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Sony Ericsson W880i review: Sony Ericsson W880i

Sony Ericsson W880i

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).
7 min read


Sony Ericsson W880i

The Good

The Sony Ericsson W880i has a slim, eye-catching design. It offers admirable call quality and a decent feature set including Bluetooth, a Walkman player, and a 2-megapixel camera. It has quite a long battery life as well.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson W880i navigation controls and keypad buttons are tiny and difficult to use. Also, it lacks an FM radio, and the music quality was tinny.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson W880i is a decent multimedia cell phone but we couldn't get past the poorly-designed controls.

We didn't know quite what to make of the Sony Ericsson W880i Walkman phone. It offers a thin, sexy design, a decent set of features, and good call quality. So what's the problem? Well, in what we guess was an effort to make the phone stylish, Sony Ericsson stumbled badly in designing the controls. Both the navigation toggle and the keypad buttons are too small to be useful, and they distracted from our overall experience. We realize you may disagree, but even then, the W880i's tinny music quality and lack of an FM radio left us wanting more (like the W580i to be specific). The GSM W580i is unlocked at the time of this writing, so without any carrier subsidies you should expect to pay about $300. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.

Sony Ericsson was relatively late to the thin-phone craze, but the W880i certainly would qualify as a svelte model. At 4 inches by 1.8 inches by 0.4 inch, it's extremely slim and sleek, but it fits comfortably in the hand. It's also light (2.5 ounces) but has a solid and sturdy feel. The phone comes in two color schemes: a black-and-orange version and a silver-and-black model. We examined the former in this review, but our observations apply to either handset.

The W880i's display measures 1.75 inches and supports 262,144 colors. It's bright and vivid and displays everything form text to graphics well. You can only change the brightness, so users with visual impairments may want to test the phone first. The dialing text is large, but the messaging text is quite small. The menu system is uncomplicated and free of heavy graphics and animation.

Unfortunately, that's where the W880i's design good points end. We'll start with the navigation controls first. The problem isn't that you don't get enough keys; rather it's that those keys are just too small. The orange-and-silver navigation toggle and central OK button are the least offending of the bunch. Both are raised above the surface of the phone, and the toggle's top and bottom edges have tactile ridges. Yet we'd still prefer something bigger. The toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, and it doubles as a control for the Walkman player.

Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, back and clear buttons, a Web browser shortcut, and an Activity control that opens a handy shortcuts menu. Like the toggle, these keys are tactile, but they're just too small. More than once we pressed two keys accidentally. Per usual Sony Ericsson practice, there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons (the soft keys perform those functions), but the placement of the power control baffled us. Rather than featuring a dedicated power button (another Sony Ericsson hallmark), the W880i combines it with the clear button. Though that's not the most ideal combination, we were more concerned with finding the control in the first place. The power icon is so small and so hard to see that we had to consult the manual to turn the phone on. And even when powering the phone the second time we had to look closely to find it again.

The W880i had painfully small keypad buttons.

But speaking of small, it's the W880i's keypad buttons that elicited our biggest gripes. Though they're covered in bright orange (the black model only) and are 0.25 inch long, the keys are only 0.0625 inch wide. That's painfully thin, even for users with small hands. It's not so bad for dialing a number, but punching out a rapid text message and playing games are very difficult. We tried using our fingertips and our nails, but we never could get the hang of it. It's also worth noting that the numbers indicating the keys are very small, and the backlighting is dim.

Completing the exterior of the phone are a Walkman shortcut, the memory card slot, and the charger port/headset jack on the left spine, and a volume rocker and a camera shutter on the right spine. On such a thin phone it's expected that the side keys would be small and difficult to find by feel. But the volume control was somewhat troublesome. Instead of a rocker, it has more of a switch design. It wasn't that easy to find when we were on a call. The W880i has two camera lenses. The first is a VGA shooter that's on the front face just above the display. It's designed to be used with video calling but because the W880i isn't compatible with North American 3G networks, it will be of limited use there (see Performance). The main camera lens, sans a flash and a self-portrait mirror, is located on the W880i's rear face along with the handset's sole speaker.

The W880i 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 for caller ID you can pair them with a photo and polyphonic ringtone. Only three tones came on our review phone, a small selection for a Walkman handset, but our Memory Stick offered 15 more. 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 world clock, a speakerphone (usable after you make a call), a stopwatch, and a calculator.

The remaining features are very similar to the W580i and other Walkman phones. There's e-mail support, PC syncing, USB mass storage, a code memo for storing sensitive information, and USB cable support. You also get full Bluetooth, including a stereo profile, and you can use the feature to control other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The handset also capitalizes on its "Walkman" name by offering a number of fitness applications.

The W880i's Walkman player is more or less standard. Settings include an equalizer with a treble boost and Sony's Mega Bass, playlists, stereo widening, and shuffle and loop modes. The interface is minimalist, but you can select a color skin and choose from three 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.

To load music, you can use the included USB cable and the Disc2Phone software. The software can be a bit clunky, so we prefer to simply drag and drop music from a PC. Internal memory is capped at a low 16MB, so it's advised that you use a Memory Stick Micro card. Unfortunately, you don't get the normal FM radio, which is disappointing. We'd prefer it instead of the Music ID or Music Mate applications.

The W880i's camera doesn't have a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The W880i's 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 decent; some images looked a bit washed out but objects were distinct. Colors were fine though oranges and reds were somewhat harsh The W880i comes with PhotoDJ and VideoDJ applications and you can connect the phone directly to a photo printer.

The W880i has acceptable photo quality.

You can personalize the W880i with a variety of themes, wallpaper, screensavers, and clock styles. 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 ringtones. Gamers get just one title (J2ME) titles, QuadraPop, but you can buy additional titles.

We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson W880i in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Without the GSM 850 band, the W880i will have a slightly limited coverage area in the United States, but it should be fine in urban areas. Also, while it supports 3G networks, it works only with the 2100 band used outside of North America.

Call quality was very nice. Voices were crystal clear with no static or interference. The volume level was more than satisfactory and we could understand our friend clearly even where we were in a noisy environment. Callers reported no issues on their end, and we had no trouble being understood by automated telephone services. Speakerphone calls were fine, though the sound was a tad garbled at the highest volume levels. Though we're never fans of a rear-facing speaker--it's not the most ideal arrangement for resting your phone on a table during a hands-free call--we could hear our callers plainly. On their end, callers had trouble hearing us unless we were in a quiet room. Bluetooth calls were issue-free.

Music quality wasn't quite as good as we've experienced on other Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. Music was a bit tinny. The sole speaker provided better output than we expected, but our tunes weren't very tolerable at the highest levels. Headphones provide the best experience.

The Sony Ericsson W880i has a rated battery life of 6.5 hours talk time. That's a bit less than other Walkman phones, but you can blame the smaller battery. That said, however, our tests did reveal a talk time of 7 hours and 50 minutes, so it's not that bad after all. For standby life the promised time is 17.7 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the W580i has a digital SAR rating of 1.47 watts per kilogram.


Sony Ericsson W880i

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 7
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