Sharp pix at steeper price

The 3.2 megapixel camera is what really sells the phone

Vodafone’s launch of its 3G services a year ago ran into a hitch. The live link to gold medal men’s triathlon winner, Hamish Carter, worked well, but because he was at the Tepid Baths swimming pool complex in Auckland, Carter was reluctant to pan the camera phone around to demonstrate its clarity.

Such issues shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the new Sharp 903SH is a very impressive device indeed. It is sleek, black and squarish — men seem to like it more than women, with some of the latter asking if it’s a “fat remote control”. It is certainly rather thick, at 29mm, but so are most clam-shell phones.

Subjective opinion aside, the phone sits nicely in the hand and doesn’t weigh too much at around 148 grams. Despite its light weight, the phone feels sturdy, with only the flaps for the various connectors looking vulnerable. Incidentally, these use proprietary plugs, so users should be careful not to lose the cables as they’re hard to replace.

The phone’s keypad is easy to use, even for those with big hands, with a logical interface that’s easy to navigate. Battery life is surprisingly good, too: it easily lasted a day, despite heavy use of the 3G, phone and Bluetooth radios.

Features include a screen that swivels around, so that the phone becomes very like a digital camera or a handheld media player to use. And what an excellent screen it sports. It uses technology from Sharp’s laptop LCDs. The phone’s 230-by-320 pixel display offers 262,144 vivid colours and is almost bright enough to use outdoors in direct sunlight. The horizontal or wide orientation gives it a further edge when playing back video clips from Vodafone’s 3G Live! service.

Speaking of the 3G service, the reception on the Sharp 903SH was surprisingly poor. In areas where, for instance, a Nokia 6680 would show three to four bars reception and 3G service, the Sharp 903SH would drop down to the slow GPRS instead. This could be due to the aerial being built into the top of the swiveling screen, but either way it was annoying to have 3G coverage drop out quite so frequently. Luckily, voice calls weren’t affected by this reception issue.

The screen alone would be reason enough to consider the Sharp 903SH, but the 3.2 megapixel camera is what really sells the phone. The high resolution — most other phones manage only measly 1.3 megapixels — allows for pictures up to 2,408 by 1,536 pixels in size, which is sufficient for largish prints and sets the Sharp 903SH apart from the crowd. Better yet, Sharp has installed an aspherical glass lens in the camera, along with a 2x optical zoom, backed up by a 24x digital zoom.

All this results in very good photographs: they’re sharp, with great colours, especially when it comes to outdoor photography. The pictures come out quite well indoors too, but only when there’s sufficient light, as otherwise they’re disappointingly noisy. A multi-colour LED that’s very bright does double-duty as the flash/illuminator and this is fine for short distances. Not so impressive, however, is the video capture feature that produces rather pixelated clips.

The Sharp 903SH isn’t quite the mean multimedia machine one might have expected either. Basically, the music player is mediocre and the sound on the phone is too low. It does come with stereo speakers, but they are rather pointless.

As expected, using the full capability of the Sharp 903SH imaging unit produces large picture files, over one megabyte at the superfine setting even with hard JPEG compression. The small 64MB mini-SD card included will fill up fast, especially since the phone has only 8MB of main memory as backup.

That said, the convenience of the Sharp 903SH is hard to beat. So, if you can overlook its steep price and not so sterling reception, this could be the phone for you.

AT A GLANCE

Sharp 903SH 3.2Mpixel 3G phone — $1,399

Pros: Great screen and camera, easy to use, good battery life.

Cons: Video capture not as good as photos, poor 3G reception, mediocre music player, high price

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