SONY W880i – Supermodel

Sony Ericsson have sent their Walkman phone to fat camp and the results are awesome.

We have the usual, if not slightly improved Sony Ericsson goodies that work a treat, all wrapped up in a fantastic looking handset that’s skinnier than a Californian’s frappuccino.

SPECIFICATION
Standard
GSM/EDGE/GPRS Class 10
Camera
2 Megapixel Camera
Display
262,144-colour TFT
Features
16MB memory
MP3/AAC
Media Player
Video Record
Bluetooth/ USB v2.0
RSS Feeds
Web Browser Access (NetFront)
Size
103 x 46.5 x 9.4 mm
Weight
71 g

Sony have, up until now, shied away from the thin handset war, instead concentrating on developing the phone’s functionality, be it the camera side with the cybershot series, or in this case the music capabilities with it’s Walkman range.

That’s all in the past, as Sony have now set the new benchmark for slimline phones with the W880i. Following a redesign in the form factor, the new W880i is a Gwen Stefani to the W850i’s Alison Moyet. Both do pretty much the same thing and do it admirably, but I know which Hollaback Girl I’d be Waiting For (that one’s for the music fans).

At a mere 103 x 46.5 x 9.5 mm the W880i is near as damn it the same depth as an iPod Nano, only slightly taller and a piddling few millimetres wider (Pssst! And it’s a phone) making the pocket bulge vs functionality compromise a thing of the past.

This is no anorexic, skinny for skinny’s sake handset, the W880i is also a thing of beauty with it’s brushed aluminium front (in a choice of either black or silver), 1.8″ 262k colour TFT screen, and branded with touches of the Walkman orange.

Being a slip of a thing means it has a new battery, but that hasn’t affected battery life which is about average, quoted at six and a half hours of talk time on a standard GSM network and three hours using a 3G. You’ll get about 425 hours of standby time, regardless of the network.

The keys are nicely organised, with the top section comprising of the navigation d-pad, your regular soft keys, back and clear, along with the activity and web-browser keys. The number keys are small raised bars below backlit characters, reminiscent of the Nokia 8910i, and although at first glance may look awkward to use for those of us not gifted with slender fingers, but in reality is very comfortable with heavy texters able to bash away literary works at speed without looking at the buttons.

The fast port for charging and connecting headsets sits on the side just above a Memory Stick slot. The inbuilt memory is only 16mb, but the phone comes with a 1gb stick. With at least 2gb sticks available on the accessory market, and at the rate the memory stick are increasing you can expect much more soon, this is more than adequate to store the tracks you want.

The screen is a QVGA 320×240 1.8″ affair. In the past Sony’s have not performed all that well in direct sunlight and other bright conditions, but something’s changed and the W880i’s screen is in the same league as the high end Nokia’s.

The interface is the tried and tested Sony Ericsson interface that we’ve come to know and love. Shortcuts to your favourite menu items can be attributed to the four directions of the navigation d-pad, the main menu looks and acts the same, and all sub menus are as before.

The phonebook acts as before but with a 1000 contact, 2500 number capacity.

When it comes to messaging, texts are grouped into one inbox for ease of viewing, and emails lumped in another folder. There’s also an RSS reader for keeping up to date on the news.

In other Sony handsets you could only run one normal application and one Java application at the same time. With the W880i you can run three Java based apps simultaneously with a regular app. Want to instant message your mates, play games, and surf the web, all whilst listening to music? No problem.

The Walkman media player on the W880i is version 2.0, the same as the W850i, and is great, really intuitive and easy to use. The new interface looks good, with icons representing each menu for a sleeker and more structured feel. It still uses the same tiered system (artists, albums, artists, tracks and playlist menus) but now adds access to Sony Ericsson’s new download service PlayNow. PlayNow works pretty much like iTunes. You can listen to sample tracks then download the ones you like to your phone or PC in mp3 or AAC formats. The W880i also supports AAC+, E-AAC+, WAV, M4A, MIDI, and TD7 files, what more could you want? In fact I can’t think of another file format (actually, I made up the last one to see if you were paying attention). Treading ever further onto the iPod’s toes, the media player also supports album art. When you transfer music between your phone and PC the album cover is automatically downloaded and added to the track.

The W880i also features TrackID, which is brilliant. For those of you not in the know, TrackID let’s you record a few seconds of a song you might hear on the radio, the TV, or in a club, connects to the net, analyses it, then tells you the artist and track name.

As is expected nowadays, the media player can be run in the background so you can do other things whilst listening to music. When it is minimised the track details of the current song are displayed along the top of the screen, so whatever you’re doing on the phone you always know what you’re listening to.

The only failing when it comes to the music side of things is the loudspeaker. It’s fine for ringtones, be they mp3 or polytones, and is OK for hands-free calls, but for listening to music it’s not that great. The sound is tinny, and weak, and when turned up to the max gets distorted. This is no real fault of Sony, but the inevitable outcome of having a phone as thin as OJ Simpson’s alibi.

That’s not a problem when it comes to headphones though. You can use the standard headphones which produce a good clean sound with plenty of bass, or you can swap them for you own favourite headphones using the 3.5mm jack adaptor. If wires aren’t for you, the W880i also supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) allowing you to stream tunes to your bluetooth headphones.

Once you’ve got your ear candy sorted out, you can then monkey around with the audio settings using the five band equaliser or the four presets including Sony’s proprietary Mega Bass.

When it comes to imaging, the W880i is a 3G phone so it includes two cameras – a VGA camera which sits nicely on the front for video calling and a 2 megapixel camera on the rear for taking photographs. Not one for the serious photographer as unfortunately it doesn’t feature auto focus or a flash, but it does have 2.5x digital zoom. The W880i can also record video, but it’s quality is below average at best due to being captured at a low QCIF resolution. You can choose to limit the video duration in order to fit it on a MMS message or you can make unlimited recordings.

Browsing the web at 3G speeds is a joy with the integrated HTML Access NetFront browser, which is definitely one of the better browsers out there. You can view pages fullscreen with no menus showing and you can even browse in landscape mode, but what has to be the cherry on the top is Smart-Fit. Viewing a page in Smart-fit splits it into columns for easier reading. No scrolling left-right and all over the place, it splits info into your screen width, then you just scroll down. You can also zoom in and out of pages up to 200%.

The W880i also features everything you’ve come to expect from Sony: Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Alarms, Calculator, Synchronisation, Timer, Stopwatch, voice recorder, email support, world clock, musicDJ, videoDJ, games, it’s amazing how they cram it all in to such a small handset.

So in conclusion we have the usual, if not slightly improved Sony Ericsson goodies that work a treat, all wrapped up in a fantastic looking handset that’s skinnier than a Californian’s frappuccino.
Is there a better music-centric handset than this? Slim chance.

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