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Sometimes you don't want a massive Sunday roast with all the trimmings -- you just want something light. The Sony Ericsson W302 Walkman is light like a plate of sashimi, both in terms of its features and weight, at only 79g.
Luckily, it's also light on price. It's available from free on £25-per-month contracts with O2 and Orange, or from £60 on pay as you go with T-Mobile.
Big sounds, small
The W302 is aimed squarely at the budget buyer, but it's still a member of Sony's Walkman family, so its sound quality is excellent. We compared the sound output from the W302 against our usual test set-up -- the wonderful SanDisk Sansa Fuze MP3 player and a pair of beautiful Audio-Technica headphones. The W302 sounded clear and full when we listened with our own headphones, and we noticed hardly any difference in sound quality.
When we used the included in-ear headphones, however, we found that the sound lost some of its spaciousness. The audio quality was still good, though, considering that we were using cheap, plasticky earbuds.
Unsurprisingly, like its Walkman cousins, the W302 has a proprietary USB port instead of a 3.5mm headphone jack. An adaptor is included, but it adds about a metre to the cable length, so you could end up throttling yourself to music. It also means that we had to unplug the headphones every time we transferred music, so that we could plug in the USB cable. But the W302 does have stereo Bluetooth, so it could stream to a set of wireless headphones.
The handset includes an FM radio, which picked up a strong signal during all our travels around central London. It has RDS and TrackID, which can identify a song based on a clip of a few seconds. We found TrackID worked perfectly with pop songs on the radio, and failed gracefully with speech radio and the like, which it didn't recognise.
The user interface for the radio isn't as good as that of other Walkman handsets we've tried. Scrolling through stations is a slow process, setting up new stored stations is confusing, and the lack of a skip function is criminal.
The W302 doesn't support podcast subscriptions, which is a feature we love in handsets that are higher up the Sony Ericsson totem pole, like the W705 Walkman, for example. You can sync podcasts along with your other music using the free Media Manager software, but we're not fans of the software's usability. We like that it supports drag and drop, but it reorganised our music based on its own rules, and it's not clear what file formats are supported. We had to check the W302's folding user manual to learn that MP3, MP4, 3GP, AAC, MIDI, IMY, EMY and WAV are the supported formats.
Files in all of those formats can be packed onto the handset's 512MB memory stick. If you like, you can spend the money saved by not buying a pricier phone on a memory-stick upgrade, up to 4GB. The W302 also has 20MB of on-board memory.
The W302's music features got us through the night, but the rest of the package let us down. Pictures look fine on the 176x220-pixel screen -- nothing to write home about, but clear and bright, with vibrant colours. But Web pages look awful in the browser, with images an over-compressed mess. Since it also doesn't have 3G or Wi-Fi, we wouldn't recommend the W302 for anything more than an occasional emergency Google search.
The 2-megapixel camera can shoot video or stills, but, with no flash or LED, it's only suitable for snapshots in bright light. The video quality is dreadful, rendering CNET UK colleagues and potted plants as similarly blurry blobs.
The multimedia experience is also let down by a poor user interface -- something's that's excellent on some other Sony Ericsson phones, like the C510 Cyber-shot. Photos, video and music are hard to find in the media browser. It's also hard to navigate once you're in the photo-viewing application. We struggled to find photos that we'd just taken, and had to trawl through unsorted wallpapers, slowly scrolling past one image at a time.
The user interface also proved a problem when we wanted the W302 to act as a dedicated music player. The W302 has a Walkman button, which launches the music player without having to navigate to it from the home screen. But the button doesn't wake up the handset from slumber, which we found annoying -- the camera-shutter button does wake the handset, and this is a music phone, not a camera phone.
The keypad buttons are very small, but they're well separated, so they passed our sausage-finger test. The function buttons are not as easy to use, especially the Walkman, camera-shutter and volume buttons on the side, which are tiny and as narrow as a toothpick.
The W302 is cheap but, except for a plastic back plate that wobbles when you take it off, it feels and looks neat. Our black review model had a brushed plastic front and a pleasantly dimpled back, with two rubber feet to stop it sliding on the dashboard. It's also agreeably small and thin, with a restrained colour screen and just a hint of silver around the bevel of the screen. With its smart good looks, no-one ever has to know that it's a budget handset.
The Sony Ericsson W302 Walkman is a small, particularly light music phone with great sound quality. It has some other features, like a low-end camera, but they're just padding out the specs, and we think they're better off ignored.
We'd like better music-transfer software and a standard headphone jack, but we're willing to forgive these failings in a budget-level handset, especially because it includes a headphone adaptor and a new Sony Ericsson media manager is on its way. Essentially, the W302 does a good job of sending texts, making calls and playing music, and it does it without emptying your pockets or weighing them down.
Edited by Charles Kloet