Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lighting Review: Sony Ericsson TM506, T-Mobile's First 3G Phone [TM506 Review]


The Gadget: Sony Eriscsson's TM506 is the first phone to be sold by T-Mobile that supports its still-rolling-out HSDPA network on the 1700/2100 MHz band.

The Price: Still not official, but T-Mobile says it will be less than $100 with contract when it drops in early September.

The Verdict: Solid, everyman 3G for the masses.

If you didn't know it going in, you might not even realize the TM506 was 3G-capable. There's no big "3G" connection icon like on the iPhone, and nary a mention in the phone's settings. And most surprisingly, the phone ships only with T-Mo and Sony Eric's shitty t-zones browser—which is only a few steps past WAP.

So the first thing anyone with this phone should do is grab Opera Mini—and after doing so, all of the Google apps for Maps and Gmail (the built-in email client is equally miserable). It's smart in many ways to downplay the phone's HSDPA capabilities, since T-Mobile's rollout is still in progress. But the lack of a solid browser built-in is puzzling.

And here's the kicker—at the moment, this thing is lightning fast. I tested it in several locations in NYC, one of T-Mobile's first 3G cities, and we're talking near Wi-Fi speeds on T-Mobile's 1700/2100 MHz HSDPA network. I got a crazy average of 5037kbps using DSL Reports' smartphone speed test, where the iPhone 3G, in the same location at the same time, managed an average of 545kbps. Now before you get too excited, keep in mind that T-Mobile's 3G network is practically empty at the moment—when more 3G subscribers start piling on, speeds will certa! inly com e down to the 600-1000kbps range that T-Mobile says will be the norm. But for now, 3G T-Mobilers will be living the sweet life. Pages load almost instantly with Opera Mini—it's awesome. And when you tether to your laptop (which T-Mobile is fine with)—it's still blazing, which is a great bonus.

Rounding out the rest of the package is everything you'd expect on a mid-range Sony Ericsson piece—A-GPS, 2MP camera with video recording, Bluetooth 2.0, Memory Stick Micro slot, a barebones media player, and all the rest in a light but solid feeling flip form factor (but I could do without the green). In the end, it's not for smartphone people, or worth leaving another network for, but if you're already on T-Mobile and it's time for an upgrade, you could do a lot worse for your money.

And until the network starts to fill up, you'll be putting your iPhone-toting friends to shame.

UPDATE: To clarify some confusion in the comments, all previous phones with 3G support sold by T-Mobile (Nokia 6263, Samsung t639, Samsung t819, Nokia 3555) are UMTS only, which means they'll only get speeds of around 200-300kbps says the T-Mo folks. The TM506 is the first high-speed HSDPA phone for the new network, which should get between 600-1000kbps.