The Sony Ericcson s700i/710a Review

s700i, flipped open
There's been a lot of buzz over the new Sony Ericsson 700i/710a in recent months. As soon as I heard about this 1.3 megapixel bluetooth cameraphone on Gizmodo last year, I coveted this device. In late summer of 2004, a few people got early versions and started posting photos from it along with rave reviews. In November of 2004, I bought an unlocked one from this grey market phone site, for about $550. Today, cingular wireless finally launched it in the US, but still at the $500 price point.
For the past couple years I've used a phone that was one of the first to be good at bluetooth, a Sony Ericsson t68i, and one of the first phones that was good at photos, a Samsung v205. Moving up to the s700i was the best of both worlds for me.
All about the camera
Simply put, the camera is fantastic on this phone. It's one of the only phones you can buy today with a real CCD camera in it, just like a real digital camera. In fact, the way the phone is built, it's pretty much like a Sony Cybershot compact digital camera from early 2000, but with phone guts attached. Here's a gallery of my favorite photos taken with it.
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What's great about the photo quality and small form factor is that for the first time, I always have a camera with me and it even has instant post-to-the-web capability. The drawback of my digital SLR is that it's big and I have to remember to bring it in its bag, along with the lenses I want to use. While the 1.3 megapixel photo quality from the phone doesn't compare to the 6 megapixel SLR, it's not that bad — miles ahead of other pixellated, blurry cameraphones you've probably used. I take a lot of photos to remember a place or a moment and since the phone is so small, I've always got a decent camera with me.
I've also found the camera comes in handy to the point that it's downright practical. Recently while going to a garden center to pick up seed and fertilizer, I noticed a few plants I was interested in, but felt I needed to do more research at Google before I could decide what fit best in my backyard. So I took shots of the labels to look up later. I've also taken to using it while shopping, when I need to remember if a price is better than what I can find online, or if something will fit in my home.
Everything else
Overall, I've found little to complain about when it comes to all the other phone features. Getting it to work on t-mobile was a matter of dropping my sim card in and having tech support send the MMS and VPN settings. The screen is bright and gorgeous, and the swivel keypad is smooth, though I only use it when keying in new numbers or text, otherwise I use it closed. While it doesn't iSync yet over bluetooth, I was able to send all my address book contacts to the device using bluetooth. On t-mobile it's just $20/month to add unlimited data so I can use it as a bluetooth modem when I travel away from wireless, and I can send as many photos as I want to flickr. It comes with a web browser that understands xhtml and css, but the bright screen is just too narrow to be useful for web browsing so you end up scrolling around and around. I kind of wish it converted pages instead and only sent text.
I replaced the stock 32Mb memory stick with a 128Mb one I found on ebay shortly after getting the phone (about $30), and with that setup I can take hundreds of photos (they're only about 200kb each) while at the same time being able to carry about an hour's worth of music for the mp3 player (the phone uses proprietary ear bud headphones though). It has a java gaming engine that has some pretty impressive graphics, but I've barely touched that feature.
One of the few gripes I've heard from folks is that the OS can seem buggy or slow. I've never had it crash on me, but I have noticed some lag when jumping through menus sometimes, though it is nothing like the horrible slow interface my t68i offered.
The only other problem with the phone is the price. I splurged and got it as an early xmas present to myself and I'm surprised to hear it's still going to be about $500 months later. If a carrier can get this phone down to $200-300, I suspect it will be so popular as to be ubiquitous.
Conclusions
Overall, a great phone, a good camera, and something I'm heartily reocmmending to all my friends, especially the ones that are also photographers. This is the phone you've been waiting for, one that combines all the basic phone functionality you'd want, along with a fairly respectable point-and-shoot digital camera that fits in your pocket.