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2006 Holiday Pre-Preview

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While Samsung is betting on red this season, Sony Ericsson's new favorite color is purple. The company was showing off a "Hatha Violet" version of the W710 this week, in addition to the orange-trimmed "Performance Graphite" version shown off previously. Sony Ericsson reps mentioned that they have more purple phones in the pipeline. This jives with the new purple-ish Motorola i880 that Sprint Nextel is prepping for launch. Purple seems to be a trend this season.


Before we delve into the W710 too much, we need to clear up something we published a few weeks ago. We revealed the HAC (hearing-aid compatible) version - called the W712a - with an external antenna. Everything we said is accurate, but we've now confirmed that the W712a is a limited-run product only, and will not replace the W710 in Sony Ericcson's U.S. lineup. The W712a is strictly a special-order device, made available in a limited quantity to satisfy the FCC's HAC rules. If you need a W712a, you can actually order one now by calling Sony Ericsson USA. The rest of us can look forward the regular W710 with its internal antenna.

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At first glance, the W710 may not look much different than the W300 just launched by Cingular:


But while the W300 makes a few compromises to hit a certain price point, the W710 is a more full-featured phone. It's not quite a flagship model, (the display isn't QVGA and the camera isn't auto-focus,) but it does sport a 2 megapixel camera, for example, and higher-resolution displays than the W300.

The W710 also uses Sony Ericsson's very latest hardware and software platforms. On the hardware side, that means it has stereo Bluetooth (A2DP,) something curiously absent from current Walkman phones like the W810. On the software side, it means the latest UI improvements, enhanced Java performance, and extra Java capabilities, such as the ability for Java apps to interact with Bluetooth and advanced camera functionality. It also means the W710 has the newest Walkman music player software, with support for the AAC+ and eAAC+ music file formats, and OMA DRM 2.0.

Speaking of music, the W710 also has a really neat music-recognition feature built-in. If you hear a song you like - on the radio, in a bar, or at a friend's house - you can simply activate music recognition. The phone will "listen" to the song, and communicate with a special music service to figure out what song it is. It will tell you the song and artist, and even give you the option of buying and downloading the song right then and there. This feature will be on all new Walkman phones going forward.

The W710 also has some other neat features. It has a built-in motion sensor, which doubles as a pedometer. Together with some built-in fitness software, it can track your jogging. The extra-large outer display, external controls, and music player also help make the W710 a good jogging companion, and Sony Ericsson has an armband accessory for just that purpose.

SunCom will start offering the W710 as early as next week. Other, larger carriers are evaluating it. Cingular would be a logical possibility, although they did just launch the W300, and the W810 will launch very, very soon. The W710 is just close enough to the W300 that if Cingular does choose to offer it, they might want to wait a few months to avoid overlap in their lineup.

Cingular customers don't necessarily have to wait for Cingular, though. The W710 will be available direct from Sony Style stores in the U.S. in the very near future, for use with either Cingular or T-Mobile.

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