7/25/07

Sony Ericsson K850 review


Mobile-review have posted the another part of their huge Sony Ericsson K850 review. Last time they focused on the camera and now they focus on the phone itself. Lots of info, pics and videos in the review. Definitely worth checking out. Here is the final part of the review which talks about the new A200 platform which I found very interesting.


Hardware platform A2, software platform A200
Many are curious what the difference between the A2 and its predecessor is, and how crucial the changes are. The hardware department hasn’t gone through too many improvements – while the RAM volume has been increased, the CPU utilized in the K850i is still ARM11 running at 220 MHz, which proves to be sufficient for most users, meaning that boosting the frequency would have led to an unreasonably power-hungry device. But speaking of really important performance-related facets, we can’t overlook somewhat sluggish image pop-up time in the Media section (thumbnails) due to the size of snaps. It normally takes a few seconds, but it is more likely to be about the throughput between the memory card and other components of the system. Personally, I see this as the main and the only reason. After loading the gallery, navigation goes just fine. In my opinion, ready thumbnails would have done much better, compared to dynamic rendering that takes place every time you enter the gallery. This trick is employed in a number of devices, naturally it has own downsides, but honestly, there are more positives to it.


Software platform A200

The new generation of handsets boils down to another software department alone. The core of the update is JP-8 Java platform, which stands higher on the platform ladder than the previously embedded JP-7, so it brings along loads of new API, which are of great interest. Therefore let’s focus on this enhancement first and then move on to all other interface-related upgrades.

JP-8

The introduction of Java-platforms in Sony Ericsson was a consistent step on the way of getting application development for current generation of handsets easier. As a matter of fact, standardization always does a lot of good to third-party developers, saving them both time and money. First, like in Nokia’s and Motorola’s (a bit later) handsets, the JSR-248 or Mobile Service Architecture is supported. This umbrella standard defines the essential, minimal set of API for all today’s Java-armed handsets. Previously different Java editions utilized in phones provoked confusion among developers; however the industry has put it all together so as to avoid similar issues in future.

MSA includes a selection of obligatory standards, while a number of them are optional, meaning that the makers can either use them or not, which ensures a wide variety of feature packs. An example of an optional API for Sony Ericsson would be the JSR 256, which is Mobile Sensor API. With its help developers can make up applications embracing the abilities of the inbuilt motion sensor. Particularly in the K850i it is a stock game, where you can push a ball around. Other manufacturers can take this API on board as well – it is all up to them.

Let’s look into other API:

JSR 239 Java binding for OpenGL ES API – 3D graphics support;
JSR 177 Security and Trust Services API – support for user identification. The main API for mobile commerce in future;;
JSR229 Payment API – payments from a mobile terminal;
JSR 234 Advanced Multimedia – 3D sound, access to camera, bundled FM-tuner and RDS data, partly supported in the JP-7;
JSR 179 – Location API – application for handling coordinates, like those provided by Google Maps;
JSR 238 Internationalization – localization of devices and applications;
JSR 211 support for SIP – VoIP calls;

Looking at the list of API can reaffirm the fact that a feature phone of today is not too far away from smartphones, and eventually Java is getting to be not less interesting when it comes to expanding default functionality of mobile terminals and in the near term might actually enable the same functionality as Symbian-powered applications.

I shall make a reservation, though, that the K850i is one of the first handsets to support the JP-8 (two others - Z750i, W910i). And naturally, it would be at least unwise to expect Sony Ericsson to implement all the features the JP-8 brings about in this single phone. For example, VoIP-calls, for the most part, require a bundled WiFi module (not a must, but highly recommended, otherwise there is no point in VoIP). And in real life, carriers stand against the chance for users to save some money with VoIP-calls, that’s why some carries have discarded this feature in the Nokia N95 (like we mentioned in our review)

So owners of feature phones will have nothing else to do but hope for third-party applications, since the makers will limit this department (on their own or by requests from carriers). Remember the Nokia 6136 with UMA support (WiFi only for VoIP calls via the carrier’s native network with corresponding tariffs).

We couldn’t be happier with third-party developers acquiring access to all the required tools, so we can hope for these applications to come in future. But by the moment they actually arrive, the Sony Ericsson K850i will have been all but exhausted, but other models embracing the JP-8 will put these applications to better use.

But in order not to delve into specifications of various API and how they will influence the phones to come even deeper, I shall only note that with the HGE-100, an external GPS-receiver and a Java-application, or connection to Google Maps, even the Sony Ericsson K850i can provide you with navigation capabilities. It is quite another matter, though, that the handset filling in the gap between this model and the next flagship will carry this ability by default. It is quite remarkable that the story with the Sony Ericsson K800 and the Sony Ericsson K810 repeats – let’s say it will be the Sony Ericsson K860i. And I do they it will come with a shutter – my beloved marketers, this is by no means a gentle hint.

Nokia User Interface

One of the strategic decisions for Sony Ericsson was support for Java classes for Nokia UI in 2004. As a result of this field’s development the Sony Ericsson K850i, as well as other handsets running the JP-8 have switched over to the S40 philosophy. What is this all about?

First of all, the keypad layout. Before this moment, all handsets by Sony Ericsson had two soft-keys and a separate Back button that allows jumping back to the previous menu or standby. The new models have no trace of this key left. Now there are three soft-keys placed right beneath the display, whose actions bear strong resemblance of the S40 utilized by Nokia. Obviously, this move by Sony Ericsson along with standardization of Java (MSA support), makes the life of software developers so much easier. But is it any good for users? To my mind, again we run into the situation when previous user experience has no effect. All the things the company has been making us learn over the past 5 years in now gone, the new experience is here to stay. And it is interesting only for those who would like to migrate from Nokia- to Sony Ericsson-branded solutions, rather than the brand loyal users. It might be questionable, but after all it is a forced step – the only thing left to add is that the users will get used to the new layout sooner or later; thankfully it is not that hard.

Thereupon, I should also mention those considerable efforts made by Sony Ericsson to unify various device types. This way, even for UIQ 3.1 they employ a three-softkey setup, which lets a range of identical products to emerge within the company’s portfolio.

In the next part we are going to talk on how Sony Ericsson wants to let all K850i buyers earn some coins, SVG implementation and its conditional character, new goodies in messages, which I loved, and also the rest of the handset’s abilities. Including some modes materialized in a really interesting way, specifically slide-show, media and many others.

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