Egg Freckles
Notes from my Newton

December 2012 | Bond Phone

Bond Phone

The original iPhone was the best phones money could buy in late 2007 and early 2008, but it wasn't necessarily the best phone for British Secret Agent James Bond. For one, the iPhone 2G was too flashy. Its broad aluminum back, shiny Apple logo, and large illuminated 3.5 inch screen attracted too much attention in a time when multitouch smart phones were new and noticeable. If Bond pulled that phone out in a crowd during his Quantum of Solace mission, everyone would have taken notice. In addition, the iPhone 2G was locked to the carrier on which it was sold. A decision that caused all sorts of controversy in Europe, and a clear problem for a Secret Agent visiting exotic locales across the globe. Third, the first two versions of the iPhone were issued with a miserable two megapixel fixed-focus camera. It is hard to imagine how a spy would make use of a camera with such a low resolution, no flash, no autofocus, no face detection, and no video recording. Finally, Sony, not Apple, has been 007's preferred patron of technology product placement in all of Bond's most recent adventures. MI6's choice of Sony Ericsson phones in Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall, might have something to do with the fact that Columbia Pictures, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, distributes the films.

No, the iPhone 2G would not have been a suitable Bond Phone for the release of Quantum of Solace in October 2008. Instead Q Branch issued Bond the Sony Ericsson C902. A more than capable quad-band, Java-based world phone, with a five megapixel camera, and a few extra surprises "for your eyes only." For the past thirty days I have been using the C902 myself. And although it is not as timeless as my Omega Seamaster diving watch, it still manages to make an impact where style and technology are concerned.

Unboxing

I purchased a brand new, unlocked, Sony Ericsson C902 for a little over $100 off of eBay1, with the hopes of conducting a "Stephen Hackett Experiment" of my own. I have gone more than a month without a smartphone before, but this time I wanted to try something with a little more 007 style.

In its day the C902 was a premium phone, that cost over $549 MSRP. By the fit and finish of the box alone you can easily tell the C902 was a luxury product. They don't package phones with this level of care, or this many accessories anymore. Inside the black piano gloss box, I found the C902 presented at the center of a cardboard cutout depicting a picturesque lake scene. After the phone was taken out, and the cut out removed, the remaining space was broken up by two separate boxes. One containing the phone's accessories, the other paperwork and software.

As I mentioned before the C902 comes with a generous amount of accessories. There was a USB cable with proprietary Sony Ericsson docking connection on one end. There was a separate power plug with an integrated Sony Ericsson docking connection cable included. I quickly found out I could the use the C902's USB cable to charge my phone using the USB port on my computer. The USB power adapter that comes with the iPhone didn't cut it. Including both the cable and the power adapter was a nice touch, that allowed me to charge my phone from two different locations without bringing Sony's proprietary power charger along with me.

One downfall of the Sony Ericsson proprietary dock connector, is that it is also the only place one can attach headphones to the phone. The included adapter comes in the form of a long cable with a mic/3.5mm headphone jack on one end, and the Sony Ericsson dock connector on the other. You can answer the phone using the provided bottom on the Mic, just like you can with an iPhone. The included headphones come with a relatively short cable to compensate for the adapters already generous reach. The C902 can playback MP3 and AAC files, but I don't expect to be listening to much music with this phone considering its peculiar headphone arrangement that can't be used then the phone is charging.

The last accessory I found in the box was a Memory Stick Micro (M2) to USB adapter. The USB end of this adapter slides out like the blade to a pocket knife, and although the adapter is made of plastic, it has a fit and finish worth of any MI6 issued gadget. With only 160 MBs of internal storage, it was important that Sony choose an expandable memory format for the C902, and even more generous that they included a 1 GB card and optional adapter along with the USB connection cable. I just wish they hadn't relied on the proprietary Sony Memory Stick Micro (M2) format, and choose Micro SD instead2.

Accompanying the box of accessories was a similar sized box of paperwork and software. Just like most electronics from the late 90's that shipped with a plethora of paperwork, Sony Ericsson decided to continue the tradition by including an assortment of useless warranty cards, manuals, and getting started guides with the C902. I never opened the included Suite of PC software for transferring pictures and music from the C902, because the phone mounted as a USB storage device the first time I plugged it into my computer. Sony could have saved a lot of trees, and space by loosing the consumer junk mail.

Construction

Up until the iPhone 4 I could have said the Sony Ericsson C902 is the best made phone I have ever owned. Despite its deminished size compared to most smart phones, it has a reassuring weight that cannot be easily ignored. The top of the phone is dominated by the 240 x 320 pixels, 2.0 inches(~200 ppi pixel density) display. The bottom by a directional pad, six navigation buttons, and a twelve key keypad that after one month of use, continues to feel firm to the touch. The back of the phone is clad in painted metal. The Sony Ericsson C902 came in four colors, "Swift Black, Luscious Red, Titanium Silver, Cinnamon Bronze." I choose the "Swift Black" model, although Bond's phone in Quantum of Solace was "Titanium Silver." All along the sides of the phone is one of the C902's most distinct features, raised metallic edges. Like the handle of a gun, these edges give the C902 extra grip that can easily be appreciated when the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Keyboard

Is has been such a long time since I have used a conventional twelve key keypad for typing on a phone. I swore I would never do it again. It took me close to ten minutes of staring at my C902, and repeatedly pushing the keypad, before I realized how to type on this thing. There are two kinds of typing modes, one predictive, one repetitive. Using the predictive mode you can press the number key with the corresponding letter once and move on to the next character in the word. Sony Ericsson's predictive software will figure out what word you are trying to type with amazing accuracy. Using the repetitive mode you must press the number key with the corresponding letter several times to cycle to the character you wish to enter. Both methods are tedious, and I couldn't imagine Bond taking the time to write a lengthy message this way. Especially while under fire.

On the lower left hand side, opposite the proprietary Sony connection, I found the C902's camera shutter button and volume rocker. I don't like the position of either of buttons, I think they should be up towards the top, like the iPhone. Also the dock connector really needs to be on the bottom of the phone. No one wants to try to listen to music, type, or answer a call with a dock adapter sticking into the palm of their hand.

The best way I found learning to type on the Sony Ericsson C902, was by entering my personal contacts during my flight to Memphis Tennessee and the St. Jude Marathon3. Short of an old outdated iSync plugin, I couldn't find any other way of syncing my contacts to the C902. As you learn to trust the predictive software typing common names and English words becomes easier. Just don't try addressing an email, or entering a URL. No wonder BlackBerrys with their QWERTY keyboards were so popular back in the day.

Software

The Sony Ericsson C902 is a 2G device in the States, but capabilities, not speed will prevent you from getting the most out of your data plan while using this phone. The web browser is old-school NetFront. Navigate up and down, link to link, and hope the website you want to visit has a WAP version. Email is possible, but I was unable to get iCloud's IMAP settings to work. Instead I forwarded all of my personal, and work email to a POP account I set the C902 to check automatically every four hours. I was able to get SMTP to work with my POP account, but like I said before, unless you are a whiz with a twelve key keypad, you will not be sending very many emails with the C9024.

In addition to the thousand entry contact list, and basic email capabilities, the Sony Ericsson C902 includes a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a speakerphone. The C902 isn't a smartphone, but it offers a nice assortment of advanced options like Bluetooth with a stereo profile and remote control options, PC syncing, a file manager, USB mass storage, integrated GPS, and a code memo for storing sensitive information. A basic RSS reader, and podcast catcher is also included, but good luck entering all of those addresses without an OPML import.

The C902's music player (MPS and AAC files) isn't officially a Walkman player, but it might as well be. Settings include an equalizer, playlists, stereo widening, Sony's Mega Bass, and shuffle and loop modes. The interface is minimalist, but functional. There are no visualizations, but the player supports album art. Just keep in mind that it won't recognize every song it plays. Other features include an FM radio, TrackID, and support for audio books and podcasts. Getting music on the phone is as easy as [drag and drop].

Camera

The Sony Ericsson C902's killer features are hiding in plain sight, and behind a pull out slider. Pull the top of the phone up, and a five megapixel camera, complete with xenon flash, and portrait mirror is exposed. As the lens is revealed the C902 instantly switches to camera mode, illuminating eight blue hidden touch controls concealed along the edge of the display. These controls can be used for setting the camera mode between still, video, and playback, as well as focus, shooting mode, scenes, timer, and flash. The slider motion still feels solid after a month of use, and I appreciate how the it hides and protects the lens from scratches. Without knowing different, you can not easily tell the C902 is also a camera, making it the perfect spy phone. The touch controls might seem like a gimmick at first, but they provide quick adjustment to the cameras most used settings without having to dive deep into menus. I wish more consumer level cameras included such touch sensitive controls among the edges of their displays to make up for their lack physical knobs, switches, and dials.

Not only does the Sony Ericsson C902 control better than the iPhone 2G, but it also takes better pictures. I found exposure of tough situations like the setting sun, superior on my Sony Ericsson C902 than on competing camera phones like the iPhone 4S. The C902 was the first in Sony's line of Cybershot camera phones, and the attention to photographic details and features shows.

You can take pictures in four resolutions, from 5 megapixels down to simple VGA. Editing options are more than generous. They include face detection, an autofocus, a macro setting, an infinite mode (disables the autofocus for pictures taken at a distance), a self timer, five white balance settings, an adjustable brightness meter, four color effects, two quality settings, a 16x digital zoom, an image stabilizer, Sony Ericsson's BestPic feature (for taking nine shots in rapid succession), and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option).

With a firm grip, a five megapixel sensor, and a real shutter button it is hard to discount the C902's camera functionality. The resolution may not be as high as today's smart phones, but the available options are more plentiful. With the C902 in your hand, you feel like you are holding a real camera. Getting your photos onto a computer is as easy using Bluetooth, USB, or the included Memory Stick Micro (M2) adapter. I just wish there was a better cloud option. We are all spoiled in the modern age of Instagram.

Conclusion

Between its stylish good looks, ample accessories, tough construction, and secret spy cam, you can easily see why the Sony Ericsson's C902 was Bond's phone of choice in Quantum of Solace. It may not have the extensibility of a modern smartphone, but for taking pictures, sending quick messages, receiving email, and just plain talking on the phone it is a great choice. The unlocked C902 makes a great alternative to carrying a smartphone while traveling abroad, and its 9 hour 2G talk time will impress you when you realize you don't have to charge it every night. I only wish more of the C902's menus could benefit from the innovative touch controls hiding beside the display, and the predictive keyboard knew what I wanted to type before stumbling with the keypad5. Just imagine if Siri was available on a small, light, stylish phone like the Sony Ericsson C902. Now that really would be a Bond phone.


  1. I didn't splurge for the Sony Ericsson Limited Edition James Bond C902 with an eerie picture of Daniel Craig in the box. 

  2. Sony announced on June 1, 2009 that M2 support in Sony Ericsson phones would be dropped in favor of microSD

  3. There is still time to donate

  4. Apparently their is the option to sync the C902's Address Book, Email, and Calendar with Exchange, but I could never get it to work with my MIT email. 

  5. A standard micro USB connector, and headphone jack would have also been appreciated.