Reg Review Sony Ericsson's K700i is its new midrange flagship, the successor to the T68, the phone "which saved Ericsson". It's also the second non-smartphone I've used in recent months that I've been very reluctant to return. Despite one very serious flaw, Sony Ericsson users will be at home with this new model.
When Ericsson launched the T68 late in 2001 the handset division was in the middle of a shotgun wedding to Sony's phone business. Ericsson was generally thought to have lost the plot, with market share in free fall. Perception isn't necessarily true, but the company had hitched its brand to wide, blocky antennae just as external antennae were going out of style. (It's very rare indeed to find a phone, even a CDMA phone, with an external aerial these days). The T68 truly astonished the competition: here was a colour phone with an internal antenna, Bluetooth and GPRS, POP3 email, and terrific battery life. It was the first to be skinnable, too, with Ericsson publishing an open format that spawned thousands of home made themes. The T68i is still popular today, although given the breakneck pace of competition, the color screen soon looked washed-out, and speed and radio reception were never its strong points. (It was one of the first to introduce the Windows hourglass to phones). Still, only minor speed and cosmetic upgrades were necessary in successors such as the popular T610. And the K700 doesn't offer anything revolutionary either, although it's better in almost every department.
The K700i may sell itself on the basis of its screen alone, which is the sharpest we've seen in a phone of this class. Sony Ericsson's designers have taken advantage of the colour capabilities to showcase some pointless, but very attractive eye candy, such as icons which zoom when selected and animated wallpaper. (Yes, now you really can have phone that looks like there's a fly trapped inside it.) Theme designers are already taking advantage of this. Not all the applications make use of the 176x220 pin sharp screen, however. The Calendar could be a clear champion, but the grids used for day and week views are the same size as its predecessors, effectively wasting all that new screen real estate . That resolution is the same as Nokia's Series 60, although this is a much smaller screen than you'll find in the 6600, and the small size of the phone is again one of its selling points. And at 93g, so is the weight.
The other selling point of the K700i is its lightening-fast access to WAP sites. Sony Ericsson has built-in Java, and much to our surprise we found we could access AT&T Wireless' home deck in less time than the T68 would take to open the address book. Without the dreaded wait, we did find going online to look something up, or browse the downloads, much more appealing. To the non-technical users it will appear to have blurred the boundary between what's "in the phone" and what's an online service, which is just as it should be, and carriers will be particularly pleased.
Another surprise was the quality and clarity of the built-in FM radio. This is now a fairly common sight on public transport in Europe, and your reviewer will very much miss this feature. All phones should have a radio: it's a proven media that works. The power consumption of the radio is almost negligible.
Radio reception marked another improvement over previous generations, although a little weaker than larger smartphones, which of course have larger internal antennae. US users on the AT&T and Cingular networks should note that they won't be able to take advantage of the vastly better reception on the 850Mhz band, and should wait for a K700 version that does.