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Editor's note: The ratings of the Sony Ericsson W580i were lowered after our initial review because of issues noticed during long-term use of the phone.
Sony Ericsson deserves a lot of credit for bringing music to cell phones. Though it was not the first company to develop the idea, its Walkman handsets have consistently combined a robust music player with admirable sound quality. And that was true a long time before the arrival of the ballyhooed Apple iPhone. Now the company has succeeded again with the Sony Ericsson W580i. Inside a sexy slider design are the usual high-end Walkman features, all of which deliver solid performance. The phone comes in white, black, and gray. We examined the gray model for this review but the features are the same on all models. AT&T has picked up the white model and is offering it at a very reasonable $79 with service. Otherwise, you can buy unlocked phones for $269. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
With a couple of exceptions, Sony Ericsson still hasn't fully embraced the slider phone trend. In fact, after the Sony Ericsson W850i, the W580i is only the second slider model from the company that we've reviewed. And fortunately, Sony Ericsson was more successful this time around. While the W850i was bulky and had unintuitive controls, the W580i improves on both fronts. We wouldn't be exaggerating if we were to say the W580i is one of the most eye-catching handsets we've seen all year. It has a sleek shape and compact dimensions (3.9 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.5 inch; 3.3 ounces) that make it easy to take on the go. The slider mechanism is well-constructed; we could open it with just one hand but it wasn't too loose. In the phone's Settings menu you can choose to end calls automatically when you close the phone.
The 262,144-color display seems a tad small (2 inches; 240x320 pixels) for the phone's size, but it was nevertheless easy on the eyes. Colors were bright and vivid, and graphics and photos showed up well. Only the screen's brightness level is adjustable. Below are the well-designed navigation buttons, which, as we mentioned, are a step above the unintuitive controls on the W850i. The circular toggle and central OK button are large and tactile, and we liked the blue backlighting. The toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined applications, and you can use it to control the Walkman player when listening to music. Yet we had one small complaint. Though the toggle is raised above the surface of the phone, a raised plastic ring surrounds it. In our experience, our thumb kept hitting the ring when we tried to press the toggle. It's a minor point, but one that's still worth noting.
Other navigation controls consisted of two soft keys, a back button, a clear button, a dedicated Walkman control, and an "Activity menu" button that opens a secondary shortcuts menu. As is the case with other Sony Ericsson phones, there's no dedicated Talk or End controls; rather the soft keys control calling functions when you're talking.
The keypad buttons rest below the front sliding face. That means they're completely flat with the surface of the phone, so it's rather difficult to dial by feel. Also, they feel a tad cheap and they're squashed together, so users with big fingers may want to give this phone a test run first. Some users have complained of the keys cracking, but that's not a problem we've encountered. On the upside, bright backlighting helps for dialing in dim situations, and the numbers on the keys are large.
Completing the exterior of the phone are a charger port on the left spine and a thin volume rocker on the right spine. Also on both sides are narrow light strips that flash when a call comes in. It's a tad gimmicky, yes, but it's an eye-catching touch to an already stylish phone. You can choose from 16 color patterns. A power button and the Memory Stick slot rest on the top of the phone. The power button could be larger, but it's not a big deal. On the other hand, the battery cover on the rear of the phone was almost impossible to pry off. The camera lens is the last exterior element. As it's located on the rear of the sliding face, the shooter can only be used when the slider is up. There's no flash or self-portrait mirror.
The W580i has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail and Web address, a job title, company name and work address, a birthday, and notes. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 19 polyphonic ringtones for caller ID. You also can select a video for callers and you can choose a pattern for the side-mounted lights. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a voice memo recorder, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), a stopwatch, and a calculator.
Of course a phone like the W580i wouldn't be complete without such offerings as full Bluetooth (including a stereo profile), e-mail support, PC syncing, USB mass storage, a code memo for storing sensitive information, and USB cable support. The handset also capitalizes on its "Walkman" name by offering a number of fitness applications. There's a pedometer for running and walking, a sports trivia game, and a fitness trainer for tracking your workouts. There's even a bizarre yet interesting application that will let you calculate how long it would take you to walk to various world locations from your home city.
Naturally, music is the main attraction on the W580i. Its Walkman player is nearly identical to that on other Walkman phones. Settings include an equalizer, playlists, stereo widening, and shuffle and loop modes. The interface is minimalist, but you can select a color skin and choose from one of two simple visualizations. The player also supports album art, but it won't recognize every song it plays. You also get an airplane mode for listening to your tunes with the phone transmitter off. Yet the W580i holds a new surprise with its "shake control" application. By holding down the Walkman button when music is playing you can advance to the next track by flicking your wrist. It works quite well and it's an attractive feature.
Loading music on the phone is relatively easy. The needed USB cable and the Disc2Phone software are included, so 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 W580i. Internal memory is capped at a low 12MB, so it's advised you use a Memory Stick Micro card. You also get the standard FM radio and a Music ID application for identifying likable tunes you can't name. There's a quirky Music Mate application that shows the correct finger position for various guitar chords and piano chords while playing the notes. You can even use the phone as a metronome.
The 2-megapixel camera shoots photos in three sizes (2-megapixel, 1-megapixel, and standard VGA). Other options include two quality settings, three color effects, a night mode, white-balance and brightness adjustments, a digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution), and four shutter sounds (there's no silent option). There's also a self-timer, a multishot mode, and an option for taking panoramic 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 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the memory permits. Picture quality was good, with acceptable colors and little blurriness, but we miss having a flash. The W580i comes with PhotoDJ and VideoDJ applications, and you can connect the phone directly to a photo printer.
You can personalize the W580i with a variety of themes, wallpaper, screensavers and clock styles. As always, you can purchase more options and ringtones from Sony Ericsson via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Alternatively, the phone comes with a Music DJ application for composing your own ringtones. Gamers can enjoy two Java (J2ME) titles, The Sims 2 and Lumines Block Challenge, with additional titles available for purchase.
Callers reported no issues on their end. They could hear us without any problems and at times could not tell we were on a cell phone. We were also understood by voice-automated systems but we had best results when we were in a quiet environment. Speakerphone calls were fine, but we noticed a slight buzz in the background. At the highest volume levels, it distracted from conversations just a bit. On the other hand, Bluetooth calls were clear.
Music quality is up to the usual Sony Ericsson standards. Headphones provide the best experience, but even the speakers deliver decent quality and output. Music warbled somewhat at the higher levels, but that's not unusual.
The Sony Ericsson W580i has rated battery life of 9 hours talk time and 15.4 days standby time. Though we eked out 8 hours and 15 minutes of juice for a continuous call, we noticed the battery drains quickly when we use the phone in a more normal manner. We had to charge the battery every couple days when using the phone for multiple functions like texting, short calls, and listening to music. The bright display is a big battery waster, so make sure you deactivate any wallpaper animations. According to FCC radiation tests the W580i has a digital SAR rating of 1.26 watts per kilogram.