[I realize that this phone may only be usable in countries that use the GSM 900/1800 setup. This obviously excludes the US, but nevertheless, I thought this was a really neat gadget so I thought I would do a quick review of it.]
Upset at having lost my mobile phone, I came back to Hong Kong to seek out a new one. Of course, there are not many new models available. I’m still waiting for the Nokia GPRS phones. I’ve never been a fan of Motorola or Ericsson. So what do you buy? Well sometime back I owned a Sony which is now being used by my girlfriend. It’s nice. So I thought about getting one. I’ve been waiting for a new Sony phone for some time and there hasn’t been one. Then they came up with this really ugly model, the J-16. It was terrible.
I went to PCCW (my Hong Kong mobile operator) to get a new SIM card. I also decided to buy a new mobile phone at that time. My options were pretty limited – there just wasn’t anything new. Initially, I wanted to have a phone that would operate in the US. But, since I didn’t want to buy the same phone again (Nokia 8890) and I didn’t plan to go back to the US for some time, I could pretty much buy any phone I wanted.
The newest phone in town is the Sony CMD-MZ5. Its biggest claim to fame is that this is Sony’s “Music Cellular Phone”. It’s Sony’s first convergent phone that tries to do two things: 1) be a mobile phone, and 2) be a MP3/ATRAC3 player. The CMD-MZ5 accepts the Sony Memory Stick so you can actually use it to play music.
After looking at the demo model, I decided to go for it and I walked away with a new mobile phone.
Before I review the phone, I just want to add one thing. This is probably a surprise to some of you that have read my past reviews. I’m not a fan of “convergent” products (gadgets that try to do more than one thing) because I always feel that you should just buy an item that does one thing and one thing REALLY WELL. Products that have two, three, or four different functions tend to sacrifice quality, functions, or something else. As a standalone, products tend to jam pack the device with as many functions for that individual item, i.e. more options in taking pictures, more choices with your music, whatever. How many items are out there that try to do too much? So why did I choose the MZ5? Well, I’m actually a bit confused myself. As I later explain, my thesis holds true – convergence sucks.
The MZ5 from a straight-on perspective resembles the older Z18 phone. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of a side comparison. The MZ5 is a huge, fat phone. Mobile phones have shrunk in size today to become a very portable device. I have to admit: I love Nokia. They are the perfect size, weight, and functionality that we’ve come to expect from a phone. The MZ5 though was disappointing. I hate that it’s so big that you can’t put it in your pocket. Additionally, Nokia has done a great job of getting rid of the antenna. Instead the MZ5 has a great big one that just looks out of place. The only redeeming fact about the MZ5 is that the blue color around the trimmings is a lovely shade of blue. Other than that this is a fat plastic brick.
The Memory Stick goes in at the top of the phone and next to it is the earphones plug. Sony has done a pretty good job of packing in all the buttons and plugs so that you can do both functions – listen to music or talk on the phone. An ‘Eject’ button sits on one side while the ‘Line In’ plug sits on the other. All of the buttons are well placed and covered by a nice plastic cover.
I knew there was a problem with the initial Sony Z-18 phones. The sound in the earpiece was sporadic and sometimes you couldn’t hear the other party (or they couldn’t hear you). I had read and heard though that this was later fixed and it wasn’t going to be a problem with the next generation phones (i.e. the MZ5). Well, it’s true and false. Yes, it does sound a lot better than the Z-18, but it still is far from being very good. I’ve had enough phones to know a good one from a bad one – this one is somewhere in the middle. While volume isn’t a problem anymore, no matter how loud you turn up the speaker, the other person still sounds like they’re in a tunnel or something. It’s sort of a weird echo-like tunnel noise that just doesn’t sound like my other phones. So for sound quality, the phone was disappointing.
I’m still mixed on the functions of the phone. They are much harder to navigate than Nokia, but maybe that’s because I’m just too used to Nokia. I can tell you that it is much better than either Motorola or Ericsson. Overall, as I navigate through the phone functions, it does incorporate many of the necessary and useful features that I’ve come to rely upon. (You’d be surprised at how convenient the built-in alarm clock can be.) You’ve got the usual WAP, calendar, calculator, etc. functions which I now have come to rely upon. I also like the memory function which allows you to store different numbers under one name so I can program my parents’ mobile, home, and office number under one name.
As with almost all Sony products these days, you get a jog dial. This jog dial though is different than the ones on the Vaio because not only can you turn the dial up and down but you can also move the dial inwards and outwards. I don’t know how else to describe this but it’s a really neat and useful function.
Turning to the MZ5 as a music player. Well, what can you say? It stores music on the Memory Stick (a 64 MB MagicGate is included) using Sony’s proprietary ATRAC3 technology. Before I get into the music itself, a word about the Memory Stick. Sony’s attempt to control copyrights has led to the introduction of the MagicGate Memory Stick. This is a pain. I have so many other Sony Memory Sticks, but none of these are MagicGate (the white colored Memory Sticks) and as a result, they won’t work in the MZ5. Too me, that’s ridiculous. I refuse to buy more memory sticks just to use in this device.
One thing neat about the phone is that you can plug in a CD directly into the phone for recording. Using the included optical cable, you can plug, for example, a Sony CD player directly into the MZ5. Recording is a relatively easy process. You get all sorts of functions regarding the quality of the recording, name titling, etc. These are all made easier with the jog dial. When listening to music you have to plug the included earphones in – the phone does not act as a ‘speaker’ so you can’t listen to music through the earpiece on the phone. One neat thing though is that you can listen to music and if the phone should ring, you will hear a ringing in the background. You can then push a button on the microphone and speak as through a normal earpiece/mic for mobile phones. This is neat although when you have earphones on and you start talking, people just think you are singing really badly!
I recorded about 10 songs onto the Memory Stick (you can record about 64 minutes of music on a 64MB stick using the best quality) and I have to admit the sound is very good. Close enough to my MD player. Overall, I would say this is the exact same as I would expect from either the Sony Network Walkman or the Music Clip players.
Overall, this isn’t a bad attempt for a convergent product. I use the music function every now and then so it isn’t too bad. As I’m sure you noticed, I have two big complaints though: 1) it is just too big as a phone, and 2) it’s way too expensive. For what I paid for the MZ5, I could have bought the Sony Network Walkman AND a Nokia phone. I’ve already gone through the downside of its size so I won’t get into it again except to say that this is the first phone I’ve had in years that I couldn’t stick in my pocket. The MZ5 is a big WASTE OF TIME and within the next year, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of new phones and ATRAC3/MP3 players. I suggest you buy each one SEPARATELY, that way, you’ll get the best product for each function, rather than a mediocre product that does both.