Ever since the introduction of the iPhone, Sony Ericsson (and every other mobile brand around) has had to up its game, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of a music player. With the long-estblished Walkman brand to back it up, the Sony Ericsson Spiro is squarely aimed at those who want a music player on their mobile, without having to pay through the nose for it. You can get the Spiro for around £40 on a PAYG basis, or if you prefer being on contract, these start at around £10 (with the phone itself for free).
Along with its music playing attributes, the Spiro also features a 2.0-megapixel camera with 2x digital zoom and video recording, along with the Obigo Q7 web browser and social networking apps. Other features include Bluetooth and FM radio with RDS. The handset has a pretty basic offering when it comes to memory, featuring a feeble 5MB of phone memory, with the option of expanding this with a 16GB microSD card.
On taking it out of the box, the first thing that we noticed about the Spiro was just how small it was. With its tiny 92 x 48 x 16.75mm dimensions, it can truly be described as "pocket size", although this tends to be a sign that it's going to be difficult to use. Weight-wise, the handset tips the scales at 90g, making it feel reassuringly robust without being too cumbersome.
There's a choice of colours, including pink and green, while our review unit was somewhat dramtically labelled as Stealth Black. The glossy front gives the phone a quality feel, which is slightly let down by the matte black back, although this does provide an extra bit of grip.
The 2.2-inch TFT screen is a bit on the small side, but its perfectly functional, although the 240 x 320 resolution does tend to make things look a little pixellated at times.
We found that the buttons on the camera face were far too small and cramped to be able to operate with consistent success. Although the buttons are very responsive, they're just too small, particulalry for those with less than dainty digits. The slide-out keyboard is pretty slick and the extra phone length makes long conversations a bit more comfortable. Thankfully the keypad buttons are more generously sized than those on the mobile face. Once we swiftly turned off the excrutiating Quick Text mode and reverted back to the conventional way of using an alphanumeric keypad, it was nice and comfy to use.
The onscreen interface is reasonable enough, with the picture-led navigation making things as simple as possible. The PlayNow icon offers a selection of downloadable content for you to buy, including wallpapers, ringtones, songs and games. However, as the phone only supports GPRS and EDGE, rather than 3G, any downloading could take a while.
Using the web browser is a tad painful especially if you're used to, or expecting to see, the usability of a high-end smartphone. The lack of 3G or Wi-Fi makes it a very slow process, and as there's no touchscreen, you have to make do with the circular button under the screen and the button on the side of the phone that lets you scroll up and down.
One of the selling points for the Spiro is the pre-loaded Facebook and Twitter applications. After a lot of searching around, we finally found the Facebook app hidden away in a folder in the Organiser section with the stopwatch and calculator, whereas we expected to see it on the homepage. Sony Erisson still hasn't figured out how to logically arrange the content of its phones. We never did find the Twitter app, but it's no great loss as the Facebook app was nowhere near as good as those found on iOS or Android and wasn't really much different from using the clunky browser.
The main draw here is the all-important music player, and not only that, but one bearing the iconic Walkman brand name. Suppporting MP3, AAC, AAC+ and eAAc+ files formats, the player is based on Sony's Walkman 4.0 software which is certainly the highlight of an otherwise mediocre handset. Also included is TrackID - a nifty piece of software that can identify a song by "listening" to a short snippet, although this can be a touch on the slow side.
The audio quality is really quite impressive, although you'll find it improves by a hell of a lot if you get some better headphones to use, rather than the ones that are included in the box.
To use the FM radio, you need to plug the supplied hands-free headphones in as they contain the antenna. However, you can still switch to the built-in speaker if you want to annoy people on the bus.
With crushing inevitability, we found that the 2-megapixel camera wasn't really very good at all. There are a few nice features - you can use several different picture effects including black and white, negative or sepia, and you can also change the shutter sound. You can alter the white balance and set a self-timer and there's even a night mode, although as there's no flash, this is pretty useless. The 2x digital zoom is also best left alone. If you desperately want to be able to take half-decent snaps on your phone then this one probably isn't for you.
The Spiro is certainly a modest phone, and there's nothing wrong with that, particulalry if you're after something that won't cost an arm and a leg. The lack of Wi-Fi and the tiny built-in memory certainly don't help its case but then at this price, we think that the Spiro can be forgiven. It's generally a reasonable phone, thanks largely to its music playing capabilities, as long as you don't intend to do too much web browsing on the move.