The flagship model in Sony Ericsson's first-generation of Walkman-branded phones, the w800i combines a solid tri-band GSM phone with exceptional multimedia functionality including a full-featured music player and best-in-class two megapixel camera.
The fun-loving cousin of Sony's all-business K750i, the w800i is the music lover's mobile of choice, at least until the next generation of Walkman phones is released.
The w800i is a candybar-style phone almost identical to the K750i in terms of dimensions and overall physical design. The phone is 1.8" w x 3.9" h x 0.8" d and 3.5 oz in weight, and is finished in white with orange and silver trim. In addition to the standard Sony Ericsson logos, the phone is branded with the Walkman logo on the front and along the left edge. Similar to the K750i, the w800i is a bit heavier in the hand than one might expect from its size. By no means a heavyweight, this phone does have something of a heft that speaks to the powerful electronics inside of it.
The front of the phone is divided almost equally between a gorgeous 262K TFT LCD screen on the top and a keypad on the lower half that's topped by a five-way joystick and five function buttons. Keypad buttons are white with black lettering while the naivgation stick and softkey buttons are silver with black labeling. The exceptions are the orange-topped nav stick and the top-center mounted Walkman button, which is silver with an orange "Walkman W" logo. Buttons are a little on the small side, but easy enough to use even for people with large hands (like me) so long as they're not obsessive text messagers. Users familiar with the K750i will be happy to know that the w800i's joystick doesn't cut into the "2" key, making this keypad a bit more user-friendly overall.
Turned over, the w800i is easily mistaken for a compact digital camera. The back panel is white plastic with an engraved SE logo and the green/silver SE marble logo along the bottom edge. Above that, the camera lens housing is finished in silver and orange plastic. The lens assembly itself is a circle done in multiple shades of silver including a square mirror (for self portraits) that sits just below a circular lens cover that is retracted by a thumb switch mounted to the side of the assembly. The lens cover switch is very easy to access, and the phone switches into camera mode when the cover is retracted, which is very nice. An LED camera light sits above the lens.
What's nice about this cameraphone treatment is that the handset looks like a phone and acts like a phone, but doesn't bulge out quite so much as many cameraphones, the K750i included. The 2.0 megapixel CMOS sensor and the rest of the camera-specific electronics are the same as those found in the K750i, but the w800i's housing is both easier to use and a tad slimmer.
The phone's left edge has a single button for music Play/Pause at the top, and a rubber-capped Memory Stick Duo slot on the bottom. A power button and IR port are found on the top edge of the phone, and the bottom edge is taken up by SE's multi-connector port.
The overall look of the w800i is fun. The phone isn't as flashy as a Motorola RAZR or some of the newest Samsung and LG sliders, but it's not as reserved looking as the K750i or other black and grey monotone candybar phones. The orange and white isn't for everyone, but I like it quite a bit.
Like the identical one found on the K750o, the w800i's 2.0 Megapixel camera on the K750i is the best camera I've ever used on a phone, and one of the best available today. Head to head shootouts with Nokia's N90 set featuring its 2MP Carl Zeiss optics regularly give the K750i a slight edge in picture quality, and after a few snaps it was clear to me why. Taken in good lighting conditions, highest-quality photos from this handset are sharp, detailed, and color accurate. The 4.0x digital zoom works quite well given the limitations of digital zoom (no optical zoom is available), and a plehtora of options including white balance adjustment, self-timer, auto focus and macro mode, night mode and picture quality settings are accessible with a few flicks of the joystick.
Bear in mind that this is a mobile phone and not a dedicated digital camera, so serious shutterbugs won't find the K750i a true replacement for their Canons and Leicas. Particularly in low light, the phone's pictures suffer from graininess and color degradation - the integrated photo light helps some with this, but it's not really a true flash and only goes so far. I, however, have never carried a digital camera around with me and only started snapping pictures regularly when I got my first decent cell phone cam (a VGA-quality Motorola V551). As such, I'm pretty floored by the pictures that the 750 takes. Transferred to a computer via USB or Bluetooth and viewed on a monitor at full 2MP resolution (1,632 x1,224 pixels), pictures taken with this device say "camera" and not "cell phone."
A video mode is also available. Videos are saved in the 3GP format, and while digital zoom and multiple shooting modes are similar in function to the still camera, video quality is jittery and blocky - not at all on par with the stellar performance of the camera. Basic photo and video applications are included, and they're fun to fiddle with if not all that useful.
Befitting of its designation in the "Walkman" line, the w800i's highlighted feature is its music player. This is the best music player I've yet to see in a cell phone, by far outdoing the much-maligned Motorola E1 ROKR and its watered-down version of Apple's iTunes software. The w800i's Walkman application supports mp3 and AAC audio files, and the included 512MB Memory Stick Duo card has room for a few albums' worth of songs with no 100 song limit like the ROKR has. Serious multimedia junkies can upgrade to a 2GB Memory Stick. Music is organized by artist, track, and playlist, and navigation with the joystick is straightforward and (for the most part) snappy. A graphic equalizer with preset and manual modes, shuffle and loop playback modes, and an FM radio with 20 presets are also part of the package. The Walkman application can also run in the background, with track information scrolled along the top of the screen above whatever else the phone is doing.
Sony includes a handsfree 3.5mm headphone adaptor and premium in-ear earphones with the w800i. The adaptor connects to the phone via the bottom-mount connector port, and the earphones plug into a standard stereo jack on the other end of the line, where a microphone and answer/disconnect button are also located. This setup is quite nice, as it allows for music listening and handsfree use of the phone using the same headset (the phone automatically pauses music when an incoming call is detected). Out of the box the w800i actually sounds better than an iPod because it ships with far better earphones, though the standard 3.5mm jack allows the use of whatever headphones you might prefer. My only complaint is that because the assembly plugs into the phone's connector port, the phone cannot be charged or connected to a computer while earphones are being used. Sony would have done better fitting the phone itself with a 3.5mm jack.
Access to the phone's plentiful connectivity options, applications, customization settings, and 510-entry phone book with picture and ringtone user ID is intuitive using either the static or Flash-animated user interfaces. All of the features one expects from a high-end handset are here: Datebook with to-do list and alarm reminders, MIDI and mp3/AAC ringtone support, vibrate mode, voice dialing and memo support, and speakerphone. Contact and datebook syncing is supported via USB (a data cable is included) and Bluetooth, and works with both Windows and Mac-based computers. The phone even features a Remote Control mode that lets you take command of your computer's cursor via Bluetooth: Geeks rejoice!
The file manager application provides on-phone management of audio, video, photo, game and other files, including Bluetooth/USB transfer and installation/deletion of applications. The included software CD is PC-only and supports file transfer and management when your phone and computer are connected (or if you pop the Memory Stick out of the phone and mount it on your PC's desktop). Mac users can browse the phone from their computers without any software (my Mac launched iPhoto upon connection, treating the phone just like a digital camera), and third-party applications that support advanced file transfer and management are available.
Many JAVA-based games are available for download to the w800i, though I have to say that I was disappointed to see that Sony did not preinstall Super Real Tennis on the phone. I first tried this stunningly beautiful game on the K750i and still love it.
The 175x220, 262,000 color display on the w800i is absolutely excellent. At nearly 2" diagonal, the TFT screen is sharp, detailed, and a worthy compliment to the handset's stellar camera. As with almost all high-res phones, the Sony Ericsson's screen is somewhat difficult to read in direct sunlight and prone to fingerprints and smudges, but it's still a joy to use. The animated menus built in to the phone's UI are speedy and render well.
Call quality on the w800i is quite good. A tri-band GMS phone, with 900/1800/1900 bands and high-speed GPRS functionality, the is marketed as a world phone, the lack of an 850 MHz band may be a drawback for some potential buyers. Those buyers can turn to the more recently released w810i, which is essentially the same handset with a quad-band and EDGE-capable radio in a slightly redesigned black housing.
The phone's speakerphone is housed beneath the rear panel camera assembly, rendering it basically invisible, but callers' voices still came through acceptably loud and clear. The speaker also works surprisingly well as a makeshift way to share your music with others. It won't take the place of a stereo system by a long shot, but it works fine when you need a quick music fix. A variety of accessories are available for the phone, including a docking cradle with integrated stereo speakers. Use your phone as a boom box -- who'd have thought it possible only a few years ago?
Built-in Bluetooth allows for the use of wireless headsets with the w800i. A minor complaint here is that the phone does not support stereo over Bluetooth, so music without wires isn't really an option using this phone.
The w800i supports both SMS and MMS messaging protocols. MMS messages allow for audio, pictures, and videos to be included with text in your message, provided that both the sender and receiver's cellular service supports MMS. Full quality photos taken with the 2MP camera may prove too big to send via MMS, but the files can be compressed to sizes suitable for this use. The phone features T9 predictive text input with a user-definable dictionary.
Being a Walkman-branded phone, the w800i also includes a few applications designed to liven up your messaging. PhotoDJ and VideoDJ allow for sequencing still and video images along with superimposed text into an MMS message. As the names imply, the DJ programs also allow the addition of soundtracks (MIDI or mp3) in custom-created messages.
Support for GPRS data transfer, mobile Web browsing and POP/IMAP email makes the w800i a capable Internet device. While not a full-on smartphone, design features such as email fields in phonebook entries lend a robustness to this phone's data features. The phone may also be used as a cellular modem with compatible computers.
Note that the w800i does not support EDGE for high speed data usage on compatible GSM networks. Sony does offer a Quad Band Walkman phone, the w810i, that includes EDGE support.
With built-in Bluetooth 1.1, USB, IR, and a removable Memory Stick Duo card, the w800i has the flexibility to sync with your PC/Mac, ISP email, corporate email servers, and transfer files to other Bluetooth-equipped devices. The phone does not support Wi-Fi or GPS.
Bluetooth support on the w800i does not allow for stereo audio over Bluetooth; Sony would do well to include this feature in its next generation of Walkman phones, opening the door for future wireless stereo music applications.
Sony Ericsson's w800i is a worthy update to the Walkman legacy started many years ago when portable cassette players were truly the state-of-the-art in mobile music. Packing a robust digital music player and snapshot-worthy camera into a cell phone the size of a large pack of gum is no small feat, and Sony's managed to accomplish this without sacrificing any of what matters most when it comes to music ? sound quality. Music sounds great with the included in-ear headset, and upgrading to a premium set of phones ? or connecting the w800i to a home or car stereo ? will turn your phone into a custom audio system.
The w800i is not currently carried by T-Mobile, Cingular, or any other GSM carriers in the United States. However, the phone is widely available as an unlocked handset compatible with the above carrrier's networks.
It should be noted that Sony Ericsson recently announced a next-generation of Walkman phones including the flagship w950i, which according to SE's website will feature a touchscreen and 4GB of built-in flash memory. Another recently announced phone, the quad-band w300i, will be the first clamshell (flip phone) Walkman model and feature dual displays with music information viewable when the phone is closed.