After the damp squib that was the Sony Ericsson Zylo, the Swedish-Japanese firm is hoping to capture the hearts of music-loving mobile users with the Spiro. Cheaper and a great deal more cheerful, this pint-sized handset has the looks to impress. Predictably, however, corners have been cut to get it on store shelves at such a reasonable price.
The Spiro is available from £40 on pay as you go, with contract prices starting at £10 a month for a 24-month term where the handset, naturally, comes free of charge.
You'll never walk alone
Even hardcore Sony Ericsson fans will admit the Walkman range isn't the force it once was. A few years ago, when the very notion of a phone playing MP3s was the stuff of a madman's wildest dreams, the firm turned out some desirable and feature-packed phones. But, with the introduction of the iPhone, the playing field has been drastically altered.
No company is more aware of this than Sony Ericsson, and in recent months, the manufacturer has looked to buttress its rapidly diminishing market share by allying itself with Google's Android operating system. That doesn't mean the iconic Walkman brand is dead and buried quite yet. There's a sector of the market that can't afford to commit to expensive smart phone contracts, and it's at this underappreciated audience that Sony Ericsson is aiming their latest handset.
The Spiro is almost disarmingly modest, with a cute design and solid construction. The glossy front picks up finger marks a little too readily, but it does give the phone a sense of style. The matte battery cover provides a contrast, as well as preventing the device from slipping out of your palm during frantic use.
The alphanumeric keypad -- which is revealed by sliding the phone open -- boasts large, tactile buttons and is a joy to use. The low profile of the keys sometimes leads to accidental presses, but on the whole, there's very little to moan about.
Elsewhere on the device, you'll find the standard Sony Ericsson direction pad and button setup, designed with music playback explicitly in mind. The cluster of buttons can feel a little cramped at times, especially when you're navigating the phone's menu system. The volume keys -- which represent the only other physical inputs on the phone -- are positioned on the right-hand side, almost exactly in the middle. This makes them awkward to press when the Spiro is in its 'closed' state, as the required pressure can sometimes cause the phone to slip from your grasp.
Don't go changing
Unlike its Android-packing relations, the Xperia X10 and Xperia X10 Mini, the Spiro uses Sony Ericsson's proprietary operating system. It's an evolution of the same interface the company has been using for nearly a decade, and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has previously cradled a Sony Ericsson device in their palm. Everything is where it should be, and finding your way around isn't problematic.
One of Sony Ericsson's mandates for this device -- along with its sister phone, the Walkman Zylo -- was to successfully fuse music with social networking. The Spiro comes pre-loaded with rudimentary Twitter and Facebook clients, neither of which manages to impress when compared to the apps available on iPhone and Android.
The same can be said of the phone's bothersome Web browser, which makes hitting the net a painful experience. It's not helped by the aforementioned tiny screen and absence of Wi-Fi.
Music on the move
Thankfully, Sony Ericsson's own Walkman 4.0 software is more impressive. It connects to the (admittedly pricey) PlayNow repository, allowing you to download music, ringtones and games direct to the phone's internal memory. At this point, it's worth mentioning that the Spiro comes with a feeble 5MB of internal storage, so a microSD card is a must.
TrackID is another noteworthy tool in the Spiro's arsenal. The software can identify a song just from listening to a few seconds, although you'll need to rely on an Edge or GPRS connection to harass Sony Ericsson's data servers with your request for musical enlightenment -- the Spiro lacks 3G.
The wise inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack (something that its costly sibling, the Zylo, couldn't even manage) means you can plug in your expensive earpieces. This is highly recommended, as the included pair simply doesn't do justice to the phone's impressive playback quality.
Ideally, we'd have liked to have seen a dedicated in-line remote control, as was bundled with previous Walkman phones. Having to drag the Spiro out of your pocket every time you want to pump up the volume or select a new song becomes tiresome incredibly fast.
The Spiro's camera is possibly the weakest element of the entire package. The 2-megapixel shooter lacks a flash and struggles with close-up images. It's fine for impromptu snaps to send to friends via MMS, but anything beyond that is probably pushing it.
With such a modest specification, it's clear the Sony Ericsson Spiro isn't intended as a front-line device -- that rank is more likely to go to the Zylo, launched at the same time. With a pay as you go retail price of around £40, the Spiro is aimed at the lower end of the market, and this makes it easier to excuse its shortcomings. Despite the dismal camera and small amount of internal storage, the Sony Ericsson Spiro remains a likeable device, thanks largely to its impressive build quality and decent media-playback credentials.
Edited by Emma Bayly