Technology

A Sweet-Sounding MP3 Phone


This Sony Ericsson has an excellent MP3 player, camera, video, and gaming. What more could you want? Maybe just a color other than orange

For those looking for a cell phone with a little more spice, check out the Sony Ericsson W600i Walkman phone available from Cingular Wireless. It's one of two Walkman phones currently offered in the U.S., and new Cingular customers can get their hands on one for just under $150, after online promotions and mail-in rebates. After testing one for the last couple of weeks, I could see why they're such hot sellers across the globe (Sony Ericsson recently said it has shipped 3 million Walkman units since its launch in August).

LOUD SPEAKER.

Judging from the photos on the box, I expected to see a behemoth of a gadget. But when I first opened it, I was pleasantly surprised to find a compact and sturdy, yet relatively lightweight phone that fit comfortably in my palm. The swivel design allows you to rotate the screen upwards to the left or right to expose the keypad. Once rotated, the screen clicks securely in place, maintaining the sturdy feel.

There's a lot to like about the W600i. Take the 262K color display. It's vibrant and sharp, and the directional keypad allows you to browse menu options fluidly and quickly.

Then there's call quality, which I found to be superior to most phones I've used. As for the speakerphone, it's actually practical. Even with Sunday football on TV in the background, I could sit on the couch while the phone was on the coffee table and hold a clear conversation. And when I held the phone like a walkie-talkie, my buddy on the line couldn't tell I was on a speaker.

SWEET MUSIC.

The phone has some darn good music capabilities, too (it's a Walkman, after all). The MP3 player closes in on iPod quality (or at least as close as any cell phone gets) and even adds something to the mix that Apple doesn't: a built-in FM radio. The included headphone cord doubles as an antenna, and the sound quality is great. It's good to know that Sony isn't slapping its Walkman logo on just any phone.

If you want to play music without the headphones, the volume gets surprisingly loud and the sound parallels low-end computer speakers. With speakers on the front, side and back, it's like having a mini boom box in your pocket. Sony Ericsson offers some cool accessories for the phone as well. An FM transmitter allows you to listen through a nearby radio, much like the popular iTrip, made by Griffin Technology.

Getting music onto the phone was a breeze. The provided software is intuitive and user-friendly. After installing the drivers from the CD, I opened up the Disc2Phone program and simply dragged and dropped music files onto the phone. The whole process is much like burning a CD, and I had a handful of MP3s on my phone within five minutes. The built-in Bluetooth technology even let me "borrow" a few songs off of my friend's cell phone while he was sitting across the room.

The w600i maintains full functionality while playing music, though the music stops when you take or make a call, resuming as soon as the call is done. Or, if the track is just that good (or the call that unwelcome), you can choose to click busy and continue jamming to your favorite tune.

PICTURE PERFECT.

Beyond music, the W600i comes with the standard set of phone features: a calculator, world clock, alarm clock, and stopwatch, among others. But what really sets it apart is the 3-D gaming. Games are played in landscape mode, giving you a wider screen and the ability to hold the phone horizontally, much like a hand-held gaming device. Playing is pretty comfortable (due to two dedicated gaming buttons on the right side), and the graphics are stellar for a cell phone.

The 1.3-megapixel camera is also one of the better ones, featuring up to a 4x digital zoom, a bright light for dim environments, and 256 megabytes of memory. The picture quality is rather good, and the camera is held horizontally when taking photos like a stand-alone digital camera. Though the video clips aren't as crisp as the still photos, the footage is worth taking and can be edited on the phone. You can add text and remove parts of the clip before sending it off to friends.

The W600i has a few annoyances, however. You can't play the radio while charging the phone because it requires the headset to be plugged in (the headphones use the same jack as the charger). Also, the lack of an expandable memory slot is a real downside, making it capable of storing only about 70 songs. Though that's not a viable replacement for a traditional MP3 player on a long road trip, I still found it nice not having to drag my iPod along on my commute to work.

AWKWARD CONVERSATION.

And while there's much to like about the W600i, I also have my fair share of complaints about the design. The calling feature works whether the device is open or closed. But I found it uncomfortable to talk on in either position. When closed, the phone almost feels too short for your face. Even when opened, the phone doesn't curve along your cheek as a traditional flip phone would. There too it felt awkward.

Also, the stock color scheme of the phone (bright orange and silver) reminds me of something my spiky-haired younger brother would love. It doesn't exactly mesh with the business casual look. Depending on your taste, the alternate blue or white faceplates could help solve that problem. In addition, the number pad is a bit small and congested. I found myself accidentally pushing the wrong button several times when dialing. And finally, at $300, the price is a bit high without promotions.

But those quibbles aside, the W600i is a steal for new customers looking to get one of the trendiest MP3 player-cell phone combinations on the market. It marks the beginning of an era when stand-alone gadgets will be replaced by all-in-ones. Keep your eyes open for more introductions in 2006 to the Walkman cell-phone series, as Sony Ericsson will likely look to expand its offerings in the U.S. And the w600i will keep you plenty occupied while you wait.


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