Over the past couple of years, Sony Ericsson has been something of an enigma in the cell phone world. Not only has it introduced far fewer phones into the U.S market than many of its rivals, but it doesn't let the absence of a carrier sway it from rolling out new models. More important, the company has shunned the industry's major trend--skinny phones--in favor of high-featured, well-performing models. Both the Sony Ericsson W800i and W600i fit this bill, and the company now introduces America to its third Walkman phone, the W810i. Encased in an eye-catching black, the W810i offers all its predecessors' high-end, powerful features, such as a high-resolution camera, Bluetooth, and a media player, while making a number of design changes. Overall, it's a quality phone despite some minor performance issues, but it's not a huge upgrade over the W800i. Cingularnow offers the W810i for a very reasonable $149 with service. Last year, Sony Ericsson definitely had orange on the brain. Both its W800i and W600i Walkman phones came in orange skins (granted, you could replace the faceplates on the W600i), as did the Walkman music player interface. For the Sony Ericsson W810i, however, the company took a slightly different track and dressed the phone in basic black. Sure, the Walkman interface is still the color of the Florida-grown citrus fruit, but the black exterior provides a nice contrast. At 3.9 by 1.8 by 0.8 inches and 3.5 ounces, it's exactly the same size as the W800i, and it retains the solid, comfortable feel in the hand. Surpassing many other cell phones in quality, the rich, vibrant display supports 262,144 colors and measures 1.8 inches diagonally (176x220 pixels). It's fantastic for scrolling through the menus, viewing pictures and videos, and playing games, but 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.
For the navigation keys, the W810i takes a different design approach than it did with the W800i and W600i. Besides scrolling through the attractive, user-friendly menus (available in four styles), the sliver, circular navigation toggle serves as a shortcut to four user-defined functions in standby mode. Also, when in Walkman mode, the toggle acts as your tool for scanning through your music list. In the middle of the toggle is a raised OK button that resembles a tiny joystick. In addition to opening the main menu, the OK button is the play/pause control for the music player. Overall, both controls are tactile and easy to use, and we like that they're raised above the surface of the phone. On the downside, however, they're a bit small, especially for users with larger mitts.
On either side of the toggle are two soft keys, a Clear button, and a Back key. In standby mode, the soft keys open the main menu and the Recent Calls list. They're stiff to the touch, however, and it should be noted they double as the Talk/End controls. Sony Ericsson tends to forgo dedicated Talk/End keys; it's not our favorite arrangement, but you get used to it. The final two buttons are an orange Walkman key that turns the media player on and off and a silver control for opening a user-programmed shortcuts menu. In all, the generous shortcut options are welcome.
We've knocked Sony Ericsson in the past for its poorly designed keypads, but we're happy to report that the company got it just about right this time around. Instead of recessed or flat buttons, the W810i's keypad is raised above the surface of the phone, making it easy to dial by feel. The keys are spacious, and our only real complaint is that the orange backlighting was rather dim.
Completing the outside of the phone are a music player button and a Memory Stick Pro Duo slot on the left spine, a camera control and a volume/camera zoom toggle on the right spine, and a dedicated power button and the infrared port on top. On the bottom of the phone is the port for both the charger and the headset, which means you can't connect two peripherals at the same time. The camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are on the back of the phone just above three round speakers. As with the W800i, you can hold the W810i much like a real camera to take a picture.Like other Walkman phones, the Sony Ericsson W810i is packed with features that will appeal to multimedia mavens, but we'll get the basics out of the way first. The phone book holds an impressive 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers; work title and company name; a birth date; additional notes; and e-mail, Web, work, and home addresses. You can save 250 more names to the SIM card. You can assign contacts to a caller group and pair them with a picture or one of 23 polyphonic (40-chord) ring tones for caller ID purposes. A vibrate mode, conference calling, voice dialing, and a speakerphone (usable only after you make a call) round out the calling options. Organizer features include an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a timer, a stopwatch, and a code memo for storing passwords and other secure information. And for the aspiring Linda Tripp, there's a recorder for both voice memos and calls; length is limited by available memory. Finally, as with the Sony Ericsson W600i, the camera flash doubles as a tiny flashlight. Though it's not suitable for finding your way through the woods at night, it's bright enough to help you find your keys in a dark room. Alternatively, you can set it to blink rapidly in SOS mode.
Business users shouldn't be disappointed with the W810's offerings. Inside, you'll find full Bluetooth for headsets and data transfers, an infrared port, text and multimedia messaging, e-mail support, USB cable support for data transfers, and PC syncing for contacts and other files. In addition to sending files or connecting to a headset, you can use the Bluetooth feature as a remote control to connect with another Bluetooth devices. An unusual twist, there's a newsreader for access to newsfeeds from around the world. Access to BBC World News and Wired News came with the phone, but you van download more feeds if you want them. The W180i also makes it easy to pass on your contact information by allowing you to beam an electronic business card with your vital data to a contact.
Music, of course, is the primary attraction on the W810i, and the player's features, controls, and interface are the same as on other Walkman phones, but they take a little acclimation. Opening the player takes you directly to the main menu, where you can organize music by artist, track name, or playlist. Settings include album/song shuffle and loop, Sony's Mega Bass, an equalizer, and stereo widening. 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 from the point you left off. There's an airplane mode that lets you listen to your tunes in flight with the cell phone turned off, and you can minimize the player while using other functions. Again, you must download music from a PC with the included USB cable and Disc2Phone software, and the W810i doesn't support Bluetooth stereo profiles; Sony Ericsson says it will resolve the latter gripe, however, in near future models, so stay tuned.
Music capacity is limited by the available memory, but internal space is just 20MB--skimpier than we would have liked for a media phone and less than both the W600i and the W800i. And keep in mind, it's shared with other applications, so your actual storage space may be less. We recommend investing in a Memory Stick for extra space. Our test phone came with a 512MB card, but the slot can accommodate the newer 4GB Memory Sticks. What's more, we liked that you could see separate lists for files saved to the phone and the memory card. Fortunately, you can set tracks as ring tones. You can send tunes via e-mail, multimedia message, Bluetooth, or infrared port. You also get an FM radio with 20 presets, though you must use it with a headset (which acts as an antenna). You can set it to automatically scan and program Radio Data System info from stations that digitally broadcast their names and call letters, and you can use the radio as an alarm clock.
Though it has a 2-megapixel camera, the W810i takes pictures in just three sizes: 1,632x1,224, 640x480, and 160x120. As with the W800i, we expected more choices. That said, other options are plentiful. There are Normal, Panoramic, Frames, and Burst shoot modes; a 4X digital zoom; autofocus; a macro setting for close-up shots; night mode; a flash; a time-and-date stamp; a self-timer; Black and White, Negative, Sepia, and Solarize picture effects; white-balance settings; Normal and Fine picture-quality modes; and four shutter sounds, though no silent option. We especially liked that you can use the zoom at the highest resolution.
The MPEG-4 video recorder takes clips with sound to any length that the available RAM will permit. There's a choice of two resolutions--176x144 and 128x96--and editing features similar to the still camera's. To further channel your inner artist, activate the W810i's Photo DJ, 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. There's also a Video DJ, and if that doesn't satisfy, there are more picture, video, and multimedia editing options on the software CD, including QuickTime and Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition. When finished with your shots, you can save them to the phone or send them to 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.
You can personalize the W810i with a variety of themes, wallpaper, and screensavers. As always, you can purchase more options and ring tones from Sony Ericsson via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Alternatively, the phone comes with a Music DJ application for composing your own ring tones. Gamers can enjoy two Java (J2ME) titles, QuadraPop and JC Does Texas, with additional titles available for purchase. We were disappointed, though, that the W810i lacks the gaming controls found on the W600i.We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) Sony Ericsson W810i world phone in San Francisco using the Cingular network. Overall call quality was satisfactory, but we noticed static and patchiness on more than one occasion. While the random fade-outs didn't last more than a second or two and could be related to the network, the phone's audio performance didn't quite measure up to that of its Walkman phone brethren. On their end, callers didn't report problems, but they could tell we were using a cell phone. On the upside, however, there was plenty of volume.
Speakerphone calls were about the same, with a slight echo effect, but the volume level was surprisingly loud, even when the speaker sat face down on a table. We successfully paired the W810i with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset for acceptable audio quality. We also used Bluetooth to connect to the Sony Ericsson W600i and easily passed photos between the two handsets. The EDGE connection was sufficiently speedy for transferring small files, but game downloads took a couple of minutes.
Using the included Disc2Phone software and USB cable (which also charges the phone), we tried loading 40.4MB of music on to our W810i. Transfer time was relatively slow at 3 minutes, 20 seconds for the entire selection, so you'll be in for a wait if you're trying to move your entire music library. Moreover, while the software was easy to set up and had a simple interface, it wasn't without its quirks. For instance, when exiting the software after transferring some music, the W810i didn't recognize that the USB transfer was no longer active. And when we disconnected the USB cable, the phone froze for a few seconds. On the PC side, it prompted us for a driver every time we plugged in the phone. Though we didn't need to reinstall the software with each use, it was a bit annoying. Criticisms aside, music quality was on a par with that of other Walkman phones: clear and crisp, though one transferred song had some very minor hiccups. The W810i won't replace a stand-alone MP3 player, but it does the job admirably for short stints.
The Sony Ericsson W810i has a rated talk time of eight hours and a promised standby time of 14.6 days. In our tests, however, we got a little more than six hours of talk-time battery life and 12 days of standby time. According to the FCC, the W810i has a digital SAR rating of 1.04 watts per kilogram.