Since Sony Ericsson first introduced its Walkman cell phone line last year, music-friendly phones have had mixed success in the United States. Though they're lauded by users and critics alike, including us, U.S. carriers, haven't clamored to include the handsets in their lineups. Sure, Cingular offers the W600i, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Sony Ericsson no doubt has taken notice of this discrepancy, which may be a reason behind the Sony Ericsson W300i. While previous Walkman phones were packed with the most expensive features, the W300i aims to be a low-end Walkman phone. Though you still get Bluetooth, a VGA camera, and the full range of Walkman music compatibility, the overall effect is a step down from models like the Sony Ericsson W810i. We weren't crazy about some design elements, but call quality was good, and we applaud Sony Ericsson for bringing mobile music to the masses. No carrier was set at the time of this review, so the GSM handset will run you $299.
So far, Sony Ericsson has stuck to swivel and candy bar designs for its Walkman phones, so we were glad to see the company roll out a flip phone in the series. From the outside it's quite attractive; our version came in black, but you can get it in white as well. It doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the company's few other flip phones; we like the clean lines, the looped antenna, and the textured covering on the bottom of the front flap. The phone is relatively compact at 3.5 by 1.8 by 1.0 inches, so it's easily placed in most pockets. It's also quite light for its size at 3.3 ounces, but the trade-off is that the overall construction feels somewhat flimsy. We didn't have any problems when using the phone, but it felt almost too light in our hands.
In the center of the front flap is the postage stamp-size external display. Though monochrome, it's quite bright and displays the usual information, including the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). You can't change the backlighting time, but a quick flick of the volume rocker will activate the display for inspection. Above the screen is the VGA camera lens and a self-portrait mirror (but no flash), while the speaker is on the top of the rear face. The aforementioned volume control is on the left spine along with a control for activating the music player and playing and pausing music. The infrared port is on the right spine, while the connection port for the charger, the wired headset, and the USB cable is on the bottom of the handset. One design flaw of the new Walkman phone connection port is that you can't connect two cables at once.
Inside the phone you'll find the 1.75-inch (128x160) internal display. Sony Ericsson always does a good job with its displays, and the W300i is no exception. Bright and vivid, it displays all 262,144 colors beautifully and is perfect for viewing photos and videos, playing games, and scrolling through the user-friendly menus. You can change the brightness but not the font size or backlighting time.
On the other hand, Sony Ericsson doesn't have a great track record with navigation controls and keypad buttons. Though it made positive strides with the W810i, the W300i shows a return to bad habits. The five-way toggle is big and doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, but it's flush with the surface of the phone and thus takes some getting used to. The flat soft keys, clear button, and back control are spaced far from the toggle, but they're quite small given the phone's size. Also, while this isn't a bad thing, keep in mind that most Sony Ericsson phones do not have dedicated Talk and End keys.
The keypad buttons are worse, however. Designed like overlapping circles, they are flat with the surface of the phone and slippery, which made for a few misdials. What's more, they don't lend themselves to quick texting. On the upside, they have a bright orange backlight. Below them are a dedicated power control and a button for activating the Walkman player, but these are much too small. The Memory Stick Micro slot is under the plastic battery cover, but thankfully, you don't have to remove the battery, to get at it.
The W300i has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, business and home street addresses, a birthday date, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can organize contacts into groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, or assign them one of 28 (40-chord) polyphonic ring tones. Support for MP3 ring tones is present as well, but be advised that caller ID images do not appear on the external display. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice dialing, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a timer, a stopwatch, and a code memo for storing passwords and other secure information. There's also a recorder for both voice memos and calls; length is limited by available memory. Though the W300i is considered an entry-level Walkman phone, it still comes with a fair number of business-friendly applications. Inside you'll find a speakerphone, PC syncing for contacts and calendar appointments, a newsreader for accessing RSS feeds, USB cable support, and full Bluetooth for not only connecting to a headset but also for wirelessly exchanging files and electronic business cards. And like many other Sony Ericssons you can use the phone as a modem and use the Bluetooth feature as a remote control to connect with other Bluetooth devices.
The W300i's Walkman music player differs little from the previous handsets in the series. It supports a broad range of formats, including MP3, MP4, 3GP, AAC, and WAV files. Opening the player takes you directly to the main menu, where you can organize music by artist, track name, or playlist. Settings include album/song shuffle and loop, Sony's Mega Bass, and an equalizer. Switching between the cell phone and the music player is seamless, as music automatically stops when you receive a call. Hang up and press the dedicated music key, and your song picks up from the point you left off. There's an airplane mode that lets you listen to your tunes in flight with the cell phone turned off, and you can minimize the player while using other functions. There are stereo speakers as well but still no stereo Bluetooth profile.
Music capacity is limited by the available memory. Internal space is somewhat small--just 20MB--and keep in mind, that since it's shared with other applications, your actual storage space may be less. We recommend investing in a Memory Stick Micro for extra space; our test phone came with a 512MB card. Getting music on the phone is relatively easy. In addition to using the included USB cable and Disc2Phone software, you can send tunes via e-mail, a multimedia message, Bluetooth, or infrared port. You also get an FM radio with 20 presets, though you must use it with a headset, which acts as an antenna. You can set it to automatically scan and program Radio Data System info from stations that digitally broadcast their names and call letters, and you can use the radio as an alarm clock.