Sony Ericsson Z555

In the same way that getting George Foreman to endorse grills and David Beckham to promote marker pens seems to make perfect sense to suit-wearing advertising types, the mobile phone market is often susceptible to roping in seemingly random celebrities to put their names to a particular handset, regardless of the fact that they wouldn't look at it twice if money wasn't involved.

For example, to make the Sony Ericsson Z555 more appealing to consumers, the company has signed up glamorous Russian tennis starlet Maria Sharapova to have her photo taken holding the phone and generally look like she's purchased the best thing since sliced bread, when in reality she's probably got a different iPhone 3G for each day of the week.

Alas, such is the deceitful nature of advertising.

Famous endorsements aside, what we have here is a fairly basic entry-level handset with aspirations of becoming some kind of fashion icon; the shiny faceplate has an unusual patterned surface that brings to mind another abortive attempt to make a phone stand out from the crowd – namely Nokia's 7500 Prism. There's a small monochrome display on the front of the phone that remains hidden until it's needed; the 128x36 pixels is good enough to display who's calling and give status alerts but otherwise it's fairly superfluous.

Once you've gotten over the rather unconventional frontage, the Z555 doesn't really hold any other surprises; the rest of the design is pretty bare and minimalist, with a plain back and only a volume rocker and charging port breaking the otherwise clean and featureless sides. Opening the Z555 up reveals a disappointingly small 1.9-inch TFT screen (which is lumbered with a weedy 176x220 pixel resolution) and a fairly basic keypad. Clearly, the style ambitions of this product are only skin deep.

Given its budget nature it would be silly to expect the Z555 to boast cutting edge tech but we can't help but feel particularly letdown by the display itself. Not only is the resolution terrible, the backlight appears uneven and isn't anywhere near as bright as that seen on other SE handsets.

Under the bonnet the Z555 is a rather meagre offering. The user interface boasts neatly laid-out menus but browsing between each of them feels slow and plodding. The music player is basic and lacks the trappings of the more recent Walkman phones and the 1.3-megapixel camera struggles to take quality snaps in both high and low light conditions.

Those of you that recall our W380 review might be getting an odd sensation of déjà vu at about this point; for all intents and purposes the Z555 is an extremely close match and when comparing the specifications of the two you can help but feel that they might have been separated at birth.

The Z555 even goes as far as to feature the innovative gesture controls seen on the W380. Incoming calls can be silenced by simply waving your hand over the front of the phone (the camera picks up the movement and stops the ringing); a neat touch that actually proves to be more useful than you might at first give it credit for.

We were also mildly impressed by the sturdy nature of the phone itself, which is curiously at odds with the 'fashion' aspirations the Z555 possesses. It's not the heaviest handset we've ever caressed in our palm but it certainly feels well built and lacks the usual creaking sounds we've become so used to in modern phones. If you're after a mobile that is able to withstand a bit of light punishment then this could fit the bill – the generally starkness of the exterior also means it's less likely to pick up knocks and get damaged during everyday use.

The D-pad – a vital part of the phone when taking into account the mobile gaming – is similarly pleasing. Circular in design and offering ample space on which to place your thumb, the pad sadly lacks travel (a common complaint these days) but is otherwise accurate and emits an agreeable 'click' whenever it is pushed in a particular direction. Only one game was included on our review unit – the Bejeweled clone Jewel Quest II – and despite the obvious shortcomings of the screen, it's fun to play.

Like its stablemate the W380, the Z555 is a cheap proposition and therefore we probably shouldn't be too harsh on it for the numerous shortcomings it possesses. It could be argued that it lacks of the visual hook of the W380 (despite the bizarre prism-like front, which may appeal to some people) and you'll be surprised at how much you miss the luxury of Sony's dedicated Walkman software, but otherwise this phone ranks in pretty much the same league.

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