The top-of-the-range Walkman is certainly packed with features, it's just a shame it isn't a bit easier to use.
Great 3.2 megapixel camera with good editing features
Useful 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity
Generous 8GB internal storage
Simple touchscreen interface
Occasionally slow operation
Awkward to navigate
Battery life isn't great
No memory card expansion
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Sony Ericsson makes a point of creating phones for pretty much every demographic, from cheap and cheerful handsets like the recently announced T280 to advanced smartphones like the P1i, including Cyber-shot models for the camera buffs and Walkman devices for music fans.
At the higher end of each discipline the distinctions can get a little blurred and lead to the likes of the W960i, an upgrade of the two-year-old W950i which borrows and improves on a few tricks from the P1i as well as various Cyber-shots, including hefty onboard memory, Wi-Fi and a 3.2-megapixel camera.
For such a complicated device, the layout is kept very simple, with a standard numerical keypad beneath a 262,000-colour touchscreen, flanked by volume and camera buttons on one side, and Sony's increasingly rare jog wheel on the other. It's a bit of a handful at 109(h) x 55(w) x 16(d) mm and 119g but that's still not bad for a Symbian UIQ-packing smartphone.
All fingers and thumbs
But while the look is simple, operation isn't necessarily so. There's certainly an abundance of options for navigating the device, but the combination of hard keys, touch screen and jog dial can take a bit of getting used to, since you're obliged to use a combination of all three, though you can generally get away with thumb and finger presses on the screen, without resorting to the rather cheap-looking plastic stylus which slots into the side (it comes with a spare). The screen has a plastic cover incidentally and feels pretty robust though the phone comes with a faux suede cover to protect it.
The display defaults to the Walkman music player, though the main menu is just a press away and you can assign up to five additional shortcuts from there. The Walkman music player is all present and correct, this time with touch screen controls, including touch-sensitive play/pause, FWD and REW usefully located between keypad and screen, and which only come into play once the music player is activated.
There's a nine-band graphic equalizer, though you're stuck with the pre-sets for dance, classical etc rather than being able to set the bands individually. It can display album art, shuffle option, give star ratings to tunes and set the mood of the track with animations and colours. Tracks can be sorted by mood too.
The large speaker on the back makes a pretty decent fist of reproducing your music for public consumption. There's not much in the way of bass of course, but it's not too tinny, and placing it on a table allows you to boost the low end without compromising the volume, since it sits in a slight recession.
The headphones are SE's standard Walkman variety, which is to say they're really rather good, with relatively deep levels of bass, a transparent midrange and a fair degree of clarity in the upper register, with little rubber curtains to help block outside noise while you're listening. They're a cut above most of the headphones that come with mobile phones, but there's also the option to upgrade to any headphones with a 3.5mm jack. And with A2DP flavour stereo Bluetooth you can use wireless headphones as well as transferring tracks.
Other standard Walkman features are also here, including TrackID for identifying unknown tracks on the built-in RDS-equipped FM radio (or indeed, anywhere else) and PlayNow for easy music downloads (5 million tracks will soon be available, Sony Ericsson has recently announced).
The 3.2 megapixel, autofocus camera is the phone's other most impressive feature. It's activated by a dedicated shutter button on the side and starts up fairly quickly (about four seconds). There's a 3x digital zoom available, which usefully even works when the camera is set to maximum picture resolution (you can also set it to 2MP, 1MP or VGA).
The camera includes some fun editing facilities, including the ability to draw on your snaps using the stylus (in a choice of colours and line thicknesses). You can also crop your pics with a box which you can adjust to the right size to eliminate any extraneous detail. There's a choice of four shutter sounds and you can make it silent if you prefer.
There's no Xenon flash like you get on the fancier Cyber-shot models, but there is a better-than-usual photo light (possibly because there are actually two of them side by side).
With 8GB of onboard memory, there's plenty of room for pics, videos and music, and it's probably no coincidence that it matches the memory capacity of the iPhone. But considering Sony Ericsson's use of Memory Stick Micro in so many of its other phones, its exclusion here comes as a bit of a surprise. Transferring files from a PC was easy however, both in drag-and-drop mode and using the supplied file manager software.
It's 3G (though not HSDPA) and as well as fast internet access using the Opera browser, there's a discreet VGA camera on the front for video calling. There's also a handwriting recognition programme for the textually challenged - it's not bad, but inevitably takes a bit of practise and isn't really as fast as a T9-enabled thumb.
Battery life is promised to be nine hours of talk time and a couple of weeks on standby, but with light to moderate use we found ourselves recharging it every other day, which would imply Sony Ericsson have been a tad optimistic with the figures.
So Sony Ericsson's attempt at a funky smartphone is a winner, just about - great music player, very good camera, and the ability to add lots of additional apps thanks to its Symbian OS. It's a great little phone, but only if you're prepared to put the time in to get used to its awkward three-way navigation system.
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