Review : Sony Ericsson C905 for AT&T

The most advanced Sony Ericsson camera phone but limited elsewhere.

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Product Manufacturer: Sony Ericsson

Price: $180 (2-year contract and rebate)

The Good

  • Near dedicated-quality pictures and camera controls.
  • GPS for geotagging and navigation.
  • Great screen for this class of device.
  • Relatively abundant AT&T software.

The Bad

  • Poor phone usability.
  • Aging UIQ operating system is unintuitive.
  • Too expensive for what you get.
  • Build quality is so-so, particularly for the slider and keypad.
Sony's Cyber-shot themed handsets are currently headlined by the C905. Of course, its most notable feature of this uber-cameraphone is its 8.1 megapixel camera, and Sony has been known to produce some great digital cameras with its Cyber-shot line; but can the C905 live up to its photographic heritage and still be a great phone?

ergonomics and build quality

The C905 is reasonably compact for a slider phone, but from the perspective of weight the C905 feels more like camera and less like a phone: a bit on the hefty side, but not annoyingly so. The lens and xenon flash are covered by a sliding lens cover that is pushed down during camera operation. The lens cover mechanism seems a bit flimsy and just doesn't give the feel of quality we've come to expect of most Sony products.

The 2.4-inch 240x320 screen on the C905 is, unsurprisingly for a cameraphone, beautiful. The colors are rich, and the text is razor-sharp. On the right hand side of the phone, which becomes the top of the camera, one finds basic dedicated camera controls for zoom, playback, a still/video toggle, and the shutter release. These controls are perhaps a bit small, but still usable. On the face of the phone there is a full 13 buttons, albeit in a layout that includes the D-pad and some camera-only buttons Still, it seems a bit busy.

The keyboard is relatively large and backlit, but the buttons are unusually hard to press. There's also something about the weight distribution in the phone that, when held one-handed, renders it a bit too difficult to fully depress the number buttons to text or dial, especially the bottom two rows.

Two last gripes to note about the C905 are its sliding screen and USB connection. The sliding screen seems a bit loose. The pressure required to slide it is balanced perfectly but it just seems to rattle a bit when opened; this could prove to be a problem in the long run. The USB connector also just seems too large to us. With all of the micro USB connectors and other miniature cables manufacturers have been using for years why does Sony use such a large connection on the C905? The large connector doesn't make the phone hard to use and probably even makes the cable more secure when plugged in, but it just seems a bit out of place on an otherwise sleek device.

camera features and usability

The C905 truly is a Cyber-shot digital camera in practice; it has nearly every feature that any standard Cyber-shot camera has. Of these, there are five specialized shooting modes including normal, smart contrast, best pic, a panorama mode for stitching together shots, and frames; the latter is probably the least useful and lets you add comical borders to your portrait shots. The eight more conventional shooting modes vary from a typical full auto mode to general scene modes such as landscape and sports shots as well as those for unusual conditions like the bright whites of beaches and snow or truly difficult twilight shots. There's also an unusual document capture mode meant to capture text, and all shots benefit from image stabilization.

In addition to the aforementioned features the C905 also packs a host of focus, flash, timer, metering, white balance, and effects options. Beyond the standard photo taking fare the C905 also allows for basic on camera editing in an app called PhotoDJ. Rudimentary functions such as crop, rotate, white balance, and contrast. While it's no Photoshop, the PhotoDJ software has its indented effect. A few other features worth noting include the face and smile detection, geotagging using assisted GPS. Beyond still shots the C905 can also take 320x240 digital video at 30 frames per second.

Perhaps the biggest advantage the C905 doubling as a phone is the built in support for and access to both HP's Snapfish photo service and Flickr. Beyond these web uploading services C905 users can also send pictures via SMS and Bluetooth. Photos are saved on the 160MB of internal memory or, more than likely for most users, on a Micro Memory Stick card.

The two photos below were taken as test shots. These photos are meant to compare overall quality and we used a 5.1-megapixel camera for the reference shot. Even though there is a difference in the white-balance between the two the quality is comparable -- a surprising feat given the smaller sensor and lack of optical zoom. If your phone is expected to supplement or replace a compact camera, the C905 should be on the short list.

Above, photo from C905; below, photo from a dedicated compact camera.

phone features and usability

While we are mildly impressed with the C905's photo taking abilities, we are underwhelmed by it as a cellphone. Sony Ericsson's implementation of the UIQ operating system just seems ungainly compared to some newer phones. The software looks good superficially, but it's not intuitive in reality. We constantly found ourselves having to go through too many steps to accomplish a task and the buttons didn't often seem intuitively mapped to the functions we were using.

During our testing, we found phone call quality to be acceptable with no noticeable echoes or static; the speakerphone volume and clarity were both excellent. Sony claims the C905 has an expected battery life of 360 hours of standby time and 4 hours of talk time while using ATT's 3G network. We would say from experience that these battery figures are representative of what an end user would expect during actual usage ,but it should be noted that heavy camera or data usage will affect these estimates. The active time is also fairly short and will disappoint those expecting the 5-6 hours some smartphones achieve.

In AT&T trim, it does offer a lot of the carrier's typical frills. There are a host of mobile apps ranging from weather to banking to Wikipedia to Yellow Pages to streaming TV; whether you find these useful varies, but it does help differentiate the US carrier's C905 from others. As it has GPS, it also uses AT&T's TeleNav-run Navigator software, but in truth it's not the most effective navigation on this phone. The device took a while to hone in on our location, and as long as Navigator was running the phone would be hot to the touch.

The C905 packs most typical phone features and carries an FM radio tuner, albeit one that needs Sony Ericsson's headset to serve as an external antenna. At times, though, it's frustrating just handling the simple dialing, contacts, and messaging functions. We can tell Sony tried to pack a lot of features into these basic functions but in so doing made them unintuitive and at times unwieldy. In an era where some phones (particularly some touchscreen models) can accomplish both, it's disappointing not to see better balance.

wrapping up

We like the C905's robust feature set, but the lackluster phone user experience leaves us with some reservations in recommending the C905. The mobile software suite, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, and the excellent camera options are all impressive on their own, but the phone is just hard to use compared to others in its class.

It's best chosen as a digital camera first and a cellphone second. Using it as a primary cellphone will likely leave you feeling confused, and possibly disappointed. Full time photographer looking to slim down their device list, or simply those who use their cameraphones for social networking, are most likely to appreciate it the most. We can't see many other individuals paying the price tag that this phone commands, however, given its poor performance for its ostensible functionality as a phone. At $180 after rebate, the phone is just $20 away from an iPhone 3GS, a BlackBerry Bold, or other phones that may not have the sheer optical quality but are often better-balanced for daily use -- including not just their interfaces but their roles as smartphones, not just a high-powered but software-limited device like the C905.