Sony Ericsson W995 review

The Sony Ericsson W995 is a slider measuring 97.0 x 49.0 x 15.0mm, lovingly finished with a screen bezel and back in brushed metal, giving it an industrial look and feel. This isn't a minimalist handset by any measure: it has chrome detailing on the ends and buttons down both sides and across the bottom of the front. It weighs in at 113g.

On the left-hand side you'll find the Walkman button which jumps straight into the media player, highlighting the dedicated music buttons in orange. To control your music, the central select button on the front becomes a play/pause control, whilst another play button resides on the right-hand side sandwiched between the skip buttons.

Also living on the right-hand side are the volume controls, which are the only buttons that we would say are too small and a little fiddly. The volume control turns into a digital zoom when used with the 8.1-megapixel camera, which also has a dedicated shutter button.

Around the back of the handset is a small kickstand, which flicks out so you can prop your phone up whilst on the train so you can watch back your video content. Being a Walkman handset there is also a 3.5mm jack, so you can use your own headphones.

There is a bundled headset, which is the two-piece dongle type arrangement, so if you want to use the handsfree kit you'll need to plug into the side. You could then plug your own headphones in, but the supplied ear-bud style are among the best "bundled" headphones and perform pretty well, with a choice of rubbers and a nice rich bassy delivery.

Dominating the front of the phone is the 2.6-inch, 240 x 320 pixel, display. It isn't the sharpest around, but it is bright and large enough. The slide is a solid, crisp and distinct action. There is no flex or wobble in the screen either, so it feels like a precision piece of engineering: you certainly won't be disappointed.

Slide open the W995 and you are presented with a nice tight backlit 12-key keypad. Although the keys have a crisp action, they are fairly close together, so those with larger hands might find it uncomfortable to write long messages, but we got both thumbs working on it in no time at all.

Inside the specs are equally impressive with everything you'd expect from a flagship handset. On the connectivity front you get HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AGPS, so it will do pretty much everything you could want.

The supplied browser is ok, but not great, but we had Opera Mini installed within a few minutes which improves the experience. The range of bundled software apps is pretty good, with Google Maps installed from the off, as well as Wayfinder for GPS navigation, although this is on a trail basis.

But I'm stalling from one of big features here: BBC iPlayer. If you're an international reader, you won't get this, but for those in the UK, you'll find it ready to play your live TV, as well as stream content through the service. With a Wi-Fi connection it's a winning combination, even if the resolution is a little low.

Media benefits from Sony XrossMediaBar, so it is easy to navigate and very clear. Bundled in the box you'll find also find Sony Ericsson's new Media Go software, which is basically another media manager that will allow you to easily sync your files with your phone. It does need a little hand holding, as we found it imported a great deal of junk media, such as title clips from the desktop version of BBC iPlayer.

You'll also find YouTube support built-in, accessed under the video tab, so you'll be able to get your fill of Megawhat.tv wherever you are, although again, the resolution is not great. You'll also find Sony Ericsson's PlayNow arena, which seems to be mostly filled with paid-for content, but there are some freebies too as well as the 60 movies for free, and as we learnt last week the service will be expanding to offer apps in the future.

There is an accelerometer built-in, but it doesn't always rotate your video content for you. We found that YouTube would auto-rotate, BBC iPlayer needed to be manually prompted to rotate, whilst Sony Ericsson's own PlayNow service outright refused - instead you'll have to save the clip and play it back, at which point you'll be able to take advantage of landscape viewing.

Finally you have the 8-megapixel camera on the back. Although not branded as a Cyber-shot model, you get a number of features like face detection, smile shot, BestPic and so on. There are the normal shooting modes, geotagging, digital stabilisation, amongst other features. Video capture is also supported, but not at any great resolution, with "normal" (as opposed to "for picture messaging") only giving you 320 x 240px.

Rather than a Xenon flash, you'll find and LED flash on the back, which can also be turned on as an illuminator for video, but the results aren't great, but will just about cover you for candid party shots to share online.

Camera performance is pretty average. For snaps on the fly to upload to Facebook, or video clips for fun on YouTube it serves well enough, but it doesn't really excite from an image quality point of view and won't replace a compact camera, images lack vibrancy and suffer from a great deal of noise, with high contrast scenes seeing lots of fringing and bright conditions blowing out light colours. The sensor might be crammed full of pixels, but the lens doesn't support them adequately.

The menus are good old reliable Sony Ericsson, with nice big icons and easy to navigate. To support all your media you'll find an 8GB M2 card (provided) under the back cover - a generous amount of storage, but you could upgrade to 16GB if you need more. You also get all the normal Sony Ericsson features you'd expect, like SensMe, TrackID, FM radio, DLNA certified and so on.

You can also set-up your email, and we had our Gmail account connected in minutes, although the settings needed a minor authentication tweak to allow us to send emails. Ok, so this isn't a business handset and it doesn't match the email experience found on QWERTY handsets, but it will keep you connected.

Battery life is reasonable, rated at 4 hours of 3G talk time, but 2 weeks in standby. In reality the battery life depends very much on what you do with it. If you watch an hour of streaming video on your commute, keep track of emails, call a few people and listen to some of your music collection, you'll find yourself charging it every day.

Verdict

It's difficult not to like the W995 from Sony Ericsson. As an entertainment handset it is comprehensive, providing access to content and the means to get it for free through Wi-Fi. There is even a clip-on speaker bundled in the box that, whilst tinny, boosts the on-board speaker offering and will be great for sharing content with friends.

A great quality of build and slick all round performance, this is a phone for someone who loves music and video on the move, but those 8-megapixels don't make it a camera phone.