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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson C903

Live images of the Sony Ericsson C903

Table of Contents:

  1. Positioning
  2. Design, Size, Controls
  3. Display
  4. Keypad
  5. Battery
  6. Memory, Memory cards
  7. Connectivity
  8. Performance
  9. Camera
  10. Preinstalled applications, games, themes
  11. Impressions

Sales package:

  • Handset
  • 1000 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Charger
  • Wired stereo-headset
  • 1 Gb M2 memory card
  • User Guide


Recently I stumbled upon an explanation of what was going on within Sony Ericsson back in 2008, when they commenced the development of their 2009-2010 lineup. Honestly, I don't know how reliable this report is, but overall it sounds very persuasive. As they claim in it, the segmentation model they decided to run with was based not only on functionality, but also gender, as their researches had shown that women were willing to pay a premium for Sony Ericsson's design, whereas functionality wasn't a major concern. Inspired by this data they churned out a whole plethora of phones for women that were supposed to fill certain niches and complement the main range. However in the turmoil of 2008, most of their top-notch offerings, got cancelled for not meeting the company's new cost standards, while all niche solutions made it to the shelves. Hence the avalanche of models for women that Sony Ericsson keep pumping out every now and then.

It's easy to see that the Sony Ericsson C903 was designed with women's tastes in mind - it's very unlikely to attract too many males. Apart from that, the C903 has a very specific target audience - not only does it aim at women, it also looks to appeal to those with above-average income seeking for a stylish phone, and treating it more as an accessory that should match their bag or jacket, rather than a business tool. Primary age bracket - 25 to 40 years with a secondary focus on other groups.

Sony Ericsson have always had a knack for making phones like this, and the C903 is no exception, being a nearly ideal choice for its target audience. Unfortunately they didn't have neither resources nor will to tout this phone properly, so it suffered the same fate as many other Sony Ericsson branded offerings. Its sales in Europe that kicked off this summer, have been extremely mediocre so far and needless to say the C903 has failed to make any sort of impact on the market. But that doesn't make it a bad phone, does it? In this particular case the hefty price tag is more than justified and allows it to remain fairly exclusive - all in all, it's got all the elements of a properly positioned phone, but this is more of a coincidence rather than a result of Sony Ericsson's efforts. The C903's sales guides claim that its major rivals are the Nokia N95, Samsung F490 and Nokia E66, but I, for one, think they should have thrown in a couple of two or three year old offerings for good measure, so that the C903 would look golden compared to the competition. The degree to which Sony Ericsson's marketing department have isolated themselves from the reality no longer stuns, on the contrary, it's already become par for the course. On the other hand, the C903 is well worth taking a look at, despite the company's efforts to prevent you from doing so. Sometimes I get an impression that many of their employees get two salaries - one from Sony Ericsson, and one from their competitors as a token of gratitude for successful subversive activities.

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Design, Size, Controls

In order to appeal to the female part of the audience Sony Ericsson have rolled out a plethora of color schemes for the C903 - it's available in Glamour Red, Techno White (which is pretty rare these days), and Lacquer Black. The casing is made entirely out of glossy plastic, although it's not a fingerprint-magnet - you'll notice grease spots only upon closer inspection.

As far as its build quality goes, the C903 is fairly sturdy and durable - you won't find any spots that get worn out with time or anything of that nature. It crackles a little when squeezed in hands, but this is what you'd expect from sliders.

At 97x49x16 mm and 96 grams the C903 is a very palm-friendly phone, plus its smooth spring-loaded mechanism adds to the overall comfort. The phone's keypad is painted in a different color in the white edition (in all other color schemes it's silver), which makes for a neat visual effect.

Sony Ericsson C903 vs Nokia N97:

Housed on the right is the volume rocker along with a dedicated camera button and video/stills switch. On the opposite spine you'll find the bog-standard Fast Port socket. The lanyard eyelet is mounted on the bottom end; also there is the back cover release switch.

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The C903's display shows up to 262 K colors in the 240x320 pixel resolution (2.4 inch diagonal, 35x47 mm, TFT). This screen size allows it to accommodate up to 9 text and 4 service lines in most modes (plus it's possible to cram in more information when browsing Web or handling Email). All in all, the display quality is superb - we were very pleased by its color reproduction and how it performed under sunlight.

The C903 also boasts auto screen rotation feature.

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The C903's keypad enjoys a single-slab design with reasonably big buttons, yet offers average ergonomics. Thanks to the white backlight its keys remain visible in all environments. The navigation cluster is nothing to complain about either - all in all, keypad-wise the C903 is your average phone without any glaring shortcomings or immense advantages.

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The C903 makes use of a 1000 mAh Li-Pol battery. As the manufacturer claims, it can keep the handset up and running up to 400 hours in standby and provide up to 10 hours of talk time.

In Moscow its battery life averaged two and a half days with moderate use (up to 1 hour of calls, about 30 minutes of games and 20 minutes of browsing, several hours of music). Should you get heavier on its features, you will need to recharge it every day. Within the European networks the device will last for at least twice as long in all modes thanks to better coverage. Continuous music playback drains the battery in 20 hours. It takes the C903 around 2 hours to charge up (it gets to 80% in around 1.5 hours).

Navigation time (via WayFinder application) - around 3 hours.

If you turn Push Mail on and opt not to use the phone's navigation department at all, the C903 will last 6 to 9 hours. All in all, it's typical A200-based solution with slightly longer battery times in certain modes (navigation, WiFi).

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Memory, Memory cards

The C903 comes with around 118 Mb of user-manageable memory, the sales package also includes a 1 Gb memory card (M2), and you can always hot swap them. The top size of your memory card this phone can handle is 32 Gb (when more capable cards come along, it will deal with them as well).

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When establishing a USB connection you are forced to pick connection type - specifically, whether you will be accessing data stored on the memory card, or you'll just need to the phone to stay operable, or you'll require its Print mode. Also there is Media Transfer (MTP mode for accessing, say, Windows Media Player). For the first mode we mentioned above the handset goes off and you gain access to the contents of both the memory card and the phone internal memory. The C903's data transfer speed doesn't exceed 2 Mb/s. If you just want your C903 to turn into a modem, then pick the second option, plus there are several USB settings available for this mode.


The handset comes with EDR-enabled Bluetooth 2.0, the menu enables you to turn on enhanced power saving mode. There is also A2DP support, which allows employing wireless headsets with the C903. Its data transfer speed tops out at 100 Kb/s. The list of supported profiles:

  • A2DP
  • Basic Imaging Profile
  • Basic Printing Profile
  • Dial-Up Networking Profile
  • File Transfer Profile
  • Generic Access Profile
  • Generic Object Exchange Profile
  • Handsfree Profile
  • Headset Profile
  • HID
  • JSR-82 Java API
  • Object Push Profile
  • Personal Area Network Profile
  • Serial Port Profile
  • Service Discovery Application Profile
  • Synchronization Profile
  • SyncML OBEX binding

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The use of JP-8.4 update has severely affected the C903's performance in our Java tests - in fact, its ratings have nearly halved in JB1 and JB2 tests compared to other solutions. On the other hand, the user interface is very responsive and speedy - we didn't experience any freeze-ups or hiccups in this department. At the same time, our JB 3D tests showed that the C903 fares much better than the competition, which is all another proof of how context-dependent these synthetic tests are. As far as JAR files go they can be of any size, while HEAP are limited to 1.5 Mb. All in all, the C903 is no different from the Sony Ericsson C905 on this front.

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Being a part of the CyberShot range, the C903 resembles a digital compact, thanks to its lens shutter that stretches across the phone's back cover and requires the user to slide it down to start the camera application. The whole sequence of taking a shot (open the shutter, aim, push the shutter key, save the image) takes several seconds, and on this front the C903 certainly doesn't break any records. Nor does it improve upon its predecessors in terms of image quality - it hasn't gotten out of the "decent, yet average" group of cameras yet. At the same time Sony Ericsson tout Smile Shutter as one of the phone's major selling points. In a nutshell, this feature allows the camera to detect up to 3 faces in a scene and adjust accordingly. Maybe it's the right decision, given the phone's target audience - I don't know. But the main thing you need to know about the C903's camera is that its 5 MP module is quite good and the revamped lens shutter makes the whole experience a tad better. It won't be able to replace a stand-alone camera, though, since it's merely a CMOS module with autofocus, no bells and whistles here.

The C903 supports the following image resolutions:

  • 5M Ц 2592x1944 pixels
  • 3M Ц 2048x1536 pixels
  • 1M Ц 1280x960 pixels
  • VGA Ц 640x480 pixels

Also there are two image quality options - Normal and Fine, the difference between which translates into the size of the resulting files, and that's about it. There are four shooting modes available with the C903 - Normal, BestPic (two speeds - slow and normal; allows taking a series of images and picking the best ones), Panorama (three portions of one panorama are stitched together automatically), Frames (almost two dozens of these, but the C903 will scale down the image resolution in order to apply them).

There are also six scenes found in the C903: Twilight Landscape, Landscape, Portrait, Beach/Snow, Sports, Document, as well as Auto. Focus settings: auto, macro, infinite, Face Detection. The latter feature has been all the rage recently, since it works quite well and allows the phone to focus right on a person's face. Although be careful when taking group photos, because this gimmick may well fail to capture any faces in this case.

There is no way to adjust the LED flash other than disable it. Probably the latter option is better, since it won't be of any real use for the most part, and it can't compare to the K850i's Xenon flash (although it performs better when shooting objects or when taking a close-up shot).

The C903 also offers a self-timer, two exposure metering modes (spot and normal), brightness settings (-2 to +2, adjust it by pressing the navigation key), white balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent) and several overlays (Black&White, Negative, Sepia, Solarize). On top of all that you can enable geo-tagging in the settings, and then use "Show on Map" option to view the place you took a picture at via the bundled Google Maps. The last thing of note about the C903's is an inbuilt image stabilizer and Fix Photo mode that allows increasing image sharpness in one touch right after taking a picture. Basically, this is what any graphics editor can do, beefing up colors and making the picture juicier overall, although in return it smears away some details.

(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG
(+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG (+) enlarge, 2592x1944, JPEG


Video may be recorded in the 320x240 pixel resolution at 30 FPS (mpeg4). Clip duration may be limited (up to 10 seconds) or unlimited. Clips are pretty average quality-wise, and as always, we'd like to have VGA resolution for videos in the C903.

Video sample (mp4, 2,16 mb) >>>

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Preinstalled applications, games, themes

We won't review the C903's standard feature pack, for it comprises all the goodies of the A200, which were given an in-depth close-up in a dedicated article. So here we will be focusing on the phone's unique abilities and features.

Sony Ericsson A200 software

The phone comes preinstalled with several different themes, all of them involving flash animation to some extent, and changing the looks of the main menu to a circle-shaped appearance or the matrix we are all used to. There are several menu layouts available: grid, rotating, single icon.

As far as improvements in the way of platform go, we can't overlook the new Chat mode that's now available in the Messaging menu - all you need to do is push the navigation key to the right to browse your chats with various contacts, where messages are grouped up by date. Apart from obvious visual appeal, this mode also allows for one click replies be it via an SMS, MMS or email. All in all, it's a welcome feature that will become par for the course in many new phones.

While at the standby screen, pressing the right soft-key will call up Search - a pop-up menu allowing the user to search for information in blogs and content providers. Pretty useless feature.

YouTube Ц this application allows accessing the mobile version of YouTube.com. While the quality of clips leaves much to be desired in most cases, the C903 lets you view videos in full-screen mode and even check out ratings. But the greatest hurdle here is that for want of WiFi such video sessions will definitely set you back a good amount, unless you are a lucky owner of an unlimited data plan.

Games and Applications. The phone comes pre-installed with four games: Bubble Town, Tresure Tower, Crosspix, Real Football 2. Apart from that it packs in a couple of applications: Facebook, Walk Mate, YouTube, Wayfinder Navigator, Slideshow Wall (which is pretty useless, as it scrolls through contents of your Images folder on the screen), Photo Mate (a guidebook that will give you an idea how to use some of the C903's features), Pull Face (for toying around with images), and also our favorite dancing Elvis.

As far as multimedia feats are concerned, the C903 is a standard A200 fare - read more about it here.

Putting the icing on the cake is the FM-radio application.

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The C903 boasts quite high ringtone volume level, however its vibro alert leaves much to be desired - you'll definitely hear a call, but if you happen to use the Silent mode, there is a good chance you won't feel it, and that's a pretty major blunder. The phone's reception quality is what you'd expect from a Sony Ericsson branded offering, in other words it's decent, but in some of the most call-unfriendly environments the lack of an extra microphone or noise cancellation system becomes a sensible issue, although on this front the C903 isn't much different from most other offerings out there.

Retailing for roughly 300 Euro, the C903 is definitely an expensive proposition, and much like the Sony Ericsson W995 it targets a quite narrow niche. This, however, doesn't make it a poor phone, for the C903's target audience won't really mind its relatively hefty price tag, as most women are more than willing to pay a small extra for the phone's looks, while functionality becomes a secondary consideration for them. The C903 has enjoyed some mediocre sales, which are the result of it being severely overvalued. In fact, today one of Sony Ericsson's biggest issues is pricing policy.

On balance, the Sony Ericsson C903 is a likable phone for women, who won't feel bad about paying extra 30% for its stylish looks.

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Related links

Sony Ericsson A200 software

Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson W995

Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson C902

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (oleg.kononosov@mobile-review.com)

Published — 11 October 2009

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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