Millions of people now see their mobile phones as serious music players, all thanks to Sony Ericsson. But the popularity contest heated up when Apple crashed the Walkman brand's party with the iPhone. Will the latest Sony Ericsson W960i be a wet blanket for Apple's musical handset? We took it out on the town for some reviewing jollity.
The Sony Ericsson W960i is currently available to buy on several networks for free on a monthly contract.
It may not have the iPhone's wow factor, but the W960i is a sexy handset in its own right. A slim glossy casing houses a large colour screen and instead of the W950i's annoying keys, you get a standard keypad this time. Still, we found the keypad somewhat hard-pressed in the areas of comfort and responsiveness.
Disappointingly, the W960i's touchscreen isn't very finger friendly. It works better when you put the provided stylus to use, which isn't always convenient.
Add to this a handwriting recognition feature -- which we do like -- and we're starting to feel that the W960i's array of input options cause more confusion than anything else. The way that the W960i combines the touchscreen, keypad and scroll wheel just doesn't feel right -- it's a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
Another design aspect that concerns us is the metal lanyard hoop on the left side of the handset -- it gets in the way of laying the phone flat on its side for timed pictures. If you're not using the table as a make-shift tripod, then you won't find this to be a massive issue.
Of course, relative to other phones with similar features, the W960i feels slim and light and we appreciate the attention to detail here.
If it's music you're after, then the W960i comes prepped with 8GB of onboard memory, which is enough space to store up to 2,000 songs. Plus, getting music on to the W960i is a much easier process than in previous Walkman phones. Using the new Sony Ericsson media manager software is easy, which lets you drag and drop tracks straight into the phone.
The latest Walkman player lets you adjust a variety of settings including the equaliser and, in a highly considerate move, letting you categorise individual tracks by mood. For instance, you can play happy songs for when you're happy and sad songs when you're sad. Sure, it's a little gimmicky but we enjoyed making up emotional soundtracks.
Besides the music, you're left with a satisfying number of other features including games, an FM radio and a Web browser, which you can use over Wi-Fi and 3G. Again, the aforementioned perplexing number of input options made browsing slightly more confusing, but you may disagree.
If photography is more your forte, there's a 3.2-megapixel camera on the back of the W960i that lets you take still pictures or video and send them to friends via MMS or Bluetooth. Of course, should none of these features strike your fancy, you can always download third party apps, such as Opera Mini or Google Mobile Maps.
The main reason for buying this music-focused phone is to listen to tunes and we happily found the sound quality to be superb. In fact, it's one of the best-sounding phones we've heard so far and offers a really rich sound. Our only disappointment is that Sony Ericsson hasn't yet made a Walkman phone with a built-in 3.5mm jack. While there is an adaptor, we sincerely hope the next top-end Walkman phone has a standard jack.
Audio quality during calls was fine as was using the loudspeaker, but don't expect to use it as a hands-free alternative in a noisy environment. We also hooked up a pair of stereo Bluetooth headphones for listening to music and making calls, and that sound was alright, too.
Picture quality from the 3.2-megapixel camera was good in daylight but if you're thinking of taking pictures in a darkened club or candle-lit café, you might want to think again. It's a real shame that Sony Ericsson hasn't yet made a Walkman phone with a similar camera setup to its Cyber-shot range. Then again, it may be due to keeping true to the brands -- something we think should probably change.
The W960i concerned us with the amount of lag we experienced when starting certain applications or moving from one menu section of the phone to another. It's not that things don't work, but on a phone of this calibre, you expect everything to run smoothly.
If you're a music lover, the W960i's offerings could fit your bill perfectly. Unfortunately, we're not so convinced about all its other offerings.
On paper, it sounds fantastic. Many of its features are excellent but they're not executed as well as on other handsets we've seen. We ended up feeling that the interface doesn't gel together very well. It seems as if this handset is trying too hard to be the life of the party.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday