Sony Ericsson W995 £380
15th Jun 2009 | 14:44
The latest Sony Ericsson Walkman also has an 8 megapixel camera
Sony Ericsson W995: overview and design
The Sony Ericsson W995 is the latest phone to carry the famous Walkman name.
Sony Ericsson's music-oriented Walkman series and photography-centred Cybershot series have been drawing closer for a while now, as the camera phone's music player has improved and the music player's camera has got steadily better.
And it's quite possible that the two will disappear altogether next year following announcements from Japan that the company is planning to move away from the two sub-brands next year, instead focusing on providing similar quality levels of each function in specific phones
So if this is to be one of the last Walkman phones to appear, it's just as well then that it's the best one yet, with an 8.1 megapixel camera, an improved media syncing system (which few could deny it needed), HSDPA 3G, Wi-Fi and A-GPS, all wrapped up in a neat, if slightly bulky and button-heavy slider package.
The Sony Ericsson W995 is a slider, so you'd expect it to be on the chunky side. That said, they've kept it reasonably slim by keeping the top part to a svelte 4mm, delivering the vital statistics of 97x49x15mm and 113g. So it's still a fair old handful, but not bad at all considering what's inside.
SIDE: it's not the slimmest slider phone, but it does pack a lot of features
But before we get to that, we have a wealth of buttons to get through, namely the six semicircles surrounded the circular D-pad on the front (call start and stop, plus two soft keys, cancel and the shortcuts menu), and the music controls on the right side, plus a volume/zoom rocker and camera shutter button.
BUTTONS: each button takes on a different role depending what you're doing
On the left side there's Sony Ericsson's Fast Port power socket, a dedicated Walkman button and the Memory Stick Micro slot, though it's hidden under the back cover.
At the top there's a 3.5mm headphone jack (at last!) while on the back is the 8.1 megapixel lens (wot, no cover? For shame…), LED flash and a small metal flip stand so you can set it somewhere handy to watch video.
It's right at the end of the phone though and ours kept falling over until we realised it worked best with the slider open.
Sony Ericsson W995: Screen, interface and camera
The W995's LCD screen might not match up to the OLED on Sony's recent X-series Walkman, but it's still very good with 240x320-pixel and 262,000 colours.
SCREEN: it's a tad on the small side when using it for watching movies and navigating music
Our only complaint is that it's only 2.6in – fine for a phone, but not so clever for a media player, which is exactly what the W995 really wants to be. It's not bad, it's just that it suffers in comparison to many of the larger touch screen interfaces available from the iPhone or HTC Touch HD.
Strictly speaking, it's not a smart phone, which, while it might limit its abilities in some ways, also means that it's not cluttered up with functions you may not need, and it's easy and quick to find your way around the familiar icon-based menus.
Anyone who has used a standard Sony Ericsson mobile over the last few years will be right at home using the familiar interface.
INTERFACE: it's standard Sony Ericsson menu system here, so it's intuitive without being innovative
Helpfully, Sony Ericsson includes a little bit of haptic feedback when you access menu items too.
The 8.1 megapixel camera is very similar to that found on Sony Ericsson's last Cybershot device, the C905.
CAMERA: it's the best camera on a Walkman phone yet
The Xenon flash is downgraded to standard LED but most of the other Sony Ericsson features are there, including an image stabiliser and auto focus, as well as smile detection and the marvellous BestPic, which takes seven pics in quick succession, both before and after you press the shutter, to ensure you get the best snap.
There's also a 16x digital zoom, macro setting and panorama, though we found this didn't stitch the three images together as easily as some versions of this feature.
Pictures were great in comparison with lesser camphones, but not quite up to the top standard of the 8 megapixel brigade – close inspection revealed a modicum of blurring and a bit too much purple fringing on the edges. It didn't seem to handle bright light particularly well either.
Video provided better quality than we were expecting, though it's still a drop in standard from the still picture images.
FLASH: the LED flash does a pretty good job when taking fairly close shots
LOW LIGHT: in these conditions the W995 didn't do at all well
MACRO MODE: close up shots were surprisingly good although lacked the detail of fully fledged cameras
OUTSIDE: colours are vivid, and focus is good, making the W995 a good all-round camera phone...
... although from this section of the image above you can clearly see the lack of detail
PANORAMA: the panorama mode was easy to operate although you can clearly see the joins between the three frames
Sony Ericsson W995: Music and media
As a Walkman handset, music is obviously the core skill for the W995 and it has all the features we've come to expect, with exceptionally good sound quality augmented by Clear Stereo and Clear Bass features, as well as a five-band graphic equaliser and FM radio with RDS.
But the W995 comes with its own set of external stereo speakers.
They do a good job of augmenting the handset's own stereo output, and provide enough volume to fill a medium-size room with background sounds. They run off the phone's battery though, and there's no way to plug either into the mains when they're connected, so it's a feature you'll want to use sparingly.
SPEAKERS: they do a good job but we'd still recommend using the supplied earphones wherever possible
The supplied headphones are supposedly the best that Sony Ericsson can offer and they are indeed very good, with a pleasingly broad dynamic range and decent levels of bass. This is the first Walkman phone with a 3.5mm jack plug – and the first time we've felt that we didn't really need it.
The W995 plays MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC and WMA audio formats (but no ATRAC, which seems to have been left out to quietly die by Sony) and MPEG-4 and WMV formats for video.
Playback quality was generally decent enough considering the size of the screen, though not all formats can be shown full screen – so widescreen movie trailers for instance played with black bars on top and bottom.
MUSIC & VIDEO: the W995 is a great little media player but falls behind many of its big touchscreen rivals
The new MediaGo syncing software is a boon, making it easier to sync media with your PC or Mac. There's even an online store, not that there's a lot on it just yet, and a selection of free movies via the PlayNow Arena online service, which offers locked ODF files.
They're not great movies in truth, Jackass 2.5 was the best available last we looked (no, really), but it does offer an easy way to get full-length, free and legal films onto phone, and Sony Ericsson says it will be adding five new films each month.
Sony Ericsson W995: Internet, connectivity
The Access Netfront browser makes a decent fist of web browsing. The W995's accelerometer will flip the screen to landscape mode when your turn it on its side and you can zoom in or out in ten per cent increments.
There are also options to copy and paste, search web pages for key words, save pictures and view pages as text only
UNBOXED: in the box you get the handset, speakers, USB cable, charger and premium earphones
The Sony Ericsson W995 is well served with connectivity options, including quad-band GSM, GPRS, HSDPA 3G fast internet connection (up to 7.2Mbps), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo A2DP. It will also hook up to Mac or PC for syncing or charging via USB 2.0.
POP3 email was easy to set up, similar to the procedure with many modern smart phones – input your email address and password, and you're ready to go.
EMAIL: POP access is easy to set up although is harder to use in comparison to its big-screen cousins
We didn't encounter any problems with sound or call quality – the speaker offers a clear, realistic tone and there were no dropped calls during our test period.
The onboad A-GPS is supported by Google Maps and worked without a hitch, easily finding our north London location, even when we were indoors.
Sony Ericsson's NearMe app is a little basic but it's easy to use and succeed in giving us information on local facilities such as cinema showings and restaurants. There's also a preloaded trial version of the Wayfinder Navigator sat nav.
The 118MB of onboard memory won't keep much of your music and videos, but fortunately it comes with an 8GB Memory Stick Micro card.
Incidentally, this could be one of the last Sony Ericsson phones to include this feature, as the company has announced it will be moving to the more popular microSD format next year.
Battery life wasn't bad for general phone use. The specs promise up to nine hours talk time and 370 hours standby, but we barely managed two days with around an hour or so each of web browsing, video watching and music playing.
And considering there are so many multimedia temptations on offer, a bigger battery would have been welcome.
Sony Ericsson W995: TechRadar verdict
Sony Ericsson has announced that it plans to fully converge its 'W' and 'C' brands at some point in the near future, offering no real distinction in terms of a choice between photography or music - just equal quality levels of both.
Certainly the inclusion of an 8.1 megapixel camera on a Walkman phone makes a clear statement that this is a phone aiming for the best of both worlds, and it's borrowed some of our favourite features from the Cybershot series, such as BestPic, smile detection and its 16x digital zoom (the quality at full zoom deteriorates of course, but to nowhere near the extent that we'd feared).
Sony Ericsson's Walkman music player has all its usual features, such as the Clear Stereo and Clear Bass audio enhancements, as well as the SensMe emotional playlists and TrackID for identifying unknown tunes on the onboardFM radio.
There's a five-band graphic equaliser too, as well as the best supplied ear buds we've yet received with a camphone - despite the presence of a 3.5mm jack plug (the first Walkman phone to have one) this was the first time we really didn't feel we needed it.
Sony Ericsson's new MediaGo media syncing software for PC and Mac isn't up there with iTunes but it's a big improvement on the rather basic Sony Ericsson PC Suite or even Sony's Media Manager in terms of intuitiveness and versatility. It also offers free full-length movies, at least for the next 12 months, via Sony's PlayNow Arena download service.
That video stand seems like a good idea, but it's a shame it had to be so flimsy - we can image seeing quite a few disfigured W995s over the next few months as the stands feel like they'd be easy to accidentally snap off.
The camera is a slight disappointment, if only because our expectations were so high. The quality of the pictures doesn't put it clearly in front of other 8 megapixel warriors such as the LG Renoir or Samsung's Pixon M8800.
But that said, there's not a great deal in it, and it's still a more than decent camera.
The problem with full-featured media phones is that you're tempted to use them a lot, whether it be for web browsing, video viewing, music listening or even the odd phone call. Unfortunately, the battery on the W995 won't win any awards for longevity, especially if you're planning to make full use of
the phone's capabilities.
We liked the Sony Ericsson W995 - it's still very much a music phone, and it does it better than virtually anything bar the iPod, and even though its camera isn't quite at the top of the 8 megapixel game, it's certainly good enough to make it worth your while.
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