When somebody gets something right, it's often all too easy to take them for granted. So when Sony Ericsson brings out a new Walkman phone, the temptation is to ignore its impressive but, frankly, familiar attributes, such as an exemplary music player, media features, eye-catching design and fine useability, and search for niggling faults.
But the fact is that there's really very little wrong with this stylish midrange slider. It comes in four colours (white, black, 'urban' grey and pink) which should cover most style bases. Our grey version came with some beautifully understated turquoise detailing in both the backlight and the rear of the slide too. On the subject of lights, there's an additional one that flashes between the sliding sections when a call comes in - it certainly catches the eye, even if it is a little gimmicky, and you can choose from 16 different colours and colour sequences.
There are sliders with a sturdier feel, but it certainly doesn't feel flimsy, and snaps open and closed with a satisfying clunk - a fine balance of form and function, in other words.
Sony Ericsson has at last started producing slimline sliders, being a little slow to fully embrace the thin-slide concept. Compared to the W850i released early last year, the W580i a slimmer design, with clearer controls and additional features.
It's a good-looking handset overall, with a ring control beneath the screen which controls the media player functions, and hints at something a bit more funky going on behind the otherwise minimalist design. There's also a genuinely thoughtful bit of detail in the gentle hook at the back and bottom of the phone which helps when sliding it open -nice to know someone's thinking about these things.
The 262,000-colour screen is perfectly fine, making a decent fist of being legible in sunlight and offering sharp and clear definition of photos. You can control the brightness, by the way, but not contrast.
The "W" prefix tells you that this is a Walkman music phone first, and sure enough, it wears its player controls proudly on the front. You don't have to open the slider to access the music function - simply press the stylised "W" button on the front and you're into one of the most sophisticated mobile music players available.
Adding tracks is easy via USB link to your computer or via Bluetooth from another phone (so long as the tracks are DRM-free) and the controls are detailed and intuitive. It can go quite loud too (unlike the volume-restricted iPod) though the sound does tend to break up at the highest volume. Keep it below ear-bleeding levels however and the sound is really very good, even with the supplied headphones. If you're fussy though, you can use any headphones with a 3.5mm jack or stereo Bluetooth.
It also has all Sony Ericsson's usual music features like PlayNow, which offers a quick way to buy tracks via the internet, plus TrackID which lets you identify songs playing either on your phone (via the built-in FM radio) or anywhere else, Shazam-style.
The music features include a new shake function (also available on the W910i). Basically, when you're playing music, you can shake it to shuffle the tracks. It's not quite clear how this is easier than pressing the FWD button, which is very prominently displayed on the front, and our model seemed to take quite a bit of shaking to get it to work, but if you like that sort of thing...
There's a 2-megapixel camera under the slide, which is perfectly fine, if not exceptional and it doesn't come with flash or a self-portrait mirror. There is a quick access button on that circular control though, and there's a basic range of editing functions. It has three size settings, two for quality, night mode, white-balance and brightness adjustments, two colour effects, a digital zoom (which won't work at full 2-megapixel resolution), and four shutter sounds. You can blog your pics direct from the phone thanks to Sony Ericsson's deal with Blogger.com and you can also record video for as long as your phone's memory allows. It's a good little workhorse of a phone camera, but no replacement for a proper snapper or even for one of Sony Ericsson's more camera-centric models, like the 3.2-megapixel-packing K770i and the more upmarket W960i Walkman smartphone.
It comes with a 512MB Memory Stick Micro which fits into a slot at the top covered by a slim plastic cover - the only thing about this phone that feels disappointingly cheap. and you'll need to use it for storing tunes it, since the onboard memory is a fairly slim 12MB.
There's a new Fitness application which allows you to set yourself goals in a diary for running or walking as well as a pedometer and a sports trivia game, plus a couple of preloaded games: sharpen your puppet master skills in Sims 2 and familiar fun with Lumines Block Challenge, which would appear to be on more than nodding terms with Tetris.
The W580i is another winner in the Walkman series. It covers all the basics, with a little bit more, all without sacrificing any of the functions and features that have distinguished the series so far.