Sony Ericsson W880i

Will the W880i be a threat to the ultra-slim line of handsets from Samsung?


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Sony Ericsson W880i

It was started by Motorola and continued – or shall we say, finished – by Samsung. Phones have gotten crazy thin over the last few years and in a few more, I’m sure they’re going to be one-dimensional. Everyone has been busy squeezing the lard out of their phones, but one brand showed no interest in this trend. Sony Ericsson has been making fat phones for years. Some of them look very good and sound amazing, but they’re still fat. That has now changed with the new, much anticipated W880i Walkman phone, previously popular as the 'Ai' concept.

Will the slim new W880i prove to be a threat to Samsung’s ultra-slim line of handsets? Does it carry on the Sony Ericsson legacy of great multimedia performance in this near-half size avatar? Let’s find out.

 Sony Ericsson W880i

In the looks department, the W880i falls as far away from the Sony Ericsson tree as possible. First, of course, is the thickness of the phone which is a thin 9.4mm – less than half that of some popular Sony Ericsson handsets. After that, the entire front face of the phone is a silver, brushed-metal finish, which is again not seen in any Sony Ericsson GSM/3G phone till date. The front face is silver and the back is a rubbery black. The rear has minimum elements, so this phone isn’t a 'dual-front' phone because the back looks just like a back – it’s black.

The keypad of the W880i is a cause for concern. Each of the number and symbol keys are simply half-centimeter 'lines' that CANNOT be pressed individually by fingers – you need to use your thumbnails and you need to use them vertically, since the keys are horizontal lines. This is extremely odd, but the good news is that it won’t take you too long to get used to it. I’ve been using the phone for a few weeks and it’s become a very natural process for me. The soft keys, back, cancel keys etc. are a little bigger, being small arcs of a circle. The soft keys slope downwards, while the back and cancel keys slope upwards. These buttons are not too difficult to get used to, but the keys in the middle of these – the web and the shortcut keys – are too small and placed too close to the bigger keys, so you WILL end up starting the web browser or bringing up the shortcut menu accidentally while navigating through the phone.

The other buttons on the W880i are the tiniest of the lot. The orange Walkman key on the left of the phone, the camera/shutter key on the right of the phone and the volume rocker, also on the right of the phone. The keys are flush with the side of the phone, so not only are they easy to miss, they’re also difficult to press, even with your nails. The camera button is a bigger problem when used as a shutter button – because it’s so difficult to press, an effort to do so will move the phone, leading to a blurred or off-frame shot.

The display on the W880i is high resolution (QVGA; 240x320), but it’s just 1.8 inches small, which is smaller than the cheap Samsung E250’s 2-inch display that’s less than half this resolution. The unnecessarily high resolution makes the screen look just as good as a 176x220 at the same size. It would have been a better idea to include a lower res screen to drive the cost down. Other than that, the display is great. The 256k screen shows vibrant color and sunlight doesn’t blind the display completely.

This is an expensive phone that ranks up amongst the higher end phones that Sony Ericsson has, so it’s gotta have all the cutting-edge features right? Yeah, it’s got 3G with a secondary VGA camera for video calling, Bluetooth with A2DP stereo support, the excellent full NetFront web browser (even over normal WAP connections), USB 2.0 for fast data transfers, a newer Memory Stick Micro (M2) memory card slot (and a 1GB stick in the bundle).

But the phone doesn’t have EDGE network support, which isn’t something we deserve, especially after paying this much money. So the phone wasn’t designed for India initially, which could be the reason why EDGE wasn’t a priority (it’s got 3G instead), but didn’t what use is 3G here? Web surfing is very slow, but you can take your own pictures without turning the phone around! That’s not very good a trade-off, is it?

Once again, this section is quite complete except for one pretty fundamental feature. This is the first Walkman phone without an FM radio tuner built-in. It doesn’t make any sense. Samsung skips the FM radio all the time in their higher end phones, but Sony just can’t get away with doing that, especially with a Walkman-branded phone.

The speaker on the rear of the phone also doesn’t perform as good as you’d expect any Sony Ericsson phone speaker to. The clarity and crispness is here, but at louder volumes, it distorts heavily, which is not a very Walkman trait. And I’m not even talking about the highest volume here. The speaker is good enough for ear-piercingly high ringtones, though. The provided Walkman earphones deliver as expected, but my Fontopia earphones, plugged into the same headset adapter, sounded much, much better.

Format support is nothing to hold up placards about – you have the usual MP3, AAC playback, 3GP, MP4 video playback, MP3 ringtones, etc.

The phone also has TrackID music recognition service that lets you record a few seconds of any song playing anywhere and identifies the track via an online service powered by Gracenote (of CDDB fame), provided you have GPRS enabled. The service is free, so other than your monthly GPRS fees, there’s nothing to pay per track ID or anything like that. TrackID works as advertised, but it really can only identify mostly popular music like 80’s hits such as Eye of the Tiger, hip-hop/pop tracks from more recent times like Nelly Furtado and even some Hindi music like Ya Ali from the movie Gangster. But that’s exactly the biggest problem with TrackID. If its popular music, chances are, it’s called ‘popular’ because everyone knows it. So why would you need to ID popular music? Needless to say, it didn’t id any of my music, mostly progressive, electro and trance tunes from DJs such as Dubfire, Sharam and Matt Darey. If you’re not into popular, top 40 type of music, then TrackID won’t do you any good.

There are a couple of problems with the W880i is the placement of the connection port. The port, which is usually at the bottom, has been placed on the lower left side of the phone. Ports on the top or bottom are easier to manage when listening to music with the phone in the jeans pocket, which is a luxury you won’t have with the W880i. The other problem is that the Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot is right under the port, making it difficult to remove or replace the memory card while a headset or charger is connected. Fortunately, this isn’t a scenario you’d find yourself in, too often.

Even though this phone now costs a lot more than the K790i which has a 3.2 megapixel camera, the W880i has only a 2-megapixel camera like the K750i. The camera is also very plain – with no auto-focus or any other extra feature available. It doesn’t even come with an LED flash, let alone a Xenon flash like the K790i. Quality of the pictures was good, but only in good lighting. The absence of an LED light means you should really avoid taking pictures in low light. I took some pictures at a friend’s birthday celebration at Henry Thams and all I got the next morning was 1600x1200 pixels of black.

With a little more talking than I usually do, I got around 3 days off a single charge on this phone. I think that’s pretty good, but I hardly used the camera during this time (The birthday pics were taken on another charge). I did listen to a bit of music and I did a whole lot of TrackID and web browsingI guess that qualifies as decent battery life.
Quite simply put, this is a great looking phone, but it’s price only puts it up there in the high-end and 'must-have-what’s-new' category, with no real value for money. There’s no FM radio, no EDGE and the camera is just 2 megapixels, which doesn’t exactly make it worth the high price tag of Rs. 22,900, but, as I mentioned before, if you’re just looking for a high-end phone that looks good, the W880i works just fine.

Sony Ericsson W880i
Network GSM 900/1800/1900, GPRS, 3G/UMTS/WCDMA
Physical 103 x 46.5 x 9.5 mm, 71g
Display QVGA, 240x320, 256k colors, TFT, 1.8 inches
Memory 16mb, Memory Stick Micro (M2), 1GB included
Media MP3, AAC, 3GP, MP4
Camera 2.0 megapixels; secondary VGA
Connectivity Bluetooth 2.0 (with A2DP), USB 2.0
Battery 425 hours stand by, 6.30 hours talk
Street Price
Rs. 22,900

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