It must be hard being branded as an "affordable" mobile phone. It sort of detracts from the fact you might have something to offer in your own right. So does the C510 from Sony Ericsson give us anything to get excited about, or does it play second fiddle to the C902 and C905 models?
The C510 comes as part of the Cyber-shot range from Sony Ericsson, so has a leaning towards the 3.2-megapixel camera on the back. In terms of design, you get a pretty standard candybar phone from Sony Ericsson, pulling design cues from the C902, the top dominated by the 2.2-inch display, the standard belt of calling and control buttons across the middle and a 12-key keypad at the bottom.
Around to the right-hand side you’ll find the dedicated shutter button and the volume controller that doubles as a digital zoom control when you are in camera mode. The left-hand side features a covered slot for an M2 card should you choose to expand the memory above the 100MB internal memory, and the connection point for Sony Ericsson’s charger and headset.
The keypad is solid and responsive - a fast T9 keypad for those who want to bang out loads of texts - but given the social remit of this phone it does falter alongside the experience you’ll get from a QWERTY keyboard; but you can’t fault the quality. The control keys across the middles are mostly solid, but you might find the shortcut buttons below the screen are a little too small to hit in a hurry.
The screen is bright and crisp and at 320 x 240 pixels packs in a decent resolution too. It is just about big enough to take advantage of the 3G offering here: HSDPA giving you access to full-fat internet on the move. In our review handset from 3, the tailored content through Planet 3 is a pleasure to surf, with quick and easy access into YouTube, music downloads and games.
One omission on a hardware front is Wi-Fi so you can’t take advantage of all the features on offer whilst sitting at home, without cranking up data charges.
But you do get the normal connectivity option of Bluetooth, which you might choose to use for your headset, rather than the somewhat bloated proprietary connector that plagues so many Sony Ericsson handsets. Perhaps as a badge of "affordability", the headset is a basic offering, so you don’t get the option to plug your own headphones into the dongle as you do on some higher-end handsets from the company.
The camera lurking around the back resides under a metal cover that slides back neatly revealing the lens and dual LED flash. It’s a slick action but all seems a little too delicate to stand the test of time - whether this will survive the length of your contract remains to be seen, you might be better off with the more substantial slide-out action of the C902.
As a Cyber-shot model, flip into camera mode and your dedicated buttons along the left side of the keyboard light up in blue, giving you access to features without fiddling around with the four-way controller. You get a range of shooting modes, as well as the ubiquitous Smile Shot and Face Detection, and the ability to clean up images post-shoot and so on.
These technologies work well enough, but can’t get over the fact that the shutter lag is terrible, and what you see isn’t always what you get. Press the button and your image is frozen on the screen, but what is then revealed is what you actually captured, usually a blurred mess if your subject was moving. Taking pictures of people requires them to be stock still. If you are just snapping a stationary object, then you can get relatively decent results, but replace a real camera this will not.
The LED flash is also wont to cast a yellow hue over the subject, or leach out detail, so really isn’t worth bothering with, as is often the case.
But aside from the hardware, you get Sony Ericsson’s tried and tested menu, giving you the XMB-style menus for your media functions, including neat options like direct upload to YouTube, so you can quickly share video captured on the phone. With this being a 3 phone, the music option also gives you access to 3 MusicStore, alongside the normal Sony Ericsson offerings of TrackID and DJ options to make your own tunes.
Skype comes preinstalled by 3 - a great free option, so long as you have unlimited data, of course. Windows Live Messenger is also available and a root in the menu will reveal the T9 option of text input, that unfortunately takes you to a separate screen, so it’s not quite as comfortable as on a QWERTY device like the Xperia or a BlackBerry.
Likewise you’ll find a comprehensive set of social networking applications lined up in the 3 favourites menu option that you’ll get if you choose to take this phone from 3. Most of these are pretty straightforward, providing you access to Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and so on.
Battery life is something of a downside, however, as you’ll only get about 4 hours talk time when hitting the HSDPA networks. Even without heavy talking and messaging, we found that this was a charge every day phone, as the data connection will drain the battery.
The integration between applications and the homescreen is refreshing - seeing your Facebook updates or RSS feeds scrolling across the screen gives the impression that things come together nicely.
This might be a "camera" phone, but its strengths lie in being a social phone. Ok, so the C510 isn’t unique in this regard, but as a complete package, it is tidy indeed and one you can’t help liking. The quality of the build can’t be questioned either - we even like the design of our "Future Black" review model.
Ignoring the Cyber-shot aspect, which doesn’t quite match the more substantial offerings higher up the range, the C510 gives you a relatively well connected handset. If you can get yourself a nice big data bundle and can live with the lack of a 3.5mm jack, then the C510 is well worth a look.
Thank you to 3 for the loan of this review handset.