Turn On and Tune In!

Sony Ericsson are dictating the beat we’ll all be dancing to.

It was once said that if you give an infinite amount of typewriters to an infinite amount of monkeys they would produce the complete works of Shakespeare.

Well, what would happen if you gave one music phone to a bunch of monkeys, then a Mac to write about it? That’s exactly what Mobile Business did, and here’s our very own Webmonkey’s attempt at a classic literary work.

The Sony Ericsson W950i, billed to be the music phone to end all music phones, and until the supposed release of the Apple iPod phone sometime next year it could well be.

The W950i has all the makings of a archetypal love story; mp3 player, 4gb flash drive, FM Radio, 2.6inch 262k colour touch-screen, multi-media keys, the list goes on. What we’re left with is the tragedy; uncomfortable and poor keypad, dodgy navigation, no camera, no memory card slot, no EDGE or WiFi, again the list goes on.

The W950i is built on the same chassis as its business orientated brother the m600i. Despite being a wideboy, the phone is still quite slim at 15mm and at 112g isn’t too heavy. It’ll slip in your pocket without ruining the curve of your britches.

Let’s start with the keypad. It certainly looks sexy as the keys are flat against the body with only tiny little nodules to let you know where your thumbs are. Alas, no touch sensitivity here a la Chocolate, these keys depress with a reassuring click. Unfortunately, the click is necessary as banging out text messages at regular speeds is very much a hit or miss affair and if you’re not paying attention mistakes are sure to be made. Webmonkey #4 sent his mother a very rude message when meaning to ask how her Aunt was.

This is a Symbian UIQ smartphone, however, so the keypad problem can be overcome with the handwriting recognition software, virtual QWERTY keyboard and a little practice, but they’re not ideal for the text addicts amongst us. On a business phone they might be great, but on a Walkman branded handset most people won’t care much for the Symbian sheen.

When it comes to navigation this phone cries out for a joystick and dedicated call buttons. The only way to move around items on screen is to use the JogWheel on the side or the touchscreen. This is all well and good when you want to slide out the stylus and poke around a bit in the menu, but if you want a quick fix with your thumb its damn near impossible. Webmonkey #7’s fat fingers were not up to the job, and due to the extra width of the handset ended holding the phone with one hand and jabbing at the screen with his finger tip. He had also been eating nachos and covered the screen with grease and God knows what else.

Resorting to the trusty Jog Wheel didn’t help much either, being jerky and unresponsive. Trawling through the menus and library is a laborious process, and you might just give up if, like us, you have a short attenti…

Moving to the display you could be forgiven that a nice big 2.6 inch screen would be great for taking and viewing pictures. You could be forgiven, because it’s true. Unfortunately Sony Ericsson can’t be forgiven for leaving out the necessary equipment, like a camera for instance.  For the multi-media world we live in, it’s nearly essential to have a camera on a handset, especially with the quality available nowadays. Don’t forget this is a 3G handset, so no video calling for you (actually that might not be a bad thing considering Webmonkey #2’s penchant for calling the rest of us up from the comfort of his underpants).

The Japanese geniuses claim that it’s not a case of leaving out a camera, but rather including a 4gb music player.

That they have done… in spades
The W950i may have its faults but you can’t fault the music capabilities of this handset. The music player is what saves this phone from gathering dust in the crap section of your local library, instead of being made into a blockbuster movie directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Angelina Jolie (hmmmm Angelina Jolie in a bodice).

The W950i uses the latest Walkman 2.0 player, and with 4gb of flash memory can store up to 1000 tracks in AAC format when encoded at 128kbps. It could hold more but only at the detriment to the sound quality.

Sony Ericsson have made the astute move of using flash memory over a hard-drive as the phone is bound to take a good amount of knocks and scrapes over its lifetime and the lack of moving parts makes it more robust and minimizes internal damage.

You can’t forget that this is a music handset, as you can launch the player by pressing the dedicated Walkman button on the front, the play and stop buttons on the side, the shortcut icon on the front screen, or by the power of thought alone (actually the last one’s not true, but it didn’t stop Webmonkey #2 trying. The strain had its messy consequences, no more video calling for a while). 

Once up and running, the 1, 2, and 3 keys act as skip track, and play/stop buttons, with cunning lights above. The on-screen menu features sections for artists, albums, tracks, moods (happy, sad, energetic, chilled or no mood), playlists, auto playlists (top rated, most played, least played, last played) and, last but not least, one for your own recordings.   

When tracks are playing all the player functions are easily accessible on screen, including icons for shuffle, repeat and equalizer functions. Coloured icons allow you to give each track a particular mood. On the opposite corner rating stars can be found allowing for rating of individual tracks (although why you would bother keeping bad tracks on your handset we’ll never know). The player also boasts a tracklist showing upcoming songs negating the need to jump in and out of the main menu to skip far ahead.

Syncing music to the phone couldn’t be easier using Sony’s intuitive Disc2Phone software. It searches your hard-drive for music and allows you to choose what bitrate and format to import CDs into. Tracks are referenced against an online CD database and the album artwork is automatically downloaded to be displayed when playing tunes.

The W950i comes with a headphone remote control which plugs into the standard 3.5mm jack, and the bundled bog-standard earphones work incredibly well, giving good deep bass sounds. However, having a standard jack you can use which ever favourite headphones you might own. The handset also supports A2DP (Advance Audio Distribution Profile) allowing Bluetooth streaming to compatible headphones or speakers.

With the new TrackID feature never again will you shout in someone’s ear in a club asking what that “wikkid choon” is. Simply hold your phone up to the speaker and your phone goes online to find out the artist and track name. The best thing about this feature is that it works!
Stepping back from the music functionality of the phone gives you a look at all the other things it can do. Being a UIQ smartphone it’s capable of email which it handles quite well, erm… just like writing an SMS message (careful pressing those buttons though).

Internet surfing is done through Opera 8.0 and supports HTML, XHTML, JavaScript, frames, CSS, and TSL and SSL security protocols. The view can be switched from portrait to landscape and it even features a text mode where you can choose not to download images, saving precious megabytes and making pages load faster (lacking EDGE support though so don’t expect it to be too fast).

The W950i also has all the other apps you come to expect including calendar, notes, alarm, task manager, which it does well (although it’s hard to get these things wrong).

To be, or not to be.?
Alas, as a mobile phone with an integrated music player the W950i isn’t as fantastic as the hype leads us to believe, and is much ado about nothing. However, as a music player with an integrated phone, the W950i  outshines everything else in it’s class.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, this is one phone you won’t want to share with anyone.

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