The first HSDPA handset to hit T-Mobile's store shelves, the Sony Ericsson TM506 offers a clean and quick interface and good Web surfing speeds that users will love. And its $79.99 (with two-year contract, $30 instant rebate, and $50 mail-in rebate) price makes it a very attractive option for budget-conscious buyers. However, call quality wasn't great, and T-Mobile doesn't yet offer over-the-air music or video services to take advantage of those 3G speeds.
We're pleased with the build quality of the TM506, which is available in two color schemes: chrome with amber, and chrome with emerald. The 3.7 x 1.9 x 0.7-inch handset has a solid hinge and a beautiful glossy black cover with a small 128 x 36-pixel resolution grayscale LCD display that shows the time, caller, and notifies you of new messages. While the outer monochrome display felt like something out of the early 1990s, we loved the crisp, extra-bright internal 320 x 240-pixel screen.
The TM506 has volume controls on the left-hand side, and a slot for Sony's Memory Stick Micro cards on the right. Inside the clamshell is a 5-way directional pad, two soft buttons, Send/End buttons, and an application quick-launch button. The keyboard has a brushed aluminum feel and is comfortable to use despite being flat.
One of our biggest pet peeves with most handsets is a sluggish interface; the TM506 didn't exhibit a hint of delay, except when its music player was running in the background. Every action was fluid, and menus flowed beautifully. Our only complaint is the jagged edges of T-Mobile's myFaves icons.
The main home screen is refreshingly uncluttered. Three main menu layouts are available, but our favorite was the single icon theme; it lines up options on the right-hand side of the display, letting us toggle through them quickly.
The Media menu on the TM506 has the same elegant format and look as on previous Sony Ericsson handsets, as well as on the PS3 and PSP; it's a right-scrolling tree menu, with a black background and white text. Here you can view your photos, listen to music, watch videos, play games, and read RSS feeds.
Unfortunately the menu can't cover up the fact that this phone is not ideal for multimedia use. The TM506 doesn't come with a memory card, so you'll have to purchase your own card and sideload music onto it separately; nor is a USB cable included (it's a $19.99 option). Finally, the TM506 lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack; it comes with an uncomfortable, cheap, single-earbud headset, for voice calls, that plugs into a proprietary port. You can, however, pair a stereo Bluetooth headset with the phone.
When playing "Minimum Wage" by The Expendables, the phone's speakers were sufficiently loud but tinny overall.
You can surf the Web at 3G speeds using T-Mobile's T-Zones portal; NYTimes.com loaded in 10 seconds, m.ESPN.com took 15 seconds, and m.CNN.com loaded in just 4 seconds using T-Mobile's 3G network. These speeds are on a par with Verizon Wireless' LG Chocolate 3, which loaded CNN's mobile site in 10 seconds and m.ESPN.com in 16 seconds. You can also stream videos on YouTube, but even with three bars of service (out of four), the video buffered too slowly to watch. Those in rural areas should note that T-Mobile's 3G network is currently available in only 20 markets.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The TM506 comes with AIM preinstalled, and you can add Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. The AIM app conveniently displayed one tab for our buddy list and another for our open conversations, and it can run in the background. Note that only buddies stored under the mobile section of your list will be available on your phone.
you'll find e-mail support for AIM, AOL, Gmail, Mac, Verizon, Yahoo, and a host of smaller providers. You can't add your own IMAP or POP account, though. You can't insert media files into an e-mail, but you can send pictures separately using MMS or the camera application.
The TM506 offers TeleNav GPS service, which lets you perform local searches for restaurants and gas stations, as well as type in locations for spoken turn-by-turn directions. Oddly, the GPS is in the Entertainment menu.
Surrounded by buildings in New York City, the TM506 was unable to get a clear GPS signal, even outdoors in a park. In Long Beach, Long Island, the phone took 30 seconds to grab a GPS signal, and we got directions from the beach to our friend's downtown Manhattan apartment in about a minute. The application's graph that showed our varying speed over the past 60 minutes was fun, but it's useless if you're stuck in rush-hour traffic.
The Sony Ericsson TM506 has a 2-megapixel camera; while colors were full and bright, and nearby objects crisp, small store signs directly across the street were hardly legible, and bright lights caused significant glare on buildings. The camera can record video as well, but videos taken around the office were horrid; they were very blocky and didn't handle movement well.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Overall, we were pleased with the call quality on the TM506. Calls made outdoors were clear on both ends. The signal was erratic indoors; we made a few calls with 3 bars of connectivity and watched it drop to 1 bar during the call. We left a voicemail to a landline using the TM506 with a full signal indoors; listening to it, our voice sounded clear, but one word was clipped and the audio quality was watery for a second.
The TM506 had excellent battery life. We used it over a weekend for a few phone calls and to surf the Web briefly, and the battery meter barely budged. So we set it up to play music on a loop starting at 11:15 a.m.; at 6:45 p.m. we began Web browsing and using the camera while music was still playing, and the battery died at exactly 8:15 p.m. That's an impressive total of 9 hours of use.
Compared with similar phones in T-Mobile's stable, the Sony Ericsson TM506 certainly stands out for its slick user interface and 3G connectivity. If you want to listen to music and don't care about fast data access, we prefer the $49.99Nokia XpressMusic 5310, because it offers external music controls and a 3.5mm headphone jack. And for $99.99 you could get theNokia XpressMusic 5610, which has a chunkier slider design than the TM506 and no 3G but a sharper camera. Overall we like the TM506; we just wish T-Mobile offered services to go along with 3G and included a stereo headset.