony Ericsson have bundled a stereo headset in the sales package which can be used for calls, on top of the usual loudspeaker and earphone built-in to the handset.
The K850i is the perfect travelling companion – compatible with every 2G and 3G network around the globe. GSM 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz bands (2G) are supported, as well as 3G UMTS 850, 1900, and 2100MHz bands. The K850i can be configured to roam between 2G and 3G networks, or stick with only 2G networks. Strangely, there is not a 3G-only option.
Sony Ericsson’s new JP-8 standard key layout gives the K850i dedicated pick-up and hang-up buttons – buttons that have rarely been found on Sony Ericsson handsets in the past. Pressing the pick-up key at the idle screen will bring up the call register, listing both incoming and outgoing calls.
The K850i’s earpiece volume was perfect for me at about ¾ of maximum level, but the loudspeaker could definitely have been a louder. It was hard to hear the loudspeaker while driving, which is when most would be using the functionality. Bluetooth Headset and Hands free profiles are supported, but a Bluetooth accessory will need to be purchased separately.
The video call application is hidden under the Organiser section of the main menu. Upon opening it, the video from the video-call camera is displayed in a small square at the bottom of screen, with a message detailing how to start a video call in the large, top box. The video-call camera is located above the K850i’s 2.2” TFT LCD, on the right hand side. It is capable of sending video at two resolutions: QCIF (176 x 144 pixels) and SQCIF (128 x 96 pixels). In-call settings that can be used to adjust the image include brightness, white balance, up to 2x zoom, and night mode (on or off).
Video transmission can be turned off, switched to the Cybershot 5mpx digital camera, or you can choose to share an image or video. Sharing basically replaces the video from one of the K850i’s camera with the output of a video or image that is stored on the handset. The audio from a video can also be transmitted with the video. By default the audio being sent to a video caller comes from the microphone, but this can be changed to audio from a compatible file stored on the handset if desired.
1000 contacts can be stored on the built-in phonebook, which is limited to 7000 numbers. Details that can be attached to a single contact include e-mail, web address, picture, personal ring tone, voice command, title, address details for work and home, notes, and birthday. Mobile (private), mobile (work), home, work, fax, and an “other” number can also be added.
As I will mention in other sections, the contact book is one of the K850i’s trouble areas in terms of lag. It is fast when scrolling up and down through contacts using the navigational pad, but as soon as you enter a letter to jump down to, the system comes grinding to a halt. It will then slowly start to speed up again until it finally returns to normal. On the bright side, at least this lag can’t be found in other areas of the UI.
Messaging protocols supported by the K850i are SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail. The K850i’s new JP-8 platform makes a few cosmetic changes to the messaging interface, but it is mostly unchanged from previous versions, and still very easy to use.
POP3 and IMAP4 messaging servers are supported, and for push e-mail the IMAP Idle and OMA E-mail Notification 1.0 standards. A 4-step e-mail wizard makes it easy to get your e-mail account(s) up and running. E-mail messaging has its own set of folders, keeping it separate from the mixed SMS/EMS and MMS folder set.
MMS messing is guided, making it extremely simple to create multi-slide MMS messages with images, video, animations, sounds, and text. Images captured by the 5mpx digital camera are, of course, too large to send via MMS, so are automatically resized when being attached to messages. The camera application has a setting which can be used to limit video clips to a size compatible with MMS messages.
Concatenated SMS messages are supported by the K850i, allowing up to 1,600 characters (10 messages) to be sent as “one” message. Depending on the available memory, up to 10,000 SMS messages can be stored on the internal memory, plus SIM card storage space. Messages on the K850i can be placed into categories, which can then be used to arrange messages in their folders. Default categories are Business, Favourites, Follow up, Fun, Holiday, and Important. Custom categories can be defined.
The small square buttons on the K850i are surprisingly not uncomfortable to use, and will not hinder text input. T9 predictive text dictionaries for local languages come pre-installed on the K850i.
The messaging interface is quick (when composing messages), but when it comes to selecting recipients it’s a completely different story. As soon as the contact list opens the system slows right down. The handset will take a second or two to respond when pushing a numerical button (to jump to contacts starting with that letter). As soon as you have moved from the contacts list, the UI (thankfully) goes back to normal.
The RSS feed reader is built into the Messaging application, and can be used to syndicate multiple feeds at once. RSS feeds are great for accessing the exact information you want without having to sift through unrelated pages first. As well as saving time, RSS feeds can save money spent on data costs, as you are directly accessing the page(s) you wish to view. Sony Ericsson by default load BBC News, Google News, Sony Ericsson WTA News, Sony Ericsson FUN&downloads, and Sony Ericsson News feeds, but these can be removed.
The K850i includes HSDPA, UMTS, EDGE, and GPRS data protocols are available for over-the-air data on 2G/3G networks, with Bluetooth and USB handling the local side of things. A CD with Sony Ericsson’s new PC Suite software is included in the sales package, along with a Fastport USB data-cable.
UMTS 850, 1900, and 2100MHz 3G network bands and GSM 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz networks are fully supported, providing the K850i with world-wide connectivity. GPRS offers speeds of up to 48kbp/s on 2G networks, as well as EDGE (on supported networks). UMTS data on 3G networks is capable of up to 384kbp/s, with HSDPA on the K850i limited to 3.6Mbit/s.
Unfortunately during my time with the K850i I could not get the HSDPA functionality to work correctly. Although the taskbar displayed the 3G status icon (which indicates 3G connectivity), when I launched the browser pages loaded incredibly slow, and only once during my time with the K850i did I see the H logo (which indicates HSDPA connectivity). I was using a Vodafone SIM on their Perth network, which I have been able to successfully connect to with HSDPA in the past.
The firmware on the K850i I received was version R1CA029 – version R1CA030 is the latest. For an unknown reason the Sony Ericsson Update service software would not let me upgrade to the newest version, stating that I had the most updated firmware. There have been reports that R1CA030 fixes the HSDPA issues I was experiencing, but as I was unable to upgrade I cannot confirm this.
Moving on, the K850i’s Bluetooth radio is version 2.0 compliant with EDR technology. A host of profiles are supported, providing connectivity with all the latest peripheral devices: Basic Imaging, Dial-Up Networking, File Transfer, Generic Access, Generic Object Exchange, Headset, Hands free, Human Interface Device, Java API, Object Push, Personal Area Networking, Serial Port, Synchronization, SyncML OBEX binding, Advanced Audio Distribution (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control (AVRCP), and Phonebook Access profile.
The Bluetooth configuration settings are located under the Settings menu. A powersave setting can be enabled to reduce battery consumption by the Bluetooth chip, but when enabled the K850i can only connect to one Bluetooth device at a time.
There are four USB modes available on the K850i: Phone Mode, Media transfer, Print, and Mass Storage. The first mode is used when connecting the K850i with a Windows-based PC for use with the Sony Ericsson PC Suite software. Using PC Suite you can transfer data to and from the handset, synchronize, and use the handset’s data connection for internet access. Media Transfer mode uses the MTP (Media Transfer protocol) to transfer multimedia files such as images, video, and music, to the handset. The MTP was developed by Microsoft and is used with the Windows Media Player software. Software packages for Linux and Apple operating systems are available if you wish to use K850i and MTP with a non-Windows operating system.
PictBridge functionality is enabled by selecting the Print mode. Using PictBridge you can print directly from the K850i to a compatible printer, without the need for a computer go-between – all you need is the USB data-cable! Lastly, Mass Storage mode uses the USB Mass Storage Device profile
Note: The K850i would have received 4 ½ stars for this section if the HSDPA functionality had worked correctly. As I have mentioned, there are reports the R1CA030 firmware fixes this problem.
The K850i uses the same processor as the K810i, and should most probably have received an upgrade. The JBenchmark scores are much lower than those I achieved with the K810i during my review – it is never desirable for a new, flagship model to have worse results than its predecessor. 3D gaming on the K810i would be a struggle, but MIDP 1.0 and 2.0 applications will most probably run without too many issues.
The K850i comes with a range of multimedia oriented applications, including a new Media application that handles the video, image, and music playback.
The new Media application is (by default) assigned to the left soft key from the standby screen. It can also be found under the main menu. The full-screen application has four sections: photo, music, video, and settings. Hovering over one of the headings (other than Settings) will display the total amount of files of that format stored on the handset. The interface slides on and off the screen as you select items, displaying a grid of thumbnails for images and video, and Walkman-like subsections for music files (artist, album, track, playlist, podcast, audio book). The application is fast, but will take a second or two to render thumbnails if you have a large archive of images and/or video.
Images and video can be viewed in full screen, and can also be edited with the built-in VideoDJ and PhotoDJ applications. PhotoDJ provides basic post-processing functionality such as cropping and red-eye removal, while VideoDJ can cut and merge video clips, insert still images and text, apply effects, and replace the audio track.
When you open a file in the Media application a separate application is not launched for playback – Media handles it all. The music playback screen is extremely similar to that found on Walkman handsets, displaying track information including album art, timers, and audio controls. Supported audio file formats are MP3, MP4, M4A, 3GPP, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, WAV, G-MIDI 1, SP-MIDI, RealAudio 8, iMelody, XMF, and WMA. An equaliser with five presets, stereo widening, and loop/shuffle functionality is also included.
The K850i’s built-in accelerometer is utilized by the Media application, automatically adjusting the orientation (horizontal or vertical) if you rotate the handset. The auto-rotation can be turned off through the settings menu if desired.
Other multimedia applications include MusicDJ, a basic polyphonic ring tone creator, and Remote Control – an application which uses Bluetooth to control supported devices and applications. Voice recording functionality is also offered.
The K850i utilises the Java Platform 8 (JP-8) and supports MIDP 2.0 and 3D games. The built-in accelerometer can be used to control compatible games by tilting the handset upwards, downwards, left or right. Marble Madness 3D and Tennis Multiplayer are the only two Java games pre-installed, however additional applications can be installed freely. Tennis Multiplayer makes use of the integrated Bluetooth support to enable you to play the game against friends who have the application installed on their handset.
Using the JBenchmark testing suite, the following results were obtained:
* K810i results from iMobile.com.au’s K810i review, found
||LQ: 196, HQ:
LQ: 325, HQ: 178
Located under the Organiser section of the main menu are all of the K850i’s PIM and non-multimedia applications. The file manager application displays a tabbed browser interface for accessing content stored on the internal and external memory. By default images and video clips are displayed in a grid of 3 x 3 thumbnails, but this can be changed to 5 x 5, a thumbnail list, or a list without thumbnails. All other content is displayed in a list format with a small icon to the left indicating the file type.
Sony Ericsson offer three pre-installed Java applications (non-game): FaceWarp, HP Print, and Photo Mate. FaceWarp is used to apply warping effects to images, the results of which are often hilarious. HP Print is used for printing images, contacts, and the calendar to compatible Bluetooth printers without the need for a computer. Lastly, Photo Mate offers tips and advice on how to capture the best possible images with the K850i’s 5mpx digital camera.
The organiser on the K850i can be used to manage appointments, but unfortunately does not go much further than that. Different types of events (such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc) cannot be explicitly defined, but if you’re looking for a work-around you can simply store them as appointments with your own prefix making them easy to distinguish.
The Tasks application stores a basic list of to-do items (phone calls or notes) with the ability to add reminders (alarms) if desired. Each task has its own window where the task can be marked at “done”. The Notes application is similar, except it does not have the reminder functionality and just displays a body of text.
SyncML and Exchange ActiveSync servers can be used to synchronize data between the K850i and other devices. Upon first opening the Synchronize application you will be asked to enter the details of the server, which applications should be synchronized (e-mail, contacts, calendar), and how often synchronizations should occur. These types of synchronization occur over-the-air, and will result in data charges. If you wish to use USB or Bluetooth with your computer to sync, simply install the bundled Sony Ericsson software and follow the instructions.
Light is a small application that turns on the Xenon flash used for picture-taking. You can turn the flash on, on for one minute, off (default), or on SOS, which flashes the distress signal with light flashes (three short, three long, three short)
Timer and Stopwatch offer basic time keeping functionality, with the calculator able to process simple calculations. Code Memo is used to store personal information such as credit card codes, passwords, and so forth. All content stored is protected by a PIN code that must be entered before access is granted. Missing from the K850i is a currency conversion application and world clock, both of which would have made handy additions to the handset.
This section is where the K850i let me down. I’ve come to expect a very high standard of build quality from Sony Ericsson phones, and most of the time, they don’t let me down. Unfortunately the K850i’s backing plate feels extremely cheap, thin, and creaks around even when just being held.
Seeing as the back section of the handset is not removable (due to the camera module), it’s strange that it is not more solid. The bottom of the handset is quite loose and can be wriggled around easily.
Although these issues don’t pose any serious risk to the phone’s functionality – and it’s not going to fall apart in your hands – The K850i is not up to scratch with Sony Ericsson’s usual level of build quality. For a flagship handset, it’s not good enough.
The BST-36 930mAh lithium-polymer battery will last the K850i around 9 hours of talk time or 400 hours of standby time. This is a step-up from the K800i, which Sony Ericsson estimated could last around 350 hours standby or 7 hours talk time on a full charge of its higher-capacity 950mAh battery.
In real life testing I could get approximately 2.5 days usage out of the K850i with around 10 5mpx images being shot, several 5-10 minute calls, and many SMS/MMS messages. As usual, the Cybershot camera application is the biggest battery hog, and should be used sparingly if you’re running low on battery.
The battery takes approximately 2 hours to reach 90%, and is fully charged within 2.5 hours. The battery can be charged by USB or by the dedicated power adapter.