While you were stuck in your crappy institutional high school trying to find a way to sneak out during study hall, some rich kid up the street was spending his days in ivy covered halls taking classes like Depression Era Economics and the Rise of Fascism. Not only was he rich, but he was classically good looking, smart and he managed to be a natural athlete as well. He probably didn't play football but he was captain of his school's soccer or lacrosse team. You rode bikes around the hood together or played baseball up at the local park, but he lived in a different world than you. He came from a long line of rich, sturdy people, and good genetics has blessed him with smarts, looks, athletic ability and ostensibly a bright future. He was the golden boy, he could do anything well and so people expected more from him.
The Sony Ericsson S710a is that golden boy. Its parts and features come from a variety of superior sources, so it has great genetics. It has smarts, looks and physical abilities beyond most other US phones. And everyone's been waiting to get it for quite some time, so they have high expectations.
Since this phone uses the same software as the K700i which we reviewed previously, this Gear Eye will be slightly different. We won't waste your time or ours telling you the same things over again. Instead we'll just concentrate on what makes the S710a unique. In addition, since reviews of this handset are still few and far between, we've included more pictures than usual.
The Sony Ericsson S710a should be available from their website and from Cingular any day (or week, depending on how much longer Cingular continues to delay the launch) now.
The S710a is nearly the same as the SO505i, Sony Ericsson's first spinner that made a splash when it came out 18 months ago for DoCoMo. Spinners (and sliders) are all the rage these days, and the S710a does the design right. All the navigation controls are on the same part of the body as the screen, so you can do just about everything other than compose a text message without opening the phone up. The screen, by the way, is a huge, bright QVGA affair that make all the other screens jealous. They will hide in shame and envy. When the keypad is spun out, the phone is still comfortable to hold and the buttons are still close enough together that you can use the keypad and navigation with one hand.
A few cool bonus features Sony Ericsson added because of the spinner design: when the phone is spun open, the side mounted volume keys are reversed so that the one on top is still louder. Also, they have replaced the 2 button press keylock dance with a simple hold slider. It doesn't quite work the same as on your Discman or iPod because it only works from the home screen, but still, they get kudos for eliminating the annoying key combo.
On the back side of the unit is a small cover that open to reveal the 1.3 megapixel CCD lens. CCDs are the same type of sensor used on digital cameras, so it's worth protecting. A small, but powerful LED flash is positioned close to the lens, as is the speakerphone. When the phone is closed and held horizontally like a camera, there is a shutter button on the side which will fall right under the right index finger.
Everyone who picks up the S710a either remarks that it's heavier or lighter than they expected. It is heavier because the phone is metal, not plastic, which gives it not only heft but a feeling of solid craftsmanship and durability. It seems lighter because like a good motorcycle, the phone has excellent balance. It sits comfortably in your hand thanks to a well curved shaped and careful distribution of weight.
The one problem with the S710a form factor is despite the excellent design, the phone is simply a bit too bulky to fit comfortably in fashionably tight pants. In addition, it passes the Levi's change pocket test on loose fit jeans, but is pretty uncomfortable in there (or any pocket, for that matter) on a tight pair. There is a minor issue with the D-Pad - it is not a joystick like on the K700, but a joystick looking select button surround by a D-Pad. It's very easy to use, but not until you teach yourself that the select button is just that.
Battery Life: Yup
Despite Sony Ericsson's best efforts, expect just two days of battery life from a charge. You could easily get more if you left the phone alone, but the problem is between the great big screen, decent data speed, amazing CCD camera (CCDs require more power), good Bluetooth, etc., you're going to use this phone non-stop. And when you do, you're going to get an average of two days of life out of it.
Our personal best was 3 days, and that was when we were sick in bed. The worst was 20 hours, and that was during the stress test known as Macworld, when we used a Bluetooth connection from our laptop to the S710a so we could use its EDGE connection to get out to the internet and cover the keynote live for you. 3 hours of Bluetooth and EDGE is not battery life friendly. Then afterwards, while we were waiting for our iPod shuffles at the Apple store, we showed the phone off for a few hours, and then showed it off for another few hours that night at another meeting. Needless to say the phone up and died around 11 pm that night.
Signal and Sound: Oh Yah!
Remember when we said we wish there was a "hell yah" for the Nokia 7610 messaging category because it surpassed everything else? Well the s710's performance here makes us wish that again, but we're still not breaking our own rules. However, if we were writing Gear Eye in Italian, we'd give this phone "il capo di tutti capi." We have yet to use another phone with reception as good as the S710a. It is the first handset that we can hold a call on in the radio-proof dungeon we call home.
The sound rivals that of the K700 and other handsets, however it manages to be louder.
Menus and everything else: See K700...
Nearly everything else we evaluated in our K700 review is the same for the S710a, since they use the same software. Because of the S710's larger screen and its faster data capabilities thanks to EDGE, it is worth noting that both the email and browsing experience are improved, the rest are the same. Also, although the S710 includes an MP3 player, if forgoes an FM radio. We didn't miss it at all.
The only other significant difference between the two comes down to the camera. Although its sensor, lens and the resulting pictures blow away pretty much every other cameraphone available in the States, the S710 still cannot replace your high end digicam. Still, it's perfect for snapshot from a day, or (thanks to the flash and CCD) even a night out on the town. Be warned though, a day of picture taking will destroy your battery life, however a snapshot here and there doesn't seem to have any significant effect.
Also, this phone has the same problems with iSync that the K700 did. However, once you use the same trick to get it working, it too works like a champ. It also shows up as a K700, not an S700, since there is no iSync support for the S710 yet.