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Sony Ericsson W800 – Overrated, but Still Good

After 18 months of trusty service, I finally retired my Blackberry 7100t. I recently acquired a new Blackberry 8700 for work, so I saw no reason to carry two Blackberries (even I have my limits). I decided to finally break down and get a phone that was more focused on entertainment. I was also curious to find out the current state of the art for entertainment phones, given that I have not owned a more entertainment-focused phone for quite some time. My overall verdict is that this phone is not nearly as great as advertised for edge case users such as myself, but that it is a really strong offering in the mobile entertainment space. There is still plenty of room for innovation, improvement, and enhancement.

Overall, this phone is really strong on the entertainment dimensions and weak on some other basic dimensions. Here is a fairly detailed summary of my experience using this phone:

My Configuration
*SanDisk 1 GB Memory Stick
*PC running Windows XP
*Motorola HS850 Bluetooth headset
*T-Mobile USA

Calendar and Contacts – I found this to be one of the weaker applications on the phone. The documentation did not mention that the address book has a hard 500 user limit, regardless of whether you store the data on the memory stick. I have an address book with well over 2,000 contacts, so the 500 user cap made the data synchronization feature virtually useless to me. The calendar synchronization was much more useful and I was able to synchronize my test calendar in under 3 minutes.

Documentation – For a phone that is manufacturer branded (i.e. it does not carry a Cingular, T-Mobile, or other operator brandmark or logo), there is a shockingly weak set of documentation. The books that ship with the phone are moderately instructive, but for most questions I found that I had to go to the support website. The nice thing is that the website has easy-to-install Internet configuration scripts for most operators and the website can push them to you over the air. Many, but not all of my questions could be answered via the website.

One big beef I have with the documentation is that there is shockingly sparse description of how several Sony Ericsson-specific features work. The one that really grinds my gears is the weak description of how Sony Ericsson profiles work. The SE concept of a “profile” is very different from what it means from other operators and navigating to the profiles screen was not as smooth as I would have liked.

Disc2Phone Software – This software is aptly named. If you want to put music from a CD on your W800, it works great. All you have to do is to click and drag songs to add them to the phone. The application can change the sampling rate if you are concerned about cramming more music into a limited space.

I also have a gripe with this software as well. It works extremely well with CDs only. Whenever I tried to move songs that existed solely in MP3 format, it didn’t work nearly as smoothly. Two things happened. First, the software had a really hard time with my metadata. Songs that were in fact from the same album were not transferred over to the same album location. No amount of meddling with the metadata has resolved the problem fully. Second, to get more reasonable performance for write operations, you really need to tinker with the device drivers in your hardware manager. I was happy to do this, but your average user would probably balk at this. Given that about 50% of my non-iTunes music exists in CD-less MP3 format, I am pretty disappointed that the Gracenote integration can’t help me solve this problem.

Walkman Application – This is where this phone really shines. The Walkman application works really well. The sound quality through the stereo headphones is awesome. Like most of its iTunes-enabled brethren, the phone has the ability to pause music when you receive an incoming phone call. Also, if the phone goes to sleep, accidentally bumping into the buttons will not trigger the music to start playing again. The convenient Walkman center button and side play/pause buttons make getting into music mode very quick and easy. This is one of the strongest integrated implementations of music functionality I have had the pleasure to experience on a phone.

Camera – Like the Walkman app, the camera on this phone is also very strong. The 2MP camera takes good pictures under normal light and takes mediocre pictures in low lighting. The phone does have a night mode which marginally improves the quality of photos taken in low lighting (think restaurants). There are, though, some cool features on the phone. You can take landscape or portrait photos and the phone also has a self timer and allows you to shoot in a variety of modes, including Panorama and Burst. It is also nice that you can continue to listen to music while browsing the camera application.

As an aside, the light on the camera is a good idea but is poorly implemented. The camera features a bright white light right above the lens which can be used either as a beacon or to illiuminate items you would like to photograph. The light is so harsh, though, that it cannot be used to illuminate humans or other animate objects.

Keypad & User Interface – The keypad is somewhere between ho-hum and mildly irritating. I found the buttons to lack tactile force feedback and I had a hard time knowing whether I had actually pressed them. This is particularly true of the two large selector buttons to the left and right of the center Walknman button.

As for the UI, I feel it suffers from the same thing that plagues Windows Mobile 5.0 — the interface is too menu driven. I have to do altogether too much hunting and pecking through menus to be able to find the things I am looking for. The Flash Lite (at least that’s what I think it is) is pretty slick. Overall, I would have preferred a more shallow UI with more icons and more shallow sub-menus.

Operating System – The OS performance was adequate. Sometimes the phone has a tendency to hang. This was maddening when I would receive a call and not be able to hang up because the device had locked up. These were transient errors for the most part. I was hoping for something a bit zippier.

Battery Life and Antenna Strength – I don’t know how I can make an intelligent comment about battery life for this phone. How long the battery lasts depends crucially on what you do with the phone — if you are just talking it should last you for awhile. If you are listening to music and taking pictures, you will be lucky to make it through a whole day on one charge.

The antenna is much stronger than what I have used in other previous Sony Ericsson phones. It was on par with the reception experience I had with my 7100t.

Bluetooth Connectivity – I felt a tad disappointed here. Because so much of how this phone deals with accessories is profile driven, I had a hard time getting Bluetooth to work properly. With my 7100t, I was always able to maintain a relatively persistent connection between my phone and my headset. It was easy enough to just get into the car, put on the headset, and simply answer calls as they came in. In my limited experiences with the W800, I found that it was difficult to maintain a persistent Bluetooth connection between calls. I suspect that there is a feature that I must enable so that my Bluetooh headset will also be the default method for answering incoming calls under the Portable Handsfree profile. Bluetooth is already complicated enough for the average user — the W800 does not do anything to make it any easier.

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