Designed for active users, Sony Ericsson's Walkman W580i phone packs a good music player and plenty of other features into a sleek, durable slider. This handset is the first from the company to offer Shake Control, a feature that allows you to change tracks simply by shaking the phone. Like its predecessors, it also includes stereo Bluetooth, Web browsing, a two-megapixel camera, and fitness applications. And while it skips out on 3G connectivity, you get plenty of bang for you buck for $79.99.
At just 3.3 ounces and half an inch thick, the W580i fits easily in a pocket. Its bright two-inch screen takes up most of the front surface, with six buttons and a four-way touch pad filling the lower third. Thanks to the phone's tough plastic shell, the phone feels sturdy in the hand and is low-maintenance enough to take along to the gym. We like the big Play/Pause button in the middle of the navigation control, but we found the area around it too narrow.
The W580i sports an attractive backlit keypad and comes in three color combinations: gray/blue, white/orange, and black/orange. A two-megapixel camera is located on the back panel beneath the slider. As an added touch, that panel is decked out in a coordinating accent color. There are even cool LED lights on the side of this slider, which glow different colors depending on the theme you choose.
The phone booted up quickly, and its interface way easy to use; you can navigate your way through most of the software using just two soft keys and a return button. For added convenience, there's also a Walkman and a shortcut key. Every time you turn the phone on, you'll be asked to choose between Normal mode and Flight mode. The latter disables the FM radio and all connectivity features so as not to cause any disruption while in the air. The phone supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ music formats.
The W580i is the first phone in the Walkman line to include Shake Control, and as promised, it's easy to use. Simply hold down the Walkman button while music is playing and flick your wrist. When done correctly, the phone will vibrate slightly. In general, we liked this feature and found it very intuitive, regardless of whether the phone was open or closed.
In addition to Shake Control, the Walkman packs some older features as well, including TrackID, which records small clips from the included FM Radio and identifies the title and artist. The W580i also includes several Fitness functions: a pedometer, calorie counter, and running meter, which tracks distance, time elapsed, and average speed.
The W580i offers excellent sound quality: All of our songs sounded loud, clear, and full in tone. You can manually adjust five equalizer modes: normal, bass, mega bass, voice, and treble boost. Unfortunately, the volume settings return to their default each time you boot up the phone. Downloading songs with the proprietary USB cable and bundled Disc2Phone software was a breeze. The phone has 12MB of internal memory and comes with a 512MB Memory Stick Micro-enough space to hold about 120 four-minute MP3s. If you like, you can use a card with as much as 4GB of space.
We might like the FM radio even more than the Walkman player, however. Even with TrackID disabled, the phone displayed the artist's name while a song played. Users can save up to 20 favorite stations, which is useful, since you can skip through stations only in ascending order.
The W580i supports stereo Bluetooth, but we also recommend using the bundled headphones and hands-free adapter. The headphones' padded earbuds blocked out so much external noise that even the lowest volume setting was loud enough in an office environment. The adapter (which attaches to the headphones via a 3.5mm jack) includes a mic and button for answering and ending calls. When you receive a call, the music automatically pauses.
Despite its small size, the phone's 262,000-color screen is bright and crisp. Annoyingly, the screen goes dark after a short period of time, even if you're actively using the phone. We like that the phone comes with two games: Lumines Block Challenge and The Sims 2.
The W580i's camera held up well in low light, although our pictures and movies appeared slightly pixelated. Our video clips showed minimal latency, but the sound was barely audible, even with the microphone enabled. We also wish you could use the 4X zoom for photos and not just video. However, the camera wins points for its customizable features: You can shoot pictures in black-and-white or negative, record video in Night mode, adjust the white balance, and choose from one of four shutter sounds.
Even better is the phone's picture blogging feature, which lets you upload photos to a mobile blog. Once you capture and upload your first photo, the phone automatically creates a mobile account on Blogger.com that you can find in your browser bookmarks. Uploading is easy but sluggish. You can also edit your captures right on the phone and use the PhotoDJ and VideoDJ apps to create slideshows and movies set to music.
If you're looking for fast data speeds, look elsewhere. Loading Laptopmag.com on this phone's EDGE data connection took 34 seconds, and loading the images on CNN.com took 20 seconds. Without images, the phone loaded these sites in ten and five seconds, respectively.
As a phone, the W580i was occasionally unreliable. The voice quality was loud and clear, but our first call-to another AT&T phone, no less-was dropped within 30 seconds. However, our subsequent calls to land lines and other cell phone carriers went uninterrupted. The phone is rated for nine hours of talk time and 15.4 days of standby, which seems about right to us. After two days of idle use with intermittent texting, game-playing, and radio-listening, our battery life was down to one bar out of four.
The Sony Ericsson Walkman W580i is one of the few phones that offers excellent music quality for a budget price. For just $79, you get volume, bass, and enough features to entertain athletes and road warriors alike. We love the Shake Control and the included high-end earbuds. If you can deal with the small buttons and not-so-speedy Web browsing, you'll get your money's worth and then some.
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