Sony Ericsson C902 preview: C for Cyber-shot
The user interface has seen changes
The user interface in C902 has the well known Sony Ericsson feature phone styling, spiced up with a few new features. Typical hi-end cameraphone, C902 puts up front the rich photography and multimedia capabilities. When it comes to multimedia, the new Cyber-shot products are catching up quickly with the Walkman lineup.
The first thing to mention though is the changes to the main menu structure. Except the traditional 4 x 3 grid matrix, the main menu can now be diversified with a couple of alternative views: rotating and single icon view.
The rotating view shows three animated front icons on the display, the center one showing the active selection. The other two icons are half-hidden, just as an indication of what comes next. Five other menu icons can be seen in the dim background.
The icon view displays a single icon at a time and a vertical bar with position mapping. Neither of those views works with shortcut keys. The Grid view only allows quick numeric keypad access - a good enough reason to forget about the other options once you've tried them.
The other obvious change is the icon animation, bringing considerable visual modification.
The lowest row of icons has mirror effect. Other than that, when you select an icon it smoothly pops up on the display for a moment before you see the next screen. It is a very nice transition .
Camera performance: touch-sensitive keys score a point
But all those are tidbits, compared to the camera where the real power of the C902 lies. The 5 megapixel autofocus shooter offers a good range of niceties as face detection, image and video stabilizer, BestPic, auto-rotate, macro mode, photoflash LED, etc.
There are eight touch sensitive camera keys that backlight in blue around the display. They are active only in camera mode and are responsible for switching between video and still camera, accessing the photo gallery, changing the autofocus mode, shoot mode, scenes, timer and flash mode. Having selected a setting, its icon blinks briefly in the center of the viewfinder before it smoothly drops down to take its place in the viewfinder status bar.
The SE Cyber-shot v2.0 camera user interface is implemented. Its pop-up sub-menus enhanced with icons and the Multi Menu packing all the available settings known since K850 are here to facilitate the user experience.
The camera toolbar gives access to shoot mode, scenes, picture size, focus, flash, self-timer, metering mode, white balance, effects, and settings Multi Menu. Sadly, an ISO setting is not available in C902, at least with our beta unit.
The focus mode however has an extra feature - the Face detection we've seen on point-and-shoot cameras. The face recognition system allows you to toggle among the available faces on group photos, but cannot track more that one face at a time.
The image stabilizer is supposed to keep images from blurring in dark environments but, as in all phone cameras, so far it's purely a software tweak of questionable efficiency.
The ultra quick-snapping BestPic mode has two varieties - fast and slow. In fast mode it produces 9 full-size 5 megapixel images for about a 1.3sec, each of them of approximately 1MB of size. Saving all the images on the memory card afterwards takes about 15 seconds. The slow mode takes 9 images again but with larger interval of a total of 2.5sec.
The newly introduced photoflash LED is capable of illuminating all the images taken in BestPic with equal flash output but only when you use the fast BestPic mode.
Despite official claims that the new Photoflash LED is able to provide 3 times more power that the regular LED, we were unable to verify this statement. Nevertheless, the photos came out well and it might be a good trade-off - substituting the xenon flash for a photoflash LED that works in BestPic mode.
The dedicated macro mode in C902 allows you to take images from as close as 8 cm, just like with the K850 camera. The silent shooting mode completes the worth-mentioning features of the C902 camera.
Thanks to the built-in accelerometer the camera is also able to auto-rotate your images when you are previewing them.
Judging the camera quality of a beta unit is a risky business. Even so, it's clear the C902 camera is a capable shooter. The images are crisp with nice detail. Noise level is relatively low, especially with sufficient light. The autofocus camera does very well at close-ups. Color rendering is relatively good; yet all colors are a bit cold. We think they need some 10-15% more saturation to ride high.
Unfortunately, the trademark red-to-pink conversion that all recent Sony Ericsson cameraphones manifest is still present here and judging from our experience it will be there in the final products too.
The Media center menu lists the Photo, Music, Video, RSS feeds and Settings icons. Along with the traditional functionality we've discussed in detail in several Sony Ericsson reviews, there is one extra icon for Games.
Sony Ericsson are obviously trying to place more and more content and options in the media center with its original interface and we appreciate their effort as we simply love this flash-based interface.
The game section houses one accelerometer based game - Need for Speed Pro Street. It has a cool 3D interface and is entertaining enough to be worth a few hours of reviewing time. Oh, and another interesting fact before we spin to another track, here your NFS car can be steered with both the D-pad and the built-in accelerometer function (we can't wait to get that racing on the iPhone).
The other new feature spotted in the settings menu is the TV-Out, which allows you to set the TV-out function to work in either PAL or NTSC mode - not really of importance if you have a multi-system TV set. We wonder if the TV-out cable will be included in the C902 retail package - that would be cool.
Anyways, one last thing about the Media center - you can also set its screen to auto rotate to portrait or landscape mode. We wish we had that option throughout the user interface.
Ok, enough talking, rev up and let's burn some rubber on the track.
The Sony Ericsson C902 is a very promising cameraphone with some extra features and camera improvements. The stylish slim body, the original slide-up camera design and excellent build quality gain the C920 good points among style-conscious users.
As the Sony Ericsson C902 is expected at about 330-350 EUR, you might as well keep your K850 just for now.