Review of the Sony-Ericsson Z200

The Z200 is clamshell design from Sony-Ericsson that Fido is offering as a new low-end stylish offering. While it has many aspects that are pure Ericsson, the overall design seems rather foreign to them, including a separate power button that I canít remember seeing on any previous Ericsson designs that Iíve reviewed in the last few years. It is possible that the phone is manufactured by a different company and marketed by Sony-Ericsson, but Iím not sure.

Last Updated: 11-Apr-2004

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Like its bigger brother the Z600 the Z200 looks a little like two phones sandwiched together, when itís closed. However, that effect is far less prominent than on the Z600, and I personally like the look of the design better on the Z200. One very strange styling queue however is a silver strip across the top of the phone that looks like it should hinge, but in fact is solid. The silver band surrounds a protrusion from the lower portion of the phone that creates a sort of tab sticking up. The tab has a big hole in it that could presumably be used to tether it to something.

Another prominent feature on the outside of the phone is a round external display that can be set to show an analog clock, or a digital clock with signal strength and battery condition. The appearance of the round opening (with a thick gold band framing it) is very handsome, but when it comes to practicality it rates as close to the bottom of the barrel as you can get. Because the round display can show so little data at once, it actually scrolls the text sideways when a call comes in. If you miss the name of the caller you have look like a complete idiot staring at a ringing phone while it comes around again. This gets my vote for the All Style and no Substance award.

As you open the phone you are immediately impressed with how solid the hinge is. I donít think Iíve seen this level of quality in a low-end Sony-Ericsson phone before, and it was very promising. Alas the screen and keyboard just arenít up to the standards of the hinge. The keypad is about the most atrocious Iíve tested in ages. Not only are the keys flush and difficult to press, they also donít respond particularly well.

On a number of occasions I found myself confronted with a recording telling me that my call couldnít be completed as dialed. This was because Iíd apparently missed typing one or more digits of the phone number, even though it had felt as though Iíd correctly pressed each key. The four-way cursor pad is also a horrendously bad design, in that it only give you a small narrow band of the key for pressing up, down, left, or right. I found myself constantly frustrated in my attempts to navigate using these keys. Small fingers will be a definite asset.

The display is certainly nicer to look at than the awful screen of the T300, but like many Sony-Ericsson models the color display is non-reflective and impossible to see without the backlight. Indoors the backlight is bright enough, and there is no problem, but outdoors the display canít be seen in direct sunlight, nor is the backlight bright enough for non-direct sunlight. This is clearly an indoor-only screen design.

Fortunately the phone comes with a bevy of very well-designed wallpaper images that take good advantage of the screenís resolution and pastel colors. I say pastel because the colors are all rather washed-out looking. So long as you choose wallpapers that take advantage of that look, you should be happy with the display.

Like virtually all modern phone designs the Z200 uses polyphonic ringtones, and many of them are quite interesting. However, the ringer volume is quite low, and once again we have a phone that it better suited for indoor use where the background noise is much lower. Your chances of hearing the Z200 ring while in your pants pocket walking down a noisy street is slim-to-none.

The menu system is pure Ericsson, and while thatís a good thing for people who are accustomed to the Ericsson way of doing things, it lacks one feature that is practically standard on every other manufacturerís phones. Iím talking about soft keys. The Z200 has none (well, many Sony-Ericsson phones donít), and as such all of the user interface semantics are based on the Yes and No keys. In my opinion this is an unnecessary compromise that most people will find difficult to adjust to if theyíve previously been used to working with other phones. Beyond that however, the Ericsson menu system is no better or worse than any others out there.

The T9 implementation in the Z200 is fairly good, but it doesnít seem to support contractions. However, when coupled with the rather poor keypad the quality of the T9 implementation is rather moot. So long as you can potentially miss pressing keys, you will forever be frustrated by the task of entering text anyway.

Unlike the T300 unfortunately, the Z200 does not provide a POP3 client, and so you wonít be able to use this phone to transmit and receive email messages. Despite the overall look of the Z200, it is a lesser phone than the T300.

Battery life is pretty good, but that seems to be the case with all Sony-Ericsson phones. I never actually ran the battery down during my tests, but it would be my guess than you could easily get 4 to 5 days (or more) of pure standby out of the phone, even though it has a fairly small battery.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

When it came to the actual performance of the Z200, I was left feeling very disappointed. The RF abilities of the phone were well below par, and very much like the sort of performance we used to get on earlier Sony-Ericsson products. The RF sensitivity falls markedly short of my Nokia 6310i, and the on-road performance of the phone was only average. Handoffs are dealt with well enough, but Iíve heard much better phones.

Incoming sound quality was generally rather poor. The tonal balance was pleasant enough, but it lacked any low-end what-so-ever, thus giving it an AM-radio type sound. The real problem was sound reproduction though. When the source audio was loud it would sound fairly good, but as the volume of the source went down a severe distortion became increasingly evident. When compared to the Nokia 6310i on low-volume sources the Z200 sounded coarse and distorted, not unlike a cheap AM radio on which the battery was running low.

The Z200 that Fido lent me came with an Ericsson earbud, though I've been told that ones they are selling to the public do not. While previous Ericsson earbuds Iíve experienced were fairly good, this one didnít impress me at all. It might not be the fault of the earbud, but rather the phone itself. Either way, the sound is worse than you get on the handset, and itís just not loud enough.

Outgoing sound quality wasnít half bad though, with fairly good tonal balance and a pleasing quality to it. It even did fairly well when used in a very noisy environment (such as my wifeís 1977 pickup truck travelling at 120 km/h on Highway 401). It wasnít quite as good as the Motorola V300, which I was testing at around the same time. Knowing that it handles such conditions isnít of much value since the earpiece volume isnít really loud enough to hear your caller anyway. At any rate, outgoing audio quality is probably the only good performance feature of this model.

So in summary, I wouldnít really recommend this phone to anyone. Its poor RF performance, poor incoming sound quality, faint ringers, poor keypad, and ridiculous external display add up to a very frustrating phone. Clearly the Z200 is designed for looks, and those who are more interested in looks than they are in functionality might be pleased with it. The rest of you would be doing yourself a huge favor by considering other phones in the Fido lineup.