Hands-on with the Sony Ericsson P1i

Chris Ziegler
C. Ziegler|08.20.07

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Hands-on with the Sony Ericsson P1i

Believe it or not, Sony Ericsson's P1i has one of the richest, most storied family trees in the smartphone world. Technically, it could be said that the phone can trace its roots all the way back to Psion's EPOC-based organizers, but more practically, the P1i is a direct descendent of the R380, the first Symbian-powered phone and a device that made more than a few jaws drop with its versatile design and expansive touchscreen. What's our point? Simply that this brushed metal-clad beast has some work to do to live up to its ancestry, lest a few P800s start rolling in their graves -- and with WiFi, a 3.2 megapixel cam, and UIQ 3, it seems equipped for the job. Read on for our quick take!

Thanks to the good folks at Wireless Imports for the hookup!


The P1i affords an ever so slightly more luxurious unboxing experience than your average free-on-contract flip thanks to a larger box with side-by-side compartments up top, one for documentation and another proudly displaying your purchase. An included dock and black pouch are nice touches, but the real prize is the handset itself: in a word, it looks fantastic. Typically businesslike for a Sony Ericsson not in the Walkman series with soft-touch plastic, metal, and chrome bits in all the right places; needless to say, this is a phone we wouldn't mind being seeing on our face in any social environment.

Oopsie! No kidding, this is literally the first thing we saw after the phone completed its initial power-up. A bad sign of things to come?

For anyone that hasn't used one of Sony Ericsson's unique rocker QWERTY keypads before (like on the M600), busting out text will likely be a challenge at first; our first n00b attempt at using it was a miserable failure. Strangely, we had trouble finding keys (despite the fact that it's a standard QWERTY layout), and we briefly resorted to a hunt-and-peck mode that left us slower than numeric multitap. We eventually caught on, but by no means do we prefer it to a traditional keypad with one key per letter. By putting each letter at the outside of a cupped key, we see what Sony Ericsson was trying to do -- prevent fat-fingered folks like ourselves from pressing the wrong letter -- but in practice, our typing speeds were slowed enough to effectively wipe out any reduction in our error rate.

Fortunately, the keypad is just one of several ways to get text entered. There's a traditional on-screen keyboard in the mix (one key per letter, imagine that!) and handwriting recognition that we found serviceable for basic tasks.

Symbian has two fantastic ambassadors in the form of S60 and UIQ, and we're always excited to see a handset try to take the world's most abundant smartphone platform to the next level. The P1i comes out swinging with UIQ 3, and it looks great on the handset's 2.6 inch QVGA display. With the exception of the lone out of memory message on initial startup, we also found it to be utterly error- and crash-free. We found ourselves occasionally getting just a tad impatient waiting for programs to load -- and by "programs" we also mean simple things like Control Panel -- but we're well aware of the performance / battery life tradeoff arguments that take place in closed-door R&D meetings deep within the annals of phone manufacturer headquarters worldwide, so we get it.

Despite the lack of GSM 850, we found signal strength to be excellent everywhere we tested. UMTS would've been nice, but we gave up on that dream ages ago. Call quality was superb, and the speakerphone had among the best volume and quality of any we've tested in recent memory. It's actually (gasp!) usable!

As high as we were on the P1i's strengths, its weaknesses are enough to pigeonhole it to two very specific demographics: neglected American Sony Ericsson fanatics and European businessfolk. The former category is pretty self explanatory, but why the latter? The P1i inexplicably leaves out a few key features that would elevate it from "workhorse" to "superphone" status: a 3.5mm headphone jack, HSDPA, and a quadband GSM radio (oh, and make that HSDPA tri-band while you're at it, will ya?) all come immediately to mind, and without those, we can't see this flagship appealing to the masses.

Maybe the P2i will be our dream come true -- and rest assured, we'll be crossing our fingers for a "P2a" variant this time, too.
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