Sony Ericsson TM506

At last, T-Mobile is getting serious about 3G. With decent sound quality, HSDPA speed, Java flexibility, and robust PC connectivity, the Sony Ericsson TM506 is the best 3G phone for T-Mobile so far, and the first one we can recommend with enthusiasm.

Years behind the competition, T-Mobile is finally rolling out its 3G network. The provider has actually launched its 3G network in only two cities, New York and Las Vegas, though it promises more are coming soon. The TM506 is a full-featured 3G phone, unlike the carrier's first four 3G handsets, which were voice-first affairs, designed to help New Yorkers shift away from an overcrowded 2G network. T-Mobile still hasn't launched any of the music or streaming video services, or other flashy data services that have come with other carrier's 3G networks. But with the TM506, T-Mobile offers something that might be just as compelling: the whole darn Web.

The most stylish of T-Mobile's 3G phones, the TM506 is an average-size flip phone (3.7 by 1.9 by 0.7 inches HWD, 3.4 ounces) with a shiny black cover. You can opt for an Emerald version with lime green accents, or an Amber one with a touch of silver. On the front, there's a 2-megapixel camera and a tiny, text-only display that shows time, signal, and caller ID information. Since the text is black and white, it's visible in any light.

Flip the handset open to find a very sharp 320-by-240-pixel screen and a keypad of relatively large, flat, easy-to-use buttons, each one protected by a raised semicircle. A weak backlight, however, barely illuminates the buttons.

The TM506 is T-Mobile's first phone to support HSDPA on its unusual 1,700-MHz band, along with 2,100-MHz HSDPA and 850-, 1800-, and 1900-MHz GSM/EDGE. That means it's the fastest T-Mobile phone so far. It will roam onto AT&T's 2G network and foreign 3G networks, but it won't pick up AT&T's wide 3G coverage here in the U.S.

Although it has the best voice quality of any T-Mobile 3G phone so far, the TM506 suffers from relatively low call volume—a deal breaker for some people. The phone just isn't very loud. Voices sound deep and well rounded, but some background noise comes through the microphone. The speakerphone is also quiet and is loud enough only for indoor calls, although it works with the flip closed. The vibrate feature is strong enough, and ringtones are sufficiently loud. You can even use your own MP3s as ringtones, a rare feature on carrier-provided feature phones.

The phone comes with a mono wired headset and uses an oddball jack that isn't compatible with other standard wired headsets. It hooked up to our Plantronics Voyager 520, and Motorola S9 Bluetooth headsets just fine, but you have to manually record a voice tag for every name you want to voice-dial. Battery life was very solid, with 9 hours 55 minutes of 2G talk time.

After the lackluster cameras in previous T-Mobile 3G phones, the TM506's 2MP one is a welcome addition. It takes clear, slightly over-sharpened photos with nice, punchy colors. I found that it blows out bright areas and has blur problems in low light, which are both common problems with camera phones. I was very pleasantly surprised, though, by the beautiful 30-frame-per-second, 320-by-240 videos the TM506 takes: They're smoother than the video from most other phones.

The phone's 184-MHz processor is fairly beefy for a feature phone, but it has to handle high-speed data, a high-res screen, and a UI with animations, so it bogs down a bit sometimes. The phone's media players are flexible, though their user interfaces are a bit sluggish. The TM506 supports MP3, M4A, and WMA files. It played our 15-fps 3GP and iPod-formatted MPEG-4 videos without a hitch, though it couldn't handle an H.264 video. Music sounded loud but tinny through the built-in speaker. You'll need to find a third-party adapter to attach any decent headphones, but hey, this isn't a Walkman phone.

You can save your photos and media in the phone's 25MB of free memory, or on a Sony M2 memory stick inserted in a slot in the side. We used a 1GB stick, but sizes up to 8GB are available.


Price as Tested: $79.99 - $279.99 List
Service Provider: T-Mobile
Screen Size: 2.2 inches
Screen Details: 2.2" 320 x240 65k-color TFT LCD main display; 128x36 monochrome external display
Camera: Yes
802.11x: No
Bluetooth: Yes
Web Browser: Yes
Network: GSM, UMTS
Bands: 850, 1800, 1900, 2100
High-Speed Data: GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA
Processor Speed: 184 MHz