If you miss the styling of flip phones, Sony Ericsson's W350i will give you that desired blast from the past. Clearly geared towards music playback, this retro, pseudo-candy bar handset sports dedicated Walkman buttons on its exterior and decent call performance
In 1999, Ericsson brought out the classic -- and popular -- T28 flip phone. With a nod to its past success, Sony Ericsson has released a new budget Walkman handset.
The Sony Ericsson W350i is a Walkman entrant with a retro appearance and pseudo-candy bar form factor. It's out now on a range of networks, coupled with both pay as you go or for free on contract price plans.
The W350i's retro appearance is the result of the seldom seen flip phone design. When open, the flip panel reveals an easy-to-use glossy keypad comprising fairly large, smooth buttons. When closed, concealing the keypad, it plays host to dedicated Walkman buttons on its exterior, making the handset much more like a Sony MP3 player when in standby.
The flip panel does its job well enough, but it's quite flimsy and actually bends -- a result of Sony Ericsson's desire to keep this handset just 11mm thick, though the rest of the handset is reasonably rugged and should survive the odd drop.
We also found it to be a nice phone to use -- it's ergonomic, fairly lightweight and sports an attractive finish in a range of colours. While small, the 176x220-pixel screen is bright and clear.
A small annoyance: while the Walkman buttons on the front of the flip panel allow you to play, pause and skip tracks, you have to fold it down to navigate to other albums or artists.
Slightly annoying too is that unlike almost all MP3 players, neither protected norunprotected WMA files are supported -- only MP3 and AAC files are compatible, including DRM-free iTunes Plus downloads.
You can use Windows Media Player or Sony Ericsson's bundled media manager software to sync content and the latter supports podcast subscriptions. You can also simply drag and drop content using Windows.
Aside from weak audio compatibility, there's a rear-mounted 1.3-megapixel camera without a flash for still images only, plus FM radio, stereo Bluetooth, email and RSS support, games, but sadly no 3.5mm headphone socket. This is a standard seen across the industry, despite our constant complaints.
Bear in mind that this is a 2.5G handset, not 3G, and as such Internet browsing speeds won't blow you away. Installing Opera Mini would be a good move if you plan on using the Internet on this phone.
Of course, this slow network performance is the result of this phone being geared almost exclusively towards music playback, despite the sparse audio format support.
After a very slow file transfer (roughly 15 to 20 seconds per song, 3 minutes or so per album), we started listening to some tunes and heard pretty decent sound quality -- as long as MP3s are encoded at a decent bit rate (at least 192Kbps). We used our high-end reference headphones, but you'll at least want to replace the rubbish bundled earphones with a decent pair.
Dashboard Confessional's nicely recorded Fever Dreams had warm and decent detail through the W350i and its general sound quality was on par with a good standalone MP3 player.
We did feel though that Dream Theater's Take Away My Pain sounded cleaner through Creative's Zen with subtle background sounds just slightly less well defined though the W350i. If you don't plan on using earphones any better than the bundled pair, though, you'll probably -- and sadly -- never notice this.
It's a fun phone to use with simple menus and reasonably large fonts, so phone addicts and newbies alike should enjoy using it. Call quality is good as well, though we've heard louder -- it might not be ideal if you plan on using it in mostly loud environments.
As a pocket camera, it's fine for quick snaps, but it can't compare to even slightly more capable handsets in terms of image quality (example here). Don't forget there's no flash, either.
Considering its price, its ease of use and its generally decent performance, it's hard not to like this compact little handset. But it's still no match for a dedicated MP3 player, which we'd choose over solely using the W350i for music in a heartbeat.
Still, few handsets -- bar the iPhone -- offer music playback capabilities to rival dedicated MP3 players, but if you fancy a better camera and more phone features, Sony Ericsson's more costly models will cater and are still the best of the bunch as music handsets.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday