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Sony Ericsson W810iSony Ericsson W810i Walkman Phone

by Christopher Bray

The latest in the line of “Walkman” phones from Sony Ericsson, the W810i, is generating a lot of interest these days.  I've been playing with one for a few weeks now, and I have to say, in three words: I like it. I really like it. Okay, four words.

Cell phones these days seem to be trying to do everything under the sun and, as you would expect, not do any of them terribly well.  I had a Motorola RAZR for about 4 months, and despite the cool-factor (which is declining these days anyway) and the glowing reviews, I hated it.  It was too much style and not enough function, and the interface was clunky.  MP3 playback was pretty useless with only 28 MB of memory to share between music and pictures, it didn't have a jack for a regular, non-bluetooth headset, and the battery life, well, sucked.  And to add insult to injury, while I could get an mp3 onto the phone, the damn thing wouldn't let me set it as a ringtone (seems this is a concession to the music industry or something, or maybe just a money grab so the cell carriers can force you to pay them for the right to personalize your phone).

But I'm not here to dump on Motorola – everyone has his own taste in phones, right? 

In any case, when Sony Ericsson started pushing their new MP3-capable devices as “Walkman”, I was worried it would be yet another phone that would do many things, but not well. 

I was relieved.

The W810i a regular brick or candy bar-shaped phone, as opposed to a flip, swivel, or slider.  Everyone has his own likes and dislikes – I prefer a flip-style because I don't have to worry about dialing accidentally, but that's just me.  And it's loaded with stuff.

Here's a quick rundown of its major features:

  • Networks: GSM 850 / GSM 900 / GSM 1800 / GSM 1900
  • EDGE support
  • Music playback (mp3 and FM radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • 2 Megapixel Camera
  • Memory Stick Duo expansion slot
  • Speakerphone
  • MP3 Ringtones
  • Infrared Port

And seemingly a thousand other things that I wouldn't even begin to know what to do with. 

The most pleasant surprise was the “Walkman” part, the thing I most expected to dislike.  Music playback requires you to connect the headphone cable to the bottom of the phone (well, actually you can use the built-in speaker from the speakerphone, but this won’t be something you’ll want to do often).  The first thing you'll notice is that the headphones come in two parts: the cable that comes out of the phone has the microphone and also functions as the FM antenna.  The microphone end has a collar clip, as most wired phone headsets do, but it also has a mini-headphone jack.

The cool thing about this is that you can plug ANY regular stereo headset into it, be they tiny earbuds like the ones that come with the phone, or noise cancelling headphones (like the NoiseBusters TechnoFILE reviewed a while back).  Or, you can plug it into your desktop speakers or car stereo the same way you would an iPod or any other music player.  I liked to plug it into the FM transmitter I have in the car for my iPod, and discovered that it also functions as a sort of "poor-man's hands-free" when you're making a call.  Unfortunately, because I'm using an FM transmitter, there was some interference from the phone itself, and the cable layout is far from ideal for a speakerphone, but still you have a pretty slick and flexible setup. 

Sound quality is by no means at the audiophile level, but if you want that, you're probably going to have a CD or DVD audio player anyway.  For an MP3 player, it was perfectly adequate.

Music, pictures, and so on can be stored in the camera's internal memory (about 20 MB), or on the removable Memory Stick Duo which are available in sizes up to at least 4 GB. 

The phone comes with software to transfer music to your phone, but since it seems to accept mp3s directly from the memory stick, I didn't need to try it out – and the phone seems to automatically detect whatever's on the Memory Stick and lists it together with whatever's in its internal memory.  Once again, kudos to Sony Ericsson; this is exactly how it should be.

You can access the music functions quickly and easily using the dedicated orange “Walkman” button on the front of the phone, switching between “phone” and “music” mode.  In music mode, you can play, pause, cycle tracks, browse by artist, track, album, and so on, just like any dedicated MP3 player.  The only problem is that I have about 15 GB of mp3s right now, and I haven't even finished ripping all my CD's, so 4GB on a Memory Stick, isn't enough. Once Memory Sticks get big enough to replace my iPod, it'll be SO nice to have one less thing to carry around.

Now to the camera.  When many phones still come with a 0.3 megapixel camera, the W810i has a 2.0 megapixel camera. I won't go into the nitty gritty of cameras, but more megapixels will get you higher resolution so it will look better, whether on your computer or printed on photo paper.  There's more to a good camera than just its resolution, though, and I was also quite happy with the Sony's autofocus, color depth, and image clarity.

The lens sits on the back of the phone, with the shutter button on the right side (as seen while holding the phone normally, as a phone) – you can get to camera mode by holding the silver shutter button for a second or two, and then turn the unit sideways and use it almost like a regular camera. 

Incidentally, the volume buttons for the music and ringer are on the right side of the phone, as with other Walkman phones, which seems a bit odd until you use the camera (at which time they become the zoom buttons).  And you can choose whether to save pictures to the Memory Stick or the phone's internal memory.

I still have mixed feelings about Bluetooth.  On the one hand, I love having a headset whose wires won't get snagged on my car's seatbelt, but on the other hand I feel like a tool whenever I wear the thing.  Since my laptop also has Bluetooth, I can transfer pictures and music to and from the phone that way, but it’s always a chore since you can’t just drag and drop like you can when going to and from the Memory Stick.  This is not the W810i's fault; it works as well as any other phone I've tried, and I do list Bluetooth as one of my requirements in a phone. 

The phone also includes the usual built-in calendar, address book, calculator, and a few extras such as the ability to play videos (though it's not obvious what format, and really wouldn't want to watch movies on a 2.5 inch screen anyway).  It's EDGE capable, which is the latest and greatest in data communications in the GSM world, so if you want to surf the Internet from your phone (on such a tiny screen?) or use it as a wireless modem for your computer, it’ll be nice and speedy.

Overall, it's difficult to think of anything I disliked about this phone.  Not only is the list short, but it's all minor stuff.  Occasionally, when I pulled the phone out of my pocket, it would have a few numbers punched in already, from rolling around (fortunately it never auto-dialed!).  The obvious solution to this is the keylock, but then it's an extra step to get to your music, or to pause or switch tracks.  This is why I, prefer the flip-phones, but that's hardly a deal breaker considering how well the phone does everything else.

So there you have it.  Isn't progress wonderful?  Obviously, the Sony Ericsson W810i is not meant for those who just want a basic cell phone, but for people like me who find themselves carrying around several gadgets at a time and despair at the thought of carrying a purse to hold them all, this might just be your golden ticket. 

Until that 3 megapixel version comes along next week...

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