Notes On The Z1010

As usual, by the time you read this, the Z1010 will be on sale - or at least being touted in the media as part of everyone's 3G strategy. Having used it for a while, I thought I'd share some of my notes on how to make the best of it with your Mac. Of course, as usual, your mileage may vary - the fact it works for me is not by any means an endorsement, and you're encouraged to find out more for yourself.

(These notes were scribbled over the course of several weeks and were starting to look like something I'd never really get around to publish, so I decided to make a final push and just do it - apologies for the rather terse styling, but I'm still in weekend mode and not really that inspired at the moment. I'm sure there will be plenty other reviews around.)

What It Does

The Z1010 is SonyEricsson's first commercial 3G phone, and shares a lot of functionality with the K700. However, some of the K700's features were replaced with 3G capabilities - the Z1010 has a second camera for video telephony, a "video call" key and a number of differences in terms of firmware (some of the fancier Bluetooth options like remote control are absent). Nevertheless, the phone feels mostly the same, thanks to the new SonyEricsson UI.

It sports the usual range of messaging features (SMS, MMS and basic POP3/IMAP mail client), runs Java applications (I don't care much for games, but MIDP/Calc runs just fine) and features a built-in media player (yes, it can play MP3 through the included stereo handset). It supports Bluetooth (of course) and includes both a Memory Stick Duo slot and a standard mini-USB plug (with which I haven't been able to do much on the Mac, although it was instantly recognized and installed by XP as a serial device).

What It Feels Like

That said, the first impact is a bit daunting. The phone is huge, and handles like a smal terracotta brick. The big screen makes up for it a bit, but the keyboard feels like it was designed for people with very large hands - mostly due to the key's relatively small size when compared to the available space.

The screen fonts, despite being very readable (something I'd rather credit the screen's size for) are hideous, and overall the phone UI seems to waste a lot of screen real estate with frilly title bars and spacers. My solution for that was simple: I designed my own theme and made better use of the screen real estate (I'll eventually publish it in my CVS section, since I've yet to tweak a couple of images a bit).

My main gripe with most SonyEricsson phones is that their UI, despite looking good, is generally slow and cumbersome. The Z1010 does away with most of the slowness, but some things (like e-mail settings) take an inordinate amout of steps to configure, and despite the inclusion of "recently used" contact lists when sending messages, it's still a bit clumsy to use.

What It Does

Well, it does calls (and video calls, which look very good on its big, well-lit screen). You can also push up the volume to use it as a passable speakerphone, which is nice - but not really the reason I carry it around.

Using it as a 3G Bluetooth modem or binding it to a headset is trivial - setting up the link is a virtually identical process to a T610, with the usual caveat that SonyEricsson phones are extremely picky where it regards GPRS CIDs (Connection IDs) - make sure you specify the CID correctly when dialling (i.e., *99***4#). Data performance was excellent - I easily topped off at 384Kbps, and the connection was perfectly stable. But then, I'm using it on a very good 3G network, and you tend not to move around when you're using a laptop - so your mileage may vary.

Like other SonyEricsson phones,the battery lasts quite a bit - using it with my Pocket PC/iPAQ 2215 during a whole day away from the office was an entirely viable proposition, although I obviously wasn't permanently connected. It was not uncommon to use it with my iBook for a couple of hours every day, but bear in mind it was always charged overnight - with Bluetooth on and after a typical work day, I still had around 1/3 battery left - and it's lasted me a couple of days between charges, but not always.

I must admit I never used it as an MP3 player - the bundled 32MB card is a joke when compared to my 20GB iPod, and the phone will apparently only take cards up to 128MB in capacity.

Under XP and my Conceptronic dongle, it's trivial to pick out contacts and Outlook events and send them to the phone via Bluetooth - I don't really use the phone calendar, but it's nice to be able to do this sort of one-off import.

What It Doesn't Do

Well, obviously, it doesn't work with iSync just yet. As a stopgap measure, I've relied on the excellent SonyEricsson OBEX support to send all contacts from my T610 to it from time to time. It also won't work with Address Book the way I need (it won't send or receive SMS), but I imagine that is only a matter of time (and a couple of iSync updates).

It also won't fit invisibly in a trouser pocket. Believe me, I've tried. It's just too big to carry around all the time, and tends to create some nasty bulges - even in suit pockets.

Look At The Birdie

The phone has two cameras (one internal camera for video calls and an external camera to which you can switch during a video call, which is always handy).

Sadly, the outside camera is limited to VGA (480x640) resolution (which would have been fine last year, but which is pitiful these days). Worse, despite a relatively good lens and color range, compression artifacts are very noticeable (it might be my firmware version). It is also placed exactly where you tend to rest your fingers - ergonomics is definetly not this phone's best feature.

The phone saves JPEG images to the Memory Stick with proper EXIF tagging - a rare ocurrence in the phone world - and I was able to slot my DSC-T1 card in it and have it send a 2MB image over e-mail (extreme hi-res moblogging, anyone?). You can also record 3GPP video clips, although I honestly didn't bother.

Final Notes

All in all, it reminds me a lot of the T610 - the UI is still not intuitive, it feels clunky and slow to use, but the data features and excellent Bluetooth support (especially OBEX and dial-up networking) are likely to make up for it in the long run.

People looking for a smaller 3G phone should definetly check out the Samsung/SGH-Z105 (which performs equally well as a USB modem), but anyone who needs a Bluetooth phone to use as a "personal wireless gateway" doesn't really have any other option at the moment.

And it's much, much better to use a Bluetooth headset on video calls - no whitish stringy wires keeping you from moving your neck too much...

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