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Review: Sony Ericsson W600

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Jan 18, 2006, 4:00 PM   by Eric Lin

In-depth review of the new Sony Ericsson W600 Walkman phone for Cingular.

Form

Is It Your Type 

The W600 doesn't just look like a swiss army knife, it acts like one too. Like the knife, the W600 offers a lot of tools in a relatively convenient package. But like the knife, the more tools that get added, the larger it becomes and the more mediocre each tool becomes. The W600 packs a lot of options into one reasonably-sized package. If you don't want to carry around an iPod or digital camera in addition to your cell phone, this phone is a good choice, but it won't replace either of those gadgets for serious use.

Body 

Body

It's difficult to discuss the W600 without comparing it to Sony Ericsson's first spinner, the S710a. The W600 is significantly smaller than the S710, but it is not much thinner. This small footprint concentrates the thickness over such a small area that it makes the phone very uncomfortable in tight pockets.

The W600 is narrow and short enough that it is very easy to wrap your hand around it, but that makes the phone difficult to hold when talking on it for an extended period of time - unless the phone is opened. When opened, the phone is significantly more comfortable to hold. With time, you learn to hold the phone closed so that it is almost as comfortable to talk into that way - at least for short conversations.

The phone is so small that the only way to describe its weight is dense. The W600 weighs quite a bit considering its small footprint. This is more obvious with the spinner closed than open. Once open, the phone has excellent weight and balance.

Keypad

Although the numeric keypad looks like it has flat, awkwardly spaced keys, it is surprisingly usable. Each key has a barely discernible hump to it that provides tactile reassurance you're hitting the right key. And the large vertical columns between the keys space them out so that travel between keys is a comfortable distance. Once you adapt to the size and position of the keys, texting is actually quite speedy.

The navigation buttons on the face and side of the phone each jut out pretty significantly from the phone body. This makes using the menus and common functions easy to do with a minimum amount of watching your fingers. The D-Pad looks awkward, but features raised humps at each of the four primary directions that make it almost as easy to use as the tiny joystick on Sony Ericsson candybar models. The center select button is now a separate flat button instead of the joystick look-alike from the S710a. The thumb naturally gravitates towards its large smooth concave surface, acting as a homing device for no-look navigation.

The only two buttons that are difficult two press are the gaming controls above the screen. They sit flush with the phone's body and are not used for any phone operation. However all W600 games are designed to be used horizontally, in which case the D-pad sits under the left thumb and the two game buttons under your right work like A and B on the Gameboy.

The W600 includes a keylock slide switch just like the S700 series spinners. It is great for preventing you from making unwanted calls while the phone is bouncing around your pocket or purse. They have also improved the user-friendliness of this by automatically unlocking the keys if you spin the phone open. It is very convenient.

 

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Three S's 

Screen

The W600 still uses the 176 x 220 screen of the K750 and other phones. It is bright, crisp and plenty big, however it looks much smaller because there is so much more plastic surrounding the screen than on the newer candybar models. The screen is readable under all lighting conditions including bright sunlight. It also automatically shuts off completely when the phone is idle so that it doesn't waste battery life.

Signal

Reception on the W600 is disappointing considering the phone has an external loop antenna. Our text model indicated a loss of signal slightly further away from dead zones and more often than with most handsets, but performance is no worse than the W800. It's difficult not to believe that RF performance should be better considering the large loop of plastic jutting out from the phone's back. When the W600 has any signal at all, however, calls are strong and clear and data is reliable, speeding up as reception improves.

Sound

Since the W600 is a music phone, you would expect it to have excellent speakers and headphone options. This phone will meet your expectations. The W600's speaker is very clean sounding. It does not distort sound easily at high volumes, but those high volumes are not as loud as other Sony Ericsson speakers (such as those of the S710a). The loudspeaker used for speakerphone, music playback and ringers is equally clear, but unfortunately also lacks the loud volume of some earlier models.

The in-ear headphones Sony Ericsson includes are rather good for a pair of free earbuds, and the company thoughtfully includes a 3.5 mm jack in the microphone / headphone adapter so you can use your own. The microphone on the headphone adapter is incredible, providing clear voice quality even when it is buried under jackets and sweaters or exposed to the wind.

Even though the phone can be used while the keypad is spun closed, the quality of the built-in microphone improves when the keypad is open. This is probably due to the keypad blocking more ambient noise and wind for the microphone.

Battery

Jaded GSM users will be undeniably impressed with the W600's battery life. We put the battery through its paces with at least an hour of music playback per day, lots of data use for email and WAP browsing, sporadic Bluetooth use and our normal calling, messaging and just general fiddling around to discover the battery still lasted over 4 days. This is definitely one of the longest lasting GSM phones we've tested, and the infrequency with which it requires recharging has spoiled us.

Function - Basics

Menus 

Although the Sony Ericsson menu interface is 3 years old now, you'd never know it. SE continues to update and improve the menus, not just making them more user friendly, but also faster. Additionally they continue to make small tweaks that show they pay attention to how people actually use their phones.

Sony Ericsson have changed the home screen to make the most important feature - access to the main menu - more obvious. Unfortunately by doing this, they violated their own standards. This is the one case where hitting the right softkey takes you deeper in rather than back or giving you options. However it is common that both home screen softkeys take you deeper into specific functions, so we can't really fault Sony Ericsson. This is also the only case in which the D-pad select does the same thing as the right softkey instead of the left.

Because Sony Ericsson no longer uses the D-pad select key as a main menu key, SE also reorganized all the menus inside applications so that everything is now accessed from the right softkey as well. The center select key no longer brings up menus in random applications, instead it consistently does whatever action the left soft key is labeled with.

SE has made other interface changes. Since the main menu is accessed from the right soft key and the Walkman software takes over the shortcut key on found on other recent phones like the k750, pressing up on the D-Pad now activates the new shortcut menu. This isn't as convenient as the old "more" menu because most functions now require at least 2 clicks instead of one, but it is still more convenient than digging through menus to activate Bluetooth or turn on the flashlight.

The main menu remains the same, with a grid of 12 choices which can be accessed by pressing the corresponding key on the keypad as well as using the D-pad.

 

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Calls / Contacts 

Contacts can hold quite a bit of data, so the W600 displays a person's information over several tabs. It can hold 4 phone numbers, a fax number, several email address, a web address, 2 street addresses and even a birthday. In addition there is a tab to set a custom ringtone, a picture for photo caller ID and a voice dial command. Voice dialing is now set by individual phone number and not by contact name and then type of phone.

There is no speaker independent voice recognition, and voice commands for numbers and other functions must be recorded in a quiet room. The phone will warn you if there is too much background noise and will tell you to try again later. Once recorded, voice dialing works about 70% of the time.

All calling functions work as expected. In calls, the left soft key activates the speakerphone while the right brings up all other in-call options. Sony Ericsson has updated the recent calls list (accessible by hitting the left softkey on the home screen) so it no longer puts the most recent outgoing call at the top of the list. Instead it displays the most recent call, period. This is how other manufacturers are now handling the recent calls list as well. Since typically you need to redial a number soon after you previously called it, this works as redial when you need that function the most. In cases where you've received calls in-between, you'll have to scroll down to redial the numbers. The recent calls list also features separate tabs you can thumb through for incoming, outgoing and missed calls.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

While many functions have been changed or improved slightly over previous Sony Ericsson models, the messaging client is exactly the same as in the S700 series and K750/W800 series phones. It offers highly efficient SMS composition either from the new message dialog or from the contact application. If the new message dialog is used, you first compose the text then can address it from either the 10 most recent people you sent texts to, your contact list, or a new number. Reading email and MMS works simply and as expected.

The W600 also features the same email client as past models. The only difference is now that Sony Ericsson has EDGE data and networks have EDGE everywhere, sending and receiving email is significantly faster and more reliable than on previous models. The email client supports both POP and IMAP accounts and can be configured to download new messages on a schedule or manually.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Function - Extras

Camera 

Like Sony Ericsson's top-of-the-line camera phones, the W600 features the same camera interface copied from Sony's Cybershot digital cameras. However to bring the cost of this phone down, the W600 does not possess all the photographic power of its siblings. The 1.3 MP sensor cannot match the CCD of the S710a or the 2 MP camera of the K750/W800. The pictures are better than those taken by 1.3 MP sensors on many competitors' phones, but they are still lack the detail of higher-end models from SE or a few others like the Nokia 6682.

In addition, the W600 does not feature an active slide cover for the lens. Instead the lens is exposed at all times and the camera is started by more traditional camera phone means - either holding down the dedicated shutter button or starting the camera application from the main menu.

The camera application takes about 1.5 seconds to launch. After that happens you are presented with a responsive camera that is both fast and easy to use. In the view finder you can use right and left on the D-pad to adjust exposure, The volume keys to zoom, and access a menu with many other advanced options and effects. The shutter button is a bit small, so taking a picture requires a little manual dexterity, but the phone is easy to hold - even with one hand - so shots always come out clear. There is no blurring or shake.

After taking a picture, the phone takes about 2 seconds to save it to the built in memory. The W600 has no memory card slot, but it has 256 MB of RAM, which is plenty for over 300 1.3 MP pictures even with a few hours of songs sharing the memory. After the picture is saved it is easy to return to the viewfinder, delete the picture, or send it via a number of methods.

 

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The w600 has two video quality setting (message and high quality) and two sizes (QCIF and 128 x 96). The high quality setting is smooth and has decent image quality. The message setting is more grainy and choppier. Video recording on this phone has a great deal of flexibility. Recording lengths are limited only by available memory, even in the message quality mode. All of the still camera's effects can be used as can the digital zoom. You could take a press impressive, albeit very small, video. However the video recorder's shortcoming is the microphone, which is not very sensitive. This screens out ambient noise, but it also fails to capture softer noises you'd like to record.

The gallery has two different viewing modes. After a picture is selected from the thumbnail list, it is shown in vertical or phone orientation. From this mode you can edit, rotate or send the picture, as well as use the picture for a variety of phone functions. You can also choose to view the picture in landscape or horizontal mode at this screen. In landscape mode you can use the volume keys to zoom in on details while using the D-Pad to pan around the picture. Or you can view all your pictures as a slide show.

 

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Pictures and Videos 

The Sony Ericsson does very well on the vision test - an impressive 20/40 - but it has other weaknesses. The W600 is almost useless at night. Even using the flash on nearby subjects, your bar shots of friends will turn out looking like shadowy ghosts at best. The W600 does better in daylight. It has the opposite problem of nearly every other camera phone we've tested. Sunny shots are actually over-saturated instead of washed out. The hypersaturation of color means - like other Sony Ericsson camera phones - the W600 takes the most brilliant sunrise and sunset pictures of any brand. They are simply breath-taking.

 

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(w600)
QuickTime format
File size: 560 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browser

Setting up an unlocked Sony Ericsson phone to access the internet is still rather convoluted, however SE has improved the web-based configurator you can use to text the appropriate settings to your handset. It now works much faster and more reliably. Once set up, browsing both WAP and basic HTML sites is fast and simple. The browser renders pages, even complicated WAP sites, accurately. Even though there is no menu option to adjust text size, it can be adjusted from the view menu option by selecting zoom and choosing a font size. Despite the fact that both devices are EDGE, the W600 appears to load pages faster than the S710a. Sony Ericsson has obviously optimized some aspect of the browser's performance.

Customization

There is no aspect of the W600 that cannot be customized. From the hardware to the software to the audio, everything can be changed. The W600 has a changeable faceplate and battery cover. Each phone ships with a metallic orange and glossy blue set. Users will be able to buy additional ones.

The W600 supports both polyphonic and MP3 ringtones. The phone comes well-stocked with a variety of original ringers spanning the range from rap to new age, with a few annoying ones (like people singing "hello, pick up the phone.") for good measure. Adding your own ringtones is as simple as purchasing them from any provider or sending them to the phone via Bluetooth or IR.

Like all modern Sony Ericssons, the phone also supports themes that customize the look of every aspect of the phone from the home screen to menus to dialog boxes. You can also use any picture on the phone as wallpaper if the default one for the theme (which is usually animated) is not to your taste.

File Management

Not only does the File Manager application manage everything stored in the phone's large memory, but it also acts as a gallery, video player and more. All media and files can be accessed, moved or deleted from the application. In addition, the File Manager also can display a report of free memory and how the memory is being used.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Clock

Although it was not included in the last spinner, Sony Ericsson has included the clock function from their candybars into the W600. The time and date are normally displayed on the home screen. After the phone is idle a short time, the screen dims. During this period a press of any button will bring the backlight up to full strength to read the time. About a minute after the phone is idle, the screen turns off altogether. Once this happens, a quick press of either volume button will bring up a clock and status display with large text that is easy to read in any conditions.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Bluetooth

Even though Sony Ericsson could have gotten away with less, the Bluetooth on the W600 has all the same profiles as their flagship phones. Most notably, this includes headset, hands-free, OBEX and dial up networking. It also supports less critical but useful profiles such as sync and HID remote, which allows the phone to act as a remote control for a Bluetooth enabled PC.

About the only profiles this phone lacks are A2DP and AVRC, which allow for playback and control of audio devices. Sony Ericsson has not put then in any phones yet, but it would be nice to see them in Walkman phones considering many new audio devices are launching with these profiles.

Java

The W600 scored a 3524 for JBenchmark's MIDP 1.0 test and 219 for the MIDP 2.0 battery. This puts the W600 ahead of the vast majority of mid-range phones, but still just behind high end models from Sony Ericsson and others. These scores should yield a fun gaming experience, which is nice considering it has an extra set of buttons just for game control.

Other Features

The W600 features the standard suite of applications on modern Sony Ericsson devices. It has an excellent alarm clock which will work even if the phone is powered off, a countdown timer and stopwatch. It also includes other useful tools like a calculator and voice memo.

The walkman software allows you to drag MP3 and AAC (even M4A) files into the phone's audio folder and it will play them. The Walkman player is capable of reading ID3 tags on MP3 files and will sort them by artist and album, however it is not capable of reading track number from the tags, and so will play the songs in an album alphabetically by song name. The player does not read ID3 tags from M4A files and can only sort those songs by file name.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Transferring songs from your computer to the phone is a slow affair. Even though the W600 is USB 2.0, it does not appear to be USB 2.0 high speed, like the new iPods are. Songs take about a minute to transfer instead of about a second. Although we couldn't try the PC software, reports are that using Sony's software to transfer files is even slower. Since there is no memory card, there is no way around this bottleneck.

The W600 supports sync to a variety of operating systems and applications. It is not natively supported in iSync 2.1.1, however there is a plug in that enables full iSync compatibility for the phone over Bluetooth.

Video 



Also check out our video review of the W600 on Google Video or YouTube (added Jan 26)

Wrap-up 

For those looking for an affordably priced music phone with many powerful features, you would be hard pressed to find a better solution on carrier shelves. Sony Ericsson has addressed nearly every complaint about the S710a (except the thickness) without introducing too many new bugs.

This is definitely not the camera phone that the S710a was, nor is it the camera phone the the W800 is now. If the camera is your primary concern, we'd still suggest looking at other models, especially other Sony Ericsson models. The K750 and W800 take beautiful pictures, and if you need 850 MHz then hold out for the W810i. But if you're looking for long battery life, a solid music player, and a powerful interface in an affordably priced phone, the W600 is a good choice to bop your head to.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
here's your chance to win a W600!! eric Lin Jan 20, 2006, 1:25 AM
I so Need this Phone!!!1 fastcat91 Feb 19, 2006, 6:25 PM
i want this phone cingularfan Feb 14, 2006, 5:57 PM
#1 Winner!!! MeckDeckProductions Jan 31, 2006, 2:49 PM
Pick Me!!!!!!!!!!!! benny1081 Jan 31, 2006, 2:29 PM
congratulations, punkas! eric Lin Jan 27, 2006, 12:12 AM
great phone Arnold23 Jan 29, 2006, 1:54 AM
Video Review! Rich Brome Jan 26, 2006, 9:26 AM
reception sky Jan 26, 2006, 8:02 AM
I HOPE I WIN!!! cybero Jan 25, 2006, 5:21 PM
Great Review! Me2 Jan 19, 2006, 3:04 PM
closing problem? holmw13 Jan 20, 2006, 1:54 PM
bad reception? you're kidding. skytrack Jan 18, 2006, 6:55 PM
Dude how do you get these phones for free? knicksfan Jan 22, 2006, 9:15 PM
Voice Recorder and iSync Questions Scrivner Jan 22, 2006, 10:31 AM
I HOPE I WIN xhale Jan 21, 2006, 7:23 PM
anychance you will sell me the phone for $50-100? its_peter Jan 20, 2006, 3:07 AM
w600 Demo2000 Jan 20, 2006, 3:58 PM
nice reviw eric...........oh sowhatsowhat10 Jan 18, 2006, 6:03 PM
Fantastic review Eric gunny Jan 18, 2006, 6:02 PM
 
 
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