Sony Ericsson is on a roll with its music-centric Walkman phone line, and in the past year and a half, the company has been introducing new models as steadily as the beat of a drum. Its latest entry, the Sony Ericsson W710i, puts a unique twist on the Walkman series. In addition to a series of fitness applications, it also comes with a sturdy armband for listening to music on the go. And of course, you get the usual assortment of quality Walkman phone features in an attractive, if a bit blocky, flip phone package. In all, it's a solid effort, despite a few missing features and an unimpressive external display. As of this writing, there's no carrier for the W710i, so it will cost you a hefty $399 for an unlocked model.
Sony Ericsson is still easing into the flip phone game, and the W710i is just the second Walkman flip phone after the Sony Ericsson W300i. But where the entry-level W300i skimped, the W710i delivers in both its high-end features and its accessible design. On that note, the W710i has a smart form factor with a unique white and gray color scheme. Admittedly it's a tad boxy, but it's not a design we'd grow tired of. And while it borders on bulky (3.4 by 1.9 by 1 inches; 3.6 ounces) it's easily portable, it has a solid construction, and it feels comfortable when held to the face for talking. A small looped antenna juts out at the top of the handset.
The design of the W710's external display was a bit baffling. It's plenty big (1.5 inches, 128x128 pixels), but it has a monochrome resolution for showing the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. While one on hand it's easy to read in almost any light, the lack of color support means it doesn't show photo caller ID and it can't act as a viewfinder for self-portraits. You can change the backlighting time, but the font size and brightness are not customizable. The camera lens sits just above the display, and in a disappointing move, Sony Ericsson did not include a flash or self-portrait mirror.
Surrounding the external display are dedicated Walkman buttons that give you full use of the player when the phone is closed. Not only can you open and close the player, but, unlike with the W300i, you also can pause, fast-forward, and rewind tracks. It's a very welcome improvement for a flip phone, and we liked the basic design of the buttons themselves. Besides being large they have a rubberized covering that makes them quite tactile and easy to locate by feel. Other exterior controls consist of a nifty slider lock mechanism on the right spine (like that on the Sony Ericsson W600i) and a volume rocker on the left spine. There's also a dedicated camera shortcut on the left spine but unfortunately it's unusable when the phone is closed.
The W710's interior display measures 2 inches (176x220 pixels) and shows 262,144 colors. Though a tad overly bright, it's clear and vibrant and great for viewing photos, playing games, or browsing through the standard but user-friendly Sony Ericsson menus. You can change the brightness only. Below the display and the oversize hinge is the well-designed navigation array. There's a four-way toggle surrounding a central OK button, two soft keys, and dedicated Clear and Back controls. As with other Sony Ericsson handsets, the W710i lacks Talk and End buttons; instead the soft keys perform those functions. The toggle is tactile and decently sized, and it can be programmed to give one-touch access to four user-defined functions. The other buttons are also large, and fortunately they are raised above the surface of the phone. Finally, you also get dedicated buttons for the opening the Web browser and a secondary menu of user-defined shortcuts. The latter control is especially useful, but both buttons are too small and are set flush with the surface of the phone.
The keypad buttons are also better than on many previous handsets from the company. As they're raised above the surface of the phone, it's easy to dial by feel, and we liked that there was some separation between the individual columns. What's more, a bright backlighting eased dialing in dim situations. On the other hand, while he had few misdials, we weren't in love with the keypad entirely. Besides being a bit slippery, the plastic buttons felt somewhat cheap for such a high-priced phone. Just below the keypad are a power button and a dedicated Walkman control. But like the aforementioned Web browser button, they're too small for larger fingers. The Memory Stick Micro slot is located on the left spine, but you must remove the battery cover to access it. Though you don't have to take out the battery as well, it's not an ideal location--the cover is rather flimsy. The charger/headset port is on the bottom of the phone, but you can only use one device at a time. Also, the phone's sole speaker is on the rear face.
Basic features for the W710i are similar to those of other handsets in the Walkman phone series. The phone book holds a hefty 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, a job title and company, work and home street addresses, a birth date, and notes. The SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts, and you can organize callers into groups. For caller ID, you can match contacts with one of just 14 (72-chord) polyphonic ring tones or assign them a photo or a video. Just remember that photos and videos do not show up on the external display.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a voice memo recorder (space is limited by the available memory.) On the high-end side, the W710i comes with a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), PC syncing, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, e-mail, a code memo for storing sensitive information, and USB cable support. Fitness applications include a pedometer for running and walking, a sports trivia game, and a fitness trainer for tracking your workouts. There's even a bizarre yet interesting application that will you calculate how long it would take you to walk to various world locations from your home city.