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Sony Ericsson W980 review: Sony Ericsson W980 Walkman

Flash memory is getting cheaper and more capacious by the month and gadget makers are falling over themselves to shoehorn the stuff into their latest kit. In this feature-packed new clamshell phone from Sony Ericsson, 8GB of memory is crammed into the uber-stylish chassis.

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7.5

Sony Ericsson W980

The Good

Decent sound quality; solid design and build; excellent screens; Microsoft Exchange support; push email; HSDPA data; decent music format support; FM transmitter integrated.

The Bad

No 3.5mm headphone socket; not exactly innovative or fresh; memory not expandable; no camera flash.

The Bottom Line

Not an innovative phone, and it won't replace your dedicated MP3 player, but in most other ways it's terrific and feature-packed. It'll even push your office's corporate email to you

The W980 Walkman will be out very soon, on a range of networks and price plans, or for around £350 SIM-free online. There's a good deal of excitement surrounding this phone, but is it going to justify it?

Design
For once on a clamshell phone, both the primary and secondary screens are excellent. Sony Ericsson has given the W980 a terrific, ultra-sharp primary screen with a 240x320-pixel resolution and awesome pixel density.

The external colour screen sports a lower resolution, but is dedicated to browsing music with its accompanying touch-sensitive buttons, making for quick music navigation.

Conversely we found the main keypad less enjoyable to use. The circular keys are spaced apart a little too much, requiring extended finger travel. Users with chubbier digits may find the small menu and call-handling buttons too minute. One quirk is that the buttons required for taking photos are exactly opposite the camera. This means your fingers naturally cover the lens when holding the phone up, which is mildly annoying.

It's a solid, sturdy phone, however, with plenty of strength in the hinge to survive life on the road. But like all Walkman phones, this Sony Ericsson has no 3.5mm headphone socket -- you have to use a horrible proprietary adaptor to connect your own headphones.

This adaptor, when attached to a standard pair of earphones, gives you about three metres of cabling to deal with. It's long enough to use as a skipping rope. Music phones need 3.5mm headphone sockets as standard.

Features
Still, inside the W980 is 3.6Mbps HSDPA data transmission, quad-band connectivity, A2DP stereo Bluetooth, 3D Java games, twin cameras for video calling, an FM radio and an FM transmitter for sending music to radio receivers, which works really well once you snag an empty part of the radio spectrum.

It's also got respectable support for Microsoft Exchange right out of the box, giving you BlackBerry-like push email, contacts and calendars over the air. We tried it out with our corporate email system and it worked perfectly. A terrific feature, if a little out of place on a music phone.

More relevant to its calling, the W980 is compatible with MP3, AAC, WAV, WMA and protected WMA format music files from Napster and 7digital et al. You can either drag and drop these files through Windows or sync them up with Windows Media Player.

In an iPhone-esque touch, screen orientation is handled by an internal accelerometer. Landscape photos, for example, rotate by simply flipping the handset on its side. 

Unfortunately, the 3.2-megapixel camera doesn't have a flash, or a memory expansion slot. The 8GB of internal memory is a fair reason to consider omitting expandability, but we're all about having options.


Finally, forget the bundled Web browser included on the phone, and instead install the free Opera Mini browser. It's free, and it'll transform the W980 into a fast and enjoyable Web-browsing handset.

Performance
Sadly, apart from the sporadic feature addition, Sony Ericsson has failed to innovate in terms of software. The user experience is good, that's for sure, but it's little more than the same software inside a new case. In fact, the Xperia X1 is the only truly innovative thing we've seen the troubled manufacturer come out with in a long time.

The W980 is a pleasant phone to use, though, and it shouldn't give even the fairly technophobic any trouble.

Musically, it's a decent little performer. We tested with lossless WAV files and studio-grade reference headphones and noticed certain shortcomings, but as a little MP3 player for listening to music on the way to the shops, it's fine.

It isn't, however, as good as a dedicated player such as a Creative Zen or an iPod. These offer audibly superior sound quality, and are still preferable as music devices. If optimum sound performance is essential, very few phones on the market are hitting the mark yet anyway.

Conclusion
Not an innovative phone and not without subtle annoyances, such as the easily obscurable camera and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket, but in most other ways the W980 is terrific, and packed with features.

It wouldn't cause us to ditch our dedicated MP3 player, but it's ideal as a second music device for those times when carrying two gadgets isn't practical.

If you want a music phone that really is worth ditching your dedicated player for, consider Apple's iPhone 3G. Or if you want to steer clear of Apple but still use your own headphones easily, have a peek at the Motorola Rokr E8.

Edited by Nick Hide