Sony Ericsson C903

If there is one thing that Sony Ericsson is good at, it's creating every-which-way phones. Across their Cyber-shot range, which are primarily focused on imaging, you have a number different design twists on phones spanning a variety of hardware features.

The C903 presents us with mega-sliding action. First up it is a regular slider handset, but the camera is accessed using a slider on the back. This does mean that the lens is protected whilst in your pocket, and that activating - or exiting - the camera is a breeze: you just slide it back.

The camera cover at the back feels a little flimsy though as it is entirely plastic, something that affects the whole phone. Heavy use of black gloss plastic on all the outside surfaces means it always looks dirty.

The phone itself is pretty standard Sony Ericsson fare which it is difficult to complain about. The C903 doesn't do anything wrong in this regard, but it's not particularly exciting either: it doesn't really push the envelope. It measures 97 x 49 x 16mm and weights 96g.

The top half is dominated by a 2.5-inch 240 x 320 pixel display, typical of Sony Ericsson slider phones. Across the bottom run the usual shortcut and calling keys, with a central four-way controller. This central controller doubles up with camera functions which shine through in blue when you open up the back.

The camera controls range along the right-hand side, giving you a shutter button, a playback button and the option to switch between camera and video. The volume adjusters double up as a digital zoom, but we'd avoid using it at all costs, as the result is a drop in overall quality.

It features a 5-megapixel sensor, outputting 2592 x 1944px images at the highest settings, with various steps down depending on your intended use of the images. You also get a number of settings, scenes, focusing options, and controls like white balance to get the shot you want. There is a flash, although it is a dual LED arrangement rather than Xenon, so it tends to blow-out detail in close shots or fail to illuminate those further away.

The control menus are simple to master, but you don't have the same array of options that some rival models sport. The results aren't as good either. Low light shots are noisy, bright shots suffer from over exposure and fringing as the lens fails to grasp high contrast scenes. The final images at the best settings are nothing to write home about, but will be clear enough to share with your friends, but not the sort of images you'd really want to show off too much.

Another failing of the camera is in the shutter button. It is unresponsive at the best of times, so you find yourself pressing it really hard before you get a response. A half press will focus the camera, but the whole press leads to camera shake because you have to press it so hard.

The video capture is also a little lacklustre, with a maximum resolution of 320 x 240px at 30fps, although colours are relatively good. Again, fine for shooting video to throw over to Facebook or YouTube but it falls short of the higher resolutions that are surfacing on rival devices.

As an entertainment device, however, you do get Sony's Xross Media Bar, so browsing your content is simple. The phone only offers you 130MB of internal memory, so you'll need to employ the M2 card slot hiding under the back cover if you want to load up with music or videos.

However this is a 3G handset, so you'll find it backing in fast HSDPA communications to take advantage of the connections presented, such as the YouTube access in the XMB. The browser isn't too bad, but it doesn't deliver the same experience as larger screened devices.

The C903 also features a GPS receiver, so you'll be able to use various location services, such as Google Maps, as well as geotagging your photos. There its Bluetooth for connecting to wireless headphones or exchanging data with your PC, which is simple enough to setup.

You'll find access to the PlayNow Arena which will let you access music and movies on the move, although a lot is paid content. If rumours are to be believed various apps will be coming to the PlayNow Arena, so you'll be able to expand and customise your phone in the future.

As a compact and simple to use device, it is likely to be a hit with the texting generation, and the keyboard is pretty good to use for this purpose. The 12-key keypad has what feels like a rubber layer over the top, but the keys have plenty of space to make bashing out messages easy. The top line is easy to access too, thanks to the thoughtful design of the phone.

One glaring omission is a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you'll have to use the bundled headset, which is a single-piece offering rather than the dongle offering you'll find with other Sony Ericsson phones. The earbuds are uncomfortable and sound poor too.

Battery life is good, and we found it got through a weekend with no problems, but this will depend on usage. Sony Ericsson cite a 10 hours talk time on GSM/EDGE (4 hours on 3G), with 400 hours of standby.

Verdict

Overall we have to question the positioning of the C903 as a Cyber-shot handset. The camera side doesn't really sell the phone to us, as the performance isn't as good as those rivals with better lenses.

As a slider handset we have little to complain about. It is Sony Ericsson doing what they do best, with an attractive spec sheet too: GPS and HSDPA bring a lot to the package opening up the range of features available.

The lack of Wi-Fi sets this apart from higher-end devices and the missing 3.5mm jack will be a deterrent for some.