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Review: Sony Ericsson W580i

Article Comments  27  

Sep 18, 2007, 3:52 PM   by Eric Lin

The iPhone isn't the only new music phone on AT&T. The W580i packs a big sound into a tiny slider. With video tour.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

Almost a year after AT&T launched the W810 as their flagship music phone, the carrier has finally replaced the stubby little bar with a slim elegant slider that packs a bigger punch in a much smaller size. The only downside is the loss of the W810's autofocus camera.

Body 

Now that most advanced clamshell phones - the RAZR2 or Samsung Ultra, for example - have grown to the size of a QWERTY smartphone, the slider now reigns supreme as the smallest, most usable form factor. The W580 is quite small, and rather slim. It fits nicely in your hand or in your pocket.

The bottom of the phone curves back, as though someone stuck the last centimeter of the phone in a pipe bender and turned it on by accident. The curve allows the phone to hook over your hand but isn't big enough to make the phone difficult to slip into a pocket. I barely even noticed it until slipping the W580 into a tiny change pocket. I had to flip the phone upside down to get it in comfortably.

Its narrow width and curved edges make the phone easy to grab, and comfortable to wrap your hands around. The shape is ideal whether the phone is open or closed. Unfortunately the finish of the phone detracts from this with a cheap plasticky feel. We commend Sony Ericsson for breaking away from the shiny plastic (or metal, or glass) rut that manufacturers seem to have fallen into. However the matte finish on the W580i is not tactically pleasant like Moto or HTC's soft-touch. Instead it is just fingerprint resistant.

The plastic may feel cheap to the touch, and it may make the W580i feel lighter than expected, but it does not impact how solid this phone feels. There's no discernible creaking or noises when you squeeze the phone, slide it open or use the keypad.

The slide is smooth as glass, but the phone takes a great deal of effort to open. It is spring-assisted, however the spring wants to keep the phone closed, so you fight against it until the phone is fully open. Closing the phone is obviously quite a snap.

It sits in your hand just as well open as closed. The weight is in the bottom half, resting over you hand. As the weight holds the open phone in your palm, the narrow profile allows you to grip it securely as you use the keyboard or navigate around.

Keyboard

The narrow profile of the W580i means the keypad has is squeezed into a smaller space. The keys are divided into rows of thin keys set edge to edge, which makes the keys look wider than they actually are. To make the small keys easier to press, each key is raised in the middle, allowing you to hit the intended key more accurately. Although the small size of the keypad had me second guessing where my thumb was, i never had problems hitting the right key.

When you press one key down, you can feel the adjacent keys move with it just a little. The keys are each distinct little chicklets, but the keypad itself is flexible enough that pressing one affects the whole assembly.

The navigation keys are on the phone's face, allowing you to use the phone while closed. The soft keys, as well as the back and clear keys (they are separate on Sony Ericssons) are translucent and are lit by colored LEDS that also light the sides of the phone. The colors can be set by theme, by event, or even by caller ID.

The large D-pad in the center is surrounded by a plastic ring that comes up flush to the top of the D-pad. This makes using the D-pad uncomfortable since you press against the plastic ring in order to press a direction. The center of the D-pad is deeply indented, making it easy to press to select accurately.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

As long as you select a light colored theme, it is easy to see and use the W580i under all light conditions. However, if you switch to one of the included dark themes, it is nearly impossible to use the phone in sunlight, even with the brightness turned up to 100%. The QVGA is sharp and has accurate color reproduction. When you can read it, it is very pleasant to use.

Signal

Though signal strength is often Sony Ericsson's weakness, the W580i performs better than past models. It passed the vault test with flying colors, making calls and getting online with no problems. However, weak signal affects call quality, although the W580i holds on to these calls with no problem, sound is muffled and crackly.

Sound

The W580i isn't just a Walkman phone, it's practically a portable stereo, the speaker is so loud. When the volume is set to 3 out of 8, the ring is loud enough to embarrass you in a fairly quiet room. At 4 out of 8 the phone starts to display a warning that loud volumes can damage hearing and Sony Ericsson means it. At 4 out of 8 the ringer is loud enough to overcome everything but a Dethklok concert.

Phone calls are equally loud and clear. The only time I found myself turning the volume up was when I was in weak reception areas. A weak signal doesn't just affect sound quality, but also volume.

Battery

With the screen set at maximum brightness (the default), the battery lasts just over 2 days. I tried to find some combination of power saving steps (turning the screen down, turning off Bluetooth, etc.) that would yield 3 days of battery life, but not using the phone was all i could do. Pack your charger if you're leaving for the weekend.

Basics

Menus 

Sony Ericsson's menu system continues to evolve, but only slightly. After about 5 years of work, the menu system works well enough that it is only being refined at this stage.

After testing so many other phones, it was pleasant to get to use a visually mature and user-friendly menu system. Menus are snappy - much faster than on past Sony Ericsson models, and the animations are also smoother. Navigation is efficient, often requiring fewer steps to accomplish a task than on many other phones.

Sony Ericsson is the only manufacturer that does not have send and end keys on most their phones. All call functions, as well as navigation, are done with the two soft keys and the back button (in addition to the D-pad, of course).

The menu system is extremely consistent. Even if applications look different, the menus always work the same way. The left soft key and the select key both trigger the default action, which usually takes you to the next step. The right soft key opens the options menu, and the back key will take you back one step.

There is a key to immediately take you to the Walkman application, as well as a shortcut key that has a number of uses. The shortcut key can quickly take you to new messages, to commonly used functions or to open programs. However the standard menus work so well, I rarely found myself using this key.

 

Menu

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls / Contacts 

Even without a send and end key, calling works just about as you'd expect it to. From the home screen, the left soft key, which works as the send key when calling, brings up the recent call list. In calls the right soft key becomes the End key, which is the only place that Sony Ericsson violates its consistent navigation, but at least it's done for a good reason.

You can also use the slide to answer and end calls, but each action is turned on and off separately in the settings. Oddly, open to answer is on by default, but close to hang up is not. The first few times we shut the phone to end a call, the other party heard us talking until they hung up, which could have been quite embarrassing.

Opening the contacts application displays your contact list, which you can jump through by triple tapping the name you're looking for. When a contact is selected, you can scroll left or right to switch through his various numbers and email addresses.

Pressing the left soft key with a number selected dials that number. Unfortunately the back key is part of the same circular button as the left soft key. So if you just mash down on that button, you could hit back instead of call. This will exit the contacts application and force you to repeat your search all over again. I did this far too many times and found it quite frustrating. Separating the back key would solved this without needing to add send and end keys.

Contacts can hold multiple phone numbers and email addresses per contact, as well as 2 street addresses, a web address, a birthday and notes. You can select a picture, ringtone, and even a light pattern for any caller.

 

Calls and Contacts

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

Text and MMS, email and even RSS each have their own inbox in Sony Ericsson's messaging application. Setup is relatively painless for each of these. The display of each type of message is different, but all are clear and easy to read. However for some reason all SMS are displayed with "Text:" preceding the message. This is redundant (of course it's text) and annoying.

Composing messages starts with a full screen window to compose your message. Once you are done, the address screen lists recent contacts you've sent texts to in addition to links to your contact list or number entry.

 

Inbox

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Music 

Like all the Walkman phones released in the states, the W580i does not have a 3.5mm jack. Instead it only has a proprietary port which has a 3.5mm jack as well as a mic and answer key for taking calls while using headphones. Unfortunately the port is on the side of the phone, making it awkward (and sometimes uncomfortable) to put the phone back in your pocket with headphones connected.

A touch of the Walkman button launches the music player. If you were playing a track before, the music player opens right where you left off, even if you've turned the phone off. If you haven't played any music yet, the player opens to the first track it can find, which is usually something from the ringtone library.

To add music to the player, you simply go to the track list and the phone scans for any tracks it can play and adds them to your library. The library is organized according to ID3 tags and navigating through it is as simple as moving around on the D-pad. It uses the same navigation style as the PSP or PS3. Unlike most other music players on phones, the Walkman player recognizes track numbers and will play albums in order.

Once music is playing you can minimize the player either from the menu or by pressing the Walkman key again and use any other function on the phone. Unfortunately once the player is minimized, there is no way to control it. Although the D-pad is marked with track control shortcuts, these only work when the Walkman player is on screen. The answer key on the remote does not control the music either (except to pause it when taking a call).

The W580 supports listening to music over stereo headphones, and will control the music using the keys on those, but only after multiple presses.

The player sounds excellent. Music quality is top notch, and loud too. The Walkman application also includes an equalizer and stereo widening if you want to fine tune how it sounds.

The W580 is supposed to include "shake control" that lets you skip forward or back a track by shaking the phone left or right. I was never able to get this feature to work.

 

Walkman

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera 

The camera on the W580 is hidden behind the slide. Because the phone has to be open to take pictures, you hold the phone vertically to use the camera, the same as you would to talk on it.

Because of this, the W580 does not use the CyberShot interface found on most high end Sony Ericssons. It uses a distinctly phone-like interface, which is generally less powerful and requires extra key presses for most functions.

The camera is launched by pressing up on the D-pad from the home screen. There is no dedicated camera key or shutter button, again providing a more phone-like than camera-like experience. It takes less than 2 seconds to launch the viewfinder, which is a letterboxed strip across the center of the screen. With ample light the viewfinder tracks the scene quickly and adjusts fairly well to light and color conditions. In low light the viewfinder leaves a trail that looks like long exposure pictures of a night sky. There is a night mode that helps the viewfinder as well as low light pictures, but it must be manually activated (and de-activated).

Snapping a 2 Megapixel picture takes less than 2 seconds to save, at which point you are taken to a review screen. The picture is automatically saved, so from here you can send, use or delete the picture without having to worry about saving it. Pressing the back key returns you to the viewfinder almost instantly.

 

Camera

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Gallery

Even though the W580 doesn't have the photo power of some other Sony Ericsson models, it still provides an excellent photo experience. When the gallery launches, thumbnails are displayed very quickly, and are kept in memory so even if you scroll away from a page and then back, the thumbnails are displayed again instantly.

The gallery itself is only used to view and manage photos. In the thumbnail view you can select multiple files to send, move, and more. You can also select from a variety of ways to view your photos including a time line view that lets you see pictures by day and month.

You can view single pictures letter boxed or in landscape mode and start a slideshow to automatically page through them. The single picture view allows you to manage photos, but to edit them you have to open the photo in PhotoDJ (their misleading name for a simple photo editor). Photo DJ lets you adjust level, contrast, color, and even apply some filters to the photo. Oddly you can rotate the photo right in the gallery.

 

Gallery

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures / Video 

The camera proves to be a significant downgrade over the autofocus model in the W810, not just the software but also the pictures themselves. Thw W580 scores a 20/50 on the vision test, which is slightly below average for a 2 Megapixel model. Outdoors the camera takes clear pictures with good color balance, although shadows are very dark and often become black blobs. Indoors pictures have a green cast if taken in good light, and a yellow or orange cast if taken in low light. The W580 does not have a flash, but is does have a night mode which does a pretty good job of taking pictures of light objects (faces, flyers, etc) in low light.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

There are two video modes. Both record a 3GP movie at 176 x 144 but the high quality mode will let you record a clip until the memory is full. The videos are not smooth, they look like stop motion clips instead of full motion video. Colors and light balance is about the same as still pictures.

playtime

playtime
3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 181 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browse

Sony Ericsson is one of the few manufacturers that includes an HTML capable browser in their phones. The W580 has a much improved version over past models. Visiting mobile formatted websites, whether WAP or XHTML is very fast. EDGE does not seem to affect the phone's speed and pages are drawn very quickly. When visiting desktop web pages, the browser does its best to reformat the page for the phone's screen, refomatting pages as a single column. You can view pages in portrait or landscape, and in either view you can choose to view them in a text-only mode.

The browser uses a tiny 1 pixel wide font that is not used anywhere else in the phone. The screen is so sharp that's not too difficult to read, however it would be a strain to read an entire New Yorker article in such a small font. In the views menu, there is a zoom option that increases font size while reformatting the page so that the text still fits in the width of the screen. I strongly suggest hopping up to 120% if you plan to read long articles. The browser saves your zoom preference across all sites you visit in a session.

 

Browser

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

Like other Sony Ericsson phones, the W580 is completely customizable. You can select from one of the included themes to change the look of your home screen and menus or download one from Sony Ericsson or many other third party developers. Although they are included in the theme, you can also customize your wallpaper and ringtone with any file you want as well as customize the light effects.

You can customize shortcuts on both the D-pad and the shortcut menu.

File Management

Sony Ericsson has a file manager which lets you both access and modify any file on the phone or memory card. Not only does this include the usual array of pictures, movies, sounds and applications but also web pages - which you can download to the phone from the browser.

Sony Ericssons are one of the few phones that support universal mass storage mode when connected to computers over USB - this means that transferring files from Macs is just as easy as using a PC. Unfortunately the phone is hampered by a slow USB connection that makes transferring music a torturously long affair.

 

Customization

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Clock

By default the home screen clock is the same size as all the other text, however you can set it to be positively huge. When the phone is in standby mode, with the screen off, a quick press of either volume key will display the time, however the backlight is dimmed, so this only works indoors or at night.

Bluetooth

Connecting to computers or headsets is relatively straight forward as long as you use the My Devices menu; it seems the handsfree menu is only for connecting the W580 to cars. Once done the phone maintains a good connection with the headset or headphones. But as with all phones and Bluetooth headphones, it is prone to cutting out when you're listening to music on the move.

You can just as easily connect to a computer to transfer files or use the phone as a modem.

Java

The W580 is an impressive Java performer. A MIDP 1 score of 6989 isn't the highest of any phone we've ever tested, but it is very impressive. However a MIDP 2 score of 1002 is among the best we've seen, especially for a feature phone.

Fitness

Amongst the usual array of extra applications like a calculator, alarm and datebook is an entire main menu icon devoted to fitness.

On the home screen is a tiny icon of two foot prints and a number next to it. The W850 keeps track of how many steps you take per day using a built in accelerometer. While I couldn't get shake control to work in the Walkman application, this seemed to work fine. There's also modes in the fitness menu for tracking your mileage and speed while running. You can fine tune the accuracy and see graphs of your daily progress.

 

Fitness

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video 

In addition to the usual tour and feature demonstrations, this video explains how to get shake control working in the Walkman player.

You can watch the video here:


Or visit YouTube for more viewing and sharing options.

Wrap Up 

Adding the fitness feature to a phone with excellent music software, Sony Ericsson has built a great workout companion. You have music, a coach, and a phone for emergency calls all in a small, light package. And when you're not working out, the W580 is adept at pretty much everything else most people want out of a phone as well.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
Did Rich....? Iselltheshitoutofphones Sep 19, 2007, 12:19 AM
Custom Ringtones davi0346 Sep 25, 2007, 7:56 AM
Sony W580i Shake Control (It Works Fine, Whats The Deal?) casinoman Sep 24, 2007, 10:12 AM
N75 or W580i? larue26 Sep 18, 2007, 6:11 PM
Cracked Keys & Video Ringtones... mmcnier Sep 18, 2007, 4:45 PM
Cracked Keys ~~~ susarlasusarla Sep 21, 2007, 2:52 PM
video plz JestaMcMerv Sep 19, 2007, 1:26 PM
"No discernible squeaking noises" Who reviewed this?? Boulderboy Sep 20, 2007, 9:47 AM
Can't wait to see this phone in aciton meredit77 Sep 19, 2007, 4:10 PM
To Who ever Wrote the Review... xjittianx Sep 18, 2007, 5:18 PM
 
 
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