Does the P1i measure up? Vs E61i and N95

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Steve Litchfield pits the spanking new Sony Ericsson P1i against its main competitors from the Symbian world, the messaging-focussed Nokia E61i and the media-focussed Nokia N95. How does Sony Ericsson's latest measure up?

N95, P1i and E61i

  Nokia N95 Sony Ericsson P1i  Nokia E61i
Form factor, build quality2-way sliding screen, monoblock. Plastic/metal mix, good build quality, 120gTraditional monoblock phone but with rocker keypad. Plastic/metal mix, largely good build qualityWider, not very phone-like, heavier at 150g, solid, mainly metal
Screen size, clarity2.6" QVGA display, transflective, reasonable contrast outdoors2.6" QVGA display, transflective, reasonable contrast outdoorsLarger 2.8" QVGA display, transflective and lower colour support, so top contrast outdoors
Comms options3G/EDGE/HSDPA/Wi-Fi3G/Wi-Fi3G/EDGE/Wi-Fi
Usability, one-handed interfaceS60 works well one-handed, although with the N95 in landscape mode the keypad is hidden. Dedicated Gallery button and Multimedia menuMany operations can be done one-handed, but two are often needed, for thumb typing or stylus tapping. Dedicated Internet keyYou can't really type one-handed, and it's a stretch to move to the left function key with just the right thumb. Best used two-handed for text entry, despite the S60 interface. Three dedicated keys  (Contacts, Email, MyOwn)
Text inputTypical predictive or multi-tap on the keypad, around 15 wpmRocker-based keyboard. Takes some getting used to, but the keys have a light touch and you can work up speed. Average 25 wpmLarger, traditional keyboard, thumb typing quite practical, average speed 25 wpm
Impression of speedOne of the fastest Symbian OS smartphones. Generally good multitasking, but limited by the low RAM, meaning that big apps keep having to closeOodles of RAM and multitasking implemented well but the way the Task manager shortcut is tucked into the extreme corner of the screen really ranklesOnce apps are running in RAM, overall speed is excellent, but you have to use the E61i 'right' to use the multitasking to best advantage. RAM generally sufficient considering the low resource camera
Battery lifeInadequate. 950mAh doesn't go far when you've got GPS and a heavyweight camera on-boardA bit disappointing so far, the 1150mAh seemed to run out quickly, but real world use needed to test properlyLong, thanks to the huge capacity (1500mAh) battery
PhotographySuperlative 5 megapixel stills camera (esp with v12 firmware), with every option under the sun and with an excellent interface. See below for sampleAverage 3.2 megapixel camera, poor optics, confusing and messy interface. See below for sampleAverage 2 megapixel camera, with 352 by 288 pixel video recording. See below for sample
Video recordingVGA resolution, 30 fps, pretty good320 by 240 by up to 15 fps, unspectacular352 by 288 pixel, 15 fps, OK for mobile watching
Multimedia3GP and MP4 playback, all clips (including H.264-encoded) supported via RealPlayer3GP and MP4 playback, with some audio sync issues3GP and MP4 playback, most clips supported via RealPlayer
Office suiteQuickoffice v3 viewers, pay to upgrade to full v3 or v4.5 editing suiteQuickoffice v3.6 in ROM, adequate office editing but has problems with large files and is in need of a big v4 updateIncludes a licensed version of Quickoffice 3.85. Editing facilities on the E61i are fairly limited, though the pay-for update to v4.5 raises the game significantly
Web browsingHas the 'love it or hate it' Nokia Safari-based browser, excellent rendering of web pages and page overview function, runs in portrait or landscape modesHas Opera 8.65 in ROM. This was good for 2005 but now lags behind the modern Safari-based browsers on S60 and the iPhone. Works in portrait or landscape mode thoughAlso has the Nokia Safari-based browser, excellent rendering of web pages and page overview function, permanently in landscape mode, with keyboard available for form entry and URLs
Third party applicationsA high quality choice of applications, many of them completely free from Nokia, with choice examples like Mobile Search, Maps, Sports Tracker and WorldmateA fair number of high quality UIQ 3 applications from commercial third party software developersA high quality choice of applications, many of them completely free from Nokia, with choice examples like Mobile Search, Maps, Worldmate and Pocket Express
Availability, price£457 SIM-free, incl VAT£370 SIM-free, incl VAT£290 SIM-free, incl VAT


As is sometimes the case in these head to heads, there's no overall 'winner', especially considering the big price range between the three devices. You want the maximum smartphone features and platform for your bucks? That'll be the Nokia E61i. You want beefier PIM apps and more PDA-like functions? You want the new P1i. You want a top spec camera and part-time camcorder, GPS, TV out, hardware acceleration and a kitchen sink thrown in? Pay the top money for the N95.

As to how the P1i compares to the other two 'class of 2007' smartphones: well, it doesn't disgrace itself. My own, utterly personal feeling, and one made stronger by my recent hands-on week with the Apple iPhone, is that Sony Ericsson's implementation of a UIQ 3 interface has more than its fair share of kludges. Not that the two S60 devices are free from quirks, either. Both Symbian OS-based interfaces could do with a heavy streamlining session involving myself and an education-sized set of marker pens....

But the P1i succeeds at nearly every aim that it was set. Compared to the near-disaster that was the P990, the P1i has a much better display, a great keyboard, a better camera, tons more RAM and it's lighter and slimmer. So it's not perfect yet - which device is? It's still Sony Ericsson's best smartphone to date.

Steve Litchfield, 29th July 2007

Photo samples

(cut from central 10% of typical garden scene, shown at full 1:1 pixel sizes)

Nokia E61i

E61i crop

Sony Ericsson P1i

P1i crop

Nokia N95

N95 crop