Sony Ericsson W380i review
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By scotsboyuk, 30th of March 2008.
The W380 is a stylish clamshell handset that compliments Sony Ericssonís Walkman range. like many previous Sony Ericsson handsets this one isnít going to blow you away with an impressive list of features, but thatís not the point of the handset, and understanding that will allow you to appreciate the things it does excel at, not the least of which is its Design. Simply put this is a handset aimed at looking good whilst delivering some fun at the lower end of the market.
Official product pictures of the Sony Ericsson W380
- Stylish design and colour schemes
- External touch-sensitive music controls with vibration feedback
- 512 MB M2 Memory Stick Micro bundled with handset
- Walkman player
- FM radio with RDS
- EDGE support
- Gesture control
- Memory card slot is under back cover
- Relatively poor Camera & whatís up with the camera position?
- High price point in comparison to feature set
- Low Internal memory at 14 MB
- No 3G for downloading music quickly
- No Ďbudí earphones
The thing that struck me about the W380 was how good it looks. Now to be fair looks are highly subjective and some may not agree with my appraisal of the W380ís design, but I would argue that it has a simple and clean look, which belies an elegant little handset that can cut a dash with the best of them. Itís a lower-end handset and this is quite apparent in its feature set, which is devoid of some of the things that one would expect in even higher end mid-range handsets. However, the feature set isnít what you should be looking at when deciding whether to buy this handset as its real strengths lie elsewhere.
The box comes with the usual supplies of battery, charger, manuals, Software CD, data cable, and earphones, along with the handset itself of course! The box itself is a small square effort, which is suggestive of the lower end status of this handset as opposed to the larger and more luxurious packaging given with the likes of the W960.
Simple & elegant
The W380Ďs main advantage lies in its simplicity. With the flip closed the handset is compact and looks quite sleek thanks to the slanted edges, which also help to impart a technical or perhaps even futuristic look to the handset. Taking a tour around the handset we can see the main hardware points; the Fastport on the left hand side, used for charging, earphones and cable connections; the right hand side features the volume keys, and the top and bottom edges are unadorned, save for a Walkman logo on the bottom edge. The back of the handset is about as interesting as handset backís tend to be; we have the usual Sony Ericsson logo and a release switch for the battery cover.
On the other hand the front of the handset is a little more exciting, containing, as it does, the camera, and the touch sensitive controls and OLED display that allow the user to control music playback when the handset is closed. This is important because the bundled headphones offer no advanced music controls so this interface will be the primary means of controlling music whilst you are on the move, but weíll look at that in more detail later. The camera is a 1.3 mega pixel effort, another sign that this is a lower end handset and also that this is a handset that is focused on music. Iím not going to talk too much about the camera here so weíll leave that for now.
The only other feature of note on the outside of the handset is the speaker, situated next to the camera on the top of the handset. Itís isnít exactly a Bang & Olufsen affair weíre dealing with here, but then few handsets produce a decent sound through their speakers and especially not at the lower end of the market.
Opening the handset up we are presented with a simple layout of keys and an adequate, if not especially large, 176 x 220 pixel 262.144 colour screen. There is a thick black border surrounding the screen and one feels that this space could have been better utilised in providing a larger screen. The screen itself is clear enough, being comparable to other recent Sony Ericsson handsets and is neither spectacular nor abysmal. Itís a good enough screen for general use e.g. navigating the UI, reading texts, watching the odd video clip, etc.
The keypad is elegantly laid out, with clear spaces between the buttons, and the buttons clearly labelled. The keypad continues the simplicity motif in that it doesnít look cramped or over crowded. The navigation buttons at the top of the keypad have a metallic finish and this serves to highlight them in the keypad and gives them and ties in with a more tech/futuristic look.
To get into figures for a moment the handset measures 92 x 49 x 16 mm and weighs in at 100 grams on the nose. The battery is a BST-39, which holds 920 mAh of goodness.
Getting around the handset
The interface will be familiar to those who have used a Sony Ericsson handset recently. The layout is as easy to navigate through as ever and the style of menus can be changed through themes, with Flash themes being available to change the appearance of menu icons. Speaking of themes the handset comes pre-installed with five themes; Balance, Clarity, Stripe, Vibes, and Walkman. The themes are pretty enough I suppose and they do add a spot of fun to using the handset, but I dare say users will want to install their own themes. The Walkman theme is the default theme that is active when the handset is first turned on. Of the five themes three of them (Balance, Stripe, and Vibes) are Flash themes and change the appearance of the main menu although, like the pre-installed themes on the W890, they donít change the menu layout, it remains in the 3◊4 format. Also reminiscent of the W890 is that the Flash themes use Flash wallpapers, which means that they are animated and interface with the Walkman player. When a music track is playing the track is shown on the main screen.
In general the user interface is a pleasure to use; itís simple, uncluttered, and responsive. The only time you are really presented with a multitude of options is when going into the settings for a particular function, but even then itís hardly Byzantine.
Menus are navigated using the soft keys underneath the screen, each of which will correspond to a choice on screen. The familiar back key is also present to move you back between menus. This is old style, a back key, a C key, and two non-call dedicated soft keys. Traditionalists rejoice! There is also a dedicated internet button for quickly accessing the handsetís web browser and a short cut button for accessing the short cut menu, which contains options to quickly access key features.
The last navigation button of note is the central navigation pad. Depending upon your point of view and/or mood this is either reminiscent of a tech look or is somewhat feminine in an Art Deco sense. Either way it is functional. The top part of the pad contains an engraved Walkman icon, which, when pressed from the main menu, will activate the Walkman player.
Whatís on the menu?
Now that weíve seen how to navigate the menu system letís look at what there is to navigate. The menu system contains the usual features one expects from a Sony Ericsson handset at this level of the market. I shall briefly detail the more mundane items, but as most will already be familiar with these options I shanít spend too much time on them.
The main menu is displayed as a 3◊4 grid, making twelve menu options in total. Standard fare includes Messaging, Contacts and Internet. These are largely self explanatory and contain all the usual features found in other low end Sony Ericsson handsets.
The Entertainment menu offers a pleasant surprise by containing three games, at least one of which the author loves (see if you can guess which one); Extreme Air Snowboarding, Sims 2 and the ever popular QuadraPop. The Entertainment menu also contains the TrackID feature, which should be included in all handsets in this authorís opinion.
The W380i comes pre-loaded with a single Java application; Music Mate 2, which allows you to compose your own music. Granted this isnít likely to be a deal breaker for many, but it is a nice little addition to the handset and compliments its Walkman image. Michell mentioned that the W890 was rather sparse when it came to pre-installed apps and that seems fair comment given the higher-end nature of the W890, but in the case of the W380i a single application doesnít feel out of place although it would have been nice to have others of course, say the Java Gmail client.
Music Mate 2 is located in the Applications folder within the File Manager. The File Manager feature is actually rather good and itís nice to see Sony Ericsson making these sorts of things available on their lower end handsets as well as those nearer the top of the market. The File Manager allows you to browse through all the files on your handset and organises them into various folders depending upon what sort of data they contain e.g. videos in the video folder, etc. You can view, delete, copy, and move files using the File Manager and you can sort files within folders based upon different criteria e.g. date, file type, etc. Viewing the small number of pre-installed pictures present in the Pictures folder proved to be a little slower than one would have liked, and this makes one wonder how the handset would respond if there were a large number of images present. Images can be sorted into a list mode, which only displays the file name rather than a thumbnail of the image and this greatly speeds up navigating a list of images.
The Organizer menu contains a number of items, none of which are new or particularly exciting, although they are certainly useful. There are such features as a calculator (non-scientific), a stopwatch, and an alarm function, which allows you to set up to five separate alarms and use your own tune as the alarm signal. You can also access application stored on the handset from the Organizer menu through the fittingly titled ĎApplicationsí feature. As mentioned above, there is only one pre-installed application on the handset. Also present are calendar and tasks features, both of which are practical and to the point. The calendar offers the ability to store appointments and set reminders for them, whilst the Tasks function allows you to set reminders for various tasks you may have. The calendar comes with a pre-set link on the short cut menu, which is accessed by pressing the dedicated short cut button.
Also in the Organizer menu is the Notes function, which is just as it sounds; you can create short notes. The old Sony Ericsson stalwart Code Memo is also present. Rounding off the functions is Synchronisation, which allows you to synchronise the handset remotely using either SyncML or Exchange ActiveSync.
The Settings function on the main menu doesnít really offer nay surprises for the seasoned Sony Ericsson owner. The only two options that may seem unfamiliar are Gesture Control and Open to Answer. The former allows you to turn the gesture control feature on and off, whilst the latter allows you to configure whether you want opening the handset to answer an incoming call.
Last, but not least, on our menu tour is the Walkman function. This is arguably the heart of the handset given that it is a Walkman handset. Upon selecting the Walkman function you are immediately taken to the player where you can start playing a track. Pressing the right soft key brings up a list of options, including one entitled ĎMy Musicí, which lets you browse through the music you have stored on the handset/memory stick. There is also an option from the menu to send and delete files or get information on them e.g. file size, length of track, etc. You are also given the option of saving playlists and minimizing the Walkman player.
The actual settings option in the Walkman player, accessed through the right soft key menu, gives you various options to configure the equalizer settings; turn album art on and off; select from two different skins for the Walkman player, and select whether you want to play in Shuffle mode and whether you want Loop mode activated.
Camera is a bit of a joke
Letís be blunt, the W380ís camera is very much an extra rather than an integral part of the handset. That much is evident by the fact that there is no dedicated camera button, rather you have to select the camera option from the main menu. Itís not a huge problem, but it does make taking quick snaps that little bit more difficult.
Before we get onto picture quality letís spend a moment looking at the camera options. Upon starting up the camera you are presented with two options, each corresponding to a soft key; the left hand option is ĎCaptureí and is used to take a picture, whilst the right hand option, ĎMoreí, brings up a menu with the following ten options:
- View all pictures - this shows you all the pictures you have taken with the camera.
- Shoot mode - you can switch between normal and burst mode here.
- Picture size - this allows you to select the size (and quality) of the camera pictures taken. The default option is 1 MP, but there are also VGA and QVGA options available.
- Night mode - allows night mode to be activated for taking pictures in low light conditions.
- Self-timer - here you can activate a self-timer that allows you to take a picture with yourself in it.
- Effects - offers a range of three different effects that can be applied to picture taking; Black & white, Negative, and Sepia.
- White balance - contains a range of pre-set options for adjusting white balance according to the lighting conditions you find yourself in.
- Picture quality - you can switch between normal and fine mode.
- Shutter sound - there are four different shutter sounds available.
- Save to - you can set whether pictures are stored in internal memory or on the memory stick.
There is a 4x digital zoom available, but only for pictures taken at QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolution. VGA (640 x 480 pixels) resolution features a 2x digital zoom, and the 1 MP (1280 x 960 pixels) resolution has no zoom. Zooming is accomplished using the up and down sections of the navigation pad. The brightness of a shot can be adjusted by using the volume rocker, with maximums of +/- 2.
In terms of quality there isnít much to say other than itís what you would expect from a 1.3 mega pixel camera, that is to say, nothing spectacular. The camera is fine for taking the odd picture here and there, but you wouldnít want to rely on it as your main camera. As mentioned above, itís an extra and should be viewed as such, rather than being a defining feature. Another thing with the camera is that it is extremely bad in low-light situations. This is, after all, a music handset. Camera sample photos below.
Itís also worth noting that there is no video capture function on the W380i. Thatís right chaps, no video recorder. Itís already been said, but itís even more relevant now, the camera is an extra!
Music sounds good
We took a quick look at the Walkman function earlier, but letís look more in-depth at music on the W380 overall. This is a Walkman handset so this is the area one would expect it to excel in, and, for its market segment, it does a good job. The Walkman player makes browsing and playing your music easy, even if it isnít the Walkman 3.0 player found in some of the higher-end handsets.
The W380i features one external speaker, located on the top of the handset when closed. It actually does a decent job of playing music although the operative word here is Ďdecentí. You arenít going to be breaking your W380 out as an impromptu Hi-Fi, but for letting others around you hear a music track it will do the job well enough. The sound produced isnít overly tinny and the volume level is adequate if not particularly loud.
The earphones are of the in-ear variety, rather than the little bud ones. This author prefers the bud ones that actually lodge inside the ear canal, but the earphones bundled with the W380i are good enough. In terms of sound quality I was pleased; they produced a nice clear sound. The earphones come in two parts; a Ďbaseí part that plugs into the handset using a Fast port connector and a secondary part that uses a 3.5mm jack to plug into the base part. This is both annoying and satisfactory at the same time. The annoyance stems from the somewhat redundant connection process that sees the use of two different connections, a Fast port connection and a 3.5 mm jack. On the other hand the inclusion of the 3.5 mm jack does afford the user ability to use his own earphones. It would be more elegant to just use a single 3.5 mm jack as the earphone connection, but Sony Ericsson appears to be committed to Fast port.
The bundled earphones donít come with an in-line remote capable of practical music control. Rather the handset offers external music controls mounted on the top of the handset, which have a vague resemblance to brail. These controls take the form of three touch sensitive buttons and an OLED display build into the top of the handset. When you start music playback and close the handset you can use these buttons to skip between tracks as well as pause and start them. The display will show the currently playing track when the music is actually playing and a handset status display when the music is stopped. The display looked somewhat Ďfuzzyí in that it wasnít particularly crisp or bright, but it is legible and its appearance does compliment the handsetís design.
Now for those of you worried that the music controls may be pressed by accident whilst in a pocket you neednít fear because the controls do need an actual press rather than a light glance (or in the case of the Samsung U600 a wrong look). Leaving the handset alone for a while puts it into standby mode (although the music will still play of course), and it takes two presses of the external buttons to actually change a music track. Hence, even if you did manage to press one of the controls by accident, it would take another press to actually do anything.
The W380i comes bundled with a 512 MB Memory Stick Micro M2 card. This is at the lower end of the memory stick range so some users may wish to upgrade to at least a 1 GB stick. As mentioned above, the memory stick slot is rather annoyingly situated under the battery cover, making hot swapping possible, since the battery doesnít need to be removed, but cumbersome.
Connectivity and web
Bluetooth is of course present and supports both OBEX and headsets, including A2DP for listening to music on a wireless headset. In terms of data connectivity the handset sports GPRS and EDGE, which isnít bad going for a lower end handset. The handset isnít really built for extensive web browsing so itís doubtful whether the lack of 3G would be felt here. Being a lower-end handset itís also worth pointing out that many of its likely buyers are probably not going to be terribly interested in the more advanced features 3G brings.
The browser is the standard Sony Ericsson browser, which does a reasonable job of displaying pages. The browser isnít designed to handle full web pages and trying to browse anything too complex is likely to end in frustration, and of course there is no Flash support. WAP sites and mobile versions of web pages should work fine and there are no real complaints on that front. The default page is Google, which is rather handy I suppose although I imagine that individual networks will probably change the homepage to their own portal. Also of note is the inclusion of an RSS reader, which is a nice addition to the handset in that RSS feeds are a great way to keep up to date with your favourite sites without having to browse to them. This is especially beneficial on a handset like the W380i, which doesnít have the browsing capabilities of higher end handsets. The RSS reader feature is accessed through the Messaging option in the main menu.
Itís a shame that Sony Ericsson doesnít bundle Opera Mini with its handsets because it is a much more capable browser and provides a much better browsing experience. Itís a Java application so it will work on just about any mobile phone, even at the low end of the market.
A thousand contacts
The phone book is par for the course and whilst there is nothing truly exciting here, itís a well designed feature with useful options. The phone book can store up to 1,000 separate contacts and 2,500 phone numbers, which should be more than adequate for all but the most socially active. Each phone book entry can have a plethora of data added to it, including things like work and home addresses; website, and so on. Each contact can also have a unique ringtone. Overall itís a simple feature that packs quite a bit of punch.
like the phone book this is something most will be familiar with, but itís worth giving it a brief overview anyway. The handset supports SMS and MMS. One of the best features of Sony Ericsson handsets is the ability to include little emoticons in your SMS, which are displayed as actual emoticons and not just their constituent symbols; it adds a splash of fun to the proceedings. Predictive text is provided by T9 and itís as good as they come with an extensive dictionary and the ability to add your own words.
The message settings option provides various options that allow the user to edit things like the service centre number, validity period, and whether to accept advertisements and anonymous MMS, amongst other things.
I liked this handset. I really did. Itís uncomplicated and to the point, and I think itís all the better for that. The W380i is not intended to be a feature rich handset that goes tow to toe with the big boys. For those looking for a simple, no frills handset that has a bit more under the bonnet than the ultra low-end like the J110, the W380 fits the bill nicely. It might not have everything, but it offers enough to keep you interested. Even for those of us more accustomed to dining at the higher-end of the table the W380 still has plenty to offer in the shape of a secondary handset, either as a backup to oneís main handset or as a Ďgoing outí handset.
In terms of design I canít really fault the handset. Itís understated and elegant, with just a whisper of a tech look to it. It is both fun and serious looking at the same and would look quite at home in either a childís hand or a business manís pocket.
The camera is a little disappointing because it feels as if it has been included because it had to be rather than as a valued feature integral to the success of the handset. Donít get me wrong, I wasnít expecting a 5 mega pixel job here, but Sony Ericsson could have tried a little harder to make the camera feel like more than a necessary evil. The lack of video recording is somewhat annoying, but I donít think it represents a serious flaw with the handset.
What disappoints me most with this handset is the price. In the UK the W380i is currently retailing for around £80 on PAYG and £160 SIM free. For the feature set the W380i sports I think those are rather hefty prices, especially when you consider that a K800i is currently around the £60 mark on PAYG. If the price comes down, or is in fact cheaper in other countries, then the W380i could be a nice little bargain, but I think the price would have to come down to nearer the £100 level for a SIM free unit for that.
Apart from that I would recommend the W380i, either as a first handset for a child, or a handset for those looking for simplicity with a punch, or those who are just looking for something stylish to compliment their main handset.
Original article published at The Unofficial Sony Ericsson Blog