Loading music on the phone is relatively easy. The needed USB cable and the PC Media Go software are included, which means you're saved the pain of shelling out more money for a music kit. The Sony Ericsson software can be a bit clunky, so we're glad that you can also drag and drop music from your PC to the phone. You also can bypass the software and sync music with Windows Media Player. Internal memory isn't excessive--you're limited to 118MB of shared space. The W995a's Memory Stick Micro slot will accommodate cards up to 8GB, but you'll need to remove the battery cover to access it.
The 8.1-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions and two quality settings. Editing options are quite extensive. You'll find four color effects, a self-timer, a macro setting, four white balance choices, a brightness adjustment, an infinite mode (disables the autofocus for pictures taken at a distance), spot metering, a 16x digital zoom, an image stabilizer, 12 frames, multishot and night modes, an option for taking panoramic shots, and four shutter sounds. You can turn off the flash or you can keep it on and use it as a flashlight. An auto-rotate feature changes the orientation of the display as you tilt from portrait to landscape.
Sony Ericsson also added a couple of unique options. With face detection, the camera will shoot automatically when it detects a subject's face in the frame. On a similar vein, the smile detection feature shoots automatically when it finds a smile. Rounding out the selections are settings for twilight landscape, landscape, portrait, beach/snow, sports, and document 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 20 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in normal mode. Photo quality is quite good with bright colors and little image noise. On the other hand, video quality was just average. Photo DJ and Video DJ applications give you a bit of freedom for editing your work. If you're not the creative type, you can watch videos with the integrated YouTube application.
The W995a comes with a solid assortment of applications, many of which center on music. Track ID will find the names of unfamiliar songs: MusicDJ lets you compose ringtones; Music Quiz will grill you on trivia; and the silly Rock Bobblehead app lets you control a cartoon Elvis-like figure by shaking the phone. Music Mate 5 is an interactive music app that plays guitar and piano chords and background beats. You also can use the phone's motion sensor to play various drum sounds.
We also found some thoroughly offbeat selections. The Sound Sensor app measures sound with visualization graphics; Voice Transformer takes voice recordings and warps them with a selection of effects like robot or high-pitch; Walk Mate turns the phone into a pedometer; and Comeks Strips transforms a selection of photos into a comic strip. The Voice Transformer was the most fun, but we can't imagine using the others more than once.
You can personalize the W995a with a variety of screensavers, clock sizes, themes, and wallpaper. More options, and additional ringtones, are available with the WAP 2.0 Web browser. Gamers get a nice selection of options. Game titles include Bowling, Bubble Town, Diamond Island, Guitar Rock Tour, NitroStreet Racing, Playman Extreme, and Real Football 2.
We tested the quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900) world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was fine, but it could be variable. Though voices sounded natural, the signal seemed to waver, particularly in buildings, and we noticed some occasional static and "GSM buzz." The volume level was also lower than we'd prefer. We had to turn up the phone to the highest level if we wanted to hear in noisy environments.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine, though most could tell that we were using a cell phone. Our friends didn't mention the static that we heard, but a few reported background noise when were talking on the street. Automated-calling systems could understand us as long as we were calling from a relatively quiet location. Speakerphone calls were just OK. The volume was much too quiet and we heard an echoed effect. On the upside, call quality over Bluetooth headsets was satisfactory.
The W995a supports EDGE and 3G services. It's a tri-band (UMTS; HSDPA 850/1800/1900) phone, so it is compatible with wireless broadband networks in Europe and North America. In places where carriers support the service, the W995a has video calling. The Web browser was zippy, but YouTube videos were average.
Music quality rated favorable with other Walkman phones. The external speakers have decent output, but as is usually the case with a music phone, our tunes lacked warmth. Also, music was tinny at the highest levels. A headset will provide the best experience. During transfers, music loaded on the phone relatively quickly.
The W995a has a rated talk time of nine hours with GSM and four hours with 3G. The W995a has a tested talk time of 9 hours and 45 minutes. Its promised standby battery life is 15.4 days with GSM and 15 days with 3G.