Is it us, or has somebody upped the ante with mid-tier mobiles?
Sony Ericsson's latest outing into Walkman territory sees the new W595 sashaying off the shelves with aplomb.
Jazzy graphics, Walkman features and a fine set of fun apps, the youth market is well catered for…but dig beneath the street-cred and there's a lot to tempt those looking for a more mature mobile.
The Sony Ericsson W595 is from the same mould of sliders as its W580 predecessor, but with some of the more higher-end W910i thrown in for good measure. It has many of the W910i's features, including HSDPA connectivity, and the latest Walkman gadgetry.
Its design has some neat chrome trimmings and rounded edges for a more ergonomic and classy look. Solid in the hand, the build quality is excellent and boasts a smooth slide action – albeit at the expense of greasy fingers on the screen. You'll want to polish those off, because the screen itself is wonderfully crisp and vivid. With all these advantages, it seems a shame you have to practically snap the back cover off to access the battery, SIM and memory card.
Despite the limited space the keypad layout makes the most of it, while an array of hotkeys beneath the screen means you don't have to delve too deeply into the menu. Nonetheless, the menu is easy to operate and well laid out in typical Sony Ericsson style. Some great icons and a colourful, fun design make it a pleasure to whiz round.
The handset's music playing capabilities lie at the heart of its arsenal and the addition of a few gimmicky features should inspire you to try them at least once. TrackID is arguably the most useful, allowing you to record a few seconds of a song to send to Gracenote's database for recognition.
Less useful is the new Shake control 'a la' Apple's iPod nano – good in theory, but less so in practice. The idea is that with Shake control activated you can just press the Walkman button and with a flick of the wrist change tracks; in reality it would be just as easy to use the dedicated transport controls marked on the navpad.
Providing you use the bundled Media Manager PC software, SensMe is another novelty idea worth a trial run. Basically it allows you to create mood- and tempo-defined playlists, but users of Apple's new Genius function may find it a little crude.
The Walkman 3.0 player itself has Sony Ericsson's rather attractive music player interface, with the usual detailed track categories and functionality. Sony Ericsson supplies the phone with a 2GB Memory Stick Micro memory card included, which is decent for a phone at this price level. There's only 40MB of internal storage, so memory cards are essential if you want to listen to a good selection of tunes.
Unfortunately, though, Sony Ericsson is still reticent about including a 3.5mm input on the handset itself, sticking with the rather clunky adaptor on the two-part headset instead.
The bundled set of earphones are still better than most you get with a mobile phone, and the music player is capable of a rich and dynamic audio performance that's very pleasing on the ears.
There is also support for A2DP stereo Bluetooth if you'd prefer to take the wireless approach to headphones,. The loudspeaker is just that – loud – but still retains the tinny overtones that often resonate from busses at school kicking-out time.
As we said earlier, the W595 isn't just about attracting the youth market – it's backed up by some solid technology and Sony Ericsson's manufacturing know-how.
Another plus is that the handset has an 'always on' internet connection offering HSDPA support for fast 3G data transfer, so it's easy to access large files, download music or stream video. It comes in particularly handy when using the integrated YouTube app, enabling you to view content online, as well as upload your videos in a few clicks.
An accelorometer is also built in so you can flick the screen between portrait and landscape layouts, depending on what you're viewing. This is great when using the web browser and camera – the later of which ups the megapixel count to 3.2MP. It's still not enough to challenge those Cyber-shot-touting stablemates, with images suffering on account of its lack of autofocus and flash.
Like most self-respecting phone these days, the W595 comes equipped with easy access to upload content online, with that YouTube application and options to upload images to Blogger accounts. In addition, on the version of the handset available from 3, social networking apps include Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, while the 3 model also adds native Skype, eBay and Windows Live Messenger clients.
Other valuable applications onboard include Google Maps, an excellent mapping application for network based approximate positioning, location finding, search and routing,
Ultimately the Sony Ericsson W595 won't win any awards for pushing technological boundaries, but it will provide a solid, reliable handset with an element of fun.
Call quality is excellent, both tonally and in terms of reception, and battery life is more than respectable giving on average around four days.
Combine this with the inclusion of HSDPA, some genuinely useful apps and the daddy of all mobile music players, and the Sony Ericsson W595 would be a fitting addition to many stockings this Christmas.
Network availability: 3
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Call quality: 5/5