Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:52:55 PM
A superb music offering from Sony Ericsson, while the 8GB of onboard memory provides plenty of storage space.
Although it doesn?t pretend to be a camera phone, we were still disappointed with the overall snapping experience.
The Walkman and Cyber-shot handset ranges have for so long been stalwarts in Sony Ericsson's mobile phone collection that even the least tech-savvy individual should be aware of them, seeing as the majority of the manufacturer's high-end handsets fall into one of the two categories. Following the launch of the mightily impressive C902 Cyber-shot phone, one might have expected Sony Ericsson to surf on its wave of success, at least for a few months. Not so, as the manufacturer has unveiled its new flagship Walkman device, the Sony Ericsson W980, complete with a whopping 8GB of internal memory.
When the W980 arrived in the Mobile Choice office, we were slightly taken aback to find that it is in fact a clamshell. Of course, we had seen the obligatory press shots when the phone was first announced back in February, but with so many ‘big' handset launches since (the iPhone 3G, Nokia E71 and Samsung Soul to name but a few) we had forgotten the exact specs of the phone. Now, we were slightly surprised because we can't help but feel that clamshells are beginning to look a little dated. And with far more slider and candybar handsets being released than the flip phone, it would suggest that the manufacturers are in agreement. Our main issue with clamshell handsets is that by their very nature when opened, they are effectively twice as long. What's more, unlike the likes of the Motorola RAZR 2 V8, when closed, the W980 is a fairly chunky.
Despite these reservations, the W980 is quite a handsome device. The front fascia has a mirror-like finish with an external TFT screen and three circular indentations, both of which remain invisible until the phone is activated - more of which later.
Open up the clamshell and you're greeted by a fetching keypad with a glossy black finish. The same circular pattern as found on the front of the device is also present inside the phone, only this time it represents the navigation key, clear key, end key, call key, selection keys and activity menu key (a one-touch button to a list of shortcuts). It sounds as though the buttons ought to be jostling for space, but in fact they are big enough to easily determine them individually. Underneath this collection of keys, the keypad remains sparse. Sony Ericsson has decorated the W980 with round circular keys that feel great under the thumbs. However, due to their close positioning, there's a good half a centimetre either side of the keys that remains redundant. The screen itself is 2.2 inches, which isn't huge, but the 240x320 pixels help produce a real vibrant glow, although once again there's a lot of empty space surrounding the screen. Above the screen is a transparent strip that lights up and dances when playing your music; although, we found it to be more tacky than novel.
Being a Walkman device, music is at the core of the W980, and there's a dedicated Walkman key found on the left of the keypad that will take you straight to your MP3 player. However, it's on the front of the handset where the main music controls can be found. Remember those three circular indentations we mentioned? Well, bring the phone to life and these magically transform into your play/pause, skip, rewind and volume controls. They're touch sensitive, so it's a good idea to use the sliding lock mechanism on the right of the handset to avoid any accidental key nudges when in your pocket.
If manual controls are too mundane for you, you can always use the more exciting Shake Control, if you don't mind the occasional odd look from the general public. For those of you unfamiliar with this method of changing tracks or altering volume levels, as found on the W580 and W910, it works by a simple flick of the wrist. Simply hold down the designated Walkman button and flick the handset to the right to skip forward, to the left to rewind a track, up to increase the volume, and down to decrease it. Thankfully, while there were some issues with the placement of the Walkman button on the W580 and W910, Sony Ericsson seems to have learnt its lesson.
When the W980 is closed, simply hold your thumb on the central indentation and carry out the acquired movement. When the handset is open, the same practice applies, only this time hold down the Walkman key rather than the indentation. In comparison with the earlier models that featured Shake Control, the W980 comes out on top. Switching tracks is a breeze and the touch-sensitive key on the front and the Walkman key on the inside of the handset are ideally positioned. However, changing the volume proved much more hit and miss. Perhaps we just need to work on our wrist action, but we at times found the volume increased when we were trying to turn it up and vice versa.
There's no 3.5mm jack port, with Sony Ericsson sticking with its standard connection port, but there is an adaptor to plug in your own headphones. While we've championed that all handsets should include a 3.5mm jack port, we would be chastising Sony Ericsson if it changed its universal connection port, so we'll settle for this compromise. The audio quality through the supplied Sony Ericsson HPM-77 Stereo Portable headphones was excellent, and it was even better through our Bose headphones. We found the best results were achieved when we changed the equalizer (found on the Walkman settings menu) to ‘unique', although depending on what genre of music you listen to you may find a different setting suits your tastes better.
With a whopping 8GB of internal memory (although there's no expandable memory), putting it on par with the 8GB version of the iPhone 3G, there's not only plenty of space to store your music content, there's also plenty of ways of storing it. You can divide your music into artists, playlists, year, albums or genres, and there's even Sony Ericsson's SensMe facility, allowing you to put your music in various categories to suit your mood. Visit your fast/happy section before hitting the town on a Saturday night, or play your slow/sad songs when you've been dumped or seen your team relegated from the football league. A built-in FM transmitter also means you can stream all your audio music through your car stereo. Simply find an unused frequency and stream away. Sony Ericsson claims that as long as your phone is 10m away from the radio, it should work, although we found the nearer the handset was to the radio, the better the sound quality.
What the Sony Ericsson W980 boasts in terms of musical ability, it sadly lacks in the camera department. Our first gripe once again relates to the fact that the phone is a clamshell. Whereas other handsets, particularly sliders and candybars, maintain an authentic camera feel, the W980 feels very much a phone with a camera added as an afterthought. Secondly, the positioning of the lens is not ideal with our natural grip of the phone often obscuring the view.
While taking our pics, we found it frustrating that about a quarter of the screen is taken up with the zoom and brightness settings, along with whether you're in video or camera mode, and what size shot you are shooting in. As stated previously, the screen is not massive, so it's a shame that Sony Ericsson choose to clutter up the display. We also found our shots to be grainy, and while they can be enhanced through Photo fix, this will only improve the brightness of the shot and not the contrast. That said, we applaud the fact that you can both geo-tag (attach a location to your shots) and tag your photos (give your shots specific names) as well as being able to instantly blog your shots.
Accelerometers are embedded on the Sony Ericsson, although they only become active when using the music player or viewing your media content. This means that when using the internet, to view webpages in landscape view as opposed to portrait it needs to be done manually rather than by simply turning the handset on its side. This seems yet another oversight by Sony Ericsson. With HSDPA connectivity, we're treated to the webpages being speedily presented and downloads proving quick to complete. However, as with the camera shots, we found web pics to be grainy and distorted, surprising considering the vibrancy of the handsets screen.
The W980 is embedded with Google Maps for any navigational needs. Due to the lack of any built-in GPS, it works via a process of triangulation. This effectively works by locating the three nearest mobile cells to you, before guestimating your location. Having tested this on other Ericsson handsets, we found the results tended to put you about one or two streets away from your actual location, which while not as accurate as an actual GPS is not bad, and we're pleased to report the W980 is no different.
There's much to like about the Sony Ericsson W980. The music player is superb, and once we got over our reservations regarding the clamshell design, we have to admit it's a smart-looking handset. There's even push-email, although this requires a degree of patience when setting up. However, the disappointing camera really left a sour taste. Granted, it's not part of the Cyber-shot range, but for a flagship device, the W980's camera really should be more capable. We expect the W980 to do well, but we also expected a little bit more.