The race to push ever more pixels into a mobile phone handset continues, with no finishing line in sight. Sharp has edged into the lead with its 3.2-megapixel 903, which also boasts 3G capability.
The camera might attract the headlines, but there is an awful lot of other stuff going on with this phone, most of it good. This handset is an all-round update of the white Sharp 902, morphing the colour of choice to black.
You can only get this handset from Vodafone, and you'll need to be prepared to pay a fair chunk of change for it. Vodafone offer it on various tariffs, starting at £80 with a £60-per-month Anytime 700 contract and rising to £250 with a £16-per-month Anytime 75 contract.
It is not long since we were looking at the Sharp 902 and praising its 2-megapixel camera -- the first available on a 3G handset. Time marches on, and now we have Sharp's 903 in our hands, again on 3G and this time with a 3.2-megapixel camera, and, just to whet your digital imaging tastebuds even more, 2x optical zoom.
With 3G handsets getting ever smaller, the 903 feels like something of a throwback. Even its sleek, shiny blackness can't hide the fact that it is rather chunky. It is a handset of two halves, being flip-lidded, and we aren't too excited by the ski-slope at the hinge end, which means the back is a fair amount taller than the front. There's no second display on the front of this handset, so no visual alerts for incoming calls, time and date display or other stuff to detract from that shiny, black front casing.
One of the plus points of a large handset is the roomy keyboard. The 903 has generously sized, well spaced keys with good feedback, a neat navigation pad, one dedicated button for the built-in music player and another that calls up a selection of shortcuts to frequently used applications.
The screen is an absolutely astounding. Large, at 61mm (2.4 inches), its 240x320 pixels and 262K colours are bright and clear and show plenty of information. This comes to the fore when you are using Vodafone Live! on 3G, looking at photos, and even moving through the application menu on the handset, which offers a grid three icons wide and, unusually, four icons deep.
When we reviewed the 902, we were impressed with the way you could swivel the screen through 180 degrees and close it back flat, screen facing outmost like a normal digicam. This feature has been retained. It is no less impressive second time round, and Sharp has given it a boost.
As before, you can use the screen as a viewfinder for the camera and to shoot images and video. This is particularly useful when you want to shoot something in landscape format. New is the fact that the range of buttons down the left edge (volume rocker, call and end keys and a menu key) double as controls for moving through menus and making selections, so that you can access all the software and features without bothering with the keypad.
There is a second camera, sitting above the screen, which comes into play for video calls.
On the left and right of the upper section of the 903 are twin speakers, and, just as with the 902, there is a connector for video output. If your TV has RGB input jacks, you can view pics or video on it without anything more sophisticated than the provided cables.