We didn't know quite what to make of the Sony Ericsson W880i Walkman phone. It offers a thin, sexy design, a decent set of features, and good call quality. So what's the problem? Well, in what we guess was an effort to make the phone stylish, Sony Ericsson stumbled badly in designing the controls. Both the navigation toggle and the keypad buttons are too small to be useful, and they distracted from our overall experience. We realize you may disagree, but even then, the W880i's tinny music quality and lack of an FM radio left us wanting more (like the W580i to be specific). The GSM W580i is unlocked at the time of this writing, so without any carrier subsidies you should expect to pay about $300. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
Sony Ericsson was relatively late to the thin-phone craze, but the W880i certainly would qualify as a svelte model. At 4 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.4 inch, it's extremely slim and sleek, but it fits comfortably in the hand. It's also light (2.5 ounces) but has a solid and sturdy feel. The phone comes in two color schemes: a black-and-orange version and a silver-and-black model. We examined the former in this review, but our observations apply to either handset.
The W880i's display measures 1.75 inches and supports 262,144 colors. It's bright and vivid and displays everything form text to graphics well. You can only change the brightness, so users with visual impairments may want to test the phone first. The dialing text is large, but the messaging text is quite small. The menu system is uncomplicated and free of heavy graphics and animation.
Unfortunately, that's where the W880i's design good points end. We'll start with the navigation controls first. The problem isn't that you don't get enough keys; rather it's that those keys are just too small. The orange-and-silver navigation toggle and central OK button are the least offending of the bunch. Both are raised above the surface of the phone, and the toggle's top and bottom edges have tactile ridges. Yet we'd still prefer something bigger. The toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, and it doubles as a control for the Walkman player.
Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, back and clear buttons, a Web browser shortcut, and an Activity control that opens a handy shortcuts menu. Like the toggle, these keys are tactile, but they're just too small. More than once we pressed two keys accidentally. Per usual Sony Ericsson practice, there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons (the soft keys perform those functions), but the placement of the power control baffled us. Rather than featuring a dedicated power button (another Sony Ericsson hallmark), the W880i combines it with the clear button. Though that's not the most ideal combination, we were more concerned with finding the control in the first place. The power icon is so small and so hard to see that we had to consult the manual to turn the phone on. And even when powering the phone the second time we had to look closely to find it again.
But speaking of small, it's the W880i's keypad buttons that elicited our biggest gripes. Though they're covered in bright orange (the black model only) and are 0.25 inch long, the keys are only 0.0625 inch wide. That's painfully thin, even for users with small hands. It's not so bad for dialing a number, but punching out a rapid text message and playing games are very difficult. We tried using our fingertips and our nails, but we never could get the hang of it. It's also worth noting that the numbers indicating the keys are very small, and the backlighting is dim.
Completing the exterior of the phone are a Walkman shortcut, the memory card slot, and the charger port/headset jack on the left spine, and a volume rocker and a camera shutter on the right spine. On such a thin phone it's expected that the side keys would be small and difficult to find by feel. But the volume control was somewhat troublesome. Instead of a rocker, it has more of a switch design. It wasn't that easy to find when we were on a call. The W880i has two camera lenses. The first is a VGA shooter that's on the front face just above the display. It's designed to be used with video calling but because the W880i isn't compatible with North American 3G networks, it will be of limited use there (see Performance). The main camera lens, sans a flash and a self-portrait mirror, is located on the W880i's rear face along with the handset's sole speaker.
The W880i has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail and Web address, a job title, company name and work address, a birthday, and notes. You can save contacts to groups, and for caller ID you can pair them with a photo and polyphonic ringtone. Only three tones came on our review phone, a small selection for a Walkman handset, but our Memory Stick offered 15 more. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a voice memo recorder, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a world clock, a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), a stopwatch, and a calculator.