There's more to note about the music playing pretensions of the C550, much of it paradoxical. With 64MB of built-in memory there isn't going to be enough space for you to store too many tracks so Orange supplies a Mini SD card to bump this up. But it's only a 128MB card, which isn't anywhere near enough for a music-playing phone, especially one packing Windows Media Player 10 with its ability to synchronise with its desktop version. Also, horror of horrors, as with the C500 the memory card this lives under the battery, so that you need to power the handset down to swap cards – doubly irritating as our C550 took a full 65 seconds to boot to the Orange Home screen.
Sound quality from the provided stereo headset is pretty good, though, and there is more volume than we could comfortably handle through the earbuds, though at the very highest there was some distortion. The handset's speaker is pretty good too. If only someone would include an FM radio in a Windows Mobile smart phone I'd be happy to listen for as long as the battery would allow. Orange's other software addition for musicians, FirePlayer, lets you mix downloaded tracks and produce ringtones. I found several potentially mixable tracks, but at £3.50 each I wasn't greatly tempted.
Actually, all this music capability isn't the best thing about this handset. The screen takes the prize here. It's just 2.2in diagonal, but packs in 240 x 320 pixels whereas the C500 managed a more usual 176 x 220. These extra pixels mean a little more information can be delivered in the screen space - there are now, for example, ten application options listed at once when you press the Start button instead of the previous nine, but more importantly the screen is a lot clearer. It's still only capable of 65,536 colours, though, and so left behind by the increasing number of handsets that offer 262,000.
There is, of course, a camera. Its lens sits on the back of the casing next to a self-portrait mirror. It captures stills at 1280 x 1024, 640 x 480, 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, and video at 176 x 144 and 128 x 96. There is a special mode for shooting MMS video, another for PhotoID shots and another for 'Picture Theme' shot which shove a frame round a 160 x 120 still.
There is a maximum of 4x digital zoom available and shooting modes for daylight, incandescent, fluorescent and nighttime, as well as greyscale, sepia and cool filters. None of this is particularly fancy though, and even the ability to manually adjust the brightness, gamma, hue and saturation settings using the joystick is something I've seen before. What the camera lacks is an LED flash, which would help with short range indoor snaps in gloomy conditions.
With tri-band GSM and class 10 GPRS, the SPV C550 should see you through your worldwide travels pretty effectively, and it is a definite improvement on its predecessor thanks to its superior screen, higher memory capacity and the inclusion of a joystick instead of the loathed lozenge for navigation.
But don't be drawn in by its pretensions as a music player. Good sound output and dedicated buttons are not all that a music playing handset needs. Lots of internal memory and easily swappable Flash memory are also important. And how about this for an annoyance? Tunes downloaded with Orange's Music Player are not listed in Windows Media Player, so you can't play from one unified spot, or make playlists incorporating both ripped and downloaded music. Daft.
|Orange SPV C550|
|Price||From £0, depending on monthly tariff chosen|
|More info||The Orange SPV C550 site|