Sony Ericsson W710i
1st Apr 2007 | 23:00
A Walkman phone that'll be music to your ears
Sony Ericsson doesn't give a Walkman badge to just any old MP3-playing phone. After all most mobiles have some form of onboard media player. A Walkman phone must go further, offering a package and acoustic experience that is designed for those that take their music on the move seriously.
The W710i meets the audio challenge by coming supplied with half a gigabyte of storage, external controls, and a seriously sensible set of headphones. But it also takes up a new challenge: how to provide a great musical experience to joggers, other sporty types and health fanatics.
This is a phone that is not just built to appeal to those on the move - it actually aims to give you a helping hand with your fitness regime. Runners and walkers will be particularly impressed with the built-in pedometer, which provides you with a wealth of data for you to pore over during and after your training.
This is not a particularly small clamshell phone, weighing in on the wrong side of 100g. And its striking design will be a turn off for some. A strange mixture of shiny plastic and rubber-like panels and trim give it a look to go with the latest sneakers. It is available in two different colour schemes.
The phone looks reasonably robust but Sony Ericsson hasn't gone to the max and provided the weatherproofing and shock-protection that some previous phones designed for active lifestyles have provided. There are nice touches, however.
There is a simple switch on the side to lock external keys - ideal for when carrying around in a pocket, and a locking catch that holds the battery cover in place. The supplied headset has loops that are designed to stop the earbuds from falling out as you pound the streets, making it one of the more comfortable stereo sets to come supplied with any mobile phone.
But as no headset is perfect for everyone, there is provision to plug in your own cans. The supplied handsfree kit is in two pieces, the first half connects to the multipin terminal on the phone (acting as an aerial for the onboard FM tuner), and provides a standard 3.5mm jack connector. The handset also supports the necessary Bluetooth protocols to enable the latest wireless stereo headphones to be used.
The rubber panels at the side of the external screen provide full MP3 track control with fast forward, rewind and play buttons falling easy to hand. The LCD is large, so that it is easy to read the track details without needing to open the phone. However, this passive display is a limited monochrome affair, which shows orange text on a black background.
Opening up the flip you get a full-colour screen, although the quality of the small 220x176-pixel display is not particularly impressive. The camera viewfinder and video playback only occupy part of the available space.
The onboard camera is a 2-megapixel device but unlike on some other Sony Ericsson phones there are no autofocus or close focusing facilities. Picture performance turns out to be a mixed bag. Colour balance and fidelity is excellent, providing a very realistic picture, and without noticeable artefacts.
However, noise seems to be an issue even when light is not particularly dingy. Exposure is reasonable, and avoids the burnt out highlights that mar so many cameraphones but an erratic attitude to contrast means that some images end up looking rather milky.
Performance from the headline Walkman music player is pleasing but you need to make use of the built-in equaliser to get a good performance. With neutral settings, rendition is trebly and lifeless - so cranking up the bass levels, or switching on the MegaBass feature, is recommended with practically any type of music.
Although you get a 512MB M2 card supplied in the package, the handset is capable of taking 1GB M2 sticks - and there is 10MB of spare space on the phone itself. In addition there is the FM radio on the phone, with a 20-channel preset memory and RDS station ident facility.
This is a quad-band phone, which although offering support for EDGE and GPRS, does not provide access to 3G services. However, there is a full web browser built in, which makes a reasonable stab at displaying a range of our favourite pages, despite the small screen and slow connection speed.
Perhaps the most useful feature, given the bandwidth restrictions, is the RSS reader, allowing you to access the most recent news in areas that interest you with the minimum of browsing.
For the keen runner, the provision of a pedometer actually turns out to be surprisingly useful. It has walking and running modes, which not only count steps but which can provide information of distance covered and speed. You need to calibrate the device for this to be completely accurate but unlike many standalone pedometers it greatly simplifies this process, by simply getting to you pace a course of which you already know the distance.
We took the device out for a run, taking advantage of the cradle and armband that secure the device when you are out on the road. It measured our six mile loop with enough accuracy to keep most runners happy. But it was the constant pace notes that proved the most captivating; you can see your average or current speed, which then encourages you to train harder.
Given that most people would take a mobile or MP3 player on such an outing, it is a clever piece of convergence. The phone will also keep a log of your training, providing graphs and figures. There is also a built-in sport trivia game that you can play.
If this is all too active for you, there are some other Java games; an intergalactic shoot-'em-up, a tennis simulator, or a platform adventure escapade. Other useful apps, found on other Sony Ericsson phones, include fun music, video and photo editors - and a facility to use Bluetooth to control other devices. You can hook up with other phones using infrared too, and computer connection using the supplied USB lead is simplified by plug-and-play mass storage support.
TrackID is onboard too, enabling users to get tracks identified remotely by the Gracenote database by recording a sample of music you hear around you or on the onboard radio. It uses a GPRS data connection to interrogate the database and supply track details.
The W710i is not a perfect phone, or a perfect music player or camera for that matter. However, it is still a good all-round performer when its price is taken into account. This Walkman is available for around £200 SIM-free - and is likely to be free with some contract tariff even with a £20 per month plan.
You have to put up with its looks, and make do without 3G services but it is a phone that offers an intriguing set of features. And it may even help you to get fitter too...