Sony Ericsson W380i review

Reviews 18:15, 28 Mar 2008

We review the Sony Ericsson W380i Walkman phone, a low-cost, slick-looking clamshell with novel extras that's designed for music mobile buyers on a budget

Sony Ericsson has been landing some heavy-hitting Walkman music mobiles recently. But now comes the budget-priced W380i - a Walkman flip mobile that delivers some clever attention-grabbing features and an attractive design in an affordable package.

As a Walkman phone, the W380i naturally majors on music, with a multi-format music player and an FM radio inside. It comes with a 512MB Memory Stick Micro (M2) card too, and decent headphones. But the W380i also brings a sprinkling of new gadgetry to the lower end Walkman range that could give it an edge over other low-cost rivals.

Most visibly on the music side, the smooth stylish shell features unusual external music player controls, comprising large forward/back/play/stop symbols made from raised dots moulded into the plastic surface. Next to these is a 'hidden' OLED display, which becomes visible when the phone becomes active, or tunes are playing, showing phone status or track details.

Sony Ericsson has also debuted Gesture Control operation on the W380i. With just a wave of the hand above a sensor on the shell, this enables you to switch an alarm to snooze, or silence an incoming call alert. It may be a gimmick, but it adds to the novelty factor that can make a difference at this price point.

Even at a budget price, the W380i's basic 1.3-megapixel camera is a disappointment, however, offering limited image quality, and there's no video shooting option. You can upload captured images to an online Blogger account direct from the phone (like with most recent Sony Ericsson handsets). But other multimedia capabilities are limited on the W380i; it's a tri-band GSM GPRS/EDGE phone rather than a 3G model, so there's no high-speed downloading or video call functions.

Design and handling
Sony Ericsson has done a fine job on the external design of the W380i. It's stylishly smart-looking, with a smooth matt finish in either 'electric purple', 'magnetic grey' or 'black champagne', with contrasting colours accenting the Walkman logo on the front and some buttonry. It's reasonably compact too, at 92(h) x 49(w) x 16(w) mm, weighing 100g.

External music keys are, of course, nothing new on mobiles, but the ones here add to the sharp look of the phone. Held in landscape mode, these glow faintly when music first starts playing or you touch the keys. The OLED display above it - a small 36x128 pixels screen - scrolls details of tracks across it for a few seconds, appearing from beneath the shell. It also shows caller ID info when you received calls.

This sort of 'hidden' display has been done before too, most recently on Motorola's MOTO U9 budget clamshell phone, and originally on Sony Ericsson's own Z610i back in 2006. It is elegantly done here however, despite the limited scope of what the small screen can show.

Activating the Walkman player is one of the fast access options on the main navigation D-pad. The controls and numberpad arrangement will be familiar to anyone who's used a Sony Ericsson phone. The numberpad buttons are large and well spaced, but aren't the most responsive we've pressed on Sony Ericssons.

The internal display is a not particularly detailed 176x220 pixels, 262K-colour array. Menus and the Walkman player on this phone look less impressive than the QVGA displays of phones like the W890i, but for a low-budget phone, it's perfectly adequate. The Walkman interface is intuitive however and follows a similar attractive look to its more expensive Walkman range-mates - though with not quite so many options. and categories.

Music major
The Walkman player itself puts in a fine performance,with good detail, plenty of bass and a wide dynamic range. It performed impressively well across a variety of music, demonstrating subtly and versatility. And there's plenty of volume without distortion too.

Sony Ericsson provdes above-average quality earphones, and it pays off in the quality sound. In addition, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack adapter on the two-part earphones, so it's simple to bump the quality up further by adding better headphones. It's a shame the headphone connector/charger/USB cable socket is on the side, though, as this makes the phone more bulky and awkward in your pocket. Stereo Bluetooth support also holds out the wireless option.

The loudspeaker on the front panel isn't great though - it delivers trebly, poor quality sound. Be aware, too, that the raised music controls on the front have to be pressed firmly to work. Thankfully, there is haptic feedback (a slight vibrating buzz) , so you know when you've successfully hit a button properly. A slider on the back of the phone enables you to lock the music controls to prevent accidental tune-skipping.

An FM radio is a welcome addition, and included here too is Sony Ericsson's clever track identification software, TrackID.

Camera quality
If you're after a phone for taking high quality snaps, the W380i isn't it. The 1.3-megapixel camera is lower quality than you'd expect even on a budget Walkman phone, and it's a shame that Sony Ericsson hasn't stretched to at least a 2-megapixel shooter - pretty much the default minimum on all but the cheapest mobiles now.

There's no autofocus and flash, and results, even in good lighting conditions, are of limited quality. This deteriorates further in darker conditions. There is the option to upload pictures to a Blogger site - but there's no video recording possible, even at a low quality happy-slapping level, something some buyers may find disappointing. You can watch video clips on the video player app, though, if you're sent any or load up clips to the M2 card

Browsing the internet is possible with the W380i - there's a Google search facility on the opening page, and the Wap 2.0 XHTML browser adapts pages to fit onto the mobile's screen. Support for RSS feeds is included - useful if you want to get regular updates or information from websites or blogs without having to negotiate the browser each time.

Sony Ericsson includes three decent games with the W380i - Extreme Air Snowboarding, QuadraPop and The SIMS 2 - plus there's a standard lineup of Sony Ericsson organiser functions.

Battery life is reasonably good, with Sony Ericsson estimating up to 7 hours talktime or 300 hour standby. Real life mobile use means these figures will in practice be lower, but our tests indicated that a few days usage between charges is a reasonable expectation without heavy Walkman use. Voice call quality was clear and strong.

Overall, the Sony Ericsson W380i offers a great mobile music player performance for a real budget price, and has a few novel features - like the external keys, OLED screen and Gesture Control - thrown in to grab attention, and give it more of a buzz than the average low-cost handset. It's attractively built too, giving it extra budget buyer pulling power.

Sony Ericsson has trimmed some features to hit the W380i's price point - the poor camera and lack of video capture are the obvious sacrifices. But there are also a good selection of basic features to go with the attention grabbers too.

If a Walkman phone or music-heavy mobile is what you're looking for, you're on a strict budget - and you're prepared to forego a higher quality imaging experience - the W380i is a very attractive option. It's not perfect, but it does tune-playing better than many more expensive music mobiles.


Sony Ericsson W380i Info

Typical price: Free with contract, £70-£80 on pre-pay, £160 SIM-free

Latest Sony Ericsson W380 Prices

Neat, stylish design
Fine quality music player with decent earphones
Novel extra gimmicks
Good value for money

Poor 1.3 megapixel camera quality
No video recording
No 3G capability

Verdict: A budget-priced but attractive Walkman phone producing a decent music performance - but imaging facilities are limited


More info: Sony Ericsson Website

Sony Ericsson W380i technical specifications.

Recycle your phone: Sell Sony Ericsson W380i

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