Sometimes, we get excited about the little things. For example, when we first saw the Sony Ericsson W995a at GSMA 2009 we got excited not because it has an 8.1-megapixel camera and a Walkman player--we've seen those before--but because it had a 3.5-millimeter headset jack and kickstand. Yes, we know that those features may seem insignificant when compared with a flashy media player, but as usability goes, you can't top them. The kickstand lets you prop the phone on a table and the standard jack lets you use your own headset. Did we mention that the W995 is the first Sony Ericsson phone to give you such freedom?
Besides those high points, the W995a has other attractions, even if it's not the sexiest phone around. The display is brilliant, the media player performs well, and the feature set includes Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, and GPS. It also is a full quad-band world phone that supports AT&T's 3G network. There were some things that we didn't love: the volume is low, some aspects of the design felt flimsy, and the unlocked W995a will put a serious crimp in your wallet. Without any carrier subsides, it cost about $600. You can get it in Sony Style stores and at SonyStyle.com. And as a bonus, Sony will help you hook up the phone for use with your carrier's multimedia services.
"Boxy" is the main word that comes to mind when you see the W995a. Though it's not unattractive by any means, the straight lines and sharp corners don't scale the heights of striking design. Despite its many features, the W995a manages to be rather compact (3.8 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick) and lightweight (4.0 ounces). The phone travels well and it has a solid feel, but we noticed that the slider mechanism wobbled just a bit. The W995a comes in progressive black, cosmic silver, and energetic red, though the features are the same on all models.
The W995a's real estate is dominated by a gorgeous 2.6-inch display. Supporting 16.7 million colors (320x240 pixels), it lends itself well to still graphics, photos, and simple animations. The menu interface is standard Sony Ericsson; you can choose from four styles, but we consider the list and grid options to be the most intuitive. You can adjust the brightness to your liking.
Sony Ericsson can stumble when designing navigation controls, but the W995's come off pretty well. The circular toggle and central OK button are large and pleasantly tactile. The surrounding navigation controls, which are shaped like half circles, are a bit small, but they're also raised above the surface of the phone. You'll find two soft keys, a clear button, and a control that activates a user-customizable shortcut menu. Spacious Talk and End/power keys sit on either side of its navigation array.
The keypad doesn't fare quite as well, unfortunately. The buttons are rather small and they have a slippery feel. Compared with other slider phones we could dial without looking, but it wasn't the most comfortable experience for rapid dialing or texting. Also, we're worried about long-term durability since the area that surrounds the keys "gives" just a bit when we pressed down. It's worth noting that a similar phone--the Sony Ericsson W580i--developed cracks over time.
On the left spine you'll find a Walkman player shortcut and the proprietary Sony Ericsson headset jack. We're hoping that before too long Sony Ericsson joins other manufacturers in moving to a standard Micro-USB charger connection. On the right spine are a camera shortcut, music player controls, and a volume rocker. The latter doubles as a zoom control for the camera, though it's a little too small for our tastes.
The 3.5-millimeter headset jack rests conveniently on the top of the phone between stereo speakers. You'll be able to use your own headset while carrying the phone in a pocket. On the rear side are the camera lens, flash, and kickstand. The former two are in the top-right corner so that the W995a resembles a standalone camera from behind. The camera controls are easily accessible when the phone is the horizontal position--just be sure to keep your fingers out of the way.
As we mentioned, you can use the kickstand to prop the W995 on a table without resting it against your hand or a book. It certainly makes for convenient media viewing, though the kickstand's hinge is rather loose. We'd prefer that it click into place in the open position. And for what it's worth, we'd like it even better if the display offered better video quality.
The W995's phone book accommodates a generous 1,000 contacts. Each entry stores seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a company name and job title, two street addresses, a URL, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with one of 30 MP4 ringtones. If you're not happy with the selection that came on the W995a, you can use your music tracks to identify callers.
Essential features include text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, a task list, a notepad, a stopwatch, a notepad, a calendar, a calculator, and an alarm clock. More advanced options include Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a voice recorder, instant messaging, a file manager, and a code memo for storing sensitive information.
The Bluetooth feature includes stereo and object exchange profiles. What's more, you can use it to send a personal business card or as a remote control for other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The W995 offers assisted GPS with support for Google Maps and a Web-based Wayfinder application for turn-by-turn directions. Overall, that's a decent selection of features, but on the downside, POP3 e-mail access requires a clunky Web interface.
As a Walkman phone, the W995a has a full service digital music player. It's not unlike other Walkman phones that came before it, but that's a good thing considering Sony Ericsson's respectable track record with music handsets. Settings include an airplane mode, an equalizer, playlists, stereo widening, and shuffle and loop modes. The interface is minimalist, but functional. You can set visualizations and the player supports album art, as well. Just keep in mind that it won't recognize every song it plays. The dedicated controls make for an ergonomic experience and we again thank Sony Ericsson for including the 3.5-millimeter headset jack.
As with a few of its Sony Ericsson siblings, the W995 is integrated with the "shake control" application. By holding down the Walkman button when music is playing, you can advance to the next track by flicking your wrist. It works quite well, though we didn't use it much. You also get the standard FM radio, though you will need a wired antenna to act as an antenna.