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Sony Ericsson W600i (AT&T) review: Sony Ericsson W600i (AT&T)

Sony Ericsson W600i (AT&T)

Kent German
Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
10 min read
Sony Ericsson W600i
If 2004 was the year of megapixel camera phones, 2005 has been the year of cell phones with MP3 players. Although the overhyped Motorola Rokr E1 grabbed the biggest thunder, Sony Ericsson countered by quietly introducing the Sony Ericsson W800i and Sony Ericsson W600i Walkman phones. After a review of both mobiles, we found the W800i to be a superior alternative to the Motorola phone, and we now can say the same for the W600i. Sporting an eye-catching swivel design, which will soon be available to Cingular customers, the W600i offers a slightly different feature set than the W800i. The W600i's camera has lower resolution and lacks an external memory card slot, but the phone offers changeable faceplates and advanced gaming options as consolation. The W600i will put a crimp in your wallet at $399, but Cingular's service rebates will lower it to a more reasonable $199. At first glance, the Sony Ericsson W600i vaguely resembles the Sony Ericsson S710a. Color scheme aside (orange vs. black), the W600i has the same rounded edges and similarly designed navigation controls of the S710a. Yet, a closer look will reveal some more distinct differences. The W600i comes with a looped antenna resembling that of the Sony Ericsson J300, and the phone is comfortably smaller than the S710a, at 3.6 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and 4.3 ounces. And if you don't like orange, you can swap out the front and rear faceplates in favor of white or blue versions, which are sold separately.


Sony Ericsson W600i (AT&T)

The Good

Attractive swivel design; quality performance; MP3 player with FM radio; Bluetooth and infrared port; speakerphone; 1.3-megapixel camera; world phone; 3D gaming.

The Bad

Poorly designed keypad; ill-placed headset jack; users can't listen to music through Bluetooth headphones; no memory card slot; music-transfer software somewhat glitchy.

The Bottom Line

Although we bemoan the lack of an expandable memory slot, the Sony Ericsson W600i is a remarkable and user-friendly MP3 cell phone.

The Sony Ericsson W600i comes with an eye-catching design.

As a swivel phone, the Sony Ericsson W600i rotates 180 degrees to expose the keypad. The swivel mechanism is solidly constructed, and though you can open the phone with one hand, using both hands is more comfortable. As with the Sony Ericsson S710a, you can open the phone to the right or the left, but you can't rotate it a full 360 degrees, so you must then close it in the direction you came from. You can make calls with the mobile open or closed, but be advised that when open, the W600i doesn't wrap around your face, as would a standard flip phone. The 1.8-inch-diagonal display is up to the usual Sony Ericsson standards. Supporting 262,000 colors, it's bright and vibrant, as well as ideal for viewing pictures, games, or the user-friendly menus. It's harder to see in direct light, and it goes completely dark when the backlighting is off. Unfortunately, you can't change the backlighting time or the text size.

Immediately below the display are the navigation controls. There's a five-way toggle that doubles as a shortcut key to four user-defined functions. The toggle is a decent size, but we didn't like that the center OK button is somewhat recessed. As a result, scrolling through menus without a misdial took some practice. Flanking the toggle are two soft keys, a Back button, a Clear key, and dedicated buttons for the Web browser and the media player. Pressing the last button instantly brings up the last song played; if you press it again, you can minimize the player interface while the song continues to play. Although useful, the navigation buttons are too small, and as is the case with other Sony Ericsson phones, there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons; the soft keys serve this purpose instead. Sony Ericsson tends to produce less-than-stellar keypads, and the W600i is no exception. The keys are large enough, but they are set in three vertical rows that are flush with the surface of the phone, which made them less tactile, and we found that our fingers slipped to the wrong button by accident when dialing a few times. They're lit by a bright backlighting, but we wouldn't recommend dialing by feel.

On the back of the phone are the camera lens, the flash, and a self-portrait mirror. As with the S710a, the Sony Ericsson W600i's rear face resembles a real camera, but unfortunately, there's no lens cover this time. On the left spine is a handy phone-locking switch, as well as a play/pause key that automatically starts and stops the last-played song with the player interface minimized. The right spine holds a camera shutter, which automatically starts the camera, the infrared port, and the volume rocker/voice dial control. The volume becomes a zoom control when the camera is in use. Speaking of the volume rocker, it's in a much better place than it is on the S710a. Since it's located on the front half of the phone, it's always on the right side, whether you're talking in the open or closed position. The power button is also better situated on the top of the phone, so you can turn the W600i on and off even when it's closed. Don't go looking for a memory card slot, though, because you won't find one--in all, a disappointing omission.

The Sony Ericsson W600i's included stereo earbuds use a proprietary connection to the phone, but they have a comfortable and secure fit. Alternatively, you can disconnect the earbuds from the lower cord to insert any headphones with a 3.5mm jack. The placement of the earbud port struck us as odd, however. Because it's on the bottom of the W600i, it was more comfortable to put the phone upside down in our pocket or on our belt when in the closed position. We much prefer the Rokr E1's port, which is located on the top of the mobile. We were pleased, though, that unlike the Sony Ericsson W800i, the W600i comes with stereo speakers.

Naturally, the Sony Ericsson W600i is all about its multimedia features, but we'll get to those in a moment. First off, you get an impressive 1,000-contact phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a street address, business title and company, birthday, and notes; the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with a picture for caller ID. There's ring-tone caller ID as well, but you get a choice of only 8 polyphonic (40-chord) tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, voice dialing, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a timer, a voice recorder, a world clock, text and multimedia messaging, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a code memo for storing passwords and other secure information. Business users should be pleased with the generous selection of work-friendly features, including PC syncing with Outlook; a speakerphone, which is operable only after you've made a call; conference calling; an infrared port; POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail support; a wireless business-card exchange; and Bluetooth for calls and file transfers. The fully enabled Bluetooth is especially welcome; you can even use it to take control of a Bluetooth-enabled device. On the more offbeat side, you get an application for reading RSS news feeds, and you can use the camera flash as a flashlight or set it to blink off and on as a distress signal.

The music player interface is plain, but it's easy to use.

The interface for the Sony Ericsson W600i's MP3 and AAC music player is no different from the W800i's. That's to say it's austere but nonetheless extremely user-friendly. Opening the player takes you directly to the main menu, where you can organize music by artist, track name, or playlist. To navigate through the player, you use the toggle while choosing between the left soft key and the side-mounted play/pause button to control songs. Settings include album/song shuffle and loop, Sony's Mega Bass, an equalizer, and stereo widening. Unlike the iTunes interface on the Motorola Rokr E1, the W600i's doesn't display album art when a song is playing, but we didn't miss it. Switching between the cell phone and the music player is seamless, as music automatically stops when you receive a call. Hang up and press the dedicated music key, and your song picks up again from the same point you left off. There's also an airplane mode that lets you listen to your tunes in flight with the cell phone turned off. Here again, though, you must download music from a PC with the included USB cable and Disc2Phone software, and you can't listen to music through Bluetooth headphones.

The W600i's camera is fully loaded, but you don't get a lens cover.

The Sony Ericsson W600i's music capacity is limited by the available memory, but the storage space is significantly less than its sibling's. As we noted earlier, Sony Ericsson unwisely didn't include a Memory Stick slot in the W600i. We're still scratching our heads about that decision, since this limits you to the 256MB of shared internal memory. So depending on track size and the number of other files (pictures, video, and so forth) you have saved, that means you can store about 60 to 80 songs--even less than with the Rokr E1. Although that might be fine for some people, this is a Walkman phone after all, so we expect more. Unlike with the Rokr E1, however, you can use tracks as ring tones (tracks are conveniently listed in the ring-tones folder), and you can send tunes via e-mail, multimedia message, Bluetooth, or infrared port. You even get an FM radio that automatically scans and programs up to 20 presets and grabs Radio Data System info from stations that digitally broadcast their names and call letters.

We like the W600i's photo quality.

The Sony Ericsson W600i's camera comes with an admirable feature set, despite the fact that it offers a 1.3-megapixel resolution; the W800i has a 2-megapixel camera. Surprisingly, pictures come in only three sizes--1,280x1,024, 640x480, and 160x120--but other options are solid. You get a choice of Normal, Panoramic, Frames, and Burst shot modes; an autofocus setting; a macro setting for close-up shots; a night mode; a flash; a time and date stamp; a self-timer; Black and White, Negative, Sepia, and Solarize picture effects; white-balance settings; four shutter sounds but no silent option; and two picture-quality modes (Normal and Fine). There's also a 4X zoom, but it's not available at the highest resolution. The MPEG-4 video recorder takes clips with sound to any length that the available RAM will permit. You get a choice of two resolutions--176x144 and 128x96--and a selection of editing features similar to the still camera's. To further channel your inner artist, you can activate the W600i's PhotoDJ (there's also a VideoDJ), where you can add one of six fun frames; rotate the shot's orientation; and use various image effects such as brightness, contrast, tint control, and photo marking. And if that doesn't satisfy, there are more picture-, video-, and multimedia-editing options on the software CD. When finished with your shots, you can save them to the phone or send them to your friends. Photo quality was quite good for a camera phone, with sharp colors and little of the blurriness that we usually encounter. Videos, on the other hand, were choppy and pixelated.

The Sony Ericsson W600i offers gaming options that far surpass those of the W800i. Not only is there support for 3G games, but the gaming ergonomics is among the best we've seen on a cell phone. All games are played on a landscape orientation, and the control layout is quite comfortable for extended use. Besides the phone-navigation controls, which are on the left when the phone is held horizontally, you use two small controls just above the display, which are now on the right side of the phone. The latter buttons have no other use than gaming, and they blend in so well with the design of the phone that we didn't notice them previously. Overall, these improvements worked together to make gaming much more fun and intuitive. Our test W600i shipped with three Java (J2ME) games: Extreme Air Snowboarding, Gauntlet, and Worms Forts 3. You can personalize the handset with a selection of wallpaper, themes, start-up screens, or screensavers. You can always download more personalization options and ring tones if you want them, or you can create your own ring tones with the MusicDJ application.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson W600i Walkman world phone in San Francisco using Cingular's calling network. Call quality was excellent and somewhat better than the Sony Ericsson W800i's. We enjoyed admirable clarity and volume, and many callers couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. Also, the signal remained relatively strong, and we had little interference from other electronic devices. Our only complaint was that voices occasionally sounded metallic--almost as if we were speaking to a robot. It was particularly noticeable when using the Jabra BT500 Bluetooth headset. Although we were able to pair the two devices quickly, call quality when using the headset diminished somewhat. On the other hand, calls using the speakerphone sounded relatively good.

Using the included Disc2Phone software and USB cable, we tried loading 40.4MB of music on to the phone. As with the W800i, transfer time was relatively slow, at 3 minutes, 30 seconds for the entire selection. The software itself has a simple interface, and while it's easy to use overall, it had a couple of bothersome quirks. For instance, when exiting out of the software after transferring some music, the Sony Ericsson W600i didn't recognize that the USB connection was no longer active. When we disconnected the USB cable, the phone turned off automatically. On the upside, however, the USB cable charges the phone when it's plugged into your PC. Music quality was comparable to that of the W800i and the Motorola Rokr E1. Granted, it won't rival a top-end stand-alone MP3 player's, but it was superior to that of most MP3 phones we've tested.

The Sony Ericsson W600i has a rated talk time of 8.5 hours and a promised standby time of 15.6 days, both of which are slightly less than the W800i's. In our tests, we got 10 hours of talk time on a single charge. Music-only time is rated at 30 hours, but we got an average of 21.6 hours in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the W800i has a digital SAR rating of 1.26 watts per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson W600i (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8
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