Review: Sony Ericsson W810i Walkman Phone

A few months ago I wrote an editorial and several blog posts about convergence on gadgets and how Apple might have to move to the phone market for the next-gen of its iPods. So, where is that market is going? was very kind to send us over the Sony Ericsson W810i Walkman phone for the purposes of this review. We take a look at the W810i’s voice, data and multimedia capabilities.

In the box we found the following:
* Sony Ericsson W810i Phone
* 512 MB Memory Stick Pro Duo card
* Travel Charger (EU & US)
* Good quality in-ear handsfree with 3.5″ jack option
* 900 mAh battery
* User Manual
* USB cable
* CD-rom

The phone came with the following hardware features:
* 2 MP autofocus/macro camera
* Quad-band GSM and EDGE
* 176×220 2.0″ 262k LCD (bright and clear)
* 21 MB available internal flash memory
* FM radio
* Memory Stick Duo Pro (up to 2GB, hotswap support)
* Bluetooth 2.0
* USB 2.0
* wrist-wrap hole

size  comparison Physically, the phone is pretty small, easy to carry around. It has a very good built and the buttons are easy to reach and press. People with larger thumbs might need to train themelves a bit though, as the “walkman”, “back” and “left softkey” buttons are all in a single rocker button (depending in which direction you press the button it does a different job). On the top of the phone you will get the IrDA and the power button, on the bottom the Fast Port, on the left there is the “stop/play” button that will start playback the previously paused song in the background, and on the right side there are volume keys and the camera button. On the back you will find the 2MP camera with a powerful flash. There is no protective cap for the camera.

the back of the unit The phone boots pretty fast, in under 12 seconds. On boot you are presented with the option to either continue booting in phone mode, or use the device as walkman-only. In that second mode, the W810i is functioning just as any mp3 player would, with no extras. This is also known as the “flight mode” (yes, you have to reboot and choose that mode in order to disable the GSM antennas).

The 5-way jog-dial/joystick carries over the normal operations (up, down, left, right, confirm), but when inside the Walkman application it also works as “previous/next song”, pause/play, “previous media folder”. You can activate the Walkman software at any time by pressing its dedicated button, or as I mentioned above, the “stop/play” button on the side to start playback in the background, while other applications are loaded. I found this to work so-so with other multimedia apps. For example, the included MusicDJ application will kinda freeze when Walkman is active, because it seems that the Sony Ericsson embedded OS does not support mixing. If you stop the Walkman application and therefore “free” the sound card, only then the other application will continue its operation.

When booting to the phone mode, you are presented with the updated and well known Sony Ericsson user interface. I must give props to the people who designed the UI: it’s consice, stable, fast, up to the point and very easy to learn. In this newer version they have also added eye candy transitions between menus and screens and other niceties. Most of my readers know that I prefer smartphones, but if I had to pick one consumer-grade phone user interface as my favorite, that would be Sony Ericsson’s, hands down.

Walkman software In the main screen you can select from many options, including “contacts”, create a new sms/ems/voicemail (there is no “email” in that list), check your call history, and use your shortcuts (Bluetooth, IrDA, Calendar, Events, Bookmarks, flash light on/off etc). I loved one of the “Light” options: it can flash SOS in the Morse code, should you be in danger!

With the phone you will get lots of interesting utilities and applications: VideoDJ and MusicDJ, email, a very useful RSS reader, MMS/SMS, T9, a sound recorder, two 3D games, good Java support (we ran Opera Mini, MGMaps, Google Maps and some games), an alarm clock, business card exchange, calculator, calendar, conference call support, a nice file manager, notes, wireless PIM Sync, speakerphone support, stopwatch, tasks and a timer. Only a native unit converter is missing. Instant messaging is supported, but it would not connect to YamiGo for some reason (might have been YamiGo’s fault — update: this is now fixed). In the settings panels you can change the themes, ringtomes (mp3 ringtones are supported), profiles, phone locking and more. Both Bluetooth and IrDA file exchange worked like a charm. File exchange was managed at over 10KB/sec with IrDA. The HSP/HFP Bluetooth profiles worked well too. The FM radio works only if you plugin the handsfree cable (because it works as an antenna to it). We had some very good FM reception with no dropouts.

Calls came through very clear, but the speakerphone is so loud that while it sounded good on my end it created a lot of noise in the other side. Nevertheless, voice and reception proved outstanding when connected. We had two instances of our call not going through (the other end was getting nothing after pickup and we were getting static) while GPRS was not always connecting (all these might be a problem of the Cingular tower, though I believe it was the phone’s fault). Where I get 2-3 bars with my Windows Mobile phone, I got 4-5 bars with the W810i. GPRS with EDGE worked perfectly too. Where the W810i truly excels though is in its battery life. It managed over 6 hours of GSM talk, and over 15 hours of mp3 playback. Few phones in the market can argue that can do that too. Sony Ericsson also claims 350 hours of standby.

Netfront Vs Native SE browser

To add music and video files to the phone you can either use Sony Ericsson’s software, or simply connect your phone via USB 2.0 to your desktop OS and have it get mounted as FAT32. Both the internal memory and the MSProDuo card get mounted as external drives. You just drag n drop your files in the designated folders and off you go. Except the default 512 MB flash card the phone comes with I also tried successfully a Sandisk 2 GB card. It was a bit slow to copy too many songs via the phone though so I used a USB flash reader instead which proved way faster. Speaking about USB, it would have been nice to have a standard mini-USB port and a normal 2.5″ headphone jack instead of the Fast Port. Additionally, it would have been great if there was a third option to the “connection” menu you get when you connect to the USB cable. In addition to the “file exchange” and “modem functionality”, a “charging only” option would be most welcome.

When in Walkman software you can manage playlists, view mpeg4/3gp videos in fullscreen or listen songs by artist/albums or by song. There is also the ability to use an equalizer which includes some presets, but also lets you set it up manually. I must commend Sony Ericsson for the great sound quality produced by this little machine. I used my high quality 3.5″ Sony headphones (which I usually use with my iPod Mini) and there was a clear distinction between the sound quality in the iPod and in this Walkman phone. The sound of the W810i was far more clear. There was more tremble too. I am left highly impressed. I am seriously thinking of using this phone in “flight” mode as an mp3 player only, simply because of its outstanding battery life and sound quality.

Regarding the 2MP camera, the phone comes with an updated camera UI. It goes to landscape mode immediately after you turn on the camera and there you can select from various options: panorama, burst mode, macro, night mode, self timer, b&w/negative/sepia/solarize effects, white balance options and more. The autofocus truly helps the user take better pictures. A very nice feature indeed. Similar options exist for the video capture mode. The W810i captures video at 176×144 and 128×96 in 3GP format.

The “true” downsides of the phone in my opinion are only the following:
– Netfront 3.3 runs out of memory very easily. It seems that Sony Ericsson did not pre-allocate enough memory for the browser, so usually, Netfront runs out of memory before it has downloaded 30 KBs of data! This means that “real world” web sites are virtually unrendered with this phone. Additionally, Netfront uses a fixed size big font. There is no bold, neither “small size” font sizes supported (there is “zoom” support but during a normal rendering of a site the browser does not utilize different font sizes). The old native browser used in the previous Sony Ericsson phones could do bold and use the system’s variable-size fonts. With the move to Netfront we got JS and CSS support, but these are useless features if the browser runs out of memory so easily (the older browser was liter in terms of memory requirements). On the upside, when Netfront didn’t run out of memory, it rendered the requested pages really fast.
– There is no A2DP/AVRCP Bluetooth profile support. For a walkman phone, this feature is a must-have. We learned that these profiles were not ready when the phone shipped, but are included on all newer SE phones.
– The screen resolution is low for such a cool phone. A QVGA screen would have been much welcomed.
– The internal email client could not read MIME-encoded emails sent via Outlook Express (this is the default setting in OE). It read Uuencoded just fine though, and emails from Gmail and Hotmail also worked fine.

In conclusion, the W810i is one of the best consumer cellphones in the market today. It builds in the legacy of the K750 and W800 and goes beyond its predecessors. If you are into music and you love convergence, this is the phone to get, as its price is right (below $350) and the Memory Stick Pro Duo cards it supports are cheaper and easier to find than the new Memory Stick Micro M2 format found in the new Sony Ericsson phones. Additionally, you will get new firmware upgrades via Sony Ericsson’s SEUS free service, which adds to the convenience of the user. A thumbs up!

* Outstanding battery life
* Excellent Walkman software
* Superb, loud & clear audio
* Quad-band GSM with EDGE
* Good 2MP camera with flash
* RSS reader and other extra apps
* Fast browser rendering

* Low resolution screen
* No A2DP/AVRCP support
* Netfront runs out of memory all too easily
* Can’t read Outlook Express’ MIME-encoded emails

Overall Rating: 8/10


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