Review of the Sony-Ericsson T616

The Sony-Ericsson T616 is actually the sister phone to the T610, but it trades the 900 MHz band for the 850 MHz band. This makes it a far better choice for North American users, especially for those on networks utilizing GSM850 (like Rogers). Otherwise, the phones are supposedly identical. I tested only a T616, and so I canít say for sure if this assertion is true.

Last Updated: 01-Feb-2004

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

I would like to thank Treatz for lending me his T616.


Iíd like to start off by commenting on the styling of this phone, or more to the point, the styling of most of the current crop of Sony-Ericsson phones. Now Iíll be the first to admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Iím sure there are people out there that see this style of phone as beautiful. However, the best way to describe the styling to someone who has never seen it is to call it a rectangular box with keys and screen. I will leave the final decisions concern beauty up to the beholder.

Styling aside however, the overall shape and key placement do lend themselves to a fairly large screen. A color phone really does need a fairly big screen, since without it you really take full advantage of the graphics capability. In that the respect the T616 is a big step up from phones such as the Ericsson T68, which had relatively small screens.

However, a screen is only good if you can see it, and this one doesnít improve much on previous Ericsson designs. It looks like a big black hole without the backlight, and while the brightness of the screen is great indoors, it doesnít do so well outdoors. You canít see it well in direct sunlight, and if you try to shade the sun from it, youíll find the backlight just isnít bright enough. However, if you donít intend to use the phone outdoors very much, the screen actually does look pretty good, with fairly rich colors.

My only general complaint about the screen is that the smaller fonts just arenít as clear and readable as they appeared to be on the Nokia 6200 that I tested a couple of weeks ago. Despite the small size of the screen on the 6200, readability of tiny fonts was terrific on that particular phone.

The T616 comes with a built-in camera, but in all honesty this has to be the lamest camera Iíve thus far tested. First of all it has a maximum resolution of only 352 x 288. Thatís pitiful, and it makes those 640 x 480 camera phones (like the Nokia 3650) seem downright luxurious by comparison. Its ability to cope with varying light conditions is horrible, and the overall picture quality was something you might expect from a Mattel toy. Donít buy this phone for the camera. Just think of it as a little bonus thatís there if you actually need a low-quality photograph in a pinch.

It may be just as well that the pictures are so small, since the phone has only 2 Mb of memory (which cannot be expanded). Now having said that, the size of the JPEG images stored in the phone is much larger than you would expect for such small number of pixels.

Menu speed, which has long been an Ericsson bugaboo, still hasnít been fixed on this model. Menu response speed is sluggish compared to a typical Nokia, but it is certainly no worse than previous Ericsson models that Iíve tested.

In a related note, trying to read SMS on this phone was an exercise in pure frustration. Response speed, even with only a handful of messages on the SIM, was so slow as to be called tortuous-like. To make matters worse, every key pressed is buffered, which means that if you press a key twice thinking that nothing is happening, youíll end up getting somewhere you didnít intend to, thus increasing the frustration level.

On the bright side, the phone did include a few features that are well worth the ownership. The phone has plenty of means of connectivity, including IR and Bluetooth. GPRS is 4 slots down, which makes it one of the faster GPRS phones current available (as many other phones offer only 3 slots down). The phone also includes an excellent POP3 client (as have most of the higher-end Ericssons since the T39).

The only issue I found with Bluetooth concerned headset connectivity. Treatz also loaned me a Jabra BT-200 Bluetooth headset, which worked exceptionally well with my Nokia 6310i. However, when it was used with the T616 I noticed a rather annoying crackle that was present no matter how close (or how far) the headset was from the phone. Treatz confirmed that he got the same crackling when he used his phone with the BT-200, but he believes that the new firmware addresses that problem.

The included battery is a 770 mAh lithium polymer unit, which should provide reasonable standby and talk times, even if you keep the backlight on quite a bit. However, because of the enormous power draw of the backlight, donít expect this phone to match monochrome models for standby, especially if you play with the phone extensively, and use the backlight frequently.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

In the original review of this phone, post in September of 2003, I commented that the audio level was extremely low, and as such I couldn't really comment much on the sound. A new version of the T616 has been released, and it has greatly improved audio volume. Unfortunately, that now allowed me to hear how it sounded when turned up at a level more suited to phone use, and the T616 comes off sounding rather tinny. It isn't annoying so, but enough that I wouldn't personally use this phone. Despite the tinny sound quality, the T616 sounds light years better than the Nokia 6200.

Another thing I didnít really like about the phone was the placement of the earpiece. To accommodate the large screen the earpiece opening had to be moved to the very top of the phone. This means that the phone canít be pressed comfortably on your entire ear. To what extent you find this uncomfortable depends on the shape of your ear, and your personal tolerance to discomfort. Regardless of that however, the phone has a fairly small sweet spot, which means you are going to have to be careful where you position the phone for maximum volume.

Outgoing sound quality is very good, but the phone picks up an inordinate amount of background noise. This is especially odd for an Ericsson product, since their designs are usually better than most at blocking out unwanted background sounds. This is only really an issue when you are talking in a noisy environment, otherwise the phone sounds great to your caller. I also found the audio volume a bit low compared to other phones.

I wasnít expecting much in terms of RF performance, since most Sony-Ericsson models of late have been very poor in this regard. However, I am happy to report that the T616 is a major improvement over those earlier designs.

I specifically tested RF performance against my Nokia 6310i. I used Square One as the test location, and anywhere I found the T616 performed almost as well as the Nokia. In other words, I would rank the RF of the current T616 as excellent. It certainly seems better than the last one I tested, but remember that variations between samples of the same model do often appear.

Because of the tinny incoming sound quality and the sluggish response of the menu system I can't really recommend this model. However, if those two shortcomings don't really bother you the T616 has many other great things going for it that might make it a good choice. I personally wouldn't use one because sound quality is a very important aspect to me.