A Brief History of My Mobile Devices (4)

Continuing the short history of my mobile devices, after the two Psion devices presented in my previous 2 posts – Revo and Psion 5mx – it was the time for a phone.

SonyEricsson P800

SonyEricsson P800

I bought the SonyEricsson P800 at the beginning of 2004 – about 2 years after it was officially released on the market. I got it on eBay in a very good state and a pretty decent price. For me the appealing element was the Symbian operating system (version 7.0 at base) that was running on the device.

In 1998 Symbian, the joint venture between Psion, Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola took over the development of the mobile operating system EPOC and would deliver it as Symbian OS. The first instalment was released in 2002 under the name S60 (somehow continuing the numbering from EPOC 5.0) and was heavily targeted for phones manufactured by Nokia – by far the company that had the strongest word in this venture. Subsequent companies and iterations of the operating system would very much resemble a Soap Opera: each of the companies in the venture would release its own flavour adapted to the specific devices they produced, there would be break-ups, make-ups, betrayals, partisan interests – no wonder that by the end of 00’s the Symbian system was fragmented and inconsistent between providers presenting low interest for developers.

Soon after S60 Ericsson launched UIQ 2.0 – a version with a slightly different user interface and targeted for pen based touch screens. The first phone to use UIQ was P800, one of the first results of the newly created venture between Sony and Ericsson.

What I Liked about P800

First it was a pretty decent phone. It was not very bulky, and it was quite light compared to other “smart” phones at that time. The colour display was definitely a strong selling point; at that time mobile devices with colour screen were not very common.

It inherited all the good things and the bad things from the standard Symbian: a quite stable operating system (I don’t recall having it crashing more than once), nice integration between Contacts, Calendar, Mail, etc.

The new system included also a media player capable of playing MP3s. With the wide adoption of the MP3 standard at the beginning of the 00’s it was a very nice addition to the features of the phone: now you could use it to listen to music. With the incorporation of a removable storage media (albeit Memory Stick Duo – a clear indication of who was the boss in design) – up to 128MB, made it possible to have about 4-5 albums. The decoding effort though put a strain on the battery:  I once used it on a Flight from Munich to London (about 2 hours) and by the time we landed the battery was almost empty.

What I Didn’t Like about P800

The phone seemed cheap and had a plastic feeling about. As most of the people used mobile phones to make calls (seems strange isn’t?) the designers included a plastic flap with standard telephone keys (you can see that in the picture above). When the flap was closed the UI behaved as a normal phone – as a matter of fact the buttons in the flap didn’t do anything but press on the touch screen bellow as the interface overlaid software buttons behind each physical button. The flap had a very cheap feel and after a while I managed to break it so I had to use the phone in flap-less mode.

Probably the most annoying thing at P800 was the stylus. It was made of transparent plastic, very short and flat (visible in the image above) which made for a very odd usage.

P800 stylusI found myself quite often plying with it between my fingers and, because it had a rectangular hole in the middle, it was very fragile. I broke 2 quite quickly until I learned my lesson. Replacements were cheap and were sold in packs of 3 (obviously indicating the “consumable” grade they had…). Because it was clipping on the side of the phone it was also very susceptible to being lost, although I only lost one. Others were not so lucky.

The presence of the Memory Stick Duo was a big frustration: the prices at that time were about double than for an SD card without any apparent advantages.

These design issues would be changed in P900, launched in 2003. The upgraded model would feel more solid and the stylus would be replaced with a normal round one, slightly longer that would fit into a whole to the side of the device.

In a very Sony-like fashion, the phone supported headphones only through the bottom (proprietary) connector which meant a lot of added bulk and an inability to use third-party headphones. The good thing was that the quality of the headphones coming with the phone was acceptable.

The lack of support for Microsoft Exchange and a pretty limited Web browser did not make the phone too much suitable for work on the go.

Overall the P800 was not a bad device. Some of the week design points and cheap feel were later addressed when the P900 was released later on. I did enjoyed using it and for sure it provided a better experience than other smart devices at that time.

Next time: Nokia 9300i.