The handset's 3.2-megapixel camera is similar to the W980's. Options include four picture sizes, two quality settings, three color effects, a night mode, four white balance modes, a self-timer, adjustable brightness, a digital zoom (usable only at the VGA resolution), and four shutter sounds, plus a silent option. It also offers 15 fun frames, a multishot mode, and an option for taking panoramic shots.
The camcorder takes clips with sound and offers a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 47 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the memory permits. The W518a has PhotoDJ and VideoDJ applications, and you tag photos with a location. Photo quality was quite good, with sharp colors and little image noise. Just keep in mind that you'll need adequate light, given that the W518a has no flash. The W518a has about 82MB of user-accessible memory, with additional storage space available on a memory card.
The W518a supports both shake control and gesture control. The former allows you to shuffle music tracks by pressing the external play control and shaking the phone with your wrist. You can control the volume level with a similar motion. Though you may look a bit silly doing it in public, the features work well. We'll leave it up to you to decide just how useful it is. Gesture control allows you to silence music or ringtones by waving your hand about 3 inches in front of the camera lens. It's a little temperamental, but it works most of the time.
You can personalize the W518a with a variety of themes, wallpaper, screensavers, and clock styles. As always, you can purchase more options and ringtones from Sony Ericsson or AT&T's Media Net via the WAP 2.0 Web browser. Gamers can enjoy four Java (J2ME) titles: Guitar Hero World Tour, i-play Bowling, Monopoly Here and Now, and Wheel of Fortune, with additional titles available for purchase.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) W518a in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was pretty good overall. The signal was strong and free of static and we suffered no interference from other devices. Voice quality wasn't quite as sharp, unfortunately. Though callers sounded relatively natural, the audio sounded slightly fuzzy. We could hear our friends plainly, though there was an audible hiss during most calls. It didn't distract from our experience completely, and you might not hear it at all, but we recommend that you test this phone before buying. If AT&T doesn't have working display models in the store that you visit, ask the salesperson to test an actual handset. The volume was a tad low as well, but we could hear in most environments.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, which isn't unusual, but most could hear us plainly. Some of our friends mentioned the audible hiss, but a few didn't notice it at all. Speakerphone calls were about average: the external speaker has weak output and the voice quality is tinny. Also, we had to speak close to the phone if we wanted to be heard.
Music quality over the Walkman player was up to the usual Sony Ericsson standards, provided you use headphones. The experience won't quite rival a standalone MP3 player, but it's perfectly fine for many occasions. The external speaker is decent, but not great. Though our tunes did get pretty loud--louder than speakerphone calls--the audio is distorted at the highest volumes.
At the time of this writing we were unable to test streaming-video quality. We could connect to the service, but we weren't able to play video. Similarly, the 3G connection (UMTS/HSDPA) was shaky at best. The Cellular Video service, and many Web sites, took a long time to load. The phone does drop back to GSM and EDGE if 3G is unavailable, but that's annoying when you're in a 3G area.
We also found the W518a to be rather sluggish when navigating menus and opening applications. At times, the W518a even froze for a few seconds. That's not a good sign.
The W518a has a rated battery life of 10 hours talk time and 4 hours 3G talk time. The promised standby time is 14.6 days. It has an impressive talk time of 12 hours and 29 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the W518a has a digital SAR rating of 0.73 watts per kilogram.