I remember when a former colleague gleefully snapped his Sony Ericsson P910i out of its leather pouch and showed it off like a proud tech geek: "My new toy." The P910i was no toy, though. Running on Symbian and packing a thumbboard, touch screen and host of power features, this phone had the smarts. So it was only a matter of time that the Japanese-Swedish joint venture affirmed its P-series line with yet another offspring, the P990i. And from the looks of it, this latest version shows much promise.
Upside: At a quick glance, you'll be forgiven for reckoning that the designers took a holiday when this was made, as it retains the recognisable flip-lid form factor of its predecessor. However, closer inspection reveals some cosmetic enhancements. To begin with, the P990i sports a curvier profile. Opening the flip reveals the relocation of the keyboard from the detachable lid to the phone body itself. This particular move is much appreciated for those who may want to lose the flip but still have QWERTY input in hand for e-mails and documents.
The tri-band P990i also runs on the much-anticipated Symbian 9.1 OS and UIQ 3 software platform. The P990i is as well one of the few Wi-Fi-capable handsets (802.11b with flight mode). If that isn't enough, the firm has tossed in a lot more connectivity options. You now have push e-mail that will support Blackberry solutions, infrared, 3G, USB, remote sync via SyncML, a VPN client, Opera 8 Web browser, GPRS, Java and Bluetooth.
In terms of software, Sony Ericsson has spiced up the mix with some nifty business tools such as a Word and Excel editor and a viewer for PowerPoint and PDF files.
Other improvements include a slightly enhanced screen resolution of 240 x 320 pixels (vs. 208 x 320 pixels) in 262,000 colours; an internal memory of 80MB (vs. 64MB); a 2-megapixel camera with autofocus and photo light (vs. a VGA camera); stereo FM radio with RDS (Radio Data System); and a supplied 64MB Memory Stick PRO Duo.
Downside: Size has been an issue that has plagued the P-series, and the P990i clearly isn't bucking any trend here. At 114 x 57 x 25mm and weighing 155g, it's only 1mm smaller all round. Going by the manufacturer-claimed battery life, the P990i is also less of a workhorse than its earlier iteration. The former offers 3 hours for 3G talktime and 9 hours for normal chat, with standby rated at up to 12 days for 3G and 16 days for standard GSM. Compare this with the P910i's 15 hours of talktime and about 17 days (400 hours) on standby.
Outlook: As far as first impressions go, the P990i oozes pedigree and certainly passes muster as a far more capable successor. The bad news is you can't ask Santa for it this Christmas. In a strategic move to give developers more lead time to create as many applications as possible for the P990i on the new Symbian and UIQ software platform, Sony Ericsson rolled out its announcement well in advance. So the earliest you'll get within sniffing distance of the P990i will be Q1 of 2006. On the plus side, you get a lot more time to save up for what is likely to be a premium-priced smart phone.
Editor's note: Sony Ericsson issued CNET.com.au with the following statement in February 2007 on whether we'll ever see the P990i in Australia: "Sony Ericsson is continuing to evaluate the Australian market potential for the P990i along with other products in its global portfolio. At this stage we have decided to focus our marketing and product launch activities on other products and continue to use the M600i to address the business, messaging and prosumer segments. We are still confident that we will launch this highly anticipated successor to the 'P' series products in early 2007."
CNET.com.au's Jeremy Roche contributed to this article.