The Sony Ericsson S700i has a split personality. From one side it looks like a P-series camera from Sony's Cyber-shot range, with a lens at one end, a modest handgrip at the other and a shutter button on the top. Turn it over, rotate it 90 degrees and it's a mobile phone, with short-cut buttons that are always visible and a keyboard that swivels away. It's hard to say which side is the 'front' and which the 'back', because it depends what you want to do.
The problem with this approach is that the S700i is large in every dimension. Unlike the Motorola Razr V3, which is wide but has very little depth, or the Nokia 7280, which is tall but not very wide, the S700i is above average in all three dimensions. It feels like a phone with a camera glued on to the back, rather than built in.
That said, it's a more competent camera than you'll find on most phones, with a 1.3-megapixel sensor, lens cover, photo light and dedicated shutter button. On the phone side, the S700i is a tri-band model with a wide range of multimedia and data features, including music playback, Web browsing and Bluetooth.
In April 2005, we found prices ranging from free with an £18 per month contract to £275 SIM-free.
Measuring 48 by 108 by 25mm and weighing 132g, the S700i is a Swedish troll rather than a Japanese pixie. The case is made of slippery silver plastic that can be difficult to grip. It's also prone to scuffs and scratches.
The phone side is dominated by a 35 by 47mm, 262,144-colour display with a resolution of 240 by 360 pixels. This is the same resolution as the screens on most of the low-end to mid-range Pocket PCs, so it can display lots of information. Icons and menus are colourful, finely detailed and pleasing to the eye. The backlight is adequately bright, but you have very little control over it. It turns off automatically about 5 seconds after you stop pressing keys, and the screen itself turns off after a further 20 seconds. You can't customise the time-out intervals and once the screen goes off, you can't tell whether the phone is sleeping or dead.
The area below the screen has a four-way navigation rocker with a central 'execute' button, two soft keys for selecting menu options, a Back key and a Delete key. The number keys are concealed under the screen, which swivels through 180 degrees. You can swivel it in either direction, but you must swivel back through the opposite arc -- if you try to turn the screen through 360 degrees, you'll damage it.
The keypad locks automatically a few seconds after you stop pressing keys and can be unlocked by sliding a spring-loaded switch on one side. Swivelling the screen to reveal the keypad does not unlock the keys, which is frustrating. In general we didn't like the swivel action: it's cumbersome to operate, doesn't protect the screen, doesn't protect all the keys, and makes the phone seem unnecessarily large.
The camera side has the camera lens, which is concealed behind two plastic doors that slide apart when you operate the lens cover lock. The self-portrait mirror also sits behind the lens cover. There's a photo light above the lens area, a speaker below it and a mostly useless handgrip at the other end. The grip only protrudes about 1mm and is made of slick plastic, so there's very little to get hold of. When the phone is on its side, the shutter button is on the top, towards the handgrip end. If the keypad is unlocked, opening the lens cover activates the camera software.
Additional controls around the sides of the phone include Volume Up and Down buttons, an infrared port, headset and charging sockets, and a Memory Stick slot. The S700i takes the small Memory Stick Duo cards, available in sizes up to 128Mb (it does not support the larger Pro Duo cards).
The first time you power up the S700i, the setup wizard asks you to select a language, explains the functions of the Back and Delete keys and helps you set the time and date. Other customisations can be applied through the Settings menu, which lets you apply wallpaper and themes, change the start-up screen and screensaver, and select polyphonic or real music (MP3) ringtones.
The phonebook can store up to 510 contacts and each has space for several numbers, a street address, email and Web addresses, a picture, a dedicated ringtone and notes. You can also set up voice dialling for selected contacts by recording short voice commands. Press and hold one of the volume buttons to make the phone respond to voice commands, or go totally hands-free by recording a 'magic word' that activates this function. In-call options include a speakerphone and call recording.
The 1.3-megapixel camera records 1280 x 960-pixel stills and 176 x 144-pixel video clips. Still photographs have a good level of detail and acceptable colours, although highlights blow out if there's too much contrast. The images are slightly noisy and sometimes have the feel of flocked wallpaper, but they're above average for camera-phone photographs. The camera-like layout of the controls makes it easy to hold the phone steady, which helps.
Camera options include burst mode, night mode, self-timer, special effects (negative, solarise, sepia, black & white), white balance (auto, incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, cloudy) and spot metering. You can also select a novelty frame before you shoot and have it applied to your photo. Video clips can be of unlimited length, or restricted to 10 seconds. The LED photo light helps with portraits and videos in the pub, although it's no substitute for a flash.
Images and videos are saved automatically and can be scaled down and dispatched by MMS or email. If your network operator hasn't set up the phone for you, visit Sony Ericsson's Support Web site for help with your settings.
Once you've configured the phone for Internet access, you can get on-line by pressing the dedicated key. The high-resolution screen is great for displaying Web pages, but being limited to GPRS speeds makes browsing slow. The S700i also supports Java applications and comes with a handful of games. The built-in media player supports MP3, MP4, 3GP and WAV files, which you can store on the Memory Stick Duo. There's also an FM radio that uses the hands-free kit as an antenna. You can save up to 20 stations as presets.
Organiser features include a calendar, task list, notes, alarm, count-down timer, stopwatch, calculator and a code memo area that stores up to ten secret codes (eg credit card numbers) under a single PIN.
Call audio was clear, but not especially loud, even with the volume on the maximum setting. Speakerphone audio is also clear, but you won't want the phone more than about 0.5m from your ear. Either way, the S700i can't match the ear-shredding top volume of the Nokia 6630. We had no difficulty pairing the S700i with a Sony Ericsson HBH-300 Bluetooth headset.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Nick Hide