Sony Ericsson W850i

I’ve had this phone for just over a week now and the verdict is in: It’s good. But, and there’s always that inevitable ‘but’, it’s a little bit of a disappointment.

The Basics

The basic features of this match basically any other phone out there on the market today. Bluetooth, 2 megapixel camera, slider, fairly funky looking overall package. The ‘hook’, I suppose, is the Walkman branding, which Sony Ericsson is pushing as its ‘youthful’ models, trying to hook into the MP3 player market. Well, they got me, because I was considering a replacement for my temperamental iPod, and seeing this phone meant I could reduce two, maybe even three devices to one. It’s got fairly good battery life, with 3 hours talktime, 8 hours Walkman play or a week’s worth standby. It’s also got flight mode so that you can use the Walkman on a plane.

The Walkman

When Sony announced the Walkman series, I imagined something like an MP3 player that had phone features shoe-horned in. The reality is that it’s nothing more than a dedicated music playing application on the phone, with a well-integrated music-file navigation. The phone comes with a 1 gigabyte Memory Stick to store the tunes, supporting up to 4GB. Coming from a 30GB iPod, that’s a crash-to-earth scenario for me, but while it forces you to think of what you want to listen to when transferring, the flipside is that it’s simpler to just go to the music and hit play. The transfer software isn’t too crash hot, but it does have the advantage of supporting drag & drop.

The Walkman interface is simple – perhaps too much so. Making playlists is easy, but while you can move from one song to the next, you can’t fast-forward within a song. The ID3 tag display is static, which sucks for longer song titles. The other major gripe is that the radio function is a separate application, which makes no sense to me.

The Standard Bits

The 2 megapixel camera has Sony’s camera expertise behind it, making it easy to use, but it remains underwhelming – I suppose nothing beats a proper lens. The 4x digital zoom is a lie – it’s only there for the VGA resolution (the lowest). So much for leaving the camera at home as well. The video player software is alright, much like the Walkman in that it doesn’t allow you to fast-forward, but I’ve already watched a couple of episodes on it. Wonderful way to waste time on the way in to work.

It’s got Java (with a couple of fun games), Bluetooth 2 and the other standard connectivity stuff, with triband and 3G (UTMS), so it’s a worldwide phone to boot. I mean, the advertising includes stuff like ‘SMS! Calls! Video Calls!’, but those kind of things aren’t features so much as functions that phones without them wouldn’t be modern phones at all.

One cool undocumented feature is that it can charge via USB, which means one less charger when travelling if you’ve got a laptop.

The Disappointments

The phone has an RSS feed reader, and reviews praise its browser software, but the network has crippled many of these features, forcing you to use only their services and sites unless you want to pay through the nose, leaving the phone feeling artificially limited. The problem here is not the phone, but it is a package that you get sold and I think they could do so much better.

It’s not that it’s a bad phone; it’s a good phone, and indeed is more or less at the cutting edge of mobiles today. Unless you’re going for a ‘smartphone’, it’s got pretty much anything you’d need. The slider is also cool, but something I’m going to have to get used to, as is unlocking keys are two years with a flip-phone.

The problem, though, is that once upon a time the bleeding edge of mobiles moved. Every time you upgraded, you’d discover a raft of new features to play with – the last time for me, it was colour! it had a camera! it played MP3s! Sure, it didn’t do the camera or the MP3s very well at all, but it had the features. This feels much more like an incremental upgrade – fixing things which didn’t work well, adding nifty features which are well appreciated but nothing special. I suppose some of the focus has shifted to the wonderful world of smartphones, but they remain a little too bulky for me, with features that i could use but could also do without.

I’m happy with the upgrade, happy with the new features, and more than happy to lose the bulk of my old phone. I just can’t help thinking that innovation left the industry a while ago.

Sony Ericsson W850i

ed: what I have come to realise though is that as a cross-over device, this is perfectly capable of replacing a camera, an MP3 player, an FM radio and a sound recorder all in one little package, not to mention the already diverse range of uses a mobile phone has. If you look at it that way, it’s actually pretty useful =)