Unfortunately despite many attempts by manufacturers to popularise environmentally friendly phones previous attempts have generally fallen flat (such as the Sony Ericsson Aspen), probably due to the nature of these types of phones to compromise on the features that consumers actually want in favour of those that are better for the environment.
But the Sony Ericsson Elm is their new attempt at an eco-phone could well bridge the gap and bring environmentally friendly phones to the front of general popularity — but will any compromises made to the phone or an increased price be too much of a disadvantage for specifically designed environmentally friendly mobile phones to become the norm? Well we’ve had a look and as it turns out both the phone, and its credentials, are very impressive.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the appearance of the phone is that there isn’t a lot to notice: there is a very sleek black front with a standard numeric rounded keypad that’s very easy on both the eye and fingers; the black is nicely complimented by a silver back that comes round to the side in nice curves, and ends by the unfortunately small metallic-silver camera button that echo’s the styles seen on many phones these days.
All in all it’s a very nice look, but also one that has been designed with the environment in mind as it is made from recycled plastics that are free from hazardous chemicals (which is always nice to know) and comes along with reduced packaging, a low power consumption charger, a series of apps designed to make users more aware of ways they can help the environment and an e-manual that replaces the printed option and saves on paper (although not a lot of use if you can’t start the phone for some reason).
Unfortunately the screen on the Elm is not brilliant, and although it is perfectly adequate for watching the odd video on Youtube or taking photos the 2.2 inch 240×320 screen is far from the high standard OLED touchscreens that we have been seeing recently, but for just general use you won’t have any problems with it.
An unfortunate habit of environmentally friendly phones is to cut back on features that we have come to expect from mobile phones, but we found that even after extensive use the Elm offered us everything that we would need and we noticed no lack in the connectivity options that we found on out standard ‘tree-hating’ phones.
For starters it is Wi-Fi enabled and the application to connect to networks if very easy to use and if that’s not enough the phone also comes with high-speed HSPA functionality which you can use to access the internet. This is done through the Access NetFront browser that is very similar to those seen on previous Sony Ericsson offerings only this time it comes with a slight graphical change.
The change is only very slight though (and is in the default navigation menus which will make using the software that little bit easier) and as a general rule the browser does its job well. Whilst it is not especially slick or quick you shouldn’t have any problems accessing sites using it (we certainly didn’t) and the ability to use the accelerometer to move the view to horizontal is handy.
It is quite easy to think that ‘environmentally-friendly’ is synonymous with ‘basic’ but the camera shows that it is anything but: the 5 megapixel camera is very impressive and exceeds many of the standard ‘candy-bar’ smartphones out there.
For starters photos can be easily uploaded to sites like Facebook and Flickr through the specific applications, and there are also a whole range of options to make photo taking easier: face detection, autofocus and A-GPS technology all bring this camera up to the quality that you would expect.
Another key feature is that it is very easy to use: it loads up very quickly and the menus and options are quite easy to navigate, although of course one would benefit from a slightly large screen to fit more of the options on. The camera also offers an LED flash (which doubles as a torch much like the HTC Desire with its recent Android update) which although is limited in its ability to light up any large area, is effective enough for quick shots in low light.
With regards to the video capabilities the offering is a bit patchy: the combination of a small screen and a far-from-HD quality means that at times it is hard to see what’s going on which is a bit of a shame really as although the video ‘will do’ it’s a bit of a letdown especially compared to the still photo capabilities.
As we’ve already looked at the Elm does a reasonable job of covering the bases with regards to the camera and the internet, but how would it cope with playing just standard media? Well unfortunately as I’ve already mentioned the limited screen space limits the enjoyment of visual media somewhat, but with regards to music the software provided by Sony Ericsson does a pretty nice job.
It’s tidy, neat and the straightforward and just does a neat job of playing the music in a no-nonsense fashion which I personally really warmed to. For those wanting a little more from the player it does offer a simple but neat animation of a spinning disk, and equaliser and the ability to order tracks by SensMe which arranges tracks by analysing the mood and tempo of the song using the incredibly annoying Media Go Sony Ericsson PC software.
You would be forgiven for thinking that of the things we’ve looked at so far the phone is hardly glowing with eco-friendly credentials, but it is with the apps that the phone shows some of its credibility with a collection that aim to encourage the user to be more environmentally friendly.
The list is surprisingly long: there is a ‘Green calculator’ that works out your CO2 emissions based on a few crude criteria, an ‘Eco Mate’ quiz with environment-related questions, and ‘Walk Mate Eco’ which uses the accelerometer as a pedometer to count your steps and does a little dance when you beat the advised 10,000 a day. In fact it also tells you how much CO2 you’ve saved, based on the odd assumption that you would otherwise not walk at all and continuously drive!
The peak of the applications on offer is the GPS which uses the Google Maps v3 software which does a very good job of making the most of the limited screen space and supports Google Street View which, although useful, proves a painfully good way to rack up mobile data use charges.
Perhaps the environmentally friendly feature that you will notice the most in use (others are mostly to do with the making and recycling of the phone) is that the phone has been specifically designed to have as low a power consumption as possible, and whilst the claim of 446 hours of standby time isn’t realistically achievable we managed to go for a week without needing to recharge which make a great change to my smartphone which needs charging nightly.
The last point that’s worth noting is that Sony Ericsson have decided to stick with their incredibly annoying style of headphone/charger socket which means that there’s no Micro SD card and no headphone jack; in fact there isn’t even an adapter to allow for your own headphones (perhaps a way of cutting back on packaging) meaning that unless you are willing to pay for an adapter (which I would advise) you’ll have to cope with the relatively tin-ny offerings that are provided.
Well has the Sony Ericsson Elm brought environmentally friendly phones back up to the levels that consumers expect in this day and age? Yes, this can be seen in its performance in the new O2 Eco Rating System for mobile phones. Is it a good phone? Yes. Is it likely to make environmentally friendly phones a lot more popular with manufacturers in the future? Hopefully so.
Of course it is to everyone’s advantage if phones are kinder to the environment, and I think the method that Sony Ericsson have used is the best one if manufacturers hope to achieve in cutting emissions: don’t sacrifice the quality of the phone, rather be more sensible with packaging, materials and encourage users to live a more environmentally friendly life, and once this becomes more widespread we should hopefully see more improvements in an industry that is currently somewhat wasteful.
And in case you were overly worried about the price at around £100 it is really quite good value, and really sets the Sony Ericsson Elm out at the flagship for eco-phones… of course the fact that it’s not a smartphone will mean it probably won’t get a whole lot of the limelight, and it does have its flaws, but they are few and minor and overall very impressive!