Sony Ericsson P1i review
Michal Jerz, May 2007
Important notice: This review is based on a prototype unit, which doesn't represent quality or functionality to be offered by commercial devices. Some features are still missing or are subject to change or improve, so any drawbacks mentioned in this review or the quality of included picture and video samples should not be treated as what's to be expected when the P1 becomes officially available. There is a major firmware update scheduled to be ready and installed on commercial units, so let's treat this (p)review as a decription of NOT LESS than what you can expect, but there most probably will be something more...
As always with products being upgrades to existing models, this review focuses on CHANGES and NEW FEATURES rather than repeating what hasn't changed and has already been reviewed several times in the past. If some information you're looking for is not covered by this review (e.g. description of Calendar or Contacts applications which are the same as in previous models), please check our P990i review and M600i review for details.
Announced on May 8th 2007, the Sony Ericsson P1 (P1i) is scheduled for release in Q3 2007. With the announcement of the P1 Sony Ericsson breaks the clear distinction between the P-series (P800, P900, P910 and P990) and the M-series (M600) and W-series (W950). Sony Ericsson advertise the P1i as a successor to the P990 and the M600, but the P1 is hard to classify as an upgrade to either of them: it has the same flip-less, candybar form factor as the M600 and W950 while offering many features previously reserved for the P-series, like WiFi or camera. It also uses the UI variant known from M600 and W950 and not from the P990. Does it mean it gets a mixture of the best features of all three of its predecessors? Read on.
First things first. The most important improvement that HAS TO be mentioned right at the beginning of this review is the increased size of operating (RAM) memory. The P1 has twice more RAM (128 MB compared to 64 MB in the previous models) but that's not all.
As the operating system still uses the same amount of memory as previously, i.e. about 48 MB, having twice more RAM means that there is FOUR TIMES MORE free RAM memory available for the user and applications (128 MB - 48 MB = 80 MB free RAM in the P1 compared to 64 MB - 48 MB = 16 MB in P990). If you own the P990, M600 or W950, you most probably know that the limited size of available RAM has always been the most serious problem on these models. Not anymore. 80 MB free RAM in the P1 means virtually unlimited multitasking, i.e. the ability to simultaneously run as many programs as you wish and keep them working in the background. Forget about 'Not enough memory' errors or the browser or email client shutting down by itself when you attempt to run other programs. The increased size of available RAM also improves stability. Even if there are still some memory leaks (and I haven't noticed any so far), it'll be much more difficult for them to fill four times more memory and make the phone unstable. The good news is that after one week of tests I haven't experienced any "phone reboots to improve performance" issues.
Another improvement, especially for M600 and W950 owners, is the 3.2 Megapixel camera with autofocus. It delivers similar quality as the one in the P990 but the increased resolution of still pictures means more details on your photos and allows for prints of larger size, comparable with standalone digicams. There is also a secondary camera located on the front side of the phone which is used for video calls. For more detailed description and samples please see the Software part of this review.
What hasn't changed since the previous models is the type and speed of the application processor. The P1 still uses the ARM9-based Nexperia NX4008 CPU clocked at 208 MHz. Is it good or bad? Well, the latest S60 3rd Edition phones are equipped with 330 MHz ARM11-based OMAP2420 processors, but the P1's Nexperia has some unique features (e.g. hardware encryption accelerator and video accelerator including H.263 encoder/decoder) so in many cases it is much faster than what you could judge based just on its clock frequency. It is safe to say that the speed is OK for this kind of device and its uses.
Another area which remains unchanged (compared to P990) is connectivity and data transmission. Just like the P990, the P1 is an UMTS/GPRS phone, which means no HSDPA or EDGE. Which is a pity. It is also slightly disappointing that WLAN still only supports 802.11b (11 Mbps). The P1 is the only WiFi device with no "g" mode support I own, still forcing me to keep my wireless router working in the Mixed mode. But hey, even the "b"-only WLAN support is still a great news for people upgrading from the WiFi-less M600 or W950. Better "b" than nothing. Security options include WEP, Shared WEP, Dynamic WEP, WPA Personal and WPA Enterprise.
Cable connectivity (USB 2.0 Full speed 12 Mbps with Mass storage support) is done via the standard SE "FastPort" and the phone will ship with the same desk stand as the P990. Bluetooth 2.0 EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) provides much increased connection speed and includes support for A2DP and AVRCP (as well as Synchronization, Basic Image, Dial Up Networking, Generic Access, Generic Object Exchange, Object Push, Serial Port, Handsfree, Headset, FTP and HID profiles).
The screen is a QVGA (240x320 pixels), 2.6" transflective display with touch support. It is easier to use in bright light conditions and the contast and colors can be described as "very good". The screen is touch sensitive so it's more fragile than phones without touch support - a screen protector foil is recommended and will also aid in keeping the display clean as it's susceptible to smears and grease/sweat from fingers and face.
The P1 has the same kind of keyboard as the M600. Each key has two characters printed on opposite sides and you press the corresponding side of a key to get the letter you want. Maybe not as convenient as full size QWERTY keyboard (vide E90), but such a design allows making the keyboard (and thus the entire device) much smaller while retaining relatively large keys, much bigger than the ones known from P910 or P990 keyboards. Yes, it takes getting used to, but after several days you'll most probably find it better and more convenient to use than thumbboards with tiny keys and even smaller spacing between them.
To make pressing the correct side easier, the keys are convex at their vertical edges, though not as convex as on the M600, which I consider a disadvantage. While flatter keys make it easier to move your finger between keys, the comfort of typing suffers a little bit compared to the M600. Not too much, though, so don't consider it a serious problem, especially that the tactile feedback is now considerably better. It is also worth mentioning that the keys are now slightly smaller (shorter) than in the M600. Regarding the look, the keyboard (and so the entire device) looks very nice, especially when it's dark, thanks to the red digits looking really good on black keys. Like in the P990, M600 and W950, the jog dial is three-way only (up, down and push) but now it's easier to use because the surrouding plastic is slightly concave and there is no protective protuberance known from older models. Hardware buttons include camera button and re-configurable web button (on the right) and back / keypad lock button (on the left). The stylus is now about 1 cm longer than in the previous models and is still located on the right side of the phone, which I have always considered a bit strange. Its upper part is dark red, matching the colour of digits on the keyboard.
The P1 is a really great looking device. The silver frame looks like brushed metal on the front side, there is a chromium-plated strip (covering the loudspeaker) on the back making the phone look more professional and elegant, the camera is surrounded by a silver cicrle with two Flash LEDs and the black plastic on the back side (including the battery cover) is rubber-like and very soft, providing better grip. Overall, the device is really well-built using high quality materials and it feels considerably better and "more expensive" than the plasticy M600 or W950. You won't be ashamed to show the P1 in good company and I'd even say that it's a good choice for those who like to show off. There are also no creaking sounds or other undesired effects (unless you tend to squeeze your phones like a citron). Measuring 106 x 55 x 17 mm and weighing 124 g, the P1 is about 25% smaller than its P-series predecessors. Yes, it is heavier and slightly thicker than M600 and W950, but it actually only adds to the good impression of being well-built and solid. Silver metal wrist strap handle located above the jog dial makes a really good impression, too.
The P1 has 160 MB of internal storage memory (internal disk for storing user data, email, etc.) and comes with 512 MB Memory Stick Micro (M2) memory card, expandable to 4 GB. The slot (located on the right side of the phone under the protective cover) supports hot swapping. I'd recommend to install most of 3rd party applications and files on the memory card and keep the internal memory free for messaging (beamed files, receiving emails with large attachments) as the messaging folder cannot be moved to the memory card.
I can't comment on battery life at the moment as the prototype unit I tested came with BST-33 battery (950 mAh). Retail units will ship bigger battery (1120 mAh) providing much longer standby and talk times. But even with the BST-33 battery, the unit provides 2 days of average use and still one full day with heavy use, including several hours of music playback, an hour or so of voice calls, web browsing, checking email and using the organizer.
Call quality can be described as the same as known from the previous models. Music quality via "wired" and wireless headsets is now considerably higher, first of all thanks to the increased volume of multimedia playback. Low audio volume was one of the most annoying "features" of the previous UIQ3-based models. Tested with the HBH-DS970 A2DP headset, the P1 finally delivers true listening pleasure (though I'm not an audiophile so those with higher-than-average expectations may not agree with my judgement). Loudspeaker (mono) is OK but with max volume and higher frequencies it (or the casing surrounding it) generates some buzz and this is where high-end S60 phones perform better.
Again, let's start from mentioning the most visible and useful changes. One of them is what I always dreamed about: support for plugins on the standby ("Activity") screen. The prototype P1 I tested was equipped with one plugin: "Activity menu". Basically, it is a "quick launch" list of 15 application icons letting you start your favourite / most frequently used programs, tasks, open contacts, documents, pictures, radio presets, audio and video clips or web pages directly from the standby screen with a single tap. By default, the plugin shows five icons and the remaining 10 icons can be unfolded by tapping a small triangle. There is a new setting in the Control panel called "Standby application", which currently only lets you choose between "Activity menu" and "None" but this most probably means that further 3rd party plugins can be installed and used. If that's true (and if the support for plugins is advanced enough) this would allow for all kinds of extremely useful functions to be made available directly from the main screen of your device. Just imagine having automatically updated RSS feeds, currency exchange rates, weather forecast, scrollable playlist, or maybe even a slideshow of thumbnails of your favourite photos always shown on the standby screen. Well, for the time being is just my "wishlist" as I don't know any details of how advanced the plugin engine is going to be, but it's doable and it will only depend on how far Sony Ericsson software engineers (and marketing people) will want it to go, so let's keep our fingers crossed.
If you disable the plugin in Control panel by choosing the "None" setting, a large and clearly visible digital clock is shown instead of the plugin.
As mentioned earlier, the P1 uses the same UI variant as the M600/W950: the status bar is on top of the screen while the bottom is occupied by "soft buttons". Just like M600 and W950, the P1 doesn't have hardware soft keys (or the usual Send/End buttons), which means that you have to use the touch screen, either with your finger or with the stylus. Lacking the flip, the P1 obviously doesn't have P990's Flip closed mode, either.
As already described, the P1 has four times more RAM memory than the P990. Which means virtually no restrictions in the number of applications you can run at the same time and keep working in the background. Finally, you can use the built-in Task Manager to switch between apps and not just to kill them so it's a good idea to have it assigned to the configurable hardware button. This single improvement alone gives the P1 wings and lets it release full potential of the UIQ3 platform. You will no longer have any problems with opening large documents or browsing advanced web pages, or having push email client working in the background all the time. All the annoying restrictions known from previous models are now gone. Forget about "No memory" errors because you won't be seeing them on the P1 unless you really push it to its limits. The increased RAM memory also improves stability: even if a buggy program causes memory leaks, it won't be as easy as on the current models to fill RAM and make the device unstable or reboot itself, especially that memory management has apparently been improved, too. So the P1 is again what the UIQ 2.x based P910i was: a truly multitasking smartphone. Last but not least, more RAM also affects the overall performance: switching between applications working in the background is instantenous and the UI is considerably more snappy. The "Transitions on/off" setting in the Control panel is still present so you can further accelerate the UI by disabling all special effects (icon animations, menu transitions, etc.). Transitions are disabled by default, anyway.
The system software and built-in applications haven't changed much, at least in the current pre-release firmware. There are small tweaks here and there, but overall M600 and W950 users upgrading to the P1 will feel at home. The Music player (supporting MP3, AAC, AAC+, E-AAC+, WAV and M4A formats) and Sound Recorder have been slightly improved with support for TrackID and the Video player now includes updated H.264 support.
The P1 still uses the same Symbian OS 9.1 and UIQ 3.0 versions as its predecessors but you should not feel disappointed about it as the newer UIQ 3.1 is mainly aimed at non-touchscreen phones with no important benefits for devices like the P1. What P1 owners will benefit from is the announced wide range of additional software to be bundled with the P1 or available as Try and Buy. One of the pre-configured icons of the "Activity menu" plugin is "More applications" leading to a Sony Ericsson Application Shop web page where P1 add-ons will be available. My-Symbian visitors can also take advantage of the My-Symbian Software Store with full choice of UIQ 3 software and attractive promotions. The P1 is backwards compatible with previous UIQ 3.0 phones, which means that you can use all existing 3rd party software with it. According to the P1 White Paper, applications offered with the phone will include Skype client, Google Mail and Blogger, a broad range of push-email clients (Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Nokia Intellisync, Blackberry, Seven, Ericsson Mobile Office and others), Audible client, DivX Player, VoIP client, VPN manager and more. Unfortunately, I couldn't test them at the moment because my prototype unit was delievered without these add-ons and the Try & Buy page for the P1 in the Sony Ericsson Application Shop isn't ready yet.
Messaging application hasn't changed except for built-in support for push email - appropriate setting is available in Email account configuration. Handwriting recognition and virtual keyboard are the same as in previous models.
The camera is another strong point of the P1. In terms of shutter lag, focusing time and image processing time it delivers performance comparable to simple digicams. In terms of quality, the P1 offers the same still picture quality as the P990 (i.e. very good) and - thanks to the 3.2 Megapixel resolution - higher level of detail. It is safe to say that the P1 can replace a basic digicam in "everyday use", even in low light, thanks to keeping digital noise on a very decent level. The camera is easy to use and settings are limited to the most important options: resolution (3 MP, 2 MP, 1 MP, VGA for stills; 320x240, 176x144, 160x120, 128x96 for video), shooting mode (still shot, video, burst, frame), night mode (on/off), quality (fine, normal, economy), effects (black & white, sepia, solarization, negative), Flash (on/off), White balance (auto, cloudy, daylight, fluorescent, incandescent), Autofocus (normal/macro/off) plus settings for shutter sound (four presets) and storage location (internal memory or memory card). Automatic white balance works very well and provides good colours.
While the quality of still shots is more than satisfactory, video quality is (at least on the tested prototype unit) somewhat disappointing. It's not worse than in the P990, but one might expect some improvement in a new model... The highest resolution (QVGA, 320x240 pixels) is limited to 15 frames per second while lower resolutions can be recorded at 30 fps. I'm not sure if it results from bitrate restrictions (384 kbps max) or poor codec algorithms but the compression is simply too high and in some cases (large unicoloured areas) it severely blurs the picture or fills the entire frame with awful artefacts. Let's hope that video quality gets improved before the P1 starts shipping.
All the remaining applications, including Calendar and Contacts, Office applications (QuickOffice suite, Pdf+, Notes, Tasks and Business Card Scanner), Web browser (Opera 8.56), RSS feeds viewer, Picture gallery, Multimedia applications (FM radio with RDS, Sound recorder, MusicDJ) and games (QuadraPop and Vijay Singh Pro Golf 3D) remain the same as in previous models. For details, please check our P990i and M600i reviews.
The following screenshots show results of JBenchmark 3D, JBenchmark HD and processor performance tests of JBenchmark Pro from JBenchmark.com compared to P1's predecessor, the P990i, and the fastest S60 3rd Edition phone currently available, the Nokia N93.
Sony Ericsson P1i:
Sony Ericsson P990i:
As you can see, the P1i offers slighly higher performance than the P990, probably thanks to enhanced RAM memory and some optimizations in the system software. However, in all tests (both graphics and CPU benchmarks) it performs considerably worse (up to several times) than the N93. The question is if it's really something to be worried about... It's definitely not a good news for gamers but people who use their smartphones as organizers and small computers providing storage for personal data and giving access to the Web and email shouldn't care about it too much. It's not a speed champion, but it's safe to say that it is fast enough for what it's meant for. The only area where some speed improvement would be more than welcome is the boot time: it takes the P1 close to 1 min 20 seconds whereas recent S60 3rd Edition phones like the N95, N93i or E90 boot in less than 30 seconds. It's really annoying to wait that long each time you power on your phone and the progress bar recently added by SE doesn't help much (but I understand why it was added: it takes UIQ 3 phones so long to start that the progress bar is there to show that the phone is still alive).
Evolution and not revolution, but evolution in the right direction. The number one improvement is definitely the increased size of available RAM memory, providing true and unrestricted multitasking, much better stability (the tested proto unit hasn't rebooted even once nor did it cause any other stability problems) and positive impact on overall performance. 3.2 Megapixel camera produces quality pictures and, well, tolerable video. Slightly improved transflective display works better in direct sunlight and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR provides faster connectivity. Elegant design, solid build and high quality materials make the device look and feel really good. Software improvements, especially the support for plugins on the Activity screen, add to the comfort of use and enhance functionality. Considering that we won't see a "true" P990 successor (with 2.8" screen and flip) before 2008, it may be considered worth getting not only for M600i users who get a lot of new features, but also for P990i owners struggling with all the problems caused by P990's limited RAM memory. Acquiring UIQ Technology by Sony Ericsson gives hope for faster and "more unified" development and further improvements coming with firmware updates. I'll be missing the flip I got used so much to when using the P990 and the lack of EDGE and HSDPA somehow restricts data transfer options in some areas, but other than that the P1i is a highly valuable upgrade to both the P990 and the M600. You decide.
What I like:
- four times more free RAM memory providing true multitasking, improving stability and performance
- 3.2 Megapixel camera producting quality still shots
- support for plugins on the Activity screen
- improved transflective display
- Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
- high quality build, elegant design
- higher capacity battery
- improved multimedia playback volume
- broad range of additional applications to be available when the device starts shipping.
What I don't like:
- video quality should be improved
- WLAN 802.11g support would be a warmly welcome addition
- no HSDPA and EDGE
- people upgrading from P990 may be missing its larger 2.8" display
- booting the system takes too long: almost 3 times longer than S60 3rd Edition phones
- no built-in GPS.
Further questions? Comments? Requests? Share your opinion with us on our UIQ 3 Discussion forum - the most popular UIQ forum on the Internet.
Back to top of page