Sony Ericsson K850i Review

March 12th, 2008

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In my opinion Sony Ericsson makes some of the best non smartphone phones out there. They’re so good I’d even recommend them to power users. They’re packed with features, have one of the most refined user interfaces out there and most of their features are well thought out and work well.

Here’s their newest, the K850i.

Physical Impressions:

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The K850i is a pretty solid phone because it doesn’t have a rear battery cover. Instead the bottom of the phone pops open similar to what you find on a digital camera.

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My second impression is that the K850i is pretty thick considering it’s not a smartphone. While it didn’t bother me one bit, the RAZR crowd may find the the K850i to be a bit much. In actuality the phone is a tiny bit thinner than my Nokia n95.

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The nav pad has been moved from right below the screen to between the spaces on the numeric pad. It’s not square shaped (it’s longer than it is wide). It took me a while to get used to but it’s not that bad. The shape is probably not conducive to mobile gaming.

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The softkeys and select are actually located on the bottom part of the screen. This allows the K850i to have a larger screen while not affecting the vertical spacing of the keys. I’m not fond of touch screens and the K850i is no different. That said I didn’t hate it either, it was okay I guess. You can use these buttons even if you’re wearing gloves.

The numeric keys are much smaller than usual and remind me of little chicklets. I wasn’t crazy about how they feel when you press them (because they’re so small) but they are easy to use and really stick out so they’re easy to find without looking. If you text message a lot you might find them uncomfortable to use after a while because of the shape.

The screen looks great; it’s pretty big and has a resolution of 240×320.

Hands-free usage:

There is support for Bluetooth headsets, fast port headphones, and a speaker phone. Included in the box is a fast port to 3.5mm headphone adapter that has a built-in microphone.

Speakerphone maximum volume was acceptable but I found it caused the phone to make a very slight rattling noise (like something was loose).

Miscellaneous:

There’s a memory slot that can take either Memory Stick M2 or Micro SD and SDHC cards. Included with my K850i was a 512 M2 card. If you want to add more memory do yourself a favour and get a Micro SD card since their compatible with more devices.

I switched the K850i to USB mass storage mode. I found it took 32 seconds to copy a 18MB file to the memory card which is about 563kb/s. This is a little on the slow side.When it’s connected to your computer’s USB port, your computer will charge it. So if you’re traveling with a computer all you need is the USB cable.

Menus:

You get Sony Ericsson’s standard phone menus. SE’s got one of the best looking and smoothest UI’s in the business. Transitions are very smooth and slick plus the icons are very attractive. Also, the look and feel of the menu pervades all aspects of it and not just the main menu.

There’s a shortcut button that you can use to switch between and launch certain applications, view missing calls/recent messages and open the built-in browser – it’s a great feature.

Rogers has made some customizations to the K850i I’m testing. Notably there’s a link to their Java based music player from the main menu. Unless you like buying music from your carrier just skip it and use the Sony Ericsson (it’s found under the Media menu item).

There’s also a link called Vision which is just a bunch of links to some services you can use with the built-in browser. Vision is just what Rogers calls services like Mobile TV, video calling, and things like that.
When you’re not using predictive text entry you can see a list of what characters are available when you’re pressing a number. This is useful when you’re trying to enter punctuation since you can see what’s next.

Phone Related Features:

You can quickly access the phonebook by pressing down on the nav pad.

The phonebook works well though, I sometimes feel like there are too many options when you’re entering a physical address. You have to enter the street and then press save, enter the city and then press save, etc.

I found one small problem, it seems you can’t enter postal codes because you can’t switch the text entry to letter mode (it will only stay in number mode).

You can quickly change the phone’s ringer and other behaviors using profiles. Profiles can be quickly accessed by pressing the power button.

There are some voice control features but you have to train the phone. One neat feature (which Sony Ericsson/Ericsson) phones have had for years is the magic word feature. When you activate it you can put the phone in voice recognition mode by saying the magic word.

Connected Features:

There is an email application that can check POP or IMAP accounts. You can configure the client to check them at a set interval.

There’s a small camera on the top right of the front of the K850i which you can use for video calling.
The built-in browser is from Netfront which is terrific. The browser plus the K850i’s HSDPA makes for a great combination.

It automatically resizes webpages so that you can read them without having to scroll horizontally. When you’re scrolling, the scroll speed increases if you press and hold up/down. There’s a useful History function plus you can find things on a page.

You can view pages like you were on a computer (lots of horizontal scrolling), landscape (sideways) and full screen.

Multimedia Features:

Multimedia features are found under the Media menu. The phone has an orientation sensor which will rotate the screen automatically when you’re in here. The user interface resembles the UI from some other Sony products like the PSP, PS3 and some of their TV’s and receivers.

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Probably the K850i’s most notable feature is it’s 5 megapixel autofocus camera with xenon bulb flash. The back looks a lot like a camera. There’s a slick lens cover that automatically slides open when you’re using the camera. While the lens cover is slick for some inexplicable reason, the lens cover is underneath the back cover. So if you scratch the back cover, it doesn’t matter that there’s also a lens cover.

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The camera is activated by pressing the power button next to the shutter button. You hold it horizontally like you would a regular digital camera. The K850i’s thickness helps it feel more camera like. The menu resembles the menu you’d find on a Sony digital camera.

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When you’re using the camera, icons next to the 3, 6, 9 and # buttons light up which you can use to adjust the flash setting, burst mode, auto timer, etc.

Besides the autofocus and resolution, the K850i’s other notable camera related feature is it’s xenon bulb flash. There’s also a bright LED. The LED and bulb flash give the K850i outstanding night performance. In a pitch black room, the K850i uses the LED to provide enough light for the autofocus, then the bulb flash does it’s thing.

Curiously I found the K850i would sometimes seriously underexpose shots. I can’t figure out why it does this.

Picture quality is very good for a camera phone. While it works well in the dark, it has to raise the ISO to compensate for the lack of light, it then has very aggressive noise reduction which results in pictures that have a water colour like quality to them.

There are many camera features; resolution, picture modes (like night mode), compressions, macro mode, flash (including red eye reduction), self timer, ISO, spot metering, colour balance, stabilizer among other features.

You can switch between camera, camcorder and playback modes by using a switch on the side of the phone.

The camcorder application has many of the camera’s features. It can take videos that have a resolution of 320×240.

You can use the music player while it’s in the background. You control it with the volume keys, pressing them controls the volume, pressing and holding them skips a song. I don’t think you can pause playback while the player is in the background. You can browse your music by artist, album, genre.

If you don’t like the included headphones you can use your own while still keeping the ability to take calls using the included fastport to headphone adapter. The cable that connects to the fast port has a headphone jack that also has a microphone built-in.

The built-in speaker isn’t as good for some of Sony Ericsson’s other phones (like the W600i).

Organizer Features:

You get the usual Sony Ericsson Organizer features: File manager, Alarms, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Synchronization, Timer, Stopwatch, Light, Calculator, Code memo.

The light is useful if you drop your keys. The calendar and tasks (along with the phonebook) can be synced to your computer.

Apparently there is support for syncing over the air with Microsoft Exchange. I don’t have Exchange and didn’t try it.

Impressions:

RF performance is excellent.

Incoming sound quality was good but there was pronounced hiss. Outgoing sound quality is excellent.

Maximum earpiece volume is acceptable.The top of the K850i has a slight edge to it that can make it slightly uncomfortable when pressed against your ear.

Conclusion:

Just like the K790a before it, the K850i is a terrific phone. It looks and feels expensive plus it has a beautiful UI that works well.

On paper the K850i isn’t a huge upgrade from the K790a and indeed they are quite similar. That said it’s a nice upgrade.

I thought I would hate the weird navigation pad plus softkeys but really they actually work well together.

There are a few extra touches that aren’t easy to notice at first. Extras like the light up camera keys, the light up dial around the camera lens, the orientation sensor. They don’t do much but they are thoughtful extras that you’ll appreciate when you use them.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 4.5
Battery Life 3.5
Phone Related Features 4.5
Ease of Use 3.5
RF Performance 4
Degree of Customizability 4
Overall (not an average) 4
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • Nice camera
  • Large screen for a small phone
  • Solid phone

Cons:

  • On the thick side
  • Unusual keys

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
Written by Howard Chui 03.12.2008
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Phones

24 Comments Add your own

    A$CE  |  March 13th, 2008 at 2:33 am

    nice review, I would just like to point out that the K850 can take both the M2 and the Micro SD cards

    Howard  |  March 13th, 2008 at 3:51 am

    Thanks for pointing that out. Just tried a 4gb sdhc and it works great.

    Arjan  |  March 20th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    HI,

    I read your review, but no mention about the LED light on the front of the phone left from the camera. It is suppose to be a light for video calling in the dark. It does not work. I test at some stores and it does ot work. I called sony they have no clue. There is a icon in the phone setting to turn it on but it does not work. The back cam light works when you turn it on for video calling, but I have no clue why the from one does not work.

    Thanks

    Anonymous  |  March 23rd, 2008 at 3:38 am

    what would be the maximum capacity of both the M2 and the microSD card…

    is it somthing like 4GB M2 and 4GB micro SD together?

    Ed  |  March 25th, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    what would the 2yr contract price circa if released by at&t

    Anon  |  March 25th, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    There is no light on the front of the k850i. The small hole on the top left of the front of the phone is a light sensor it dims and brightens the backlight depending on ambient lighting.

    mdwsta4  |  March 25th, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    uh, while the interface is very similar, it’s a totally new UI for SE. the k850 and most newer models are using the A200 platform which is similar to nokia’s s40 (or is it s60?) platform. compared to the A100 SE platform that’s been going on since the t68i there are tons of differences and improvements.

    Lyndall  |  April 5th, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I wonder if anyone can tell me how to open the base of the 850i Sony Ericsson phone/camera. I know “it just pops open” but I can’t work out how. Any help gratefully received.
    All thumbs, Sydney

    sabesh  |  April 5th, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Howard,

    Have you tried tethering to a laptop? If so, how easy/difficult is it to do so?

    Thx,

    Sabesh.

    brett  |  April 13th, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    anyone know if i can change the colours of the icons in anyway ? evenwhen i pick diff themes the icons stay a orange colour … and i wana change it …..

    help anyone ?

    Anonymous  |  April 22nd, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    ha

    007infinity  |  April 29th, 2008 at 7:11 am

    i hv this k850i with me abt several days ago, in short words this hp sure has a decent design, solid apperance & wonderful function that’s include various multi-media & the best part i love the is the 5 mp camera on the large 2.2inch lcd screen. It allow u to view every pic u hv snap. However the piciu have taken had disappointed me. Although i hv a high expectation on the quality of pic, it juz doesn’t look so great compare with my digital cam only with 4mp only.

    m82a1  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    thats a digital camera, u cant compare a digi cam to a cell phone cam, a REAL camera wins hands down, its not news really… :)

    Victor  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Yo i know some body ho can help you get your phone open must call this number 5926297794 you have to put in your country code ok he will have to explane to you what to do so you can open it.goodluck buddy

    Victor  |  May 22nd, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    The k850i is a phone that you will enjoy useing it i have one and it works well like
    any phone lots of people go after the camer because its 5mega pixels for me i is one that go and buy the phone because of camer.

    Mic  |  May 25th, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    All i can say its a good phone.

    Sarah  |  June 7th, 2008 at 2:06 am

    I hate this phone. I’ve had it for 3 months now, and it fails me all the time. The pictures are OK quality (mind you, they’re not even great) but as a phone the K850i is a complete piece of junk.

    For some bloody reason, the phone just quits on me 3 times a day if i’m unlucky. I did all the software updates and am very carefull with it, never drop it… However, I think the one who designed it was dropped just a little too often and probably ended up having braindamage before getting the job as SE.

    This morning, the phone came up with a new trick. The camera light is on, the keypad lights are on, AND NOTHING WORKS. AGAIN!! Aaarrgh! I tried taking the battery out, but as soon as I stick it back in, the phone goes back in it’s disfunctual mode.

    I’m about to throw it out of the window.
    Do NOT ever consider buying this phone.
    It sucks.

    B L Mwanza  |  June 16th, 2008 at 8:31 am

    I am expecting this phone from Hong Kong on 28th June 2008. With comments I have read, i think i made a wrong choice. can anyone tell me where I can get the new software for this phone/

    ali  |  October 30th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    sir i have mobile phone sonyericsson k850i, but it has a problem that the built in mic and speaker have no voice ,what i do

    lucretius  |  December 24th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    The SE K850i has great features, when the phone is actually working. Unfortunately, this phone has suffered many problems as reported by various owners. And more unfortunately, my K850i has suffered these problems too, including:
    - sometimes the screen would freeze
    - sometimes the touch screen would not work
    - sometimes, immediately after powering up the phone, the screensaver would kick in and then the unlock feature (activated by the touchscreen) would be inoperative,rendering the phone useless
    - now, after several months of use, some of the LEDs on the keypad stay on continuously (even when the phone is powered down, thereby draining the battery.

    This is by far the worst phone I’ve ever owned. If it were merely just a lemon that would be one thing but many other owners have reported the same problems. How could Sony Ericsson release such a piece of junk? I’ll never buy another Sony Ericsson phone again.

    austin  |  March 20th, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve had this phone for 7 months and it’s great.

    Awesome in terms of media.
    Battery life is decent
    Make sure you update your phone regularly to avoid any problems like the ones posted above… I had to have my phone repaired as it kept on freezing and shutting off on me, and they just updated it and it worked..

    Some of the applications including themes you can download are amazing! YouTube it:D

    RECOMMENDED PHONE

    jessica  |  March 23rd, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    hi, i would like to know, is this phone touch screen? my friend have the same exact phone and he even told me the model number, so im sure this is the right phone. but his phone is a touch screen. when i search online, none of the websites say its a touchscreen, and that touch screen part wasnt even mentioned on the official site of sony ericsson.

    jas11  |  June 12th, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    I have had this phone for over 6 months now and it has become my digital Swiss Army Knife! What attracted me to it at first was the 5MP camera but as I went on it also became my radio, MP3 player, video player, web browser, Organizer, Alarm, even torch light. With downloaded software it additionally became my digital compass, scientific calculator, BMI and BMR calculator. I love it!!!

    Strong recommend. BUY IT!!!

    pk  |  April 14th, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Good fon . Gud clarity

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