Before the Apple iPhone arrived, Sony Ericsson had laid claim to be the most powerful mobile music brand in town with its smart use of the Walkman marque. Hugely successful, Sony Ericsson's Walkman portfolio has expanded to suit almost every taste and price point, and the W660i is another 3G model that fits neatly into Sony Ericsson's mid-range music phone line-up.
The W660i is clearly more evolution than revolution. Its candybar design has unmistakable Walkman phone DNA, so it's all quite familiar. Despite nods at the fashionable phone buyer, with gold trim on both the 'record black' and 'rose red' versions of the W660i, there's a strong sense of déjà vu about this Walkman phone.
The W660i fits in the Walkman range as a 3G-packing step up from the W610i GSM/GPRS phone but sits below the sassy, ultra-slim W880i in the Walkman hierarchy.
The Sony Ericsson W660i pitches above the W610i's spec with high-speed 3G features including video-calling (there's a secondary camera above the display), high speed streaming and downloading. It takes a step back, though, with a slightly less well-endowed camera; it's still a 2-megapixel cameraphone, but has no autofocus or flash options.
Obviously, the main feature for any Walkman phone is its tune-playing, and the W660i sports the latest 2.0 version of the Walkman music player. Part of the deal is a decent stereo headset and a 512MB Memory Stick Micro (M2) card thrown in.
Other features worth noting are an FM radio, full NetFront web browser, RSS feed support and a quick blogging option for uploading camera shots to Blogger - facilties now common to many Sony Ericsson Walkman handsets.
The gold-trimmed black version of the W660i we reviewed is understatedly smart. Gold is edged around the sides of the phone and used sparingly on three front panel fastkeys, so it's not blinged out. It's small without being ultra-slim, at 14.5mm thin and weighing 93 grams.
The display is a 262k-colour TFT delivering 176 x 220 pixels resolution (less detailed than the W880i's). Under this is a directional navigation pad and softkeys that are the hub of the W660i's control system.
The user interface deployed on the W660i will be familiar too to any Sony Ericsson user, with an icon-based menu screen branching you out to categories with more sub-menu lists.
It's well structured, easy and straightforward enough to follow, plus there are several shortcut key options to spare excessive digit tapping for most used functions. Users can also enjoy a larger buttoned keypad than some recent Sony Ericssons have employed, making texting a breeze.
The Walkman 2.0 music player software is easily accessed at the tap of a gold Walkman button beside the navipad. The navigation pad automatically switches into Walkman control mode, with a glowing orange backlight indicating the player's engaged.
The Walkman software is immediately impressive. Its white on black (with a touch of orange) graphics are classy and effective and help guide you through the menu tree. The player can display cover art and track details, and you can choose tracks or browse through tunes easily by artist, album, track or playlists.
Copying tracks over is easy enough, either using Sony Ericsson's PC Suite and Disc2 Phone software supplied to rip and sync tracks from a PC to the phone, or simply by dragging and dropping tracks to the Memory Stick Micro (M2) memory card when the phone is attached via its supplied USB cable. Alternatively, you could zap them across from another device via Bluetooth.
The W660i comes with a 512MB M2 card in the box, to go with the phone's slim 16MB internal memory. That's generous enough to start any user with plenty of album's worth of tunes, particularly as extra cards are now rapidly tumbling in price (a 1GB M2 card costs under £10). The W660i's M2 slot is to hand on the side of the phone so the card can be swapped easily without having to power down.
As usual with Walkman phones, the earphones are good quality in-ear buds. Uprating 'phones is straightforward too, thanks to a 3.5mm jack socket on the two-section headset supplied. Music thought the headphones sounds great, a really impressive music player experience that hits the right spots aurally.
And if you want to, you can tweak the EQ or add Sony's legendary Mega Bass to drop more low-end frequencies. A speaker on the back of the phone allows you to play tunes in presentable if typically tinny-sounding phone fashion.
On top the music player, you get a good quality 20-channel FM radio with RDS. Sony Ericsson's neat TrackID function can be used with the radio as well as with tracks you hear around you to find names of tunes. It uses its internet connection to automatically interrogate the Gracenote music database and deliver back your answer.
The W660i's 3G connectivity gives its internet browser a welcome speed boost. The NetFront browser can access regular websites and display them full screen in a PC style version, or rendered with SmartFit technology to be optimised for small phone screens.
3G functionality also means fast video and audio downloads, and some network operators' versions of the W660i offer fast access to their portals for speedy content downloads. There's even a link for loading more tunes in the Walkman's MyMusic menu.
Imaging is not the strongest point of the W660i. The 2-megapixel camera puts in a solid cameraphone performance, with the maximum resolution 1600 x 1200 pixels shots generally pretty good. The lack of autofocus and absence of a macro option though lest it down at closer ranges, and limit the flexibility of the camera.
The night shot mode among the camera control tweaks doesn't compensate adequately for a missing flash, and the W660i's camera results are definitely perkier in brighter environments.
The W660i also has a video recording option, although the limited 176 x 144 pixels resolution and frame rate gives a typically average mobile phone shooting experience.
The W660i does have a good spread of additional features, typical of mid-range Sony Ericsson handsets. There's an email client inside for POP3 accounts, and plenty of organiser functions such as calendar, notes, task lists, calculator, stopwatch and timer and voice memo. Calendar and contacts can be easily synced with a PC using accompanying PC Suite software.
Stereo Bluetooth is onboard for wireless connectivity - allowing you to use wireless headphones or speaker systems, and the W660i features USB 2.0 connectivity and mass storage data transfer.
Additionally there are a couple of enjoyable games - the 3D Java game Extreme Air Snowboarding and Tower Bloxx. More can be downloaded (there are links in the phone to Sony Ericsson download sites for all sorts of content).
Overall the W660i puts in a very creditable performance with calls. In our tests we found the W660i handled voice calls extremely ably, with excellent sound quality at both ends. The phone also was consistently dependable at holding signals.
For battery life, Sony Ericsson suggest a maximum standby time of 360 hours and 6 hours talktime (2.5 hours on 3G networks), although that would be way optimistic if you were listening to tunes regularly, or playing with other functions.
The Sony Ericsson W660i doesn't try to be a look-at-me stage-stealer; it does though take many of the best elements Sony Ericsson has incorporated into its Walkman music phones, honed them down and then boosted them with 3G power.
Under the bonnet you get a real performer that has a tried and tested consistency.The camera could have been better (we know what you can do with Cyber-shot phones, Sony Ericsson), and there are a few other mid-range compromises.
OK, so it's not as exciting as some upcoming music phones, but if you're on a budget and looking for a dependable, excellent quality music phone with 3G inside, the W660i will certainly fit that bill.
Ease of use: 8
Call quality: 9
Networks: 3, Orange, Vodafone (soon), others to be confirmed