Sony Ericsson W800i – brief review, six months on

Thanks to WordPress’ stats tracking system, I’ve noticed that most people accidentally coming in here are looking for information on the W800i “Walkman phone”. Since I’ve had this phone for about six months now, I thought it could be useful for some of those still on the fence to get a honest evaluation of the phone from someone who’s used it very actively for a while.

In this “postview” I’ll focus on the downsides of the W800i, mention some of my favourite features, and try to compare it to upcoming phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia. Read on!

Negatives
The W800i has the Walkman brand, and many will buy it planning to use it as their primary music player. The primary downside here is the fact that file transfer to and from the phone is operating at USB 1.1 speeds. This means that moving 1 song from your PC to the W800i will require about 30 seconds; moving an 80 megabyte album of songs took me about 5 minutes. Compare this to the blazing USB 2.0 speeds (which can be up to ten times faster) offered by most new MP3 players , and you’ll realise that patience is a virtue you’ll need if you change the music often. Of course, since the phone comes with 512 MB of memory on a memory card by default (plus some 50+ megabytes of internal memory), change music often is exactly what you might want to do. On the other hand, considering how much time it takes to fill it up with 500 megabytes of music, I’ve decided not to purchase a 2048 megabyte memory stick for the time being.

Data transfer speeds over the mobile network is limited to GPRS speeds, meaning there is no front-mounted video camera for video conversations. GPRS speeds means that surfing the web and checking your mail will be slower on the W800i than with your old 56K modem. It’s fast enough to be usable (and I check my e-mail with the built-in e-mail client regularly), but so slow that you’ll usually want to start the mail-checking process and do something else for thirty seconds. I don’t care that much for video conversations – it would be a nice feature – but I wouldn’t mind EDGE or 3G support for faster data transfer speeds, as I occasionally use the mobile phone as a modem for my laptop and often check my mail and read the web on the phone.

A few minor nags:

  • Memory stick requires a bit of effort to remove, so I don’t do it often (meaning I have to live with the transfer speeds mentioned above)
  • The handsfree has just one button – for picking up and concluding calls. It would be nice to have basic playback control on it as well, even though the phone’s design means that’s not that important (more later).
  • It would be really, really nice if it ran Symbian and could do proper multitasking… but hey, you’d have to spend a few 100$ more
  • The quality of the video recording isn’t very good – it’s at low resolution and 15 frames per second. This means it’s more of a fun bonus feature than something you’ll really use a lot.
  • The earbuds of the HPM-70 handsfree might take some getting used to for some – I found them annoying to walk/jog with at first. Since they are in-ear earbuds and totally blocks out external noises, you can hear your own footsteps reverbing at low to moderate volume levels. Also, it would be great to have a 3,5 mm headphones jack in the phone itself, but then you’d not be able to answer calls on it without fetching the phone from your pocket (the HPM-70 has the microphone where the 3,5 mm plug is), so that’s a tradeoff.

Negatives that are largely no more
In earlier posts about handsfree problems here and SE Update Service problems here I’ve mentioned the two big annoyances I’ve had with this phone. The handsfree set that originally came with it was so fragile, the cable was damaged after 2-3 months of normal use. Sony Ericsson replaced it at no charge, and as the new model of the HPM-70 handsfree set is built with appreciably sturdier material, I’m not complaining about this anymore.

The problems I had while upgrading the firmware on my phone is a different issue – it’s a case of SE providing a program for the end-user which is not suitable for end-user use. This is not a big issue for people who buy the W800i now, though – if you buy it new you’ll most likely get the latest firmware version and have no immediate need to upgrade. If you do need to upgrade, make sure you find additional written instructions (beside those that are in the update program itself) and don’t hesitate in looking for more instructions if you are uncertain about how to use the update program.

Positives
There’s a lot of ground to cover in this paragraph, so I’ll do it bullet point style.

  • MP3 player with great sound (both with included HPM-70 handsfree and my own Koss PortaPros)
  • Well-designed, snappy user interface – it is obvious that this device has adequate processing power
  • Simple multi-tasking – you can check your mail or run 1 Java application and listen to music at the same time – and switch to the music player and back to whatever you were doing by pressing 1 button
  • Great camera for a mobile phone – provided you have enough light you’ll often get great exposures. Shooting in daylight works great; the photo lamp means you’ll also get decent shots indoors. It won’t replace your pocket camera, but I’m extremely happy about this aspect of the phone nevertheless
  • Very compact! 99 grams and a pretty much perfect size, in my opinion.
  • Good Java performance – running eMSN or Opera Mini (which lets your surf the web at decent speeds and low cost) works great
  • Good FM radio
  • Overall good build quality – although the battery cover feels a bit flimsy, I’ve not had any problems with it, and I really like the look and feel of the rest of the phone
  • Extra buttons are very handy for MP3 player control – two buttons for volume +/- double as next/previous track when held down, and you also have a button for starting and stopping playback. The shape and size of these buttons allow me to control the music playback through the fabric of my pants – great. I wonder if that’s accidental or by design. Show me the iPod Nano that can be easily controlled in this fashion ;)
  • Good battery life – I estimate it lasts about three days with my average usage, which is an hour of MP3, checking my mail on it three times a day, writing lots of texts and surfing on the web a bit. I charge it every night anyways (it conserves the battery), so it’s not a big deal to me, but a very nice bonus.
  • You can use the photo light as a flashlight – it is pretty strong, so this is surprisingly handy when you are crawling behind computers and hooking up cables, or just trying to navigate some slippery stairs in total darkness.
  • Overall good feature set – Bluetooth, IR, MP3, radio, camera, and none of the features are poorly implemented.

So should you buy one now?
The way I see it, upcoming phones from SE and Nokia (this probably holds for most other manufacturers too) have a few key features that the W800i lacks.

  • 3G/EDGE for faster data transfer over the air and video calling – in a package the same size (Sony Ericsson K610)
  • Some have WLAN support – which means you get really fast (and often free) internet access and access to the WLAN you probably have at home already (Nokia N80 is an example)
  • Better video recording – some phones can do 320×200 or even 640×480 in 30 fps.
  • Better camera – 3 megapixels and Cybershot branding sounds nice, aye? (SE K800i)
  • UPnP (Universal Plug and Play support) – this means that your phone will be able to easily connect to other UPnP-enabled devices. This could mean that your TV set automatically discovers your cellphone when it’s nearby (via WLAN or Bluetooth networking) and will have access to functionality and media on your cellphone. Meeeaning – you can use the TV remote and navigate in the file system on the phone, find the images or video you’d like to see on the big screen and display them, just like that. Or you could use the cellphone as a TV remote. At least – this is how they say it’s going to work. I suspect the major problem will be getting UPnP support on a wide range of devices. The Nokia N80 will support this, but as long as your TV, stereo and PC doesn’t, it’s of no use.
  • True multi-tasking. The Nokia N80 is a Symbian phone; meaning you can run several user-installed programs simultaneously, like on a PC.

Conclusion

Our relationship is still great, six months on!

It’s important to keep in mind that the neat stuff above is going to cost you. For the average phone user – provided he or she wants more than basic phone functionality – the W800i is a great phone. If you’re a techno geek, you already know most of the stuff I mentioned above, and being able to multi-task might mean a lot to you ;)

I paid 4000 Norwegian kroner for my phone – roughly 400 USD, I guess – and if you can get it for 75% or even 60% of that, I’d say it’s a great purchase.

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18 Responses to “Sony Ericsson W800i – brief review, six months on”

  1. Margrethe Says:

    You just have to write this faster than me and publish it before I got the time;) Anyway, I’ve only had this phone for one week, so I don’t think I’m the best to give a review(and all that technology things doesn’t matter to me:)), but if you’re interested go on and read my review(in Norwegian)

  2. Anders Says:

    Okey; I guess the Ipod Nano-part is mine to answer. I guess it could be done, but uh, well, not worth the hassle finding out which way it’s lying in your pocket, locating the wheel and clicking. What I did was buying the new Radio Remote, works ok. A couple of problems though; it’s quite hard to hit the right button if you wear gloves outside in the cold, and I’ve not found a way to switch between playing music and radio through the remote yet. The radioquality is quite good though, way better than my old Nokia-handsfree.. but that sure is to be expected too, it didn’t come for free. :)

    I’m seriously considering buying the new Nokia N80 – but I still haven’t seen it for sale anywhere, extremely disappointing. Same goes for the N91, announced sometime early last autumn. Amobil.no (a norwegian site for phone-reviews) did a preview of it almost 1,5 month ago, saying it should be in sale shortly … I’m still waiting Nokia! :(

  3. shally Says:

    This is a nice articel gives us alot information about Sony Ericsson w800i.It is a great phone that has radio quality feature.
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  4. Azam Siddiqui Says:

    I am also a very proud owner of the Sony Ericsson w800i but I am simply disgusted with the battery backup. Being a Nokia user all the way, I feel this is one big factor where SE needs to work on.
    Anyways I am planning to buy a pair of new battereis for my set. Well I got to use the handset …and what better way than to have atleast two backup battereies.

  5. yakir Says:

    how good is the video?
    can u send me a short file of video?
    for how long can i record with 512 mb?

  6. Are Wold Says:

    The video is pretty bad. It is OK for recording fun things when they happen – your buddy diving into the pool, screaming, for instance – and then viewing it later on on the phone itself. It is no good for replay on a TV or PC.

    I’ve taken lots of small clips and enjoy them, but the video function is, alongside missing EDGE/3G, one of the things I miss the most in this phone.

    You can record for ages on a 512 MB card. Since the quality is so poor, the files take hardly no space at all. I really don’t know how long they could be – several hours, probably? But considering the quality, you really wouldn’t want to create a feature movie on this phone! :)

    I don’t have a clip handy now, sorry.

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