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Sony Ericsson W980i review: Sony Ericsson W980i

Most of our complaints about the W980 are purely cosmetic. Looks aside, this latest Walkman works well as both a phone and a dedicated music player, with a substantial 8GB of storage being the icing on the cake.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
5 min read

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.


Sony Ericsson W980i

The Good

Excellent music player and bundled headphones. 8GB internal storage. Secondary display and external music controls. HSDPA.

The Bad

Awkward keypad design. Not Sony Ericsson's most attractive handset. No 3.5mm headphone port on phone.

The Bottom Line

Most of our complaints about the W980 are purely cosmetic. Looks aside, this latest Walkman works well as both a phone and a dedicated music player, with a substantial 8GB of storage being the icing on the cake.

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.

Aside from its various music features the W980 also includes HSDPA data for Web browsing and A2DP Bluetooth for connecting to hands-free headsets and compatible speaker systems. There is also the standard range of Sony Ericsson phone software including Track ID (used to identify songs) and organiser tools capable of syncing your contacts and calendar entries with your Outlook mail system.

With the promise of improvements to Sony Ericsson's already excellent music phones we were looking forward to spending some quality time with the W980, and we haven't been disappointed. The music sounds great, even through the bundled headphones, and the preset equaliser settings work well, offering a variety of noticeable playback options.

Conversely, using Sony Ericsson's bundled PC software is finicky and frustrating. Connecting your phone to your PC to transfer files isn't as simple as you might think. First you have to follow a strict ritual of opening the software, selecting the "conect phone" option, then connecting the phone to the PC via a USB cable, making sure your phone is in the correct USB mode — connecting the phone first simply won't work. In this main interface you can sync Outlook contacts and calendar entries, however, if you want to transfer music this requires you to open a separate application and then you have to unplug and reconnect the phone to switch USB connection modes. All in all this is much more difficult than it should be — other phone manufacturers have dramatically simplified this same process.

With the exception of our complaints about the keypad design, basic phone functions are fantastic. One person we spoke with actually remarked on how clearly they could hear us, something that doesn't happen as often as you might think. SMS messaging is fast and smooth, especially for those familiar with the Sony Ericsson style of predictive text input.

Unlike the music player, the camera is a real mixed bag. The 3.2-megapixel shooter takes strong, bright, colourful images — both indoors under fluorescent lights and outdoors in natural light. Without an autofocus tool you will need to hold the camera still during exposures, but the awkward position of the lens, which sits under your fingers on the battery cover, makes this harder than usual. Also, the lens sits under your fingers when you're holding the phone to make calls, meaning you're probably smearing greasy fingerprints on the plastic lens while chatting to friends. We found we best avoided covering the lens with our fingers by holding the phone on its side to take pics.

Sony Ericsson estimate battery life for the W980 at four and half hours talk time and standby life to be about 15 days. During our tests we found we charged the W980 every third day with light to moderate use of phone functions and music playback.