Sony Ericsson's Walkman music-phone range expands into the world of 3G with the W900i -- and it's not the only way it's stretched. On-board memory gets a considerable boost compared to the last Walkman phone we looked at, the W550i, and this handset is chunkier too.
At time of writing, the W900i is available exclusively from Vodafone, and only in white, with other operators to follow. You can get it for free on some price plans if you buy online, and can pay up to £160 with a £16 a month Anytime 75 contract. We also found the W900i SIM-free online for around £450.
If you were hoping that whiteness was on its way out for phones, music players and other gadgets, you're going to be disappointed. Sony Ericsson certainly thinks white handsets have some mileage left in them, having introduced the W900i into the UK in only that colour.
The handset is constructed in two pieces, which swivel around a hinge underneath the navigation button that sits below the screen. This keeps the number pad out of sight until you need it. Thankfully, you don't need it very often, because the front and sides of the casing have enough buttons to cater for most activities. When you do need to open the handset up, it becomes a lanky 165mm tall.
It's good that the power button is hidden on the number-pad section. It's an irritation when you want to turn the W900i on and off, but it does safeguard against accidentally doing so. A lock button on the left edge of the case is also useful in this respect. This edge also houses a button that takes you straight to the music software, with the navigation button on the front of the casing providing for track control and a rocker on the right edge catering for volume.
The slot for Memory Stick Duo and PRO Duo cards that boost the built-in memory is also on the left. It's protected by a tight-fitting rubber cover that makes it awkward to access.
As well as a volume rocker, the right edge of the casing houses an infrared port and the camera-activation button. This turns the screen into a viewfinder, while the volume rocker becomes a zoom rocker. Press it again to taken your snap -- half way down to invoke the built-in autofocus.
In camera mode, the navigation button takes on new roles, switching between stills and video recording and adjusting brightness, while other front buttons also change their functions.
The camera lens sits on the back of the casing alongside a flash unit. As we've seen before with Sony Ericsson's phones, the back of the casing looks more like a digital camera than a phone, and the ergonomics encourage you to use the W900i on its side, framing pictures in landscape format.
The screen itself is a delight. It's fairly large, and its 262k colours are sharp and bright. It does look lost in the large casing, though.
The key features of the W900i are its camera, its music ability and its 3G capability. There's a button on the front dedicated to initiating video calls with 3G, and a VGA lens sitting above the screen. It's extremely straightforward.
With music storage in mind, Sony Ericsson provides 470MB of internal memory -- more than on any of the previous Walkman handsets. This comes close to the 512MB standard for small, flash-based music players. But you'll need to invest in Memory Stick Duo or PRO Duo cards to store significantly more than 100 songs.
Sound output through the provided headset is very good, and the equaliser settings have a real effect without creating a distorted noise. Even the Mega Bass setting, which can often cause sound-quality problems, is pretty good.
The headset is a two-piece job, and if you don't like the provided earbuds, which sat quite comfortably in our ears, you can use anything with a 3.5mm connector plugged into the microphone. Between this and the handset sits a lozenge-shaped controller for volume and track management, and also for the W900i's FM radio.
The radio is a disappointment, because all control has to be exercised using the lozenge and there's no software on the handset itself. You can't have pre-set stations on the handset, instead searching manually for them using the same small slider buttons on the lozenge that you use to switch between music tracks. It's a fiddle, and a big step backwards from the radio on previous phones.
The main camera's 2-megapixel capability is no different from that on the W800i or the non-musical K750i, though in both cases the 4x digital zoom has been upped to 8x. The camera controls are ergonomically placed around the edges and on the front of the handset. As with previous Walkman phones, it's great that you can turn the handset on in 'music only' mode -- ideal for a flight, when the phone must be turned off. Infrared is also a bonus. Bluetooth is great for making long-life connections with devices such as your PC or a headset, but infrared is ideal for beaming a picture to another device. You can set it as either on, off or on for 10 minutes.
Music phones are far more widespread now than they were when Sony Ericsson introduced its first, the W800i, and the competition is consequently tougher. To find a single mono speaker on the hardware is a disappointment. The internal memory too, though more capacious than ever, is only just acceptable when compared to a dedicated music player.
In general use we found that voice-call quality was good and we didn't drop any of our test calls. Video calls too were a positive experience, with the front button making it very easy to initiate calls and the screen space was well used.
The W900i delivered a strong battery life, and during the test period we were able to use 3G services and listen to music adequately for our needs without draining the battery in any one day. Heavier users of 3G or music should bear in mind that they may need to charge the W900i daily.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide