Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/07/review_sony_ericsson_w960i/

Sony Ericsson Walkman W960i music phone

It's a phone. It's Walkman. It's a robot. Well, maybe not a robot...

By Alun Taylor

Posted in Phones, 7th February 2008 13:25 GMT

Review The new W960i may sit atop the Sony Ericsson music phone tree but is it supposed to be a smartphone or a music phone? Maybe a bit of both. The problem with the phrase 'a bit of both' is that it's seldom the harbinger of anything other than compromise or muddled thinking.

If we had to describe the aesthetics of the W960i in one word it would be 'photogenic', by which we mean it is just a little disappointing in the flesh, or rather the plastic. It's handsome enough in black with a white band around the edge, and at 109 x 55 x 16mm and 119g feels good in the hand. But it lacks any of the design drama of such recent Sony Ericssons as the K850i - reviewed here, T650i or S500i - reviewed here.

Sony Ericsson W960i Walkman phone

Sony Ericsson's W960i: 8GB of storage but no memory card slot

Other external observations? Well, the touch sensitive, 2.6in, 240 x 320, 256,000-colour screen seemed a little on the dull side when compared to other recent Sony Ericsson offerings, while the shiny silver lanyard anchor on the left of the handset looks horribly out of place.

Some aspects of the specification are very much a case of 'With one hand I giveth and with the other I taketh away': you get 8GB of storage memory, but no Memory Stick or SD slot, and while you get 3G it only runs up to 384Kb/s rather than the full banana 3.6 or 7.2Mb/s HSDPA.

In a range-topper phone, the lack of HSDPA in this day and age is frankly a bit off and restricts the value of the phone as a 3G laptop modem. Beyond the 8GB of storage you also get 256MB of Flash memory though the OS takes up 96MB of this.

On the plus side what you do get is 802.11b wi-fi; the latest in Bluetooth, a 3.2-megapixel camera with twin-LED flash; the Symbian 9 OS with UIQ 3.0 user interface; an RDS FM radio with 20 station pre-sets; a voice recorder; the PDF+ reader; Quickoffice for all your Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents; and the usual peripheral do-dads such as a unit converter and stopwatch, plus a couple of games: QuadraPop and Vijay Singh Pro Gold 3D.

Something we haven't come across before was the Business Card Scanner. Fire up the application, take a picture of a business card and in theory it extracts all the relevant info and stores it to your contacts. Most of the time it got the name, phone number(s) and email address correct. It also stores the jpeg of the card with the contact so you can manually check the information.

Sony Ericsson W960i Walkman phone

The 3.2 megapixel camera does a fair job

The email part of the messaging application is comprehensive enough and will handle IMAP4, POP3 and SMTP protocols as well as SSL and TLS encryption. The handset also supports most push email providers while Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync comes pre-installed. Web surfing is competently handled by the Opera browser, version 8.65.

Being a Symbian handset you can of course knock yourself out downloading other applications and utilities.

Actually doing stuff with the W960i requires you to get jiggy with both the stylus and your thumb, and occasionally forces you to use both hands. The majority of day-to-day operations can be managed using the good old Mk 1 thumb, the screen proving to be just about large enough to house the 15 programmable shortcut icons and the Main Menu, Hide Shortcuts and Back buttons in such a fashion that unless you have the hands of a navvy you will hit what you are aiming at nine times out of ten.

Start drilling down into the sub-menus, however, and you're going to need that stylus.

The W960i's stylus is very light and when in its 'slot' is stored securely and unobtrusively. In fact, had the spare one not fallen out of the box we wouldn't have noticed it came with one until we read the manual. One the downside, it's a nasty bit of cheap bendy plastic that really is not a lot of fun to use.

Sony Ericsson W960i Walkman phone

It's handsome enough, but lacks any design drama

When required, text can be entered using the keypad, a virtual keyboard or via handwriting recognition. Your reviewer is left-handed, making the last a non-starter, though a temporarily amusing one.

The UI is, to be quite honest, a bit of a dog's morning repast. If you hold the phone in your right hand the scroll wheel is hard to use, but if you hold it in your left you can't easily hit the 'back' key on the keypad, while the soft Back key that appears in the upper right corner of the screen is not well placed for lefties either. Some form of central nav-pad or navigation key would have made life a lot easier for all concerned.

The three soft keys displayed at the bottom of the screen don't seem to work with quite the same fluidity or sureness of those on the K850i. Maybe it's because directly below them are three touch-sensitive keys that light up when in Walkman mode and, respectively, stop/pause, fast forward and rewind the music player. The touchscreen itself works well though, with finger sweeps taking you up, down and around smoothly.

The Walkman 3.0 player interface, launched, if you can't guess, by the big W button that has centre stage on the keypad, is familiar enough, though unlike the visually similar Media Centre on the K850i it only allows access to music files. Video and stills images have to be accessed separately using the File Manager, which seems something of a step backwards.

For a device whose main raison d'etre is music, the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket could be something of a disaster but thankfully the W960i comes with a suitable adaptor so that you to use any set of phones and still keep hands-free functionality.

Sony Ericsson W960i Walkman phone

The lack of a 3.5mm headphones jack could be something of a disaster

We searched in vain for details of the audio power output, but it managed to drive our trusty Beyerdynamic DT250 closed cans with no problem at all so it must have a fair bit of oomph. The supplied ear-buds were of a decent quality, but as with the 'buds supplied with the Samsung F700 - reviewed here, they are just a bit too small for our ears. Extra, larger buds would be a boon - just how expensive can a couple of small bits of rubber be?

This week we have mostly been listening to Melissa Etheridge, Richard Thompson (live from the excellent 4 CD set RT), a 1956 mono recording of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and the soundtrack to Michael Mann's film The Last of the Mohicans.

We're happy to report that the sound the W960i makes is fine. Playing identical tracks on the W960i and on a K850i, and swapping back and forth, we were hard pushed to spot the difference. What the W960i is not is a whole new world of sound; what it is is a very competent music player that like most of the Sony Ericsson stable produces a sound quite the equal of any mass-market MP3 player.

As is usual with Sony Ericsson handsets, the player supports MP3, AAC, WMA and MPEG 4 files, and comes with an equalizer that you can mess about with plus the usual raft of genre pre-sets and a Megabass option.

The 3.2-megapixel camera does a fair enough job and comes with a macro setting and a digital zoom that runs to 2.9x, though the twin-LED flashes are no substitute for the xenon flash on the K850i.

Sony Ericsson W960i Walkman phone

Comfortable to hold

Sony Ericsson's refusal to enable its top-flight phones to record video at more than 15f/s 320 x 240 is frankly beginning to grate when there are phones about that will record at 30f/s 640 x 480. Video playback defaults to a portrait on screen layout. If you tilt the phone over, nothing happens - to change to landscape you have to hit the 'Expand' soft key.

The speaker on the W960i is one of the best we have come across, it really does produce a great sound for something so small and is superb when used in speaker-phone mode. Call quality and signal strength are up with the best from Sony Ericsson.

The manufacturer claims three hours of talk time and 300 in standby mode when you're in a 3G area. The numbers rise to nine and 370 without the UMTS drain. In the real world, our handset lasted for two-and-a-half days of fairly heavy mixed use in a 3G area with the Wi-fi switched on a couple of times for 10-15 minute spells before we went rummaging for the charger.

Verdict

It's hard to shake off a slight sense of disappointment about the W960i. The looks are nothing special, the UI seems a little unresolved and the features list while long is lacking in some important areas. Unless you really want the Symbian OS and Wi-fi, we suggest getting a K850i and sticking an 8GB Memory Stick Micro up its backside. Then you have an 8GB music player with a five-megapixel camera and HSDPA that you can use with one hand. You can't say that of the W960i