Review of the Sony-Ericsson z710i


The Sony-Ericsson z701i is a quad-band GSM clamshell phone thatís loaded with lots of features like a good-quality 2 megapixel camera, built-in MP3 player (with external buttons), GPRS/EDGE, and as youíll soon see, excellent audio and RF characteristics.

The z710i is available on Fido.

Last Updated: 11-Mar-2007

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Special thanks to StudentPhones for lending the z710i for this review.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: I compared the z710i against the Siemens A56, and although the A56 is a rather old phone, it has exceptional RF performance and is thus a worthy reference. The z710i could hold onto a signal just as well as the A56 in the infamous Hall of Shame 2 at Square One in Mississauga. That makes the phone among the best GSM model you can get for pulling in weak signals.

Over-the-road Performance: I had mixed feelings about this aspect of the phone. On one hand it managed to retain crystal clear audio over a wide range of conditions, like virtually no other phone on the market. On the other hand, handoffs were a bit OBVIOUS (for lack of a better word). Iíve tested other phones that did a much better of job of glossing over handoffs and they can make them sound almost likeable. The z710i doesnít exhibit any messiness during the handoffs, but they are in-your-face a little too much.

However, that said, the z710i did something that no other GSM phone I've tested was able to do. It could somehow gloss over some of the rough spots on the Rogers network in such a way that it sounded like there was nothing ever wrong with it. I was simply amazed at how well the phone managed to handoff from site to site without any degradation in the audio and without any hint of co-channel interference or frame errors. If Sony-Ericsson can just cleanup the handoffs a little it would have the flat-out best over-the-road performance of any GSM phone I've thus far tested.

Overall Iíd rate this aspect of the phone as very good, mostly due to the exceptional ability to maintain clear audio under adverse conditions.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: While the z710i lacks the truly amazing richness of sound I found in the Motorola PEBL I tested just recently, I simply canít fault the way earpiece on this thing sounds. It has such a nice balance of highs and lows that Iím forced to reconsider my opinion that the PEBL is such a well-balanced phone after all. No phone can make a bad source sound good, but the z710i can certain squeeze every little bit of goodness from what you get.

Sound Reproduction: Without a doubt, excellent. All nuances of speech were reproduced with exceptional clarity, with virtually NO HISS whatsoever. The z710i spoils you for just about any other phone Iíve thus far tested (with the possible exception of the PEBL).

Earpiece Volume: There is no volume-boost feature such as you find on Nokia phones, but the earpiece volume is loud enough that it doesnít really need it. The phone produces equal volumes to my Motorola i580, which is certainly a loud phone. In virtually all circumstances youíll end up setting the volume a notch or two below maximum. I had no trouble finding and keeping the sweet spot on the earpiece, which I found to be comfortable throughout prolonged usage.

Outgoing Audio: Sony-Ericsson also did a superb job here, providing good noise cancellation and well-balanced sound. Under high noise situations (such as at a noisy food court or on the highway with the window cranked down) the z710i does a fairly decent job of suppressing most of the noise without degrading the quality of your own voice. Itís a marvelous compromise between absolute background cancellation and consistent high-quality voice reproduction.

Speakerphone: After such a great showing on every other aspect of the audio, it was disappointing to find that the speakerphone was decidedly sub-standard. The little speaker can produce enough volume to sustain a comfortable conversion in a quiet or mildly noisy room, but the sound is tinny and shallow. This is the kind of speakerphone youíll use when you HAVE TO, but never just because you WANT TO. Outgoing sound on the speakerphone is excellent however, and so your callers will at least not mind that youíre using this mode.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: I really donít know where Sony-Ericssonís thinking is in this regard. They give you only one ringtone that even remotely approaches a standard ringer. The rest are relatively faint (though nice-sounding) MIDI files. The volume of the one ringtone that actually has a bit of volume isnít that great, and so youíll probably want to load something loud yourself. Sadly, Fidoís version of this phone disallows the use of MP3 files as ringtones. This seems to be one area where all the Sony-Ericsson phones Iíve tested recently fall flat.

Keypad Design: This is a fairly good keyboard design, with good tactile feel on the numeric keys, which are arranged in a tradition square pattern. The 4-way cursor key and center button work well and I had no difficulty using them accurately right out of the box. The two softkeys are a little tough to find by feeling around. Overall Iíd rate this keypad good to very good, but hardly excellent.

Display: The internal display is 176 x 220 pixels with 18-bit (262,000) color. The backlight is bright and the overall use of the screen by the phoneís UI is generally quite handsome. The outer display is 128 x 128 pixel monochrome screen with 4-level grayscale. The outer display uses reverse (white on dark blue) and itís rather difficult to see in bright sunlight. The inner display works well in bright sunlight however and the graphics engine in the phone seems more than up to the task of providing smooth animated effects.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The camera is a 2-megapixel design thatís actually quite good. JPEG compression is low enough that the resulting images are generally free of compression remnants (approximately 300 to 400 kilobytes per 1600 x 1200 image). The color clarity is excellent and the lens if remarkably true. Unfortunately, like many cameras in phones, it doesnít handle low light very well and it produces a lot of digital noise in the darker areas.

Another issue I have with this camera is that the shutter sound lags the actually photo-taking event, and so until you get used to that, youíre going to take a fair number of blurry shots. I really donít understand why manufacturers donít get this. The picture SHOULD be taken at the SAME TIME as the shutter sound, otherwise the user doesnít have a clear idea when the shot is being exposed.

The video mode on the z710i is also quite good. While it only offers the usual low-res 176 x 144 images, it manages to render fairly good videos at approximately 10 to 15 frames per second and with much less compression damage than Iíve seen in other phones. Sound on the videos is very good also.

Here are some sample photographs (in full 2-megapixel size):

Boxes on the wall at a pharmacy
Kiosk in Square One
Colorful packages at Canadian Tire
View from the mouth of the Credit River
House also featured in Nokia 6265i review

MP Player: To test the provided MP3 player I had only the provided stereo earbuds, as the phone used a proprietary connector and it did not come with an adapter for standard 3.5 mm headsets. The quality of those provided stereo earbuds was sub-standard to say the least. They could generate a fairly decent amount of bass, but their overall reproduction was poor. I therefore couldnít judge if the MP3 player was all that great. I certainly wouldnít use those earbuds for phone calls, as the overall quality was well below that of the native earpiece.

A2DP: Even though the Fido web page doesnít say it, the z710i supports the high-quality stereo sound over Bluetooth, which is otherwise known as A2DP. Thatís just a cute way of saying AADP, which stands for Advanced Audio Distribution Profile. I tried it on the Nokia A2DP headset owned by Howard Chu. While the quality of the MP3s was terrific, I wasnít quite so happy with the sound of phone calls. They still sound markedly better over the internal earpiece.

Conclusions

I really like this phone. Not only does it have exceptional RF and audio capabilities, it also provides a lot of great features, a half-decent phonebook, a good camera, and nice ergonomics. It now stands as my choice as the phone I WOULD USE if I had to abandon Telus Mike and switch to Rogers/Fido. Yes, the phone is locked to Fido, but Iím sure it can easily be unlocked to work on Rogers or 7-11 (same network, different price plans).

The price is a bit steep for pre-paid and month-to-month users (at $325), but if you donít mind signing up for a 3-year contract with Fido the price falls to a very reasonable $75.

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