The Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman is a music-focused smart phone running Android 2.3. It boasts a 1GHz processor and 720p video recording.
You can pick it up on contract for as little as £10 a month, or alternatively you can take the SIM-free approach and purchase one for around £150.
Should I buy the Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman?
If you're old enough to recall the days before MP3s and portable media players, then you'll no doubt have a certain degree of affection for Sony's famous Walkman brand. Back in the days when Dolby was cutting edge and your playlists were confined to 90 minutes per tape, Sony ruled the roost.
However, it's best to cast aside any of these nostalgic feelings when considering the Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman. Although it is marked with the distinctive logo, it's not actually that strong a music playback device -- at least when compared with the competition.
Aside from a special Walkman shortcut button, there's nothing here that hasn't already been seen on Sony Ericsson's Xperia phones. The Live with Walkman even uses the exact same music player app.
The fact that it only comes with a 2GB microSD card is an even clearer indication that this handset isn't going to usurp the iPhone as the public's portable music player of choice; 2GB just isn't enough space for serious music fans.
With a SIM-free price tag of roughly £150, the Live with Walkman isn't meant to compete with Apple's expensive phone. But its spec sheet manages to out-shine many similarly-priced Android devices.
It may not live up to that illustrious Walkman name, but this cheap and cheerful device is compact, relatively powerful and even offers exotic features such as 720p video recording and external stereo speakers. For Android rookies, it's the perfect introduction to the operating system.
Sony Ercisson's Timescape user interface came in for some stick when it launched on the Xperia X10 a while back, but the company has wisely taken the criticism on board. Version 4 -- which is installed on the Live with Walkman -- is attractive, feature-packed and surprisingly quick.
Just like the Sony Ercisson Xperia Active, the Live with Walkman uses smart corners to make the most of its small 3.2-inch screen. These are areas in each corner of the screen where you can stow away application shortcuts.
You can dock four apps to each corner. They remain in place no matter which of the five home screens you're currently looking at.
This system is a real time saver. It's important to note that these shortcuts are in addition to the ones you can place on the home screens themselves.
The widget from which Timescape takes its name is still here, although we struggle to find a reason to actually use it. Timescape collates information from your texts, social networking updates and Twitter feed. This data is then presented in a stack of scrolling cards, which look nice but serve very little purpose otherwise.
Timescape 4.0 also introduces xLOUD audio enhancement, which boosts the volume of your music and notifications. As we've seen on several Xperia handsets, this feature is a little overbearing. Sounds end up being distorted, and we preferred to switch it off.
Another cool addition is the ability to snap screenshots using the phone's power button. A long-press brings up the standard shutdown menu, but with an extra box for taking a screen grab. Seeing as this functionality isn't currently available in stock Android, it's great to see that manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to add it in.
Like HTC has done with its Sense 3.0 user interface, Sony Ericsson has imbued Timescape 4.0 with robust media sharing power. Using the Connected Devices application, you can stream music, photos and video to any compatible DLNA devices in the area. Some TVs and stereos support this feature, but you can also use your Sony PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
Timescape 4.0 does drop a few balls though. Android veterans will miss the stock Power Widget, which has been removed in favour of Sony Ericsson's own variant. Dubbed Status Switch, this exclusive widget adds in the ability to toggle Airplane mode and disable your mobile network, but it omits the data sync switch. This means you have to dig deep into the settings to turn off synchronisation of your email.
Sony recently updated many of its phones to Android 2.3.4, and that's the exact same variant of Google's OS that ships on the Live with Walkman.
One of the most recent iterations of Gingerbread, 2.3.4 adds in video calling on apps such as Google Talk and Skype, allowing you to talk face-to-face with your friends. However, video calls across your mobile network aren't supported.
Despite the fact that Android 4.0 is soon to be upon us, 2.3 remains a solid operating system. It boasts multi-tasking, live widgets and an app marketplace that's bursting with new downloads.
No matter how hard it tries, Sony Ericsson just can't seem to let go of the past. It's been years since the Walkman brand carried any kind of cachet, yet the manufacturer still insists on plastering the logo across a select few phones each year.
Alluding to former glories doesn't get the Live with Walkman very far. Despite its music focus, the phone is curiously lacking when it comes to aural entertainment.
The most obvious shortcoming is the fact that it's sold with a 2GB microSD card, which is woefully insufficient for even the most casual of music fans.
We also have to take issue with the bundled headphones. While they possess a solid construction and offer a relatively decent level of sound quality, we noticed a crackling noise in the background, even when music isn't actually playing.
We assumed this was a problem with the phone, but when we tried our own set of earphones the crackling sound vanished. It's possible that the pair of headphones supplied with our review handset were defective, but even so, serious music lovers are unlikely to find them acceptable.
It's also lamentable that the in-line remote control doesn't have proper music buttons such as volume control. As it stands, you have to press the single button once to pause a track, twice to advance and three times to go to the previous song. To alter the volume you have to extract the phone from your pocket and use the dedicated button.
The actual Walkman software is decent, offering a wide range of options and even the ability to link to relevant YouTube and Wikipedia entries. There's a quick-access button on the top of the phone, which launches the app automatically, allowing you to get to your tracks with the minimum of fuss.
The problem is, this is the same software that has already shipped on Sony Ericsson's other non-Walkman smart phones. At least a couple of additional extras to boost the Walkman branding would have been welcome.
It's not all bad. We like the stereo speakers on the back of the phone. Not only do they deliver impressively punchy sound, they also ensure that you're unlikely to miss a call, even in a noisy environment.
Processing power and internal storage
As a mid-range device, it's almost a given that the Live Walkman comes with a 1GHz processor.
With 512MB RAM to back it up, this CPU may sound a little anaemic when you consider that quad-core phones like the HTC Edge are looming menacingly on the horizon. However, the low resolution of the Live with Walkman's screen means there's less legwork for it to do. Moving around the phone's user interface is a lag-free affair.
There's 320MB of internal storage available and a microSD card slot. A 2GB card is supplied with the phone, but you'll almost certainly want to ditch this in favour of something a little roomier, especially if you're serious about this being your main portable music player.
The Live Walkman's dumpy design calls to mind fellow Sony Ericsson small-fry the Xperia Mini and Xperia Active. At just 106mm tall and 56mm wide, it's a truly pocket-sized proposition. Those dainty dimensions come at a cost: the phone is 14mm at its thickest point.
The glossy front and curved edges call to the mind the Xperia Play, and the clip-on battery cover is borrowed almost directly from the Xperia Mini. The end result is that the Live with Walkman feels like an amalgamation of previous Sony Ericsson devices, rather than a distinct entity in its own right.
While originality and innovation may be lacking, the Live with Walkman is blessed with a pleasing build quality. It feels solid, and the battery cover exhibits no traces of creaking when gripped. On the flipside, it's also quite difficult to prise off, and those of you with long nails should anticipate a few breakages.
Rather than using the usual four-strong row of Android controls, the Live with Walkman has just three controls on the front of the device. The Home button is the only physical key out of this trio, with the Back and Menu commands being touch-sensitive buttons. Once again, the Search key is omitted to free up space, which means you'll have to locate that particular function using the phone's touchscreen.
On the left-hand side of the phone you'll find the volume rocker and camera button. The latter is a very welcome addition, as it allows you to quickly fire up the camera application from anywhere in the phone's user interface.
Finally, there's the top of the handset, which is possibly the most interesting element. A 3.5mm audio socket is flanked by two buttons. On the left is the aforementioned Walkman command, which opens up the Walkman music player app. On the right is the power and lock button.
Running around the headphone socket is a transparent section of plastic, which lights up during calls. You can also toggle an option which causes this area to pulsate in time to the music you're listening to -- but unless you fancy being a walking light show, it feels like an over-indulgence.
This is the one area where the Live with Walkman truly struggles. The TFT LCD screen has a resolution of 320x480 pixels, which is quite low, even by budget Android standards.
The actual size of the screen is 3.2 inches, which makes the humble resolution less noticeable. It adds up to 180 pixels per inch. Compare that with the Xperia Ray, which manages to pack 297ppi into its 3.3-inch screen. That means browsing text-rich websites or viewing detailed images really shows up the limitations of the handset's screen.
The Live with Walkman's screen is quite small, masking the rather poor resolution.
The TFT panel also struggles when used in direct sunlight, making it a hard device to use properly when you're out and about. Indoors, things are a little more positive. Despite lacking the Mobile Bravia tech showcased by some of its Xperia siblings, the Live with Walkman's screen is bright and bold.
Thankfully, the display uses capacitive touch technology for higher responsiveness and accuracy. Multi-touch gestures are also supported, so you can pinch to zoom in applications such as Google Maps and your web browser.
As much as we love Timescape 4.0, it's something of a serial offender when it comes to pre-loaded bloatware. There's a staggering number of uninstallable apps present, many of which you'll never use, yet they sit in the background chomping up your precious RAM.
Thankfully, some of the apps introduced in 4.0 can be removed, including McAfee Security, Music Unlimited, UEFA.com and Xperia Hot Shots. This frees up valuable app storage space, allowing you to download stuff more worthy of your attention.
Interestingly, the Live with Walkman features trial versions of several pre-installed Popcap games, including Plants vs Zombies and Peggle. Again, these can be deleted if you find yourself running low on space, but they serve as neat introductions to some of the Android platform's finest games.
When you've only got 320x480 pixels to play with, it doesn't take a genius to realise that viewing high-detail web pages isn't going to be easy.
Surfing the web on the Live with Walkman is occasionally quite a painful experience. You have to zoom out quite a bit to get a good overview of a site. When you do the text and images are barely legible.
On the plus side, the browser supports Adobe Flash, so you benefit from a more interactive view of the web than those using iPhones or iPads.
The stock Android browser has been refined and improved over the past few years and it's hard to fault. It supports multiple windows, bookmarks and has its own pop-up blocker. There are alternatives available on Android Market that boast more options and settings. But for the casual user, this is more than adequate.
Camera and video recording
Sony Ericsson's Android camera application has been given a complete overhaul in Timescape 4.0. It now comes with a dazzling array of different settings and shooting modes, including smile detection, a panoramic sweep mode, geo-tagging and touch-to-shoot.
One of the most unusual additions is the 3D panoramic setting. This operates in the same way as the bog-standard mode, but with an obvious difference when you view the images on a 3D-ready device.
With a maximum resolution of 5 megapixels, the camera on the Live with Walkman can be considered entry level.
It lacks the flashy Exmor R sensor seen on the Xperia Neo, and the quality of the shots it takes varies depending on your shooting conditions. Colours generally struggle to shine and look muted.
Auto-focus enables tight shots but we noticed that the sensor doesn't like getting too close to its subject. An LED flash helps brighten up low-light snaps and we were surprised at how subtle its effect was. Very few of the photos we took suffered from over-exposure.
It's very welcome to have HD 720p video recording on a device of this modest stature, although the quality of the video isn't awe-inspiring. There's a jerkiness to the footage. The continuous auto-focus and bold colours mitigate this slightly.
Expandability, connectivity and battery life
The Live with Walkman's microSD card slot allows you to augment its internal memory with cards up to 32GB in capacity. This is an essential move if you're looking to use this as your primary media device.
Sadly, both the SIM card and microSD card slot are obstructed by the battery, which means you can't hot-swap memory cards. Instead, you'll need to totally power-down the phone.
The Live with Walkman supports 3G and 2G mobile networks and there's Wi-Fi connectivity across the b, g and n standards. Because this is Android, you can also transform the Live with Walkman into a portable wireless hot-spot, allowing you to connect devices such as the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPod touch.
With a 1,200mAh battery, the Live with Walkman's stamina isn't the best. You'll get a day of use if you're careful but don't expect to surpass that if you're syncing email, listening to music and playing games.
For all of its aural posturing, the Live with Walkman isn't really any better suited to playing your music than any other Android device. In fact, in many ways, it's worse.
Selling a phone like this -- even at such a modest price -- with a 2GB microSD card is almost unbelievable. Casual music listeners won't be satisfied by 2GB, let alone the kind of serious fans that Sony Ericsson so badly needs to keep that once-proud Walkman brand alive.
Aside from the flashing light and the handy Walkman button, the Live with Walkman doesn't actually provide anything that isn't already available on Sony Ericsson's Xperia phones.
However, when considering the bigger picture, this handset makes more sense. It retails for around £150 SIM-free and unlocked, yet it offers Android 2.3, a 1GHz processor, 720p video recording and the very latest version of Sony Ericsson's likeable Timescape user interface.
When placed alongside other budget Android phones -- many of which remain saddled with sub-1GHz CPUs and Android 2.2 -- the Live with Walkman starts to look very attractive indeed.
While it's unlikely to tempt music buffs away from their iPhones or iPods, the Live with Walkman represents the perfect entry-point for younger users or Android newcomers.