Sony Ericsson Z550i

Clamshell phones have an undeniable coolness to them. We at Pocket Gamer put it down to the fact that they're nearly always the handsets you see in the movies; it's like seeing an old-time Hollywood star on screen with a cigarette nonchalantly held twixt fore and middle finger. It lends them a glamour and panache you can't get anywhere else.

Even the Z550i, Sony Ericsson's latest, brings with it a casual coolness, something that's surprising given it's toward the less expensive end of the manufacturer's range (shop around and you can pick one up, sim-free, for under £120).

Clad in brushed aluminium, the Z550i is a tactile little handset that's certain to raise the hairs on your arms should you drag a fingernail across it in the wrong direction. A matt black plastic keypad surround spills out over the edges of each part, giving the Z550i dark, inviting lips.

Open the handset up and you're confronted with a lovely screen that, while not as crisp as that found on the recently reviewed W710i, is the equal of any 2 or 2.5G model currently on the market. Beneath it is a keypad with buttons that lie flush with the surface.

Press any of them and the Z550i comes to life in a glowing blue aura. The delicate numbers are back-lit in the blue, which ties into the default animated wallpaper that sees icy swirls of light dance across the screen.

Of course, looks are nothing if they're not backed up by brawn (witness the Samsung SGH-D900), and you'll be more than pleased to discover that the Z550i is a decent performer. While not on the level of the most powerful Walkman phones or 3G handsets, it's definitely the equal of the W810i.

This means 2D titles are dispatched with ease and 3D games are handily dealt with. In short, you'll not find the Z550i lacking for support (as a rule of thumb, just about any game suitable for the K700i will find a happy home here).

It's at the mention of your chunky opposable that we come to the Z550i's one weak point: the controls. Sadly, the directional pad follows Sony Ericsson's increasing trend to abandon the little joystick that has adorned its handsets for as long as we can remember and that were so well-suited to pocket gaming.

While the Z550i's certainly isn't as bad as some we've come across, it's difficult to use with fast-paced action games as you have to lift your thumb off it to change directions. Disregard this precaution and you're all too likely to hit the action button or press mistakenly in the wrong direction. But take a measured approach to playing and you'll be alright; anything from the puzzle antics of PileUp to FIFA 2007 can be enjoyed without compromising your composure as long as quick reflexes aren't regularly demanded.

Sound is up to Sony Ericsson's usually high standards, though a notch below the aurally-accomplished Walkman range, completing what's a very reasonable package.

The Z550i is a little star. It's not up there with the best gaming handsets and certainly won't trouble the upper echelons of our top ten gaming handsets thanks to the controls. It's also got the unavoidable shortfalls in build quality and specification that come from being designed to meet a tight price point (a weedy 1.3-megapixel camera, for one).

But the Z550i will be as reliable a performer as any other handset to wear the Sony Ericsson label and, arguably, cut a sharper image than most.

Sony Ericsson Z550i

Sharp looks and decent gaming from a cool clamshell that shows what can be done on a budget