Sony Ericsson has always been fond of cell phones in lots of colors, and its latest handset for AT&T, the Sony Ericsson Z310a, is no exception. Available in pink, black, and bronze (though officially AT&T is offering only the first two versions) the Z310a is a low- to midrange camera phone with a not-too-impressive feature set and only average call quality. Its simple flip phone design is a nice change from the usual Sony Ericsson candy and slider models, even if it's perhaps a bit too simple. Though it isn't a bad choice for occasional cell phone users, heavy callers will be left wanting more. The Z310a is $179 if you pay full price, but you can get it for $29 with service rebates.
Except for the black version of course, the Z310 is all about color. We had the opportunity to review the pink model, or as Sony Ericsson calls it, "lush pink," and let us just say it's very pink. The plastic face is also quite shiny, which causes the very pink phone to glimmer in the light. The bronze and black handsets are a little more subdued, but all models are reflective enough for you to check your teeth with if you're away from a mirror. Oh, and one more thing: the Z310a attracts a lot of fingerprints.
Otherwise, the Z310'a flip phone design is pretty minimalist. At 3.4x1.8x1.0 inches, it's neither too big nor too small, and as such, it fits comfortably in the hand and slips easily into a pocket. It also weighs a tad more than we expected, though it's worth noting that the plastic shell makes the Z310a feel somewhat cheap. Also, we didn't like how, when open, the phone doesn't rest evenly on a table.
Though the Z310a may appear to lack an external display, there's actually a tiny screen hidden behind the glossy shell that's visible only when it's backlit. You can activate it by flicking the volume rocker, but unfortunately, it stays lit for only a few seconds. What's more, it shows just the time and doesn't support photo caller ID. That's not nearly enough information for an external display; at the very least, we'd like to be able to see the battery life and the signal strength without opening the phone. On the other hand, there are four additional icons that also hide behind the front face. They glow when you have a missed call or a message, when the phone is charging, and when it's set to silent mode. But even with those icons, the design is just a bit too simple.
The only control on the phone's exterior is a volume rocker on the left spine. To be honest, we were hoping for a bit more to play with; at the very least, a camera shutter would have been nice. A speaker on the rear side of the phone, an Infrared port on the right spine, and a camera lens on the front face complete the Z310a's exterior. This last feature lacks both a flash and a self-portrait mirror, but that's not uncommon for a VGA shooter.
The internal display measures 1.75 inches and supports 65,536 colors (128x160 pixels). It's not as luscious as Sony Ericsson's higher-resolution screens (such as that of the W580i), but it is fine for this caliber of phone. Graphics didn't look particularly sharp, and colors weren't the brightest, but the animated wallpaper was pretty. The user-friendly menus are in the standard Sony Ericsson style.
The navigation controls consist of a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a back button, and a clear key. The toggle is raised above the surface of the phone and is fairly easy to use, but the remaining controls could have more definition. Dialing by feel wasn't always easy, and the buttons don't provide a firm "push" sensation when pressed. The toggle can be set to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, and like all Sony Ericssons, there are no dedicated Talk and End controls. The keypad buttons are also flush, which made fast texting somewhat tricky, but they're saved by raised ridges between the individual buttons. And in a unique touch, the ridges are backlit with a bright blue color. Below the dialpad is a dedicated Web browser shortcut as well as the power button. Both are flush and difficult to find by feel.
The Z310a has a large phone book that holds 1,000 contacts. Each entry has room for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, a job title and company name, work and home street addresses, a birthdate, and notes. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with any of 12 polyphonic ring tones. TheZ310a supports photo caller ID, but remember that images will not show up on the external display. On the other hand, you can assign callers any of 22 light effects. Once activated, lighted strips along either side of the phone will glow in a series of colors when a specific caller rings.