Tools Of The Trade: The Sony Ericsson K600i 3G phone

That won't bother those who prize advanced functions, but if 3G is to attract subscribers in large numbers, operators need to offer simpler and more compact handsets alongside large-screen alternatives.

The Sony Ericsson K600i is a step in that direction. Fractionally larger and heavier than the company's best-selling T610, it has a comprehensive 3G feature set without adding too much bulk.

The phone follows the conventional "candybar" design: the keys are directly below the screen. There is a small camera on the front of the device for video calling, and a 1.3-megapixel unit on the rear for capturing stills or video images. There is also a light for night-time shots.

Sony Ericsson has sensibly fitted a cover to the main lens, although there is no such protection for the front camera.

The screen is bright and has a high enough resolution to make it possible to use features such as the calendar, address book and email client with relative ease. But it is probably not a device for extensive data entry.

Instead, anyone buying a K600 is likely to want to pair it with a laptop or a personal digital assistant (PDA), or perhaps use it to check emails occasionally. The K600's email client has enough features to satisfy casual users, although it lacks the functionality of phones with either Micro- soft Outlook or Blackberry clients built in. Setting up the email service, though, was notably easier than on some recent Nokia handsets. With a Bluetooth connection, the K600 can also work as a remote control for a laptop.

The K600 is also more than suited to use as a modem, and here its small size is an advantage for users who are already carrying a laptop or other device. The phone produced data speeds on the Orange network that were comparable to those from a dedicated laptop data card. In some cases where the 3G signal was weak, the K600 actually performed better.

Although this is not unique to the K600, it suggests that a laptop card will not always be the automatic choice for data users.

Like all 3G phones, the K600 does suffer from extensive use as a modem or with Bluetooth turned on. Generally, however, battery life for the handset is reasonable, considering its small size. Video calling, at least in areas with a good 3G signal, was easy and quite pleasant to use.

However, mobile networks' video charges will need to fall before video calls become a mainstream tool for business.

The K600 is not without any flaws: a 1.3-megapixel camera looks somewhat mean when 2G phones, such as Sony Ericsson's K750, have two-megapixel sensors. And the lack of removable storage makes features such as the camera and music player less useful.

Nonetheless, it is a compact, robust and reliable phone that should appeal to mobile users who have yet to move to 3G.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: compact, neat design.

Cons: no removable storage card.

Price: from free with a contract on Orange.

Contact: www.sonyericsson.com

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