Sony Ericsson has quite a few Walkman phones out — fat ones, skinny ones, flashy ones and bland ones. The Sony Ericsson W508 is the current model, and it's of the slim, lightweight and slightly bland type in a clamshell form.
At first one could easily be fooled into thinking this was a slim MP3 player and not a flip phone. Coloured in boring grey, the W508 has external music controls, a small OLED screen, a camera lens and the sensor for "Gesture Control" on the exterior. Gesture control is used for muting calls or to snooze an alarm by waving your hand in front of the sensor.
The W508 fits snugly in your palm with the handy controls on the front removing the need to open the clamshell for many operations. The time, battery life and song titles appear on the external display. Also within reach without having to adjust your grip is the volume rocker and hold button (to prevent any accidental bumps from activating the music player) along the right side of the phone.
And if using buttons aren't your style, there is Shake control. By shaking the phone in certain directions it can shuffle music tracks, go to the next or previous song, and control the volume. It's a bit redundant when the keys are all there on the outside of the phone (and you won't have to risk straining your wrist!).
On the left is Sony Ericsson's customary proprietary port for the included charger, USB and headphones (the hands-free headphones have a 3.5mm port).
You also get an orange "Style-Up Cover" if gunmetal grey is not to your liking, plus you have the option of buying other coloured covers. The faceplates are easy to remove and attach, as they're made of a slim plastic that easily click into place. Unfortunately, you can only change the front exterior — the back of the phone will always be grey.
Opening the phone reveals flat circular keys that are evenly spaced from each other. This may take some getting used to, especially when the only thing to feel your way across is the slightly raised border around each key.
On top of the internal 100MB memory, Sony Ericsson has included a 1GB Memory Stick Micro (M2), with the option of expanding it up to 16GB.
The W508 certainly isn't short on features. Besides those mentioned above, for half a grand you get a music player with TrackID and Mega Bass, a 3.2-megapixel camera (no flash), stereo Bluetooth, a speakerphone, video calling, sound recorder, an FM radio, YouTube integration, PC syncing, USB mass storage, modem support, messaging and email, instant messaging, 3D games and a personal organiser.
Music listening was a joy, it was really smooth, and not thin on bass. The clarity of notes came through nicely via the supplied headphones and speaker. At one point, to our embarrassment, we thought the sound was playing through the headphones when the boss told us to keep it down did we realise it was playing through the speakers.
The external music player controls, which are capacitive buttons, didn't work as well as we had hoped. It took numerous taps (and a few whacks) to get an initial response from the phone, but once we got it started there were no further problems.
Based on where the camera lens is on the flip top, we found that our finger often apperared in photos and we'd have to either angle the phone or the lid to have the lens point straight on rather than downward. Once we got that straight, images appeared crisp and clear on the phone's screen at its highest resolution, and on the PC they looked good too. Both images and videos are viewable at almost all angles on the phone's shiny (and highly reflective) OLED screen.
When making calls, the other parties reported that we came through loud and clear, but we struggled at times when listening to them with background noise melding in and becoming one sound. Putting the volume up didn't help either. We tried calling various people and various phone types (Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson) and found we had the same results.
Sony Ericsson rates battery life of the W508 at 10 hours (2G)/four hours (3G) talk time, 400 hours (2G/3G) on standby, 24 hours of music listening, and up to two hours of video calls. When we used the phone to make calls, listen to non-stop music, play a few games (and leave it to run in the background) and watch the occasional video, the battery lasted for 38 hours. We were impressed with this result and with average use the phone should last a lot longer before needing a charge.
If flip is your favourite style of phone and want a very good MP3 player with a few games, then the W508 is just what you're looking for. Otherwise, Sony Ericsson's previous Walkman models will do the job just as well and at a more affordable price.
Editor's note: Sony Ericsson sent us another phone to review as the original phone we reviewed was buggy. Audio quality was decent in the new handset, with voices sounding natural. Should you have a problem similar to the one we experienced, we highly recommend you take the W508 back to the retailer.