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In a market dominated primarily by smartphones and touchscreens, the Sony Ericsson Elm is an unusual entry. As each manufacturer vies with the next in an attempt to produce a better phone with more features and a smaller size, there is no doubt that the consumer stands to gain significantly. Therefore it is somewhat baffling to see a phone like the Elm.
The Elm is the latest in the range of Sony Ericsson’s Greenheart range. As suggested by the name, the Greenheart range is aimed at eco-conscious consumers. However, the phone itself is very traditional, in that it does not have any pretensions to alternative power sources or natural materials. The range is made by reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process significantly, and by using recycled materials as far as possible.
However, the baffling part of the Sony Ericsson Elm is the absolutely traditional nature of its design and aspect. There are none of the fancy features that are almost commonplace in other phones. It is then difficult to imagine the strategy behind releasing the Elm at all.
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The Sony Ericsson Elm is not an unattractive phone and, although at first glance it resembles the candybar of old, it actually has a curved back panel that fits snugly in the palm. It is made entirely with recycled materials, however the feel of the phone is not cheap. It is very lightweight at 90 gm, but the overall effect is of a solidly-constructed device.
The Elm measures 110 by 45 by 14 mm, and therefore is a comfortably small phone to carry, without it becoming difficult to use. The curved back does do wonders for grip. The buttons are also comfortable to use, to the extent that other phones could learn a thing or two from the Sony Ericsson Elm.
The front of the phone is unremarkable, with a 2.2 inch screen and a comprehensive keypad. The right side has the volume rocker switch and the camera button, which is conveniently set in the thickest part of the handset. On the opposite side, there is just the Sony proprietary port known as Fast Port; which is a shame as a microUSB port would be much more welcome. The back cover has the camera lens, a flash and the loudspeaker. The panel is aluminium, so therefore stands up to repeated removal and replacement in spite of its distinct curvature.
There are not many ports or fixtures, which is perhaps for the best, considering that the packaging has no extras whatsoever.
The handset is available in either the traditional black or a pearly pink colour.
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Although the physical features of the phone are somewhat limited and pared down, the phone itself is certainly not a dumb phone. It perhaps cannot claim smartphone status, but the handset still has some formidable features.
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The messaging application on the Sony Ericsson Elm is comparable to more sophisticated smartphones. The messages are organized in the form of conversational speech bubbles, making the threads easier to follow. The function can be toggled easily in the Settings menu. One feature not usually available in mobile inboxes is the ability to organize the messages into categories for easy reference and retrieval. It is also simple to set up an email account on the device, as it automatically retrieves settings for the more popular email service providers. Any attachments can be saved to the phone and transferred to a desktop at leisure, if the occasion arises.
The audio and video components of the phone are excellent, as is the case with most Sony Ericsson phones. The music player can handle most popular file formats, including a few that are more proprietary. The player is sleekly designed with the option to install interesting skins. It also encompasses the SensMe feature, which automatically generates a playlist based upon the user’s mood. The songs need to be tagged beforehand for the feature to work optimally, but the results are fairly good once it has been done.
There is an FM player as well, and even though it is not as well-designed as the music player, it is a useful application. The user can select and store up to 20 presets.
The video player is sophisticated and well-equipped, with automatic rotation. The player also has the ability to rewind and fast forward videos at will, and a screenshot facility. The user can take a snapshot of a video and save it to the gallery, which is an unusual feature for a mobile phone. The player only supports the standard video formats, although Sony Ericsson has devised a desktop application which can recode videos to suit the mobile player and the mobile’s screen size.
The camera is far from mediocre offering 5 megapixel capture. It can be accessed by the button or through the menu interface. The button itself is multi-functional, which becomes more apparent with further use of the device. The camera application has extra features like Face Detection and autofocus. It also links easily to the gallery for instant geotagging. An interesting feature is the Smile Shutter: the feature is activated by depressing the camera button right down and releasing it. The camera will then automatically click a picture as soon as someone smiles within its frame. The quality of the images is very good, with clearly defined images and vibrant colours coming through nicely. The video recording is good for a phone and useful for emergency situations.
Although the Sony Ericsson Elm can be connected easily to a computer, it has a proprietary FastPort instead of the more universal microUSB. To make matters worse, the cable is not included in the packaging. There are other viable connectivity options, like Bluetooth and a microSD card slot, however a cable would have been the fastest means of transfer. There is Wi-Fi connectivity, in addition to EDGE and 3G.
The web browser is very good for a phone this size, with a customizable shortcuts menu and an intuitive zoom control. Interestingly the browser supports Flash and is programmed to detect all RSS feeds easily.
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Experienced Sony Ericsson users will instantly feel comfortable with the interface. Sony Ericsson has made a welcome adjustment the interface, adding in some alternate features that have appeared in newer models. On the whole, the effect is very positive.
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The user interface is like a trip down the Sony Ericsson memory lane, with the same design and layout as before. There are several alternate menu layouts ranging from one icon being visible with the other vaguely in the background, to a complete grid layout. The phone has standard functions which are easily accessible through the menu.
Interestingly for a candybar phone, there are widgets available on the homescreen. One of these is called Walk Mate Eco which counts the numbers of steps a user has walked. There are four other widgets including ones for Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.
What is especially nice is the Smart Dialling facility built into the handset. When dialling a number manually, the contacts with the same digits are shown for easy reference. In addition to the digits, the letters that correspond to the contact names also show up. For example, if the number ‘3’ is pressed, the numbers starting with 3 would be displayed and the contacts whose names start with D, E or F would be displayed as well.
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The call performance is excellent, as it is coupled with Sony’s NoiseShield technology. It cancels out all the ambient noise for better communication on both ends. The audio output is sharp and clear, which is ideal for enjoyable music playback. The speakers rival those of a dedicated music player, and Sony Ericsson technology is clearly visible.
The screen does fairly well in bright sunshine, compared to other phones. The screen brightness needs to be cranked up to the maximum though, which is a little tedious to do.
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There are very few flaws in the Sony Ericsson Elm; the only major one that comes to mind is the lack of a USB cable.
The multimedia technology is excellent, the interface is well-executed and the design is ergonomic. The materials used are recycled and therefore will have great appeal for environmentally conscious users. The phone is intended to be value for money, which it certainly is.