Review: Sony Ericsson W810
Apr 20, 2006, 12:16 AM by Eric Lin
In-depth review of the new Sony Ericsson W810 Walkman phone. with Video Tour.
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When the W800 Walkman phone was released last year, no American carrier picked it up, despite the fact that it was a vast improvement in every way over their last high end model here, the S710. It had better battery life, a better camera and a better music player. But it didn't include the 850 band or EDGE.
The W810 is everything Americans (and more importantly, American carriers) wished the W800 would be. It combines all the best features of the W800 and W600 into a small, stylish candybar. With this best-of-all-worlds approach, the W810 is far too versatile to name one group of users that it is best for. Shutterbug? Check. The W810 has the same 2 Megapixel auto-focus camera as the W800. Music lovers? Check. Walkman software for the phone and PC and a nice stereo headset make listening to music a pleasure. People who want an easy-to-use smartphone? Check. Decent email and web applications - plus the power to run many third party Java applications other phones choke on, like ShoZu or Opera Mini - give the W810 a smartphone feel without complicated smartphone software.
The W810 is a great phone for a variety of people, but we can think of two groups of users who still should look elsewhere for their dream handset: people who just want a basic phone to make calls, and data-centric users who care more about email and browsing than taking pictures, playing music or other diversions.
Editor's Note: Because the W810 shares the same software as the W600, some sections of this review have been copied from our review of the W600 with only minor changes to reflect bug fixes or additional features added to the W810. Those sections are: Calls / Contacts, Messaging, Browse / Customize, and Other.
When Apple launched the iPod Nano, black outsold white by something on the order of 5 to 1. Sony Ericsson took notice of black's return to popularity, and the majority of high-end handsets they have announced so far this year are black. The W810 is a smooth black matte rectangle with nicely rounded edges. The rounded edges - as well as the slightly rounded top and bottom sides of the phone - make it a joy to hold. The matte finish contributes to this as well since it's not as slippery as a gloss finish. It is just large enough to hold comfortably when punching out a text message, but not large enough to make a significant bulge in a pocket.
The body is just as nice to look at as it is to hold. The smooth, all-black looks with touches of chrome and orange give the W810 a classier look than any of its Walkman predecessors. In addition to orange touches on the body, the keys are backlit with orange, a nice detail that adds to the overall look and feel of the phone.
When the W810 was announced, current W800 or K750 users expressed some concern to us about the small bulge that protects the camera lens and the lack of a lens cover. The lens was more smoothly integrated into those previous models. However the lens seems well-protected - no scratches appeared during our testing - and the small plastic protrusion that protects the lens was unnoticeable when holding the phone or slipping it into a pocket. We didn't miss the lens cover for protecting the lens, but it is sorely missed as far as starting the camera. We will discuss this further in the camera section.
Above the camera shutter are the volume controls, which also double as zoom controls for the camera. On the other side of the screen, but in the same position, is the play/pause button. Because of its placement, and the fact that it is easier to press than the volume keys, this button is often accidentally pressed when trying to manipulate the volume. So if, for example, you use the volume key to reject an incoming call because you are in a meeting, but accidentally press the play/pause button simultaneously, your music will immediately start playing even if you weren't in the Walkman application. You can imagine this can be quite disturbing. Because there is a dedicated Walkman key, and the D-Pad select is mapped to play/pause, we wonder why this button was included at all. In the current configuration, it does more harm than good.Keypad
Each key on the W810's numeric keypad has a good deal of space between it and any other key, it is also raised from the face of the phone enough to feel. Based on these factors alone, the W810 should have any easy to use keypad. However the short length from top to bottom of each key places the keys in a slightly different position than where our thumbs expected them to be. Especially after being spoiled by the large keypads on clamshells and sliders, the keypad on the W810 took us longer than usual to adapt to; once we did adapt, our typing speed never reached what we are capable of on most other phones.
The softkeys, navigation buttons and shortcut keys are all well defined and easy to press. It is rare to press the wrong key by accident. Despite our complaints, this also holds true for the keypad. Even though we were typing slower, we were not making mistakes. The only confusing aspect of the keypad is the use of the same D-Pad layout as the W600. The center select button of the W810 looks like a joystick surrounded by a chrome ring. But instead it is just a simple select button and the ring is a D-Pad.
The screen on the W810 appears to be Sony Ericsson's brightest so far. This is one of the first phones we've been able to take pictures with, even when the bright California sun is at our backs - the screen barely even fades in the direct sunlight. Color on the screen is quite rich, as it has been on most recent Sony Ericsson models, and the screen is sharp. There is no fault with this screen at all, but in this age where most high end phones have a QVGA screen, it is a shame the W810 does not have one. Sony Ericsson clearly recognized this and has upgraded their next flagship, the K790 to a QVGA model.Signal
The W810 cannot defy dreaded dead zones or even breach them further than its predecessors. But when the phone can get a signal, even a weak one, it provides a crystal clear call. Calls made from our a underground vault were indistinguishable from those made with full signal strength. The W810 is also much faster at re-acquiring a signal after leaving a dead zone than the W600 we tested. We re-joined the network almost instantly.
Oddly, when the signal was at its strongest and the W810 showed full bars, the phone would mysteriously drop calls when on the T-Mobile network. The same was not true when using other handsets on T-Mobile during the same time, indicating there is a problem with the W810. We contacted Sony Ericsson about this problem and they've indicated that they are aware of it and it will be corrected by the time the phone launches in the US.
As a side note, we have been told that improvements have been made to the W600's software so it is equally responsive now.Sound
The W810 could stand to be louder. Unlike Sony Ericsson's spinners, the ringing and alert volume on the w810 is nowhere near deafening. We needed to turn the volume up to 7 out of 8 just to hear the phone ring in a pocket outdoors. When setting it this loud, the phone displays a warning that such loud volumes could damage hearing. This is a standard warning across all SE models, for some of which this holds true, but in this case the ringer is barely loud enough to be heard, let alone cause hearing damage. Speakerphone suffers from the same low volume as the ringer, but as with the ringer, it can be heard once the volume is set louder. Though the speaker falls a bit short, the vibrating alert is quite forceful, and a significant improvement over the spinner models.
The earpiece volume was also soft, but could be heard well at a lower volume setting than the speaker. As we said in the signal section, sound quality was excellent, in part due to reception, and in part due to the crystal clear sound produced by the earpiece. The microphone is also rather effective, cutting out a great deal of wind noise. It is much better than on the W600.Battery
Even using the camera often and keeping Bluetooth on, we got over three days of battery life, usually four. The battery icon now waits until the charge is at 25% or less to fade to yellow, and 10% to shift to red. (On previous Sony Ericsson models, it used to go yellow closer to 40%.) It is also worth noting that on both the W600 and W810, Sony Ericsson has brought back information on the exact amount of charge remaining to the status menu.
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 has 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 soft-key takes you deeper in, rather than back or giving you options. This is also the only case in which the D-pad select does the same thing as the right softkey instead of the left. After some testing, we've discovered new users don't even notice this inconsistency. It seems this change is an immediate improvement to all but the most seasoned SE users.
Sony Ericsson also reorganized all the menus inside applications so that all menus are now accessed from the right softkey as well. The center select key is no longer used to access menus in random applications, instead it consistently does whatever action the left soft key is labeled with.
SE realized that the first few Walkman phones suffered by replacing the shortcut key with the Walkman one. The keypad of the W810 was restyled to provide dedicated keys for both the Walkman application and shortcuts. The shortcuts key allows users to access the shortcut menu from any application, which is a nice improvement, however the shortcut menu is still not as convenient as the old "more" menu because most functions now require at least 2 clicks instead of one. This is still more convenient than digging through menus to activate Bluetooth or turn on the flashlight, though, especially since it can be accessed no matter where you are in the menu system.
The shortcuts menu also has two additional tabs. "Events" lists new messages, missed calls and other notices until they have been clicked on. A notice is still displayed on the home screen for each event, and separate icons for each event type are still displayed in the title bar of the home screen. The shurtcuts menu also features a tab for bookmarks, which provides easy access to commonly visited web pages without having to first start the browser and then select a site.
The main menu remains the same, with a grid of 12 choices that can be accessed by pressing the corresponding key on the keypad as well as using the D-pad. Where previously all themes on the phone had to use the same main menu icons, the W810 now offers an alternate set of main menu icons which are used in some themes. This second set features PSP-esque style icons, and also vibrates the phone slightly every time a different is scrolled to. It is not enough vibration to be annoying - just engaging.
Contacts can hold quite a bit of data, so the W810 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.
While many functions have been changed or improved slightly over previous Sony Ericsson models, the messaging client is exactly the same as in the W800. 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 the message 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 W810 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.
The W810 features almost the same camera interface as Sony's Cybershot digital cameras. Because the camera on the W810 is auto-focus, this interface includes a few new features not found on other Sony Ericsson phones. The 2 Megapixel autofocus camera works exactly like you would expect. Press the shutter half way and the camera locks focus, press the shutter key the rest of the way and a picture is quickly snapped. Immediately pressing the shutter button all the way down takes longer to snap the picture as the camera must first find something to focus on and then snap the picture.
If the flash has been activated, pressing the shutter button to focus will shine the light at half-strength when focusing, and then flash brilliantly when the picture is taken. Other than the Xenon flash announced for Sony Ericsson's new Cybershot cameraphones, the flash in the W810 (and its brethren) is the by far brightest we've seen on a cameraphone to date.
The W810 is the only high-end cameraphone from Sony Ericsson that does not feature an active slide cover for the lens. There is a hump around the lens that effectively protects it from scratches, but not from pocket lint. Since it cannot be started by opening a cover, 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 will not start unless the phone is awake. If the screen is asleep or keyguard is on, the camera cannot be started. Because of all the steps and time required to take a picture, we unfortunately missed a few too many Kodak moments while fumbling to get the W810 to take a picture.
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 viewfinder you can use right and left on the D-pad to adjust exposure, the volume keys to zoom, and the lower softkey to access a menu with many other advanced options and effects. After pressing the large shutter button halfway down, there is an audible beep as well as a green focus box on the viewfinder that indicates focus has been locked. Taking a picture is impressively fast after focus lock.
After taking a picture, the phone takes about 2 seconds to save it to the Memory Stick Duo card or the built-in 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.
The W810 has two video quality settings (message and high quality) and two sizes (QCIF and 128×96). The high quality setting is smooth and has decent image quality, but the resolution is rather disappointing considering this is a 2 Megapixel still camera. We were expecting QVGA video or better. The message setting is more grainy and choppy. 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 can take an impressive video, albeit a very small one.
Other than resolution, the only other weakness of the W810's video mode is that the microphone is very susceptible to wind noise, so outdoor movies will need some sound editing. The sound on movies shot indoors was perfectly acceptable.Gallery
Sony Ericsson has been incrementally improving the performance of a few applications with every new generation of phones. This time it was the gallery's turn. Opening pictures, zooming, panning and all other major functions have been sped up compared to previous SE phones.
The gallery has two different viewing modes. After a picture is selected from the thumbnail list, it is shown in vertical (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 of your pictures as a slide show.
Because of the camera's high resolution and high quality lens, it is not a surprise the W810 has scored the highest on the vision test of any phone we've reviewed so far: 20/30. The camera captures detail very well, even from 20-30 feet away. Color is rich and accurate, but not over-saturated. Believe it or not, the grass actually is that green because of all the rain San Francisco has gotten in the past two months.
White balance was excellent in good light, but suffered in low light, where photographs tended to yellow. Activating the flash and/or compensating by adjusting the white balance corrected this.
3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 266 KB
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. There is no global option to adjust text size for all the phone's menus and application, but it can be adjusted for the browser from the view menu option by selecting zoom and choosing a font size.Customization
The W810 supports polyphonic, MP3 and now M4A ringtones. This means that you can now use (unlocked) iTunes files as ringtones. The phone comes well-stocked with a variety of original ringers spanning the range from dance to new age, with a few annoying ones (like gospel choir singing "hello, pick up the phone.") for good measure. The ringtones are now stored in two separate places by default - some in the root level of the file system and others in a Ringtones folder. This is a bit confusing, but not unmanageable. 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. The phone comes with 4 themes, two of which use the traditional main menu and the other two use the new PSP-esque one. 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 on both the phone and memory card and exactly how the memory is being used.
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.
The W810 features all the same Bluetooth profiles as its previous high end 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 (stereo audio) and AVRC, which allows for playback and control of audio devices. Sony Ericsson has not put these 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 W810 scored a 4150 for JBenchmark's MIDP 1.0 test and 295 for the MIDP 2.0 battery. These are among the top scores for feature phones, but still behind most smartphones, and only slightly ahead of new midrange models like the W600.Other Features
All modern Sony Ericssons sold here feature a standard suite of applications. This includes 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 music 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 then 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. Nor is the Walkman software capable of sorting music by album first. Thus if you load a compilation album onto the W810, the only way to get it to play back is to create a playlist for it. With improved support for M4A files throughout the phone, the player now reads AAC ID3 tags correctly.
Transferring songs from your computer to the phone is a slow affair. Even though the W810 is USB 2.0, it does not appear to be USB 2.0 high-speed, like the new iPods are. Songs take about a 20-30 seconds each 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. The fastest way to transfer songs to the phone is popping the Memory Stick card out and using an external card reader.
The W810 supports sync to a variety of operating systems and applications. It is not natively supported in iSync 2.2, however there is a plug-in that enables full iSync compatibility for the phone over Bluetooth.
Other than the W810 dropping calls (which Sony Ericsson has promised is due to the early software on our review unit) all of our complaints about the W810 are literally nit-picking. The phone gets all the big things right, and when a company gets the obvious stuff right (which too few manufacturers do, even today), that makes it easier to focus on the details of the phone's operation. The flaws and annoyances we have mentioned do not make the W810 a bad phone, in fact we were rather impressed with it. What we noticed was that with a phone so close to getting everything right, we really wished Sony Ericsson had been able to go all the way. Still this phone is much closer to being a good converged mobile device than most others, even most other smartphones. The camera and phone features are excellent, and the music player is good for short stints. On most days the W810 could replace a pocket full of gadgets.
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Sync with Gmail ?
Does anyone was able to use the Orbit theme with the Flsh menus(Orbit.swf). That makes the menus like a PSP...
If anyone have that .swf file please let me know.
Text Messaging Alert? anyone w/ phone can u please answer
Infrared Abilities & Video Formats
Can you tell me more about the IR features,
does it control/learn other common IR Sony
devices like TVs, DVD players, Home HiFi, etc?
If not, what does the IR work with?
When loading videos onto the Pro Duo cards
can it play back .mpg .avi .wmv files? And
is there a 220x176 limit on video size, or
does it just condense to fit on screen?
Anyone have feedback please help, thanks!
Is that 20 Years of Dischord I see??
about the dropping calls...
Coming to T-Mobile USA?
"At our press time, Sony Ericsson hadn't announced a carrier for the W810i, but we're confident Cingular will pick it up. The W810i will sell for $499 unlocked, or $249 to $299 with a contr...
no psp menu icons... /;|
They said that the phone does have that feature (changing icons), but the PSP icon theme doesn't ship with it. Do you guys still have the phone used for the demo? If so, ...
Hi I need a phone that will play I-Tunes encoded music in your video you stated that this phone will
HEY RICH OR ERIC SERIOUS BLUETOOTH QUESTION!
Camera compared to MM-A800 2MP/Auto-Focus?
Watch Video Horizontally?
As usual, great review. Your continued thoroughness and updates are awesome for the community. Thanks again.
Question is: would it be possible, to watch videos in a horizontal format? For ex: when taking pictures the camera shows on screen in a wide screen format.
I am curious if there is an option to watch videos in vertical as well as horizontal format.
Also, could you comment on web browsing as well as overall gprs/edge speed on the device?
I am having a serious debate between this or the ROKR E2 as a non-pda based phone.
I would love your take on this scenario if you wouldn't mind Eric.
when will it be available?
W600i or W810???