It goes without saying that the Motorola RAZR started one of the mobile phone industryís longest running trends Ė the ultra-thin phone. Even now there are still plenty of phones that are designed only to have a certain thin profile before other features are considered.
Sony Ericsson is one of the major phone manufacturers that surprisingly buffed this trend, continuing to chug out high-end, but rather thick handsets. But now the company has finally jumped on the bandwagon, drawing on its Walkman brand licence yet again to bring us the ultra-thin W880i.
And boy, is it thin! At 9.4 millimetres thick and 71 grams heavy youíd be forgiven for wondering just how many features Sony Ericsson had to strip from the W880i to lose enough bulk. Amazingly though, the W880i is still a very complete phone. It has a miniature QVGA LCD, two megapixel camera, 3G UMTS network access, Walkman player, Bluetooth music streaming and the TrackID music identification service. Thereís also a Memory Stick M2 card slot and a monstrous one gigabyte card included in the retail package to take advantage of it.
Who ever said slim phones skimped on features? Read on for the review.
Itís just amazing that Sony Ericsson included most of the high-end features theyíre known for while keeping the W880i so small. For example, many slim phones used to do away with a memory card slot, while others had to put them in obscure places for the sake of the phoneís slimness. However, the W880 mounts it outside on the side of the phone.
Then consider a two megapixel camera (although without any flash sadly), Bluetooth with nearly the entire set of Bluetooth SIG profiles including A2DP music streaming, a QVGA resolution screen (although small at 1.8 inches) and 3G network connectivity. The W880i is quite the powerhouse.
Even more surprising is the battery Ė itís a 950mAh battery, the kind of size such slim phones normally donít have room to accommodate. On top of this the phone is energy efficient, achieving just over two days of operation under our test run.
The only serious complaint I have with the W880i is its keypad design. Sony Ericsson decided to favour form over function when it created the slim chrome switches for the W880iís keypad. Using it takes a lot of getting used to, especially if you have big fingers like me. While many of my colleagues say they got used to them over time, in the two weeks that I had the W880i I never got used to them. The single sheet of stainless steel used in Motorola RAZR phones does a better job than this keypad.
The W880i is a candybar (itís a Sony Ericsson, what did you expect), integrating the antenna for a smooth shape with no obstructions. Itís available in two colours, Flame Black and Steel Silver. Measurements are 103 x 46.5 x 9.4 millimetres, while the phone weighs a feather-light 71 grams.
Most of the important stuff is at the front of the phone. The 1.8 inch QVGA screen is one of the smallest with that resolution (240x320 pixels) that I know of, so it doesnít take too much space. Above it is the speaker and front-facing video call camera, while below it is the keypad with Sony Ericssonís typical buttons which differ from most other phones. Thereís a four-way direction pad with central confirm key, while beside it are back, clear, shortcut, web access and two soft keys. Thereís no dedicated dial or hang-up keys (although the Vodafone branded version has them, replacing the web access and shortcut keys with them). The keys are quite tiny, so people with big fingers will be prone to button-mashing Ė pressing several keys at once instead of just one Ė until they get used to the button layout.
Below this is the 12 button number pad. Letís get this clear now Ė these buttons might look great but are an absolute pain to use. The keys are very tiny slits, so it takes careful precision to press each one. This makes fast text input almost impossible and sometimes painful as the keys can dig into your fingers. Thereís a lot of wasted space around the keys that could have been used to make them bigger. An even better idea would be to use a single, flexible piece of steel with 12 imprints for a keypad (Motorola RAZR style), as this is a far more practical and proven design when implemented properly.
Now to the rest of the exterior. The FastPort socket for charging and data transfer is on the left hand side of the phone, where youíll also find the memory card slot (right underneath it) and a Walkman shortcut key (more towards the top). On the right hand side is a volume rocker switch and a camera shutter key, while on the back is the camera at the top and strap holes towards the bottom. The battery cover takes about half of the phoneís rear surface, while the SIM card slot is hidden beneath.
User interface & display
The W880iís TFT LCD measures just 1.8 inches (4.5 centimetres) from corner to corner, despite the large 240x320 pixel resolution and 262,144 colour support. This makes for a display with very high clarity because the pixels are so small, but display text may be hard to read if your vision isnít the best. Itís also a very bright screen at the highest setting, staying readable even in direct sunlight. Brightness can be turned down for use indoors.
Sony Ericssonís interface hasnít changed compared to other Walkman phones (or other Sony Ericsson phones for that matter), so if youíve used a recent one before youíll have no problem using the W880i. The status bar at the top shows reception and battery life as well as other icons (Bluetooth, 3G, clock, etc.), while the menu bar at the bottom shows the function of the two soft keys. The standby screen displays the clock and date in the bottom right corner (with the option for a huge background clock display instead) while the rest of the screen is reserved for the background. The operator name appears at the top and canít be removed.
The main menu displays 12 large icons in grid format. While thereís no indication, number shortcuts can be used to access these icons as well as the text list menus underneath. The Sony Ericsson user interface makes heavy use of tabs, particularly in the Settings and File Manager menus. Seven lines of text can be displayed in menus, while when writing an SMS you can see nine lines at once. Font sizes cannot be changed.
There are four different themes included with the phone. In my test handset, two were built into the phone and two on the M2 memory card. The themes change the phoneís colour scheme, while some of them also change the main menu layout to side-scrolling icons.
My test handset was equipped with support for five languages Ė English, German, French, Dutch and Simplified Chinese. It had T9 predictive text dictionaries for all these languages, as well as both Pinyin and Stroke Chinese input methods.
Making and receiving calls
The W880i manages to be a good phone. It handles calls through its internal speaker and microphone normally or in speakerphone mode, as well as using a bundled stereo handsfree or with a Bluetooth headset. In all forms, the phone transmitted audio clearly and loudly, and in particular in normal mode volume can be set to very high levels. I had reservations with the speakerphone Ė in a quiet room the volume is adequate but in noisy rooms youíll want more volume. Thereís also nearly no bass reproduction from the loudspeaker but slight static is evident. At least, itís easy to enable the loudspeaker Ė just two presses of the confirm button activates it and it can be done while a call is ringing (outgoing only though; incoming calls have to be answered first).
Calls were tested using Vodafoneís 3G network. Reception was impressive, although slightly lower than my personal benchmark Sharp 903. The W880i would quickly drop to the GSM network if it only had one bar of signal for several seconds.
The W880i has a high fixed limit of 1000 contacts for its internal phonebook. Thereís also a 2500 number limit, so if you store too many numbers per contact you wonít be able to add more even if thereís still room for more contacts. Up to five numbers can be stored per entry, and they all have to be different types Ė one mobile, one home, one fax, etc. You can also attach three email addresses, a web address, picture, ringtone and voice command for voice-activated dialling. On another tab you can set business and personal address details, while on the final tab you can add a birthday date and random note information.
The phonebook supports speed dialling and can display operator service numbers stored on the SIM card (the card has to support this though). The W880i will also tell you what emergency numbers the SIM has stored. The phonebook can be backed up to the M2 memory card, or copied (one by one or all at once) to the SIM card or another phone via Bluetooth.
Sony Ericsson doesnít say how many tones the W880i is capable of, but all the included ringtones (19 total) are digital music tones anyway. They are stored across internal memory and the M2 card, while seven message tones are stored internally. You can also set your own custom call and message tones.
The W880i supports seven different profiles with separate settings for ring type, vibration and the like. Silent mode can also be set on the standby screen by holding the hash (#) button down.
The W880i supports all the messaging standards Ė SMS, EMS, MMS and email from POP3 or IMAP4 servers. It also seems to support push email for IMAP4, although I was unable to test this functionality.
Text messages bigger than 160 characters can be composed Ė I reached 10 linked messages before I gave up. The phone doesnít slow down when you write such big messages, which makes for smooth message writing. EMS support is here too, allowing the attachment of simple pictures and sounds to SMS. MMS is supported and a very detailed editor can be used to add pictures, sound and video in several slides. It will also resize large pictures so they fit within the size limit, which is 300 kilobytes.
Email is controlled from a separate menu in the messaging suite, complete with its own folders. The composition interface is like a PC email program, with fields for recipient, subject, body and attachments. Messages can be up to a huge 10 megabytes in size, but you can limit them to any size smaller than this. Anything received thatís bigger than this limit can be prevented from downloading to the phone. As you might have guessed from this, attachments are obviously supported. Push email is also said to be supported (a setting related to it exists in the options menu) but I was unable to get it working.
For quick text entry T9 predictive text is supported. In the W880iís case, a special context dialog box appears for complex words, while a custom dictionary for your own words is included. Incidentally as I mentioned earlier the messaging experience is let down by the keypad, which looks great but is painful and slow to use.
The W880i has support for 3G UMTS on the 2100 band, meaning it can be used on all 3G UMTS networks in Europe and Asia, but not the United States. It also canít be used with Telstraís Next G network, which runs on the 850 MHz band. However, a tri-band GSM radio supporting the 900/1800/1900 bands is present for backup and will allow connection in the US. Flight mode is included but can only be activated when the phone is turned on. This is good if you turn the phone on in a plane but didnít set flight mode earlier (not that you can anyway).
Using 3G UMTS the phone has access to speeds up to 384Kbps (but more typically around 128Kbps). The slower GPRS standard allows downloading at up to 48Kbps in GSM networks.
The W880i makes use of the Access NetFront browser for full support of mobile and PC webpages. Apart from displaying regular WAP pages, it can output PC webpages in their proper layout (meaning you scroll horizontally and vertically to view the page), or you can set it to squash the page into one huge column like a WAP page. You can also switch to landscape orientation, turn the phone sideways and view the page horizontally. Several number shortcuts allow you to access bookmarks, enter a URL, refresh the page or scroll page up or down directly. Itís very convenient.
As I test phones on Vodafoneís network I have the opportunity to check if they support Vodafone live properly or not. Iím happy to report the W880i fully supports Vodafone live even though mine was a generic, non-branded model.
For close range connectivity the W880i makes use of USB and Bluetooth while infra-red has been skipped. USB is typically used for PC connections, while Bluetooth can be used to communicate with other devices as well. All the typical Bluetooth applications in Sony Ericsson phones, such as the remote control functions (presenter, media player and desktop) are supported. The W880i has two modes of PC connection Ė Phone Mode and File Transfer. Phone mode requires drivers and software to be installed on the PC and allows data synchronisation, while file transfer mode allows direct access to the M2 memory card and doesnít need special drivers to work. Both modes let the W880i recharge from the USB port. The phone will need to reboot if you switch from one mode to another, annoyingly.
The software package is Sony Ericssonís typical PC Suite software. As in the past, I had no problems installing the software. It installed quickly and then prompted me to connect the W880i in phone mode. The PC detected it and installed the drivers, and then the phone was connected and ready to synchronise.
2D performance is excellent. A JB 1.0 score of 6769 ranks amongst the top non-smartphones with QVGA screens, while the JB 2.0 score of 1126 is equally impressive. 3D performance isnít as fantastic but itís not bad either. Only one Java game is pre-installed in the W880i and it is of course QuadraPop, Sony Ericssonís classic Tetris-style game. Thereís also two Java applications, World Clock (which lets you check the times of cities worldwide) and Music Mate (a program to learn what music notes on certain instruments sound like).
The Walkman music player remains largely unchanged from other Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. This isnít a bad thing Ė the company already has a complete, well-designed application in its phones. The player can search phone and M2 card memory for music, which it adds to the current playlist. Shuffle and loop playback modes are supported, while an equaliser function is also present. Separate presets are included for the equaliser from Bass to Treble Boost, as well as the famous Mega Bass profile. Album art and visualisations are also supported, while the player can be minimised with music playing while you write a message, read a webpage or use any other function of the phone.
First and foremost, donít listen to music through the phoneís internal speaker. Itís utterly awful because thereís next to no bass reproduction. You need larger speakers for bass and thereís only so much room in this tiny phone. Itís a better story with the included earphones although itís still not perfect as you need to use the mega bass profile to clearly hear any bass. Thankfully, the handsfree has a 3.5mm jack, so you can use your own headphones with it.
Video playback is handled outside of the Walkman player. Itís as simple as scrolling to a video in the file manager menu and selecting it. Thereís no other options to customise here.
The TrackID service is a real gem. If youíre currently listening to some music but donít know the artist, you just need to open this program, let the phone listen to a five second sample of the song and it will compare its data with a huge database on the internet. I tested it by playing music from my collection, and I was amazed to find TrackID didnít falter on one song. It properly identified every single track, including French and Japanese ones I tested it with. Sony Ericsson is to be applauded for creating such a foolproof service.
The W880i has support for Java MIDP 2.0, including the JSR-184 3D application extension. Using the JBenchmark testing suite, I encountered the following results:
|JBenchmark 3D Low Quality
|JBenchmark 3D High Quality
|JBenchmark High Quality
||Gaming = 98(3.3FPS)
The W880i comes with several personal organiser tools. The calendar allows you to pen in appointments with reminders. Itís rather simple in nature and doesnít come with event categories like competing brandsí phones. Thereís also a notepad, task list, calculator, countdown timer, and a stopwatch that has resetting lap timing (the countdown timer restarts when a lap is specified). Lastly, thereís the SIM Application Toolkit and a code memo program for storing important passwords.
The W880i is so thin it looks like it will easy snap into two pieces. However itís a very durable handset and while I was able to flex the phone slightly under heavy pressure, it looks like it will take a huge amount of force to actually snap it in half. Itís very sturdy and the stainless steel finish adds to the strong look. No complaints here.
Despite its thin profile, the W880i comes with a 950 mAh battery. Officially, the battery provides for 6.5 hours of talk time on a GSM network and 425 hours of standby time. Sony Ericsson hasnít said what kind of talk time to expect on a 3G network or which network the standby time refers to.
We ran our usual battery test on the W880i, connecting it to Vodafoneís 3G network. It was fully charged and then left on continuously until it ran out of power. It wasnít turned off at night. During this time I used the phone like I would my own, running exactly 30 minutes of calls through it to simulate moderate call usage. I used a combination of regular and speakerphone handsfree call methods to do this. I also sent a moderate amount of SMS messages and accessed Vodafone live! throughout each day, as I regularly do.
The W880i lasted for more than two days before running out of power under this scheme. Considering the features and phoneís shape, this is an excellent result.
The battery should take approximately two hours to recharge.