I’ve been looking for a while for a phone to replace my ancient and reliable Startac. I finally found one (Sony Ericsson T616) that meets my criteria:

  • Addressbook and calendar that are Mac friendly: I can use iSync to synchronize by addressbook and calendar via Bluetooth. It was pretty easy to set up and now it’s very easy to use. This pretty much eliminates any need I had for a PDA.
  • Small and light: It’s not some huge PDA, like the TMobile Sidekick or Palm Tungsten or Handspring Whatever. It’s just a phone and it fits in my pocket. And it’s really light.
  • Good service: I wanted to switch to AT&T or Verizon, because they’re the best of a bad lot. I was done with Sprint PCS, and the thought of TMobile or Cingular just made me weary.
  • Simplicity: The hardware is simple and has a look I would describe as “Scandinavian”. It avoids all the design excesses of most new feature-rich phones. It has a number keypad, four navigation keys and joystick. The keypad is arranged like a traditional telephone keypad and you can find the buttons by touch. The software interface isn’t great, but it’s acceptable.
  • Email access: I haven’t set this up yet, so I’ll report on this later, but I’m looking forward to accessing my email from this gadget.
  • Fun factor: It has a lot of fun features I don’t necessarily need, but which are fun: a camera, games, voice control.

It’s hardly perfect. Many of the problems are tied to the mobile industry’s desire to keep us in a walled garden, because it serves their needs, not ours:

  • Nonstandard connectors: Not only is it incompatible with standard accessories — such as power adapters and headsets — the T616’s connectors are more Baroque than any I have yet seen.
  • Garish interface: It’s not an iPod, that’s for sure. Its overuse of color reminds me of Windows XP. The background patterns that come with it are awful. However, I was able to use Apple’s Bluetooth utility to upload my own background. There’s still a lot of unnecessary and over-decorated junk on the screen.
  • Weak menu system: There are too many menus and they’re too long. There’s no reason for a phone that is able to easily display six lines to have menus that scroll off the screen.
  • Too much space dedicated to extra-price services: There are dedicated icons, menu items and a button for AT&T’s mMode service, which costs extra. I’ll be talking more about this later.
  • Deadly ringtones: They must want to sell me ringtones, because the ones that come with the phone are just plain awful. It can’t play MP3 files, so my ability to customize the ringtones is limited.
  • WAP: The tortured, broken zombie protocol continues to live as a crude but effective walled garden. After all, who but a cell company would produce or serve pages for WAP? The T616 does not do HTML.
  • Display: Some reviews have said the display isn’t readable in bright sunlight. Here on the foggy SF coastside, I haven’t had that problem yet.

I’m really happy with my new phone and I’m looking forward to using it. It’s the most complicated consumer electronics device I’ve ever owned and it’s going to take me a while to understand how to use it and make it my own. My guess is that a year from now, there will still be features I don’t know how to use.