Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)

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The Gadget: Sony Ericsson's K850i is part of Sony's CyberShot line of phones which boast high quality cameras in a cellphone package. In addition to its 5 MP camera and unusual design, the phone has three touch sensitive buttons just below the screen. Is this powerful enough to throw your point and shoot aside?

Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)
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Illustration for article titled Lightning Review: Sony Ericsson K850i CyberShot Phone (Verdict: Almost Usable, But Not Quite)

The Verdict: The dedicated camera buttons (on/off, shutter, zoom, photo/video/playback) on the side go a long way toward making this feel like a real point and shoot. It takes good photos in average daylight situations and has a powerful flash. It comes with a standard array of modes (macro, sports, twilight, etc...), and specialized features like BestPic, which takes 9 "burst" photos and lets you pick the best one. The four digit keys on the right side also become dedicated buttons in camera mode, with blue icons that glow while active. Photos are good in daylight and the flash is powerful. Videos are smooth, but show visible signs of compression.

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As a camera, the interface its a step toward feeling like an actual camera, but it's still not there. It's extremely awkward to hold the phone in camera mode and and use any of the buttons on the backside of the phone. It's just not ready to replace a point and shoot. Which makes it's size (almost an inch thick), somewhat inexcusable.

Sony Ericsson's UI is as polished as a non-smartphone interface comes. Everything on the screen is laid out clearly, menus are intuitive, icons are bright and colorful. I'm not a huge fan of the keypad cosmetically, but it does look nice when it glows. My main gripe is the keypad has too many buttons crammed around the screen. A green four-way navigation ring wraps around two buttons, neither of which are used as a select button. (Both are hot keys; one for web, one for messaging.) The selection and context functions are passed on to the touch-sensitive keys, which are a nightmare to use. I have to press the touch keys repeatedly and in different ways to get them to work. The silver hard keys are placed too close to the touch-sensitive keys, which led me to hit wrong keys repeatedly.

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While there are a lot of good things this phone offers, none of them outweigh the bad found in the essential features.

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DISCUSSION

I've been using a k850i for a few months now and I have a bit of buyer's remorse. The camera works pretty well for a phone, except that 5MP rating is pretty worthless since the optics and sensor are so small that you will always have a ton of noise, banding, color fringing and other crap on all your photos which means that they look fine at scaled down webfriendly resolutions, but look like garbage in native res.

The UI is really garbage, most events have enough lag that I frequently find myself double tapping the touch points and missing the selections that I want. The "recent events" dialog doesn't include anyway to go to the next or previous event which would work fine if you rarely receive txt messages however if you do any serious non-voice communications you will quickly tire of selecting exiting navigating and reselecting items.

I've been using the phone on AT&T's hsdpa network and while the connection is fast the phone doesn't have enough umph to run the browser's rendering engine at anything approaching the network speed which makes browsing a chore (the new opera mini is much better) and the rss reader doesn't have any capability for downloading podcasts OTA which makes the podcast functions in the media player basically worthless since you are stuck sideloading content onto the phone using SE's piece of crap media management software.

On the plus side of things, this phone does have one feature that I REALLY REALLY like, when using the data cable for the phone with my linux laptop the phone emulates a USB network interface instead of the crappy hayes modem emulation I've seen on other handsets. Which means I've gotten used to using the k850i as a tethered hsdpa modem more frequently than my sprint aircard since it connects so much faster and is integrated much more seemlessly into the network manager interface. Unfortunately the antenna built into this phone doesn't seems to be a bit too directional which means that it will hop back and forth between networks when you are at the edge of reception; sometimes to the point of being nearly unusable without positioning the phone "just so" and then remaining entirely motionless while connected.

In conclusion I'd happily trade this phone for an n95 and found it to be more of hassle than the Samsung BlackJack it replaced.

checkout my photostream at [flickr.com]

for a decent number of k850 photos...