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Sony Ericsson P990i review

Sony Ericsson P990i review
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Sony Ericsson P990 will be the first commercially available smartphone to adopt the enhanced Symbian OS version 9.1 and UIQ 3 software platform. This flagship UMTS smartphone is Wi-Fi enabled, has a 2 megapixel camera with autofocus and features a new hardware keyboard beneath the flip-down keypad.
Review On : Sony Ericsson P990i
Reviewed by Michal Jerz - My-Symbian.com
Sony Ericsson P990i is the first UIQ 3 based phone, announced in October 2005. Delayed several times, it finally started shipping in August 2006, only several weeks after another UIQ 3 phone - the M600i. Being a direct successor of the P910i, the P990i brings many improvements, both Software- and hardware-wise. It is not possible to mention all the changes in this article and I will only highlight the most important features, but you can find answers to hundreds of detailed questions in this thread on our UIQ 3 discussion forum.

Part I: Hardware

1. Casing, screen, keys & buttons
Have you ever owned the P900 or P910? Then you already know the size and weight of the P990i as it hasn't changed much. The P990i weighs 155 g and measures 114x57x25 mm. As opposed to the M600i's "candybar" Design, the P990i preserves P910's unique removable flip and features both the touch-sensitive screen and full QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard has been moved from the inner side of the flip to the phone body, which lets you take advantage of the QWERTY keyboard even if you use your P990i with the flip detached.
P990i body is all silver and it's made mainly of plastic, with a metal frame surrounding the screen. It's well built and feels robust, maybe except for the plastic battery cover which feels slightly loose and tends to squeak.
To make space for QWERTY keyboard, the screen has been moved up. It is also slightly shorter, by about 6 mm (and some 2 mm wider), which results from its different aspect ratio (4:3) determined by its 320x240 pixels resolution (compared to P910's 320x208). Smaller pixels make the display "smoother" compared to P910i, but not as smooth as M600i (which has even smaller screen of the same resolution). The screen is of very high quality, with very good contrast and adjustable brightness. The keys of the QWERTY keyboard are quite small (they're of similiar width as in P910 but slightly shorter) and people with large fingers may find it difficult not to press two of them at the same time. However, they are very protruding and firm, with noticeable spaces between them, which all in all makes using the keyboard much easier than the one of the P910i. The keyboard is also usable at night thanks to nice blue backlight.
Changes have also been made to the keys of the phone keypad. Numeric keys now resemble P900 keys (narrow bars with a lot of space between them) which makes typing much easier than on P910's keypad which had no horizontal spaces between keys. The central part of the flip is occupied by a large 5-way controller. The P990 also has two double-function soft keys, located on both sides of the 5-way button. All keys provide very good tactile feedback.
The P990i also has several hardware buttons located all around the casing. On the right side, above the Memory Stick Pro Duo slot, there is a configurable button which can be used to launch selected system application (e.g. the Web browser) or quickly switch to the standby (Activity) screen, main menu or task manager. On the other side of the memory card slot there is a Camera shutter release button: press it halfway to autofocus; press it all the way down to take a picture or start recording a video clip. This button is accompanied by a white LED diode which indicates recording in progress. On the top of the phone one can find the Power On/Off button, which can be also used to switch to/from the Flight mode. On the left side of the device there is a Media Player button which can be used to start and stop music or radio playback. It is followed by jog dial and "Back" button. The jog dial is now 3-way only (as opposed to P900's and P910's 5-way controller) but the missing jog dial outwards function has been replaced by the separate Back button. Some people will certainly miss the highly functional 5-way button but it's actually only a matter of getting used to the new controller. I've also heard that 5-way jog dials were too breakable, or maybe "not enough resistant to people with strong fingers". Finally, on the bottom of P990's left side there is a hardware Lock button which can be used to lock the keypad/keyboard and the touchscreen. Keys and screen can also be locked automatically after the predefined period of inactivity.
Good news for those who don't like blinking LEDs: unlike its predecessors, the P990i only has one diode and it's OFF by default. It's on or it blinks only when there's something that needs your attention: battery running out of power, missed calls, new messages, etc.
2. Processor and memory
The Sony Ericsson P990i comes with ARM9-based processor clocked at 208 MHz, which means clock speed increase of 52 MHz or 25% compared to the P910i (156 MHz). Video and graphics Performance is further increased by P990's hardware acceleration. There is also some speed boost resulting from using NAND-Flash rather than XIP-flash memory for ROM-based applications but it also has some disadvantages, like negative impact on the size of free operating memory.
The following screenshots show P990i and P910i results of SPMarkJava06 benchmark. Only part of available tests could be run on the old P910i as it doesn't support JSR-184 and I couldn't compare JBenchmark 3D/HD results at all as these benchmarks don't even install on the old P910i (they run just fine on P990i). As you can see on the screenshots, P990i is 10%-200% faster in calculations and over 17 times faster in game tests (0.7 fps vs. 12 fps). This huge difference results from P990i hardware 2D/3D graphics acceleration.
P990i:

P910i:

This third screenshot comes from Nokia E61. The E61 has similiar ARM9-based processor running at 206 MHz (2 MHz less than P990i) but it lacks graphics acceleration. As you can see, the results are similiar, with the E61 being slightly faster in math calculations and the P990i winning in graphic test (thanks to the acceleration). All in all, P990i wins this benchmark and gets a slightly higher overall score.

XIP (eXecute In Place) technology used in all pre-Symbian OS 9.x phones allowed system processes to be run directly from ROM memory, without having to be copied to RAM first. NAND-flash memory used in P990i (and all Symbian OS 9.x devices) is faster and cheaper, but it doesn't support execution "in place" so all system software has to be loaded to RAM. Because of this, even though the P990i has 64 MB of operating (RAM) memory for program execution (twice more than P910 and 4 times more than P900 and P800), only ~15.5 MB is free. It's almost 2,5 times more than in P900 (which only had 6-7 MB RAM free) but about 6 MB less than in P990's predecessor - the P910. With software properly optimized for smartphones' limited resources this reduced RAM size doesn't cause any serious problems and one can still run many (depending on size, even up to 10 or 15) applications simultaneously. However, very complex or unoptimized software may allocate a lot of free RAM and make it impossible to launch other applications at the same time. For example, running certain 3rd party software doesn't let the Messaging application run in the background and continue scheduled email downloads. It seems that developers writing software for UIQ 3 will have to learn how to use operating memory more efficiently so that not only their own software is able to run but also that it doesn't prevent other programs from running in the background. Some work to be done is also on Sony Ericsson side because current memory management is unefficient, if not just buggy (see the 'Stability' chapter on the second page for details).
The P990i comes with about 62 MB of Internal storage memory (disk C:) and 64 MB Memory Stick Pro Duo card, expandable to 8 GB.
3. Connectivity
Sony Ericsson P990i is the first UIQ phone (with the exception of the Motorola M1000 available in Asiatic FOMA networks only) supporting Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11b). Tests show that even though the P990i supports WIFI B only (up to 11 Mbit/s), real data transmission (download) speeds aren't worse than on WIFI G (54 Mbit/s) Nokia E61 or N80. Configuring and using WLAN connections is easy and simple.
The P990i supports Bluetooth v2.0 with full set of the most frequently used BT profiles, including A2DP profile (streaming stereophonic audio). The Fastport connector provides USB 2.0 Full Speed connection (up to 12 Mbps) and supports USB Mass Storage (access to phone's memory card as a drive in Windows XP). It's worth mentioning that it's the first P-series phone with real USB port; P800, P900 and P910i only have a serial port and those switching to P990i from older P-series devices will notice the speed difference. Bluetooth transfers are much faster, too.

P990i is an UMTS phone supporting packet data transmission speed of up to 384 kbps in 3G networks. Unfortunately, the phone doesn't support EDGE, which means that data transmission rate falls to poor ~40-50 kbps wherever UMTS network isn't available. Lack of EDGE support can be considered the most serious disadvantage, at least for those who live or often travel outside of 3G coverage. I'm one of them :-(
4. Camera and Multimedia
The phone is equipped with 2 Megapixel camera with autofocus. The camera allows taking pictures with up to 1600x1200 pixels resolution and recording MPEG-4 video clips with up to 320x240 pixels at 15 frames per second. While 2 Megapixel sensors in mobile phones no longer make people say "Wow!", P990i camera is still one of the best in its class and deserves highlighting.
What makes the camera stand out is its picture quality, which is very high. First of all, the images are practically noiseless, even the ones taken in dim lighting. Not only there is no chromatic noise (color spots) but there's no visible luminance noise (grain), either. This results in very high clarity and detailness of pictures, supported by very good JPEG compression algorithm with no visible artefacts or distortions.

Only good words can be said about color and contrast of still images. Colors are vivid, true and correctly saturated. The only issue I have noticed is that some images' colors are slightly shifted towards cyan which makes them look too 'cool' but it's really a minor problem and it can be easily corrected in postprocessing. Compared with other camera phones, e.g. the Nokia N93, the P990 camera also features a very good dynamic range, still showing details on contrast pictures where other cameras only produce completely white (overexposed) or black (underexposed) spots.
Regarding the 2 Megapixel (1600x1200) resolution, it is enough to obtain 10x15 cm photolab prints of professional quality and even 18x24 cm prints of good quality, so it's quite usable. Of course, higher resolution would allow even larger print sizes and would also enable some cropping during post-processing images on PC (e.g. to correct the frame composition) but if I had to choose larger resolution of e.g. the Nokia N93 OR higher image quality of the P990i, I'd choose the later.



The autofocus works fast and in most cases the obtained focus is correct. It's set on what's in the centre of the screen and I wish there was a small frame showing the autofocus area like in the Nokia N93 as it definitely helps, especially in case of novice users. The automatic white balance works very well, too, and in most cases there is no need to switch to one of the predefined white balance settings. More details about the Camera application can be found in the Software part of this review.
P990i camera also supports video recording. While still images are of exceptional quality as described above, video clips are just average if compared with the current video recording champion, the Nokia N93. There's actually nothing wrong with them, they are very clear and smooth, without "jerkiness", lost frames or compression artefacts, they're simply good quality MPEG-4 QVGA 15 fps videos. It's just that after playing a bit with the Nokia N93's exceptional video recording capabilities you feel insufficiency with anything of lower specs. But considering that not too many smartphones support 30 fps recording at the moment and only the N93 supports VGA at 30 fps, the P990i actually still offers quite high-end parameters, especially that video recording is not P990's primary feature.

If taking pictures and recording videos is one of the most important functions for you and you hesitate whether to buy the Nokia N93 or the P990i then it's indeed a hard choice between higher quality still images (P990i) and higher quality videos (N93).
As the P990i is an UMTS phone supporting video calls, there is a second camera located on front of the device, above the display. It's the usual low-res camera for video telephony.
The P990i is a stereo device. Stereophonic audio is available via the Fastport (wired headsets and other accessories) and Bluetooth (A2DP Bluetooth profile for stereo Bluetooth headphones and other accessories). The built-in loudspeaker is monaural. The audio via wired or wireless headset is of very good quality (but the max volume is too low for my liking, cosiderably lower than P910's) and the built-in graphic equalizer allows adjusting its parameters. It has 11 presets (including Mega Bass) but unfortunately it doesn't support custom settings so you're limited to manufacturer's preferences. In contrast to the headset (and compared to the latest Nokia S60 phones), the built-in loudspeaker's quality isn't satisfactory: only high frequency tones are reproduced, the sound is flat and the max volume is too low.
The P990i includes an FM radio with RDS. You have to connect the wired headset (serving as an antenna) to make it work, but the sound can also be transferred to the loudspeaker. It doesn't seem to be possible to transfer audio to an A2DP Bluetooth headset and recording from radio is not possible, either (at least in the current firmware version).
5. Power and accessories
The tested unit came with BST-34 Li-Polymer 1120 mAh battery. With average use (several phone calls, some web browsing, working with applications) you can expect the phone to last not less than two days, which is a very good result for such a complex device. One of the most power-hungry parts is the screen and its backlight, so setting the brightness level in Control panel to lower value can help you further extend your phone's standby time if you use it a lot and thus keep the display active most of the time. Depending on network coverage in your neighbourhood, you can also switch the phone to only use UMTS or GSM networks (as opposed to the default dual GSM/UMTS mode) which will further lower power consumption. Some units ship with smaller capacity BST-33 900 mAh battery providing slightly worse standby times. Lithium-Polymer batteries do not require initial "forming" so there is no need to charge your new P990i for 12 or 16 hours, just wait until the battery indicator in the phone shows it's full and start enjoying your new smartphone. Your battery will obtain is full performance after three normal charging cycles.

The reviewed P990i came with CST-75 travel charger. Its phone plug has a socket for attaching an accessory, like USB cable or wired headphones, so that you can still use the Fastport while charging. However, according to users' reports on our Discussion forums, some units ship with CST-60 charger lacking the accessory connector, so you may want to check this prior to placing your order. The P990i also supports USB charging via the included USB cable, but it's only recommended to use this function with a computer connected directly to a mains socket and not with a battery-powered device like e.g. a laptop.
The standard set also includes a stylish all-silver craddle/desk stand with a green LED surrounding the phone connector which is on all the time, a nice white wrist strap with silver SE logo, and a flip replacement part to be attached if you prefer to use your P990i without the flip. The box also contains PC Suite CD-ROM and printed User Guide.

PART II: Software (UIQ 3 platform and system applications)


1. UIQ 3 and P990i - general information
Sony Ericsson P990i is powered by Symbian OS 9.1 and the new UIQ 3 platform. Symbian OS 9.x includes a lot of serious, structural changes and causes that development platforms based on it (both UIQ 3 and Nokia's S60 3rd Edition) aren't backwards compatible, which means that you cannot use software released for older devices (UIQ 2.1 based P910i, P900 or Motorola A1000). That's the price to pay for OS 9.1's much higher security (providing very strong protection against viruses and piracy), new kernel and more efficient and optimized binary format resulting in better performance. New, UIQ 3 compatible versions of popular UIQ 2.x software already started appearing and we expect that the most popular P900/P910 applications will be available for the P990i/M600i by Autumn. All new UIQ 3 releases are being added as they come to our UIQ 3 Software Catalog so it's a good place to check from time to time. Another way to stay informed is to subscribe to My-Symbian's UIQ 3 News RSS feed and UIQ 3 Discussion forum RSS feed.
UIQ 3 looks a little bit different compared to older UIQ versions. First of all, screen resolution has been changed (from 208x320) to the "industry standard" 240x320 pixels QVGA. This not only means additional 32 pixels per line but, first of all, makes the display "compatible" with 4:3 aspect ratio, which causes that e.g. 4:3 video clips or 4:3 images (most of standard PC resolutions are derived from VGA and thus 4:3) are shown on full screen, without black bars. Another change is that UIQ 3 no longer includes the "App Picker" bar with shortcuts to 5 favourite applications, located in UIQ 2.x phones on top of the Flip Open mode screen.
The next thing you'll notice compared to UIQ 2.x is that UIQ 3 is now FULLY skinned, i.e. that every single user interface element can be (and is) customized with a theme. Moreover, certain UI elements (icons, menus, selection lists) are now animated, with nice, semi-transparent transition effects. It would be great, however, if Sony Ericsson included a Control panel option to disable the animations as some users may prefer faster UI over the sometimes slow(ish) eye-candy.

Despite the above described changes, general look&feel of the user interface remained very similiar and those who previously owned a UIQ 2.x phone (Sony Ericsson P800, P900, P910 or Motorola A925/A1000) shouldn't have any problems with quickly adopting to the new UIQ release.
UIQ 3 supports a very long awaited feature: horizontal (landscape) screen mode (both in Flip closed and Flip open mode). It is available in certain applications (Web browser, Video player, Pdf+ viewer, QuickOffice) and can be used by 3rd party applications (e.g. Mobipocket Reader). Browsing web pages, reading ebooks and editing spreadsheets on wide screen is so much better and easier!

P990i features a Today screen. It consists of two tabs, one of them showing information about current tasks, appointments, unread messages and missed calls, and the other one providing configurable shortcuts to your preferred / most frequently used applications (or pictures, videos, radio stations, sound files, documents, web pages and even settings, contact cards or common tasks). Unlike in the Sony Ericsson M600i, the Today information is not shown directly on the default screens (so called Activity menu) of the Flip closed or Flip open mode and it takes selecting/tapping a dedicated icon to open it. While it is fully understandable in the Flip closed mode as there is simply no space to show it on the smaller display, in Flip open mode the "Activity menu" screen is almost empty with just four icons and date/time on the bottom and network information on the top; the central part is completely unused and could be used to show some basic Today information.
The P990i also has a built-in task manager. It's not as advanced as 3rd party task managers available for the P900 or P910i and its main purpose is switching between applications running in the background and closing programs you no longer use to free operating memory. There is also an "End all" function which closes all tasks. Task Manager is available in both FC and FO mode.

The most serious POSITIVE change, however, is that the Flip closed mode is now fully functional and supports third party applications, including even Java midlets. When you're on the move and it's impossible or simply inconvenient to use touch screen and stylus which takes two hands, you can take advantage of the one hand controlled Flip closed mode using the phone keypad and the 5-way control button.
2. Flip closed mode
Not all standard applications are available in the Flip closed mode and it also depends on developers whether to make a 3rd party application available in the FC mode or not. Contrary to this, all midlets are available in the Flip closed mode without any restrictions and can be controlled using the 5-way button, which is a very good news for gamers as it's certainly a much better controller for action games than the touch screen/stylus/jog dial combination. The resolution of the Flip closed screen is 240x256 pixels. Text input method via the phone keypad can be set to either multitap or predictive text entry, with up to two dictionaries selected as primary and secondary language and available simultaneously.
The main Flip closed view (so called "Activity menu") consists of status bar with network/connectivity/battery indicators, network information, five icons of the most frequently used applications (three of them customizable), date and time (and alarm indicator) and a bottom bar showing current functions of soft keys and the 5-way button.
The following system applications are available in the Flip closed mode: Today/Favourites screen, Messaging, Media player (only Radio and Music player are available, Video player isn't), Phone, Calendar, Contacts, Camera (full functionality), Picture gallery, Sound recorder, preinstalled QuadraPop game (Tetris clone written in Java MIDP), Notes, Tasks, Connections manager, Stopwatch and Timer.

As mentioned earlier, the Today tab shows current tasks and appointments, as well as unread messages and missed calls. The Favourites tab lets you create any number of shortcuts to the most frequently used programs, documents and functions.

Messaging application is fully functional in the Flip closed mode and allows sending and receiving all kinds of messages (including email), as well as accessing all folders.

Media Player is somewhat crippled in the Flip closed mode as the Video Player module is not available. It's strange because the size of video clips in the default portrait mode (on Flip open screen) perfectly matches the Flip closed screen area so it should not be difficult to implement an FC mode as well. It would be great to be able to view video clips on the move in FC mode, so let's hope that Sony Ericsson adds FC mode support in future firmware releases. Radio and Music player modules provide full functionality in FC mode (described later).

Phone application in FC mode provides access to all phone and video phone functions, as well as to the Call log and Speed dials. Calendar, Contacts, Camera, Picture gallery, Sound recorder, Notes, Tasks, Connections manager, Stopwatch and Timer provide the same functionality in FC mode as in the FO mode. Detailed descriptions are available in the Flip Open mode chapter below.
As you've probably noticed, the Flip closed mode doesn't provide access to the built-in Web browser. Fortunately, you can download and install free Opera Mini web browser, which is written in Java MIDP and works just fine in the FC mode providing quick access on the move to your favourite Web pages. Let's also hope that some 3rd party RSS feeds reader with support for FC mode will be released soon as the standard RSS reader isn't available in FC mode, either. It's a strange omition as ability to quickly check favourite RSS feeds (latest news, exchange rates, stock exchange news, etc.) without having to open the flip would certainly be more than welcome by many business users.
Another highly useful (and missing in FC mode) application is Calculator. Again, it's hard to understand why such a frequently used tool hasn't been made available in FC mode, if we have much less frequently used Stopwatch or Timer. Calculator is another function that in my opinion should be added to the Flip closed mode in one of the forthcoming firmware versions or released as a 3rd party application.

3. Flip open (and Flip removed) mode
The Flip open mode provides access to full functionality of the device. You have access to full QVGA (240x320 pixels) resolution of the display, with the main control method being the touch sensitive screen and the stylus. The FO mode supports three text input methods: handwriting recognition, virtual QWERTY keyboard and hardware QWERTY keyboard, all of them with the aid of predictive text supporting one or two languages simultaneously. Handwriting recognition works the same way as in previous Pxxx series phones, with the screen divided into three areas for writing lower case, upper case and digits/symbols, but now with the predictive word completion support it is even faster.
As mentioned earlier, the default view in the Flip open mode is called "Activity menu" and it contains four hardcoded icons (Today/Favourites, Main menu, Phone, Call log), date and time (+ alarm indicator) and network information. The whole central part of the screen remains completely unused and it makes me wonder WHY. Is this Activity screen still "under construction", to be enhanced in future firmware releases? Even though there is a separate Today/Favourites view, in my opinion this empty area should still be used to show some basic "Today" type information. Or maybe it's a good place for third party plugins, letting developers release useful enhancements, making this Activity screen truly active. Just imagine how useful it would be if you could have your favourite RSS feed scrolling through the centre of the main view and showing latest news or exchange rates, or if you could have current weather forecast shown there all the time and automatically updated when you're in reach of your wireless network. Well.... in my dreams :-)
Tapping the leftmost icon of the Activity menu takes you to the Today/My shortcuts screen. The Today tab shows information about missed calls, unread messages, appointments and tasks, as well as hardcoded shortcuts to Messaging, Tasks, Calendar and Main menu. The 'My shortcuts' tab contains customizable shortcuts to most frequently used applications, documents or functions. Available shortcut types include: application, picture, video, radio preset, sound, document, contact card, web page, setting and common task. You can decide which tab (Today or My shortcuts) is shown by default.

Messaging application is where all supported kinds of messages are stored. It consists of one unified mailbox for SMS and MMS messages and separate mailboxes for your email accounts. It lets you create custom folders and move messages between them. Automatic email downloads can be scheduled by time (three settings) or interval (period of time between downloads, configurable start and end hours).
Sent and received messages include contact picture thumbnail of the message sender or receipient. Contact pictures are also shown in the "You have new message" dialog. Delivery reports can be enabled or disabled globally but the setting can also be temporarily changed for each message. Delivery confirmation no longer comes as an SMS. Instead, an information about successful delivery is shown, the sent message gets a different icon showing its delivery status and information about delivery date/status is stored with the original message and available via menu.

Media Player in FO mode consists of four modules: FM Radio, Music Player, Video Player and Online. To use the FM radio (even in loudspeaker mode) you have to connect the wired headset as its cable works as an antenna. The radio supports RDS and allows storing presets. It can work in the background, letting you work with other applications while listening to your favourite channels.
Music Player allows playing all supported audio types (AAC, AAC+, AMR, iMelody, MIDI, MP3, WAV, RealAudio). It will check all drives and folders for all your audio files and will automatically list them sorted by Artists, Albums and simply all tracks sorted by title or size. You can also create your own playlists. There is also a separate folder containing all your voice notes called "My recordings". You can enable filtering all files smaller than 1 MB or of low quality to exclude such files from the lists of tracks. Playback automatically pauses on incoming calls and can be resumed automatically or manually, depending on your setting.

Video Player supports 3GPP, MP4 and RealMedia content. It supports full screen 320x240 pixels playback. The quality is very good although some occasional stuttering appears from time to time, however audio and video always remain synchronized. The Online module is where you can store your streaming audio and video links to be played back using the Video Player.
The Phone application has the same functionality as in the Flip closed mode. It consists of four modules: Phone, Video Phone, Call log and Speed contacts. There is nothing unusual to describe here, except for the very low quality of Speed dial thumbnails - it's hard to recognize who is on the pictures.

Calendar and Contacts look nicer than in UIQ 2.x but provide similiar functionality. Both applications now allow to quickly backup their data to Memory stick so that you can always have a copy with you. The backup files are stored in industry standard VCF and VCS files compatible with all popular PIM applications. Calendar includes month view, week view and day view and supports creating custom folders for your reminders and appointments. Contacts application no longer has the quick jump tabs with letters known from UIQ 2.x models but now you can simply press a corresponding key on the QWERTY keyboard. Compared to the M600i, the P990i offers extended Find function searching in all fields.

The Mutimedia folder contains Camera application, Web browser, RSS feeds reader, PlayNow application, Picture gallery and Sound recorder.
Camera viewfinder works in landscape mode. Using jog dial you can switch between the still picture and video mode. By tapping an icon on the right side you can open a settings screen with the following parameters: Shoot mode (Video, With frame, Burst 4, Single shot), Self-timer, Shutter sound, Auto review, Save to (Memory stick, Phone Memory), Night mode, Quality (Fine, Normal, Economy), Effects (Black & White, Sepia, Solarize, Negative, Off), Microphone (Muted, Enabled), White balance (Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent, Bulb, Auto), Video length (Normal, Messaging) and Frame size (up to 320x240 for video and 1600x1200 for photos). There are also two sliders displayed on the screen and operated using the 5-way button in FC mode and the stylus in FO mode: the one on the left side controls EV (-2 to +2 EV) and the one on the top controls digial zoom (up to 2,5x). As mentioned in the Hardware part, the quality of pictures is very high and the video quality is quite decent, too.
"With frame" is a shooting mode which adds funny frames to the pictures. It's great for MMS but it's a pity that this mode is limited to 640x480 resolution and that it cannot be used for video recording as it would allow recording funny clips.

The camera supports Night mode and there is very little noise in low light pictures. However, the built-in LED flash is definitely to weak.
The P990i includes Opera 8.60 WWW browser with HTML 4.01 and Javascript support. The browser works in both Fit-to-screen small screen rendering mode (which modifies page layout so that you only scroll up and down) and in normal mode (which preserves original layout but requires scrolling in all directions). The browser also supports Full screen mode and a landscape mode (plus a combination of all of them). The Opera is fast and offers similiar performance as the Nokia browser used in recent N-series and E-series phones. Opening large pages over WLAN or 3G connection only takes several seconds and most of the pages I tried were rendered fully and correctly. The landscape mode is very useful and I tend to use it all the time. The only thing I really miss a lot in Full screen and Landcape modes is some kind progress bar.

The Multimedia folder also contains a full featured RSS reader. It allows bookmarking your favourite RSS feeds and schedule automatic updates by time or interval.
The PlayNow application allows downloading and/or purchasing some music content. The currently available tunes are all free but rather poor.

Picture gallery lets you preview and manage your graphic files. There is also a slideshow function which shows all selected pictures with nice transition effects, configurable rate and soundtrack. Picture gallery can also display images on a remote screen via Bluetooth.
Sound recorder hasn't changed much since P900/P910 times. It simply allows recording voice notes. Recording phone conversations is unfortunately still impossible.

The Entertainment folder contains MusicDJ (a program to compose melodies to be used as ringtones), Vijay Singh Pro Golf 3D game, QuadraPop (Tetris like game written in Java MIDP, available in both FO and FC modes) and phone demo.
The Office folder contains QuickOffice, Pdf+, Notes, Tasks and Business Card Scanner. QuickOffice is a Microsoft Office compatible documents, spreadsheets and presentations editor. It hasn't changed much since the P910 times, with the exception that now it supports landscape mode. The same applies to Pdf+ Adobe Acrobat PDF reader which is very similiar to the P910 version, with the addition of the landscape display. I haven't noticed any changes in Notes or Tasks applications, either.

The Business card scanner program lets you quickly scan a business card using the built-in camera, convert the scanned picture to text using OCR technology and automatically add it to your Contacts. And it's not only a good idea but it also works extremely well! Just press "Capture", take a picture of a business card, tap "Process" and in just several seconds all the information will be automatically added to a new Contact card. What a time saver!
The last folder, Tools, contains the following items: Control Panel, File Manager, Connections manager, Remote sync, Calculator, Converter, Stopwatch, Time and Timer.

like in the previous models, Control panel contains all the device settings, including Call settings, Connections, Device settings, Messaging and Internet accounts, Security settings and others. One of the new functions is Internet wizard: if you have any working Internet connection (e.g. WLAN) it will automatically download all settings for your operator, including GPRS, SMS and MMS settings. Connection Manager allows managing active network connections and provides access to their logs. File Manager is a simple tool with file system access restricted to the "Media" folders. The remaining applications are known from the previous models and haven't changed much.
4. Stability
The P990i is based on the new Symbian OS 9.1 and new UIQ 3 platform. It started shipping only several weeks ago and being such a new product it can be generally considered stable. Existing problems mainly result from its limited operating memory size and quite imperfect memory management. As system tasks tend to keep data in RAM, after launching several programs and doing a couple of things with your phone you can't go back to its initial free memory size. It just goes lower and lower as you lauch (and close) programs and use the device. When free memory drops below some acceptable level, the phone starts occassionally showing "Out of memory" messages or KERN errors and eventually it reboots itself and informs the user that "The phone has been restarted in order to improve performance". It doesn't happen too often but it's quite an annoying thing and Sony Ericsson should definitely improve memory management as fast as possible. The reboot to improve performance sometimes occurs even if you do not use the phone, so it may happen inconspicuously and cause that your phone will lose network connection as after the reboot it stops on the "Enter PIN screen".
The remaining problems reported by users on our Discussion forum are mainly small user interface related issues. Let's hope that SE will quickly release new firmware updates fixing all the problems and making the P990i as stable as its predecessor, the P910i, considered one of the most stable smartphones ever made. Until then, the P990i remains an usable and powerful device but doing a preventive restart once a day or once every two days will certainly help avoiding low memory situations and uncontrolled reboots "to improve performance".

5. Summary
The P990i is a powerful, modern, feature rich and very good looking device. The most important advantages compared with the P910i are first of all UMTS, WLAN, high quality 2 MPix camera, faster processor and fully functional flip closed mode supporting third party applications. The only serious disadvantages are limited free operating (RAM) memory (which can be 'fixed' in a large degree by improving the memory management) and lack of EDGE support. Other issues described in the review are software-based and as such can be removed in future firmware updates. Sony Ericsson has proved several times with previous models that they take good care about such software bugs and all previous P-series phones ended up with fully stable and functional firmwares. I rest assured that it'll also be the case with the P990i.
What I like:
  • UMTS
  • WLAN
  • faster processor with hardware graphics accelleration
  • high quality 2 Megapixel camera with autofocus
  • fully functional flip closed mode supporting 3rd party applications
  • UIQ 3: intuitive and good looking
  • Opera 8.60 browser with landscape mode
  • predictive text input supporting two languages at the same time
  • hardware keypad
  • 5-way controller in FC mode: good for games and for one-hand navigation
  • high quality screen
  • lock button
  • A2DP support
  • USB 2.0
  • good standby time (at least with BST-34)
  • support for large memory cards, up to 8 GB
  • very professional and stylish look, robust feel.

What I don't like:
  • no EDGE support
  • only 15,5 MB free RAM available, almost 6 MB less than in P910i
  • memory management needs to be improved; currently causes stability issues
  • max audio volume too low (probably because of EU regularions)
  • several useful applications are not available in Flip closed mode: video player, calculator, RSS feeds reader, web browser
  • minor stability issues need to be fixed in future firmware releases.


Sony Ericsson Phone Models:

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