The Sony Ericsson C903 measures 97 x 49 x 16 mm and weighs 96 grams. It's a compact phone and the T-series digicam styling is its most notable design highlight.
The Sony Ericsson C903 is made entirely of glossy plastic which looks and feels good. The only downside of this kind of surface is its ability to attract fingerprints. While we're at it, the brushed metallic finish of the Sony Cyber-shot T-series is well above the plastic gloss we have here.
The front panel is entirely made of the glossy black plastic in question spiced up with silvery accents on the D-pad and a thin line that divides the display and the control deck.
We have no concerns over the comfort and usability of the navigation keys and D-pad, as well as the numpad itself. The camera lens cover looks and works just fine too, the slider action only is just a bit rough at this point.
A 2.4" QVGA display dominates the front panel. Above it, an ambient light sensor and a earpiece share the topmost section of the front. The front facing camera is a controversial issue: our test unit has no such thing while on alternative pictures by Sony Ericsson themselves a video-call camera is clearly seen.
Video calls were certainly an option on our device, however it only used the main 5 megapixel camera for the purpose.
The front panel design features a D-pad and navigation keys that are very comfortable to use and have nice tactility. The D-pad is flanked on either side by the typical bulging knobs of the Call and End key. The thing to note here is the unusual styling of the soft keys, which do have a distinct Nokia feel.
The flatbed buttons at the bottom are Activity Menu on the left and the Clear key on the right. The controls are generally quite comfortable to handle, our only concern is the somewhat flimsy press of the direction keys on the D-pad.
The D-pad is big enough though and it looks quite like the one on the C905. That actually makes us hopeful the C903 D-pad will be better in the retail units, just like the case was with the Sony Ericsson C905.
The confirm key is quite responsive and tactile. In camera mode the D-pad gets some extra functionality and imaging-related controls are backlit in blue. The direction keys on the D-pad are assigned to focus mode, shoot mode, flash control and self-timer.
Sliding the phone up reveals the flatbed alphanumeric keyboard, which is an almost exact replica of the C905 numpad. We definitely won't frown at that.
The thin metallic ridges between rows enhance touch orientation and tactility is further improved by the fact that the flatbed keypad is tangibly ribbed to the touch. Key presses involve a distinct click and typing is quick and easy.
The soft white keypad backlighting is strong and remarkably even. The D-pad backlighting has a bluish tint - an almost inevitable spillover from the alternative blue illumination in camera mode.The controls on the sides of the D-pad are lit in a soft, even white.
The keypad locks automatically upon sliding the phone closed, and that's non-configurable.
The left side of Sony Ericsson C903 features nothing but the regular Fast Port - unfortunately, but quite expectedly, it doesn't have any protective cover to conceal the connectors and keep away dirt and grime away.
The M2 memory card symbol simply indicates the whereabouts of the actual slot, which is hidden under the battery cover. It is hot-swappable though, you just have to remove the back cover to access it.
The loudspeaker grill lies almost unnoticeable on the left near the memory card slot section.
The right side of the handset is the top side in digicam terms. It hosts the slightly elevated volume rocker - which doubles as a zoom lever when taking or browsing pictures - and all the camera controls. The two-step shutter key is also there and is positioned very comfortably.
What we don't like about it is press feedback. While the half press is quite distinct, the full press has no clear stop whatsoever. This may as well be a pre-release fault though and we regularly see design faults disappear on many other handsets before they hit the market.
Halfway up the right side there are another couple of camera keys which are connected in the same manner as the volume rocker key. They are the dedicated camera mode switch and the Gallery button.
The top part of the phone is totally bare and features no controls or keys whatsoever
The bottom side features only the lanyard eyelet and a small sliding switch with a padlock pictogram. It is used for releasing/locking the battery cover. Do not look for the mic pinhole down there since it's located on the keypad.