Announced back in July, the W902 is Sony Ericsson's flagship Walkman phone for the end of 2008, and the first Walkman to come with a 5-megapixel camera. We loved the early pre-production sample we were given several months ago, and have been desperate to get our hands on the W902 ever since. Now we have. You can get one now with contracts from O2 and Orange.
This is a solid quad band phone. It feels tough, rugged and built to last. At 100g it's not hugely light, but we're glad -- it's the kind of build that benefits from being just a little heavier than some, with a chunky, well-spaced-out set of keys that are dead easy to get used to.
Excellent too is the W902's 66mm (2.2-inch) 320x24-pixel display, with a tight pixel density resulting in a crisp, bright screen. Even small text is easy to read, and your photos or well-encoded videos will looks smashing, though we'll cover that some more shortly.
The W902 lost most marks for its lack of a standard headphone socket, though. Sony Ericsson has, once again, used its proprietary USB-cum-headphone socket, meaning you'll need to use a haggard bundled adaptor if you want to plug in your own headphones. Would you enjoy using a car that required an adaptor to fit its wheels? No, us neither. But some dedicated Walkman keys do at least make using music features a little less annoying.
The big selling point for the W902 is its 5-megapixel camera, and it comes paired with a typical LED flash and a smaller secondary front-facing camera for video calling. The flash is one of the key differences between this and the Sony Ericsson Cybershot range, which often features high-quality Xenon flashes.
You can save your photos and media to a pitiful 25MB internal memory, or the bundled 8GB Memory Stick Micro M2 memory card. A dedicated Walkman button will take you into a clean media manager interface for browsing music, video, pictures, Flash games and RSS feeds.
Support media formats in here include MP3, WMA (including protected WMA), AAC and WAV. Bear in mind only DRM-free songs from the iTunes Store are compatible, and there's no gapless playback, so live albums experience a little pause between each track.
You've also got a 3.6Mbps 3.5G HSDPA data connection on hand for browsing the Web (we advise installing the free Opera Mini browser), downloading music, or for watching YouTube clips via the built-in YouTube app, which works extremely well.
Of course you've also got the usual roster of office apps, calendars and alarms, an integrated FM radio, stereo Bluetooth 2.0 and built-in email. What you haven't got is integrated GPS navigation, which was something we praised in the W760i -- our favourite Walkman phone ever. There's also no Wi-Fi.
With these minor disappointments out of the way, we started taking some photos. The 5-megapixel lens is on par with the Nokia N95's, and offers three-photo-wide panorama shots, too. Outdoor images are slightly more natural looking, but the N95 offers more detail and less noise at full resolution. It's still nowhere near as good as even an average 5-megapixel compact, but for a phone -- particularly a music phone -- it's great.
And since it's a music phone, we're not massively disappointed. True, the phone, like all Sony Ericssons, loses significant marks for not using a standard headphone socket (and will continue to lose marks until the design guys get the message), but its Walkman interface is clean and easy to use, as are the rest of the phone's menus, despite being sluggish at times.
Sound quality is decent, providing you upgrade the budget earphones that come in the box. A dedicated MP3 player such as a Creative Zen, Cowon D2 or iPod classic sound noticeably better, and dedicated players offer way more music and video features. But for casual listening, it's a great music phone that most people should enjoy using.
The phone supports H.264 MPEG-4 video, as well as lower quality WMV, and we enjoyed a full episode of a popular TV programme on the handset. We encoded the 100MB file ourselves in H.264 with a 320x240-pixel resolution, and a combined bit rate of around 512Kbps. No software comes bundled for doing this, and using Windows Media Player only converts to less impressive WMV quality. But if you know what you're doing the phone can, in practise, support half-decent video.
Still, we can't help but notice that there's really nothing different between the W902 and every other Walkman phone from the last 12 months. It strikes us as a typical Sony Ericsson, just with a better camera and a new case -- evolution, not revolution, and only mild evolution at that. So is it worth the wait?
In a word, yes. The W902 offers the best camera we've seen on a dedicated music phone, with a decent interface for browsing media and a solid, attractive design. It suffers hard at the hand of whoever at Sony Ericsson hates 3.5mm headphone sockets, but if you want a full-featured music phone with a great camera, fast Internet and above average sound quality, it's one to check out.
If you can live with a 3-megapixel camera but want integrated satellite navigation, check out the Sony Ericsson W760i. Subjectively, we'd still choose this over the W902, because we prefer the design and quite frankly it's the same phone on the inside.
Edited by Marian Smith