Sony Ericsson W890i review

Reviews 16:38, 3 Mar 2008

Sony Ericsson's W890i super-slim Walkman phone builds on the slim, stylish and chic W880i with added feature firepower and multimedia muscle

Ultra-slim, shiny and chic, Sony Ericsson's slimline W880i candybar 3G Walkman phone has wowed plenty of people and slipped into many pockets since its launch early last year. Now Sony Ericsson has refreshed the successful formula with the W890i, adding a little cosmetic tweakery, some feature enhancements and an upgraded 3G high-speed data capability.

Sony Ericsson has softened the lines of the super-thin W890i newcomer, adding a few more curves while keeping the 10mm waistline suitably waif-like. The rice-thin keys of the W880i have been replaced by a more finger-friendly (but less minimalist) numberpad arrangement. However, the stylish look and feel has been maintained, with an elegant brushed metal casing around the back and front in silver, brown or (exclusive to Vodafone in the UK) black.

Under the bonnet, Sony Ericsson has super-charged the W890i's 3G capability by adding high-speed HSDPA technology, enabling download and internet surfing speeds of up to 3.6Mbps. Music is naturally top of the agenda, with the latest Walkman Player 3.0 software inside, featuring Sony Ericsson's SensMe mood-matching tune selection option. Supplied memory has been upgraded in this new model, with a 2GB Memory Stick Micro (M2) card in-box, providing room for up to 1800 tracks. The overall music package has been enhanced too with the welcome addition of an FM radio.

It's good to see Sony Ericsson upping the pixel count on its Walkman phone cameras. The W890i has a 3.2-megapixel shooter on the back panel (the W880i had a 2-megapixel one), although again there's no room for a flash or autofocus.

As you'd expect from a higher-end phone like this, all the regular 3G downloading, streaming and video calling functionality is included, with a secondary camera perched above the display for face-to-face chatting. The screen here is a reasonably-sized 2-inch QVGA (240x320 pixels) TFT display, capable of resolving 262,144 colours. It's not the biggest screen around, but is well-proportioned on this compact handset and is as bright and clear as you need for its multimedia capabilities.

The subtle spruce-up to the W890i has had minimal effect on the dimensions, measuring in at 104 (h) x 47(w) x 10 (d) mm and weighing 78g. The smooth curved edges make it feel comfortable to hold, it's well-balanced, and the build quality is excellent. Criticism of the W880i's sharp-looking but sometimes fiddly to use sliver-like number keys has been addressed; the buttons are now larger, curved and well-proportioned, making them easier for thumbs or fingers to use without compromising on the phone's elegant look.

The main D-pad navigation panel - which doubles up as the music player controls in Walkman mode - is similar to the W880i's, with surrounding softkeys, clear button and Activity menu key flanking it. The Activity menu is a handy utlity for pulling together useful and most likely to be used functions and apps into one place, to cut down on app-hunting time. The rationalised keypad layout now has prominent Call and End keys too.

The keypad is very responsive and great to handle, while the user interface employed by Sony Ericsson is a smooth ride. A grid-based main menu system is intuitive, while there are shortcuts from the D-pad, softkeys and Activity menu you can use or easily re-configure yourself. Clicking on the main menu icons takes you into further sub menus; organised neat and tidily, it takes little effort to find your way around numerous applications and engage the phone's functionality.

Among these, stored in a Location services sub-folder (and featured as a shortcut in the Activity menu), is a Google Maps application that can triangulate your rough position automatically using mobile cell information without a GPS receiver, or exact location if connected with a compatible Bluetooth GPS module.

Like other recent Sony Ericsson Walkman phones, the Media gallery is smartly presented too, with the video, photo and music folders consistently themed to match the Walkman look and feel.

Launching the W890i's headline Walkman player is a side-button press away (or a quick trip into the main menu). Version 3.0 of the Walkman Player has an attractive interface that shows details of tracks and artwork (if available), while tracks are categorised into some familiar - and not so familiar - categories. Alongside artists, albums, tracks, videos, playlists, genres and years there are podcast and audio book sections. But the SensMe option is a Sony Ericsson original.

SensMe has appeared on recent models such as the W910i and W960i, and enables you to assign mood and tempo ratings to tracks using the Media Manager PC software supplied. Once copied over to the phone, you can compile a playlist with a bunch of tunes to play to suit your mood, using a graph that plots tracks on a fast/slow and happy/sad axes. Odd perhaps, but possibly a help to runners and those who need a bit of random mood enhancement.

The main player action is funky and functional - the presentation and graphics are smooth and flow neatly, while operation is obvious. As usual, tracks can be easily sideloaded onto the phone from a PC using the supplied software and USB cable, or dragged and dropped onto to the phone's memory card in mass storage mode when connected to a Mac or PC. HSDPA also means you can download tracks over the air from a mobile network music service or Sony Ericsson's PlayNow offering significantly faster than on standard 3G, taking just a few seconds to download full tracks.

Part of the now-standard Walkman phone package is a superior set of out-of-the-box earphones. These plug into the chunky charger/data connector socket, again on the side of the phone (why the side? the top or bottom would make it easier to pocket). However, the two-piece headset arrangement involves a 3.5mm jack socket midway that thankfully can accommodate standard headphones too, so you can upgrade to higher quality ear-ware if the desire takes you. Not that this is a pressing requirement - the audio performance through the supplied set is impressive, maintaining a consistent quality from low to high volume, with a well balanced dynamic range with plenty of well handled bass.

The earphone performance is aided by snugly fitting earbuds on the in-ear 'phones (there are additional rubber buds supplied to ensure a close ear-match). Plug in some higher quality headphone, like our Bose and Sennheiser reference sets, and you get an exceptional mobile music experience that is extremely pleasing.

Of course, being a Walkman phone you can adjust equalizer settings, including adding MegaBass, and you can tweak the sound with stereo widening. Naturally, stereo Bluetooth is supported for wireless headsets and speaker set-ups. You could try the loudspeaker too - but presumably because of the metal casing, that is harsh and particularly tinny.

Music-wise, we also like the fact that Sony Ericsson has included an FM radio for adding to sound options. Sony Ericsson's clever TrackID software is also in the spec, enabling you to quickly discover the name and details of a track you're listening to or hear on the radio by recording a snippet and interrogating a remote database using a data link.

Camera quality has been upped from the W880i with the 3.2-megapixel camera. It's not geared up for the performance level of Sony Ericsson's Cyber-shot photo-centric mobile range, however. Without a flash, low-light shooting is limited, while the lack of autofocus limits the precision you can achieve.

The camera is set-up to be easy to use, though. A side button activates the camera, which automatically switches the screen into landscape shooting mode. The camera interface is simple to get to grips with; you can snap on default automatic settings, or make adjustments to white balance settings, picture size, night shooting mode, and add colour effects. You can also opt for multi-shot bursts, panorama shots or shots with frames, and set a timer for snaps.

Image quality is impressive considering the lack of autofocus and flash, with lots of crisp detail apparent in mid-range shots, and lovely, natural colour rendition. In bright lighting conditions, you can achieve fine results. The phone manages to deal well with contrast too. Indoors shooting in low-light, as expected, isn't as good, but the camera performs better than other 3-megapixel cameras we've tested in dealing with poor light without a flash.You can get reasonably close to subjects and maintain focus too. All-in-all, it produces a very acceptable performance for a camera with its limitations.

Sony Ericsson includes its PhotoDJ on-phone application for picture tweaking in-camera, but also supplies Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition PC software on a CD, providing a more sophisticated set of editing options. You also have the option when taking snaps to upload them directly from the phone to a Blogger blog.

(You can see more detailed information on this phone's camera performance - and sample pictures - in our related article Sony Ericsson W890i Camera Samples.)

The W890i can capture video too at maximum QVGA (320x240 pixels) resolution. Quality is limited, as usual, for a mobile phone, but passable when played back on the phone. You can edit footage in a basic way with the onboard VideoDJ software.

Sony Ericsson has kitted out the W890i with a pleasing set of features. It doesn't use any smartphone operating system, but offers plenty to keep users occupied. Despite no internal GPS receiver, the Google Maps application does a decent job with cell triangulation providing you with maps or satellite pics of your immediate vicinity. And you can look up places or directions and zoom into maps; although this info is transmitted over the air, it works snappily on 3G networks, so is quite a useful app to have to hand - even if it's not a full-blown sat nav option. You can use an optional standalone Bluetooth GPS receiver with it though, to increase accuracy.

The Access NetFront web browser used here provides a pretty effective mobile internet experience; the start-up page is set-up with Google search the first option and an address bar beneath - logical and easy to navigate. Beneath these options are an RSS Web feeds option, giving you a further option to check your favourite web-based content regularly and quickly - and have it has a standby ticker, if you like. The browser enables you to view web pages in full or to choose a small screen optimised scroll-down version of the page, and with 3G HSDPA onboard, pages download swiftly to the phone.

Sony Ericsson packages in a familiar set of organiser and office applications, including calendar, tasks, notes and voice memo facilities. Email is naturally supported here, too, with a wizard to help set up accounts. There are a few extras, like the Music Mate 4 music guide, three games (Lumines Block Challenge, The SIMS 2, and a SEGA-sourced tennis game, a code memo PIN-storage option and a Bluetooth remote control app.

Battery life on this phone is comfortably managed. Sony Ericsson claims in optimum conditions you can eke out up to 360 hours of standby time on a GSM network or 310 hours on more power-sapping 3G network operation. Talktime is estimated at 9.5 hours on GSM or 4.5 hours with 3G coverage. Alternatively, if you use your W890i phone solely as a Walkman, you could get 20 hours of music playback.

Real life usage is much more variable, however, particularly with a multimedia savvy handset that makes enjoying content a breeze, and positively encourages you to engage with its gadgetry. With our average usage patterns - not hitting the Walkman too hard - we averaged around two to three days between powering up the battery. Music heavy users will probably need more regular topping up.

Sony Ericsson has tempered the radical design of the original W880i ultra-slim Walkman phone with the W890i's more practical numberpad and softening out of the W880's sharper lines. Nonetheless, the engineering of this phone is superb - it's elegantly slim and stylish, lovely to handle and reassuringly responsive. Call quality is excellent too.

The camera could be improved, but still manages to hold its own remarkably well despite some limitations. The Walkman player - the key seller on the features front - makes for a high quality music mobile, with Sony Ericsson including decent earphones and memory card allowance in the package. While the W890i is more evolution than revolution, from the upgraded HSDPA high-speed across the web-based features and location services options, Sony Ericsson has improved on the W880i's strengths, and enhanced its functionality. Still chic, shiny and ultra-slim, the W890i delivers a highly attractive set of features in a hugely appealing design.

Sony Ericsson W890i info

Typical price: £240 SIM-free

Latest Sony Ericsson W890 Prices

Pros:
3G/HSDPA
Stylish design
3.2 megapixel camera
Google Maps
Responsive keypad

Cons:
Small screen

Verdict: The upgrade of the W890i delivers on features and usability

Rating:

More info: Sony Ericsson W890i microsite

Sony Ericsson W890i technical specifications.

Recycle your phone: Sell Sony Ericsson W890i

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