Sony Ericsson W960i in-depth review -

 

Look and feel

Reverting to the design of earlier Walkman handsets such as the W850 and W950, the Sony Ericsson W960 is wide but thin, with a large display and well-spaced keypad. The handset is surprisingly light while retaining a sturdy feel. The matt black finish found on the back of the handset is a nice touch.


Ease of use

The Sony Ericsson W960 offers users a combination of a touchscreen and mechanical user interface, which simply doesn't work. Touchscreens should only be employed when they add something to the user experience and, unfortunately, it just feels like a gimmick here. The provided stylus is flimsy and you'll fins yourself resorting to the jog wheel on the side of the phone.


Features

The W960 offers a cracking feature set, with 8GB of built in storage capacity for thousands of music tracks and photos, 3G download speeds, Wi-fi, stereo Bluetooth and a 3.2 megapixel camera.


Performance

Should you ever get to grips with operating the phone, you'll find that its performance lives up to the top spec. We found the camera a lot more capable than that of the W910 Walkman phone and the music player is everything you'd expect from a Walkman device. The sound quality is great and Sony Ericsson has launched a range of music accessories to complement the device.


Battery life

Another Sony Ericsson phone with a belting battery life, which is an absolute must for a music device.

 Sony Ericsson W960i Review -
3

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:50:38 PM

8

out of 10

Performance

6

out of 5

Look and feel

4

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

One of the most feature packed phones around

Cons:

The touchscreen interface is a real pain to use


One of Sony Ericsson's major triumphs in recent times has been its success in reviving the flagging Walkman music brand and reinventing it for a new generation of younger, hipper mobile users.

Just as the manufacturer draws on its Cybershot brand in the camera space, Sony Ericsson's ability to distinguish a new music phone with the globally recognised Walkman logo is a tremendous brand advantage.

However, almost 30 years on from the launch of the first Sony Walkman cassette player, the thought of being restricted to just one album's worth of songs accessible from your music device at a time is now unthinkable. And, just to emphasise the chasm between the 1979 Walkman and the 2008 version, Sony Ericsson's new W960i Walkman phone lets you store up to 700 albums thanks to 8GB of built-in storage.

But, while bumper storage capacity is undoubtedly one of the key assets of any modern music device, it isn't everything, and every new Sony Ericsson Walkman phone is under pressure  to live up to the high spec music pedigree that the Walkman range now epitomises.

As a result, the launch of the W960 Walkman phone has been met with huge anticipation and expectation.

And, because they were first announced at the same time, it's natural to compare the new W960i Walkman with the W910i Walkman.

Both handsets are at the premium end of the Walkman range and are priced accordingly. But, as is always the case with technology, each handset has its own distinct assets and foibles.

For example, the W910i offers HSDPA broadband data speeds, a lightweight chassis, beautiful slider action and a fabulous user experience, but suffers from a fairly bog standard two megapixel camera and less in-built memory. Whereas the W960i is a larger, heavier candy bar phone running 3G data speeds, but offers Wi-fi, a 3.2 megapixel camera and a huge 8GB memory as standard.

So, on paper at least, there would not seem to be much between them. However, we found the W910i to be a far superior handset.

Look and feel: Sony Ericsson Walkman W960i

Design wise, the new W960 draws on the family traits of earlier Walkman handsets like the W850 and W950..

Like its two predecessors, the W960 is bigger and flatter than most candy bar handsets today, which we can excuse because of the huge memory, the large display and the well spaced keypad. The design is not exactly innovative, but neither is it inoffensive. What's more the handset is light for its size, feels fairly robust and the matt black finish of the rear casing is actually quite a nice touch.

But, while we can let the W960 off for being a little larger than average, we're less inclined to be forgiving about the poor user experience.

At the core of all that's bad of the W960 user interface is the poor touchscreen interface, which works in tandem with the conventional phone keypad, but leaves you dithering between both.

We first noticed the problem when we tried to unlock the phone. You begin by pressing the key featuring the unlock symbol on the bottom right hand corner of the keypad. However, when the word ‘unlock' appears at the bottom of the phone's display, the natural instinct is to locate and click a physical soft key as you would with most other sensible phones. But there simply isn't one there.

What you are meant to do, of course, is touch the word ‘unlock' on the phone's display to activate the touchscreen menu. It may have felt like the ideal solution in the R and D lab, but it just doesn't feel right and there's no haptic vibrating response to provide encouragement either.

Once you've unlocked the phone, you have the option of navigating the touchscreen UI with your finger or with the stylus stored in the rear casing of the device.

We'd recommend using your finger because the stylus fells flimsy and you will be guaranteed to lose it at least once a day. Sony Ericsson does supply a spare in the box, but this simply emphasises the fact that they expect you to lose the first one.

Ease of use: Sony Ericsson Walkman W960i

As for the user interface, it's just far too clever and complicated for its own good and it seems to be designed for techies rather than for the mass market. A great user interface hides all the complicated stuff behind a really simple and clear façade.

The W960 tries to empower the user by letting you choose your own shortcuts to your favourite applications like Bluetooth or a specific contact or web page your regularly access. It seems a good idea in theory, but these shortcut keys sit beneath the numerous other icon based menu options and it all looks like one unholy, overwhelming jumble.

The problem is exacerbated when you attempt to navigate using the touchscreen. Aside from the fact that the display re-locks itself with alarming regularity, the virtual scroll bar which appears on the side of the display with certain applications is a nightmare.

Not only is this almost impossible to navigate with your finger (you'll have to use the stylus), when we did finally get the scroller moving, we managed to immediately lose control and press one of the virtual soft key options at the bottom of the display.

You're far better off employing the physical jog dial that sits on the side of the phone in conjunction with the touchscreen, but we'd still much rather use conventional keypad-based navigation any day.

Music on the W960i Walkman

Thankfully, the touchscreen interface is a little lless of an issue when you are using the phone's Walkman player. The W960 offers one touch access to the phone's music functionality via a centrally positioned Walkman key.

Once in music mode, you'll be presented with a list of all your stored music, arranged by artists, albums, compilations, tracks, moods, playlists, auto playlists and my recordings.

The W960's touchreen interface doesn't enable you to scroll by stroking up and down like, say the HTC Touch or the Apple iPhone. Instead, you'll need to rely on the phone's side-mounted jog dial. However, once you highlight a menu option you can click on the touchscreen to choose it.

For downloading music from your PC to your phone, Sony Ericsson claims the 3G data speeds on the W960 enable music transfer of 1GB in less than 3 minutes, which we found to be pretty accurate in practise

As with the W910, you can organize all of your content for the W960 using Media Manager PRO, a PC programme for music, photos and videos.

The handset comes with all the top music features you'd expect from a Walkman, including TrackID music recognition software, which lets you, record a clip of a song on your phone and find out instantly the name of the artist, track and album. Once TrackID has identified the song, you can also now get the background of the artists and the album. And, in addition to an audio clip search, you can also search by artist name, album or lyric.

The phone also features PlayNow, which lets you listen to music tones before you download them to the device and other Walkman flourishes include downloadable album art, mega bass and an FM radio. There may be fewer gimmicky extras. like the Shake Control that you get on the W910i, but you can rate tracks and assign moods simply by clicking certain keys while the song is playing.

Sony Ericsson hasn't scrimped on the accessories either. The W960i comes boxed with both a HBM-70 wired stereo headset that features comfortable, padded in-ear phones and lets you answer calls while listening to music. There's also a black Walkman branded travelling pouch to protect the device on its travels.

Camera and video on the Walkman W960i

We're glad that the main camera on the W960i is 3.2 megapixels (the W910i only offers two) and it's a pretty decent all-round shotmaker that's activated and operated with a dedicated shutter key and digital zoom controls on the side of the phone. It's not a Cybershot quality camera and the phone suffers from a short shutter lag when shooting indoors, but the auto focus worked well and the W960 generally produces decent results which can be tweaked, enhanced and defaced using the phone's Photo Editor application. Meanwhile, a second camera sits on the front of the phone to enable video calling.

The handset also enables you to send your photos by picture message or even to upload them to a blog. But, while sending photos via MMS is straightforward enough, posting a blog is not half as simple as it is with the Nokia N95 8GB.

We were, however, very impressed by the 30fps video playback, which Sony Ericsson assures us is exactly the same as TV quality.

Extra features: Walkman W960

The W960's top feature set is enhanced by Wi-fi, RSS website feeds; push email, an Opera web browser and a fantastic 540 minutes of GSM talktime, which makes the W960 one of the best equipped phones on the market.

Unfortunately, due to its annoying touchscreen interface and over-complicated user experience, the phone is a disappointment.