Sony Ericsson is giving a masterclass in music phones with the W995 Walkman. The company wants to blow our minds with its upcoming entertainment-orientated powerhouse, the Satio, but, after using the W995, we're pretty blown away already, thanks very much. This is a music phone that takes everything great about the Walkman range and makes it even better, thanks to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. And, with an 8.1-megapixel camera, it makes a very good camera phone as well.
You can grab the W995 from free on a £30-per-month, 18-month contract with T-Mobile, or for £330 when bought with £10 airtime on a pay-as-you-go deal with O2.
Update: We initially said that the bundled external speaker unit toppled over when we put the W995 in it. In fact, it can be easily stabilised, and we have corrected the review accordingly.
We've been long-time fans of Sony Ericsson Walkman music phones, but we've always had a huge, heavy axe to grind: the proprietary headphone socket.The adaptor that's included with, for example, the W705 Walkman is fine for hands-free use with the included (very short) headphones, but it's a metre long -- so when we use our own headphones, we could skip with the cable. It also takes up the phone's USB port, which is inconvenient since it necessitates unplugging the headphones every time you want to transfer music.
We've been holding our breath for months in the hope that the W995 will live up to its promise of being the first Walkman phone with a proper headphone jack, and it hasn't let us down. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits right in the centre on the top of the phone, and the W995 also comes with a headphone adaptor (with a hands-free mic) that you can plug into the proprietary USB socket, so you can actually plug in two pairs of headphones at the same time.
We compared the sound of high-quality MP3 files on the W995 to the sound on a dedicated MP3 player, using some beautiful Audio Technica headphones, and found the difference in sound quality to be almost imperceptible.
As well as an FM radio, the W995 has some wacky music features like TrackID, which can identify a song based on a clip of a few seconds, and SensMe, which displays your music on a graph of happy/sad and fast/slow. In our tests, these features gave accurate results, but we're not sure if we would take advantage of them in day-to-day use.
Stereo speakers rock
out but fall down
The stereo speakers on the phone are large compared to those of other handsets, and they belt out solid sound at a surprisingly high volume. To really get the party on the bus started, there's a stereo speaker stand included in the box. Its flimsy plastic feel belies its loud, powerful sound, and it includes a radio antenna so you can blast out radio on the speakers without plugging in the headphones. The only downside to the external speaker unit is that, although it's meant to act as a stand, it becomes too top-heavy when the phone's attached, and topples over instantly, unless you take the plastic cap that covers the connector on the speakers and stick it on the back of the stand to make it more stable. This isn't an obvious step to take, though.
You can control the music player with the phone closed, using the dedicated buttons on the side, but they're tiny and not easy to feel with your thumbs. We'd have preferred them to be on the front, and we think they'll take some getting used to.
The Walkman button has moved from the top to the side as well, but this is a good change -- it's much easier to press than on previous phones. You can hold it down and shake the phone to shuffle tracks, snap it left and right to skip tracks, and tilt it up and down to control the volume. It's a fun feature, if you can be bothered to use it, and it's responsive to small movements, so you won't look like an overexcited phone juggler.
Media Go is media
The W995 sports another first for a Walkman phone: the new Media Go software, which helps you transfer music, videos and photos to and from the phone via USB or Bluetooth. With an iTunes-like look, Media Go is a massive improvement over Sony Ericsson's old music-transfer software. It's also easier to use than Apple's software because it doesn't include an online store.
As well as music, we had no trouble transferring AVI, MP4 and WMV movie files onto the phone, and they looked smooth and clear during playback. The phone's built-in accelerometer makes it easy to switch from portrait to landscape mode, and there's a cute little flip-out stand on the back, so the W995 can be propped up when you want to watch videos.
For those who can't be bothered to take on another music manager, we found that the W995 also worked well with our standard media manager, MediaMonkey. But look out if you're a Mac user: Media Go is only for PCs.
The W995 doesn't skimp on the camera, with an amazing 8.1 megapixels packed in and an LED photo light. Its photos are slightly noisy, but very sharp when you hold the phone steady. When moving, the camera struggles and snaps are very blurry. There's also about a 2-second shutter lag between pressing the camera button and snapping a photo, and writing to the memory card takes another couple of seconds, so you won't be taking many quick-reaction shots.
There's also an image-editing feature called PhotoDJ that lets you adjust your photo settings, such as brightness and contrast. It's straightforward, but rather slow.
YouTube isn't your
The W995 has great connectivity, with Wi-Fi and 3G, so downloading more media isn't a problem, and there's plenty of room on the 8GB memory card. We were disappointed with the built-in YouTube and RSS feed support, however. Although the YouTube application is easy to use, videos look heavily compressed and jerky over 3G, and we struggled to get the W995 to stream over our Wi-Fi connection. Subscribing to RSS feeds and podcasts is easy in the Web browser, but managing the feeds afterwards can prove tricky.
We also had problems with the built-in iPlayer app, which looked great until it started buffering, and then denied us our live and pre-recorded Wimbledon streams.
With the Sony Ericsson W995 Walkman, we've finally found a phone that could replace our MP3 player. Great music quality, a standard headphone jack and straightforward music-transfer capability mean this phone has everything we need to keep rocking. A couple of the built-in apps aren't impressive, but that's a minor niggle on a phone that's easy to use, well-designed and looks great. The 8.1-megapixel camera is the icing on the cake and handy extras like the built-in stand and loud stereo speakersare the little candy sprinkles.
Edited by Charles Kloet