Whether or not we find the W980 attractive, we certainly think it looks delicious. With its glossy black case and sharp square design, this latest Walkman looks more like a dark chocolate Tim Tam than a mobile phone of the future. Under the flip we find a clash of modern eras; the QVGA resolution colour of phones of today faced-off with retro-feel, art deco inspired, circular numeric keys. This is a romantic way of describing a feature which is still yet to impress the various people we've showed this handset to, mostly who have scrunched their noses up at this design.
The keys are spaced evenly along the long bottom half of the W980, with standard Sony Ericsson navigation keys above them. We often complain about mobile phones with keypads that are too small to be used comfortably; however, this keypad is almost the opposite, with the length of the keypad meaning we would have to constantly change the way we held the phone so that our thumbs could reach keys on the top and bottom rows of keys.
One of the W980's most impressive features is the secondary OLED display in the front of the handset. This screen is sharp and clear, and in conjunction with the external menu controls, means you can play your music or listen to the radio without having to open the phone and drill down through the main menu.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record we have to point out that Sony Ericsson has ignored our continued cries for a 3.5mm headphone jack to be built into the handset. We understand the logic behind the proprietary port — by using one generic port for charging, USB connections and headphones, the phone can be more compact — and Sony Ericsson has included a 3.5mm headphone adapter with the handset, but this concession means you end up with pocketfuls of plastic cabling twisting and knotting.
The W980 apparently features new and improved audio playback. Sony Ericsson calls it the Clear Audio experience, a combination of two separate Sony audio components, Clear Stereo and Clear Bass. Marketing speak aside, Clear Audio is Sony Ericsson's promise of improved music performance over previous generations of Walkman music phones.
On the software side we see the same PlayStation styled menu system from recent release Walkmans. It may be as impressive as Apple's iTunes Coverflow, but it is one of the more attractive interfaces on a mobile device. The W980 supports a range of audio file formats including MP3s and AAC, and can use these formats as ringtones. The W980 also features an FM radio transmitter, meaning you can stream music from your phone to a nearby radio, like the stereo in your car, using a dedicated short-range frequency.
To complete the music playing experience, the W980 sports a substantial 8GB of internal storage, which equates to about 2,500 songs when your music files are between 3MB and 4MB each. Ordinarily Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones included a memory card reader and M2 memory stick support. This is not the case with the W980, and while expandable memory would be handy, we think the 8GB should be enough for average users.