Sony Ericsson’s Walkman branded handsets are aimed at the consumer which looks for more of a multimedia experience with their handset than just the usual MP3/media player. It hasn’t been long since the last Walkman handset hit the Australian market (W810i for those playing at home), but Sony Ericsson have pumped out another one and iMobile.com.au is here to review it: the Sony Ericsson W850i!
The W850i is a mid-range 3G compatible handset with features that consumers probably wouldn’t find on other handsets in the same price range as the W850i. The handset has a great balance of multimedia and regular functionality while offering the normal ‘phone’ features of a mobile phone.
The W850i fits into that spot in the consumer market which I call the ‘not-so smartphone range’. Handsets in this range have features common to smartphones, but don’t come with a smartphone user interface/operating system and miss out on some other vital features of higher-end devices. Features that put the W850i into my pseudo-range include the QVGA 262k colour display, Bluetooth version 2.0, 2mpx digital camera, and the Memory Stick Pro Duo support.
As the W850i is a sliding form factor handset, the 240 x 320 pixel TFT LCD occupies most of the top ‘level’ of the handset. There are two buttons above the display for camera functionality, and a set of keys below the display for navigational and handset operation. The numerical keys are on the bottom level of the handset which slides outwards when the top level is pushed forward.
Walkman handsets are well known for providing large external storage cards in the sales package, and the W850i is no different. The handset supports Sony’s Memory Stick Pro Duo memory card format, and inside the sales package you’ll find a 1GB card! That’s the equivalent of having the storage space of a 2nd generation Apple iPod shuffle inside your mobile phone.
The 2mpx digital camera is becoming a feature that Sony Ericsson just throw into any of their new handsets these days – and kudos to them for that! The W850i’s camera supports capture of still images up to 1600 x 1200 pixels, video recording, has a dedicated LED flash and other additional camera features. The only disappointing aspect of the camera is that it doesn’t have auto-focus, which I’ll talk more about in the appropriate section.
The W850i is a compact 3G phone, measuring just 98 x 47 x 21 mm and weighing 116 grams with the battery pack. The handset comes in two different colour variations: precious black and golden yellow. I received the precious black variation, which is the ‘default’ colour scheme.
The front of the W850i houses the LCD display, two soft keys, 5-way navigational pad, return, clear, web, QuickLaunch button, and two additional buttons above the display for viewing the image gallery. The navigational pad is different to most others on the W850i, with four small dots surrounding the Walkman application’s play/pause key. Although you may be inclined to push only the dots for moving up/down/left/right, the actual button itself is much larger than the dot and you can push around it to get the desired response. I did have a bit of an issue with this design, which you can read about in the Problems/Issues section.
The top level of the handset can be pushed up to reveal the numerical keyboard. Unlike most other Sony Ericsson sliders there are no additional keys on this level, just the numerical buttons. A bright white backlight ensures you can see the keys in the dark.
Several aspects of the W850i have had a re-shuffle: the on/off switch is now located at the top of the handset, where you will also find the Memory Stick Pro Duo port. This leaves the sides of the handset reasonably bare – the left side is completely buttonless, and the right side has the volume up/down keys and the dedicated camera shutter key. The bottom of the handset has the FastPort interface connector for charging, transferring data with the included USB data-cable, and connecting wired accessories.
The W850i is a very appealing handset. In the past Walkman handsets have had a “problem” for last of a better word, which meant that even with customized themes (which I’ll talk about in the next section), there was still an abundance of Walkman branding and even the external colour scheme which you could not remove. I’m happy to say that Sony Ericsson have definitely toned down the Walkman branding on the W850i, with the colour schemes much more neutral and a lot less logos. The front of the handset only has one Walkman icon (or two if you don’t have any operator branding like Three), and the one Walkman logo on the back.
User interface & display
Running the tried and tested proprietary Sony Ericsson operating system, the W850i’s user interface is a very easy to use mix between a tab- and icon-based menu system. The W850i is fast and responsive, making a very pleasant user experience.
The handsets’ display measures 240 x 320 pixels, and can display up to 262,144 colours. At any one time up to 8 lines of text can be displayed, not including the soft key labels at the bottom of the screen. This size and quality of display is common in everything from mid- to high-end handsets, and is in my opinion the perfect size for any display. Browsing WAP pages, using the camera viewfinder, and watching videos are all made that little bit more enjoyable with a high quality and high resolution display like the W850i’s.
One of my favourite features of the Sony Ericsson operating system is the QuickLaunch menu. The bottom button on the right hand side of the keypad strip below the display is the dedicated QuickLaunch button. When pressed, a small box with tabs is displayed. Here you can find running applications, notifications (missed calls, new messages, etc), and a list of useful features like turning on Bluetooth/Infrared, turning the camera LED on, and so forth.
The play/pause button in the centre of the navigational pad is used to bring up the main menu. The main menu consists of four rows of three icons, which animate when hovered on. The W850i supports themes for customizing the look and feel of the user interface, and the themes on the W850i are capable of changing the main menu too! One of the themes pre-installed on the W850i changes the main menu into four circular groups of three icons which you browse onto using the directional keys, and then use the left/right keys to scroll through each of the three icons. It’s a little confusing at first but looks amazing! Many more themes can be downloaded directly onto the phone via WAP, or onto your PC and then transferred to the handset.
Making and receiving calls
The Sony Ericsson W850i can make and receive calls open or closed. When the handset is closed you can’t input any numbers, but you can browse the contacts or call log for a number to call. Capable of video calling and regular voice calling, the W850i also has a built in loudspeaker and comes with a stereo headset in the sales package.
The forward-facing camera is in the top right hand corner of the handset, of VGA specification. To start a video call you have to select the options button after you input a number and then select ‘video call’. The video call application can also be accessed from the main menu. During a video call you can stop sending video or audio at any time, or even replace the streaming video with a still picture. Just hit the left soft key where you can select any photo from the internal or external memory to display. Additional camera options and call settings can be found by pressing the options key during a video call.
When a call comes through you can answer it by pushing the accept soft key, or reject the call with the options soft key. The handset can be configured to answer calls when you slide the handset open, but why would you need the soft keys when receiving a phone call? The W850i is small when closed, but still sits nicely in the palm of your hand when in a call.
The included stereo headset plugs into the FastPort at the bottom of the handset for hands free wired calls. Bluetooth headsets can be paired with the W850i in a matter of seconds. The loudspeaker volume is sufficient, as is the volume through the earpiece. There are external volume keys for adjusting volume during a call if required.
Contacts stored on the internal memory of the W850i can contain multiple fields of information including home/work numbers, addresses, e-mails, notes, and a picture to be displayed when the contact calls.
To be expected collection of SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging options are included on the Sony Ericsson W850i. Thanks to the high speed WCDMA network that the W850i communicates with, multimedia MMS messages and e-mails with attachments download quicker than ever. The integrated 2mpx digital camera is the perfect companion for your video or picture MMS messages.
The numerical buttons on the handset are large and very tactile. I enjoyed messaging on the W850i because the handset is not super-thin, so you actually have something to grip onto. Each button gives a definitive ‘click’ when pressed, too. T9 predictive text is included, along with the usual multi-tap method.
As with all Sony Ericsson handsets the inbox is shared for MMS and SMS messages. All e-mail messages are found in a separate application. When you select ‘new message’, a prompt is displayed to select the type of message: text (SMS), picture (MMS), voice, or e-mail. E-mail messaging must be set up before you can send/receive messages. SMTP and POP3 email servers are supported by the handset over WCDMA (3G), or GPRS (2G) connections.
From the MMS composition window you can attach stored images or video, or capture a new image or video from the camera link, which will automatically be attached to the current MMS message. Text and sounds can also be attached. Pictures will automatically be resized to comply with the 300KB limit on MMS messages, and the camera has a specific setting for creating video clips that can fit into an MMS message. MMS messages can be sent to a mobile phone number or any e-mail address.
The W850i is a 3G capable handset, designed for connectivity with the WCDMA 2100MHz network band. This network provides end user connectivity at speeds of up to 384kbp/s. For redundancy and roaming needs the W850i also supports three of the four major 2G GSM bands, GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz. The handset automatically switches to the appropriate GSM band when required.
For local connectivity the W850i offers Bluetooth wireless technology, infrared, and USB 2.0 (via the FastPort). The sales package of the W850i includes a CD with software for your PC to aid in transfer data, rip music CD’s, and synchronize the handset with Microsoft Outlook. There’s also a USB-FastPort data-cable for connecting to a PC.
The W850i has the USB Mass Storage Device profile for easy drag & drop of files onto the Memory Stick Pro Duo. When connecting the handset to a PC via USB, you will be prompted (on the handset) to select either ‘File Transfer’ or ‘Phone mode’. The ‘File Transfer’ mode will initiate the Mass Storage Device profile, whereas the phone mode will allow the handset to communicate with the Sony Ericsson PC Suite software. You can transfer files to the handset in both modes, but in the ‘File Transfer’ mode the Memory Stick Pro Duo can be used like a USB drive to drag & drop files. The internal memory cannot be accessed from the PC in this mode, only the ‘Phone mode’.
The infrared window is on the right hand side of the handset, below the camera shutter key. You can turn on the infrared sensor through the QuickLaunch menu, which is 10 times easier than turning it on by browsing through the connectivity menus. Bluetooth version 2.0 is supported, and includes Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) which offers up to three times the bandwidth of older Bluetooth specifications and a larger range. For most Bluetooth functions you must browse to the connectivity menu, select ‘Bluetooth’, and go from there.
I’m awarding the W850i four stars for connectivity – but I do believe that it’s got everything a mid-range 3G phone needs. The only reason the handset isn’t getting full marks in my book is because of the ‘File Transfer’ mode which only lets you access the Memory Stick Pro Duo. It would have been much more convenient if this mode could display either external or internal memory for easy access. The handset also resets after you disconnect from a USB connection, which is a pain.
The Sony Ericsson W850i gets full marks in this department – the handset is of top notch quality and I couldn’t find any faults. The slider mechanism is extremely tough, and locks into place with a satisfying click. The top part of the handset is on rails (which you can see from the back when open), so the sliding movement is graceful and smooth.
The only other moving part of the W850i is the battery cover, which consists of about ¾ of the back of the handset. Pushing down the centre and sliding downwards will remove the cover to reveal the battery. Underneath the battery is the SIM card slot, which uses the tricky ‘belt’ mechanism. Perfect for ensuring that the SIM card doesn’t move around and stays put, but a pain when you need to remove the SIM card!
The Memory Stick Pro Duo port has been moved from the usual position on the side of the handset, to the top of the handset. It’s protected by a plastic flap which can be lifted to reveal the Memory Stick Pro Duo.
The W850i weighs around 116 grams, which is common for this type of mobile phone. It feels solid in hand and all the buttons are tactile and responsive.
The W850i is powered by a lithium-polymer 950mAh battery pack. Times given by Sony Ericsson are 7 hours talk time (2G), 2.5 hours talk time (3G), and 350 hours standby time on both 2G and 3G networks. As far as video talk time goes, Sony Ericsson give an estimate of 1 hour and 55 minutes.
During my time with the W850i I found the battery life to be very good – although the talk time on the 3G networks isn’t that impressive. Standby time was excellent, and even with heavy use of the camera and Walkman functions the battery doesn’t diminish as quickly as some other handsets.