Review: Sony Ericsson M600i and UIQ 3.0 sent us over for a review the first ever phone that ships with UIQ 3.0: the Sony Ericsson M600i. This 3G SymbianOS 9.1 smartphone is one of the most popular this summer (selling at below 375 USD) and so we decided to give it a whirl too. Read on for more info, pictures, screenshots and a video of the device, the P990’s little brother.

The phone supports UMTS 3G, tri-band GSM, it sports a 2.55″ touchscreen 256k QVGA LCD, has a rocker-style qwerty keyboard and a scroll wheel, supports the new Memory Stick Micro (M2), has Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support (no EDR), SIR-based IrDA, a 900 mAh battery, 18 MBs of internal storage, USB 2.0 and it runs the newly released UIQ 3.0 on top of the Symbian OS 9.1. The phone came with a box that also included a 64MB M2 Card, a travel charger (european and US adapter), 1 stereo handsfree unit, a user manual, its driver CD and a USB data cable. We updated the device on its latest official firmware before we conducted the review which it proved extremely stable to us.

click for video

The first thing you will notice about this device is that it’s surprisingly small. In the pictures online it looked like a medium-sized device, mostly an optical illusion because of the full keyboard. But when you actually keep it in your hands for the first time, the device looks and feels extremely sleek, thin and not particularly big. While it has similar height measuraments with my QTek 9100, the M600i is significantly thinner and easier to hold steady with one hand. Overall, the M600i is just a tiny bit bigger than my iPod Mini and the smallest device in the market that sports a thumbkeyboard.

The second thing that will impress most users is the user interface. UIQ 3.0 has seen a complete overhaul and it looks way better and more modern than UIQ 2.1. There is anti-alias text now throughout the user interface, on-screen handwriting support, predictive text when using the keyboard or the virtual keyboard, support for a second language, and a choice between at least 20 more languages in the virtual keyboard. Writing using the hardware illuminated keyboard is a joy. It’s really fast to do so, especially with the help of the predictive text.

You can navigate throughout the UI either with your thumb, stylus or the wheel button on the side of the device. On the other side there is a “web” hardware button that you can modify it and make it carry over another function instead. Below the wheel button there is the “Back” button that minimizes the currently active application. Unfortunately, in order to completely shut down an application you have to bring up the Task Manager and “kill” the app from there. This is several clicks though, and it would have been easier if UIQ had implemented a “long press” for the “Back” button to shut down the app instead of just minimize it. Shutting down apps is important, because UIQ 3.0 is unusually memory hungry. When booting you will have only 19 MBs of RAM free out of 64 MBs of RAM (with UIQ 2.1 you had 15 MBs free out of 32 MBs of overall RAM). There is a need for a quick shutdown of apps on a regular basis, especially because after a bit of usage you will end up below 14 MBs of available RAM because of un-freed memory chunks and/or memory leaks.

Speed-wise there is no problem though. There is even good Java 3D support for games (the included 3D golf game runs adequately fast) and applications load quickly. The device somes with a lot of useful business applications: QuickOffice with World and Excel documents (Documents to Go also available for purchase now), PDF viewer, Email that supports Exchange ActiveSync, POP3/IMAP and Gmail, MMS/SMS, ability to make notes, voice recording messages, assign tasks with recurring alarms, speed dial, Calendaring, VPN PPTP support, a units converter, a simple calculator, time for two different timezones and more. In the “Today” front-screen of the device you can get a summary of emails, tasks, appointments, missed calls and five icon shortcuts (modifiable) to Contacts, Calendaring, Speed Dialing, Messaging and Main Menu. You can use SyncML to sync your phone with your Windows desktop, but there’s no support for Apple’s iSync just yet (it should arrive soon enough though). Finally, I was delighted to see a full-fledged File Manager on UIQ 3.0. This was an app that was truly missing on most UIQ 2.1 devices.

The M600i also comes with great multimedia support: a music and a video player. It supports AAC, MP4, MP3, 3GP and RM/RAM formats. Real Player streams can be saved as links and then played back via the “Online Player” application. Unfortunately this application does not support PLS files for online mp3 streaming. The music player is very good, it has EQ support and I found the sound quality of the included stereo headset extremely good (only problem is that they fall-off my ears as they are too wide). The video player was really good too, it can go fullscreen and do landscape. You can replace the 64 MB M2 flash storage stick with a 1 GB one and put more music and videos in it to watch when travelling (“flight mode” is supported on this phone).

We tried the M600i with our Anycom BSH-100 Bluetooth Stereo headphones (my review) which worked perfectly in all modes. We had no dropouts and audio quality was commentable in stereo mode. Listening to music or watching video without wires is truly one of the coolest things around. However, AVRCP is not supported in the M600i. When using the Bluetooth Obex File Exchange facility speed peaked at around 50 KB/sec, which is good performance.

The Opera 8.60 web browser looks and renders fabulously! It can also do fullscreen and landscape rendering. I must comment Opera for the scrolling speed of their browser on this phone. Scrolling pages up and down was never been smoother, for almost any mobile device! Opera won’t use much RAM for small pages, but for complex and big pages like it will require at least 11 MBs of RAM (leaving you with only 3-4 MBs of available RAM on the phone). The browser also supports tabs, which are very convenient. There is also an RSS companion application that worked perfectly with the OSNews and BBC newsfeeds we tried it with. Here is the user agent of the Opera browser:
SonyEricssonM600i/R100 Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Symbian OS; 276) Opera 8.60

I have also taken the time to install a number of third party native and Java applications. They all worked out of the box and without any problems: IM+, AgileMessenger, HandySafe, Chess, Finanz, WorldMate and of course GoogleMaps and Opera Mini. Currently there are only about 40-50 native UIQ 3.0 applications but more and more are getting ported, at a rate of about 10-15 per month.

Battery life is normal, but not exceptional. Especially after we disabled the 3G reception battery life came into more reasonable levels (the disabling feature is only available in the newer versions of the firmware). We managed 4 hours of talktime and we estimated over 5 days of standby time. Reception was so-so too, but audio quality was very good. Also, as there are no cameras in this phone, video-calls are supported one-way in 3G environments (sending a photo while receiving video). The touchscreen-based speed dial is very convenient too.

Where Sony Ericsson has truly failed us is in EDGE support. You see, 2100Mhz 3G does not work in USA and it doesn’t work fully in Europe either. In my homeland Greece for example, only a few towers support 3G. And when I think of this phone as a business device, I can’t stop think of my father-in-law, CEO of a very big company in France. Every other weekend he is visiting his vacation home in the mountains. He always has his phone with him to connect his laptop to the VPN/Internet and do some emailing. With the lack of 3G support in that mountain village he would be forced to download data at just 5 KB/sec wth GPRS, even if the towers there support EDGE (which usually peaks at around 22 KB/sec). And if he was to come to USA for a business trip, he would endanger his communications to no-coverage (especially in the East Coast) as the M600i is not a quad-band phone. Personally, from a business point of view, I would have prefered this phone to be Quadband/EDGE rather than 3G (even for Europeans).

Having WiFi support wouldn’t hurt either as it would allow users to use their company’s VoIP easier, it would make ActiveSync way easier/faster/cheaper and it would occasionally substitute for the (suggested) removal of 3G. I have a feeling that Sony Ericsson’s product managers internally had a long talk about the inclusion of WiFi on the M600i or not. The reason for this gut feeling is because the device supports Bluetooth PAN. This is the first non-PalmOS/WinMobile phone in the market that I have ever seen to support BT PAN. Basically, BT PAN supports connecting into a wireless LAN over Bluetooth instead of over 802.11b/g. The problem with this approach is that there are very few (and expensive, over $90) devices in the market that do Bluetooth Networking in dedicated hardware and that the phone can connect to them only up to 8 meters in plain sight. The second option is configuring your Windows XP or Linux laptop to behave as a BT router — which kinda defeats the point (additionally, MacOSX Tiger doesn’t support easy BT routing anymore). I am happy to see BT PAN support, but there is no substitute for true WiFi support I am afraid.

In conclusion, I think Sony Ericsson went a bit too cheap on the M600i. Instead of designing a device that has logical features for the business market it was after, they designed it with the mindset of “creating a cheap P990”. They removed everything they could remove and only left the 3G antenna and Qwerty keyboard in it as a honeypot to potential buyers. But this doesn’t mean that the M600i is a bad phone though. It is actually a very nice, sweet-looking PDA & smartphone. For the low pricepoint and overall feature-set I think that in fact is a great phone. If you are on a low budget and you require a good business phone, you should consider it. Or, you can consider the Nokia E61 which is even cheaper and with more features in it instead (sans A2DP & touchscreen).

* Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP and PAN
* Beautiful, bright screen
* Surprisingly usable keyboard
* Useful included and third party apps
* Attractive, modern user interface
* 3G support (outside USA)
* Great browser and RSS reader

* Not Quad-band
* No Wi-Fi
* No shortcut to shut down applications quickly
* Bluetooth file exchange ends up in Messaging

Overall Rating: 7.5/10


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