Sony Ericsson G900 preview: Touch and go
The UIQ user interface updated
Sony Ericsson have put a great deal of effort in optimizing the UIQ user interface for thumb use. Some controls have gotten bigger - especially the multimedia and camera ones. You have a vast array of user-configurable shortcuts at your disposal to make everyday tasks easier. The Notes application has also received an upgrade and is now among the phone's main organizing features - a welcome change as we prefer notes over to-do lists for keeping track of our daily schedule. The new task manager also makes it easier to control and switch between the currently running applications.
You won't hear us comment on the features of the UIQ smartphone interface here. Those remain the same throughout the Sony Ericsson latest phones and if you are interested in finding out more you're welcome to return to our Sony Ericsson W960 review - all beside the Walkman today screen holds true for the G900.
We've already previewed the Sony Ericsson G700 too, so if you've read that, you are most likely to come across the same features twice. There are differences in the camera part, so don't miss that.
Here are the additional interface themes that come preloaded on the G900. As you will notice they don't offer tremendous change, but all of them are more eye pleasing than the default one.
You probably already know from our G700 preview that one of the biggest changes is the Home screen plug-in. It offers the users a new shortcut bar that can be scrolled horizontally. They are totally user-configurable - you can add more as you wish. Those tabs make life easier for repetitive daily things such as calling home, sending messages or adding to-do tasks. The possibilities are hardly limited.
Of course the traditional Business plug-in is also available.
The Notes application has been upgraded with the Sony Ericsson G900 and is now pitched as a serious organizing application. It has even got a dedicated shortcut key on the keypad.
The notes you create now resemble the sticky notes some of us like to stick around their desk or on the fridge. They can combine drawings, written or typed text and they can change colors for easier sorting.
The options don't end here - now you can add alarms to your notes, send them via MMS or Bluetooth, upload them to your blog or file them in separate folders, such as Business, Personal or Urgent. There is however a downgrade too. You cannot use different colors of ink for your drawings as it used to be in the previous UIQ smartphones.
Those upgrades are welcome but the need for a dedicated Notes key on the keypad still remains questionable to us.
The task manger that comes with the UIQ interface has also been changed. Previously, opening it presented you with a list of recently opened applications, and the actual list of running applications was hidden on a second tab. Now the recent applications tab has disappeared, and the list of running applications appears as a pop-up, really neat and convenient.
Make more of your multimedia
Sony Ericsson G900 comes with the Media Center that we've seen on some of the latest Sony Ericsson feature phones. It provides one-click access to your photos, music, and video. You are able to sort music by filters as year, genre, albums, tracks, playlists, podcasts, etc. If you want to find a particular song, but know just a part of its name, don't worry, just type it in, and the phone will automatically find and display it.
The Media Center also supports changing the screen orientation. And best of all, both Sony Ericsson G700 and G900 have the MegaBass equalizer preset, so now even Walkman fans can be content.
The video player has large controls allowing easy thumb operation.
Both Sony Ericsson G700 and G900 have built-in stereo FM radio tuners with RDS support and the Sony Ericsson TrackID music recognition service. You need to plug in the headphones in order to use the radio, as they serve as an antenna.
Browsing images is as fun as on the Sony Ericsson W890. The Media center photo gallery is a convenient tool for managing a vast collection of camera photos with great customization capabilities. Photo Tags allows you to tag an image with a custom tag of your own thus making filtering easier.
The slideshow function is readily available as soon as you open any image fullscreen. Before they start, you are asked to pick a mood and the handset plays the animated slideshows with background music to suit the chosen mood. The transition style of the slideshow also varies according to the mood.
Welcome to touch focus
The UIQ camera interface we've come to know from previous models was poor on user-friendliness. The Sony Ericsson G900 however comes with a brand new camera that is really intuitive, it's full of helpful hints and most important of all - it's optimized for thumb operation. Unfortunately, the menus available on the viewfinder cannot be operated with the D-pad as a back-up option.
The Sony Ericsson G700 3 megapixel camera lacked auto focus and some advanced camera settings. The situation with the G900 is entirely different. With G900 you get everything the Cyber-shot users get.
With the Sony Ericsson G900 you get digital image stabilization, full Scenes mode, Panorama and Multi-shot shooting mode. What's more, you have the Touch focus feature that allows you to select the subject to be in focus when you are framing your shot.
The most important settings are available straight from the viewfinder, the additional settings menu gives access to options such as picture size, white balance, effects, storage location, and shutter sound (can be turned off).
We are not that pleased with the camera performance of the Sony Ericsson G900. Firing up the camera is somewhat slow at around 7 seconds, while the shot-to-shot time at high-quality is about another 6 seconds. That's with the auto preview option set to off - and of course you have to remember that the auto focus slows down things a bit. It's also very likely that Sony Ericsson will fix that in the retail version of the handset.
Unfortunately the camera of our G900 prototype is not yet fully finished, much like the one on G700. Cameras usually are the last things that get tuned properly before a handset gets released. This is the reason why we are only offering a few camera samples - the following two are downsized to 1024 x 768 pixels. No other photo editing was done on the samples.
Here is a full-resolution Sony Ericsson G900 camera sample for you to enjoy.
As far as the Touch focus is concerned, we were eager to test it out. It turned out that the feature works just fine, but we find it more of a marketing gimmick. You can get the same effect by the old trick of focusing and reframing. The trick includes focusing dead center on the subject that needs to be in focus and then keeping the shutter key at half-press you simply reframe the scene to get that extra artistic off-center look. It's as simple as that.
Nevertheless here's a sample that the Touch focus feature works exactly as advertised.
The G900 video recorder however is not upgraded and it still maxes out at 30 fps at QVGA resolution, which just passes acceptable by our standards.
Here is the 30fps Sony Ericsson G900 sample camera video. It's a good guess that video quality or at least the zoom freeze will be fixed later on.
It's got Wi-Fi and an excellent web browser
Sony Ericsson G900 has one crucial advantage over G700 and that is the Wi-Fi support. Add the capable web browser and UMTS support, and the G900 turns out a nice web phone package (among many other things). We would have liked it better if it had HSDPA support, but obviously keeping the cost down has been a priority with both the G700 and G900.
The G900 web browser performs fast and has enough configuration options to make mobile web browsing real fun. You can move the current page around by dragging it with your thumb but it's even faster with the D-pad. With the D-pad, the browser offers supreme speed when scrolling and panning. You can also use the fullscreen or tabbed browsing to make your life easier. Zooming and text searching is also available.
Unfortunately the fullscreen mode is not as full as the one of G700, but that seems to be just a prototype bug - so go easy on this fellow.
The Sony Ericsson G900 doesn't score as high as the G700 on ergonomics - the memory card slot location and the absence of the two context keys tip the scales in favor of the G700. Yet, it still allows one-handed operation with almost no need for stylus.
The Sony Ericsson G900 has borrowed the best of the Walkman and the Cyber-shot worlds (excluding the xenon flash and the accelerometer) and put Wi-Fi support and touchscreen display on top. With excellent build quality and a presumably easier to swallow price tag (EUR 300) than the Sony Ericsson W960, it surely sounds like a sweet deal.