We've seen Walkman phones in candy bar, clamshell and even swivel varieties, but never a slider. Until now. Sony Ericsson's W850i is the latest of the music-focused models, and the first to feature a slide-out keypad design.
With dimensions of 47mm by 21mm by 98mm, the W850i is almost identical to in the pocket protrusion stakes. Weight-wise, it's just one gram heavier, tipping the scales at 116g. Sony Ericsson has long been hip to the cool kids' jive, and this model is no exception, with a funky-looking geometric texture adorning the back, and decorative circles and swirls giving a modern appearance.
Sony Ericsson certainly isn't big on the slider form factor, with most of its phones belonging to the candy bar or clamshell categories. The lack of experience with the slider design doesn't seem to have hampered the springy W850i though -- the top half glides up smoothly and settles into place with a satisfying click.
Where the W850i runs into problems is in the button layout. The navigation keys aren't so much keys as sections of the phone's surface, meaning moving around the menus requires a surprising amount of finger effort. The central selection key is recessed from the surface -- like a large dimple, but, without the accompanying smile. Two circular keys on each side of the navigation section are small and squished against the edges. The orange Walkman shortcut key is positioned as a thin horizontal strip between two rounded soft keys. Perhaps the Sony Ericsson designers feel they have to constantly reinvent keypad shapes in order to stay trendy, but when new shapes affect usability, it's time to get back to tried and tested configurations.
Turn the phone on its side, and it becomes a 2-megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom, photo light and a dedicated shutter key. For those into making video calls, a VGA camera lens is cannily integrated into the speaker on the front of the W850i.
The headphones/hands-free combo has the same impressive properties as that of previous Walkman phones -- the rubber-coated buds snuggle into your ear canal, sealing off the sounds of the outside world. A 3.5mm stereo socket on the microphone section of the headset allows you to plug in your own headphones if you fancy earcans instead.
Like the others in the Walkman series, the W850i is all about the music. Colour and movement has been added to the music player interface, with visualisations and a "heartbeat illumination" feature that makes sections of the keypad glow orange in a rhythm matching your music.