The W850i Walkman phone is Sony Ericsson's first slider phone and it's a solid attempt from a company that has previously avoided this form factor. Although there are some niggling issues that we'd like to see addressed in the next iteration, Sony Ericsson hasn't made a complete blunder of the new design.
Standout features include a large colour screen, 3G connectivity and stereo Bluetooth, and a 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo for storing your tunes. It is available from several networks, free on contracts starting at around £30 per month. It's also available SIM-free from Expansys for about £275.
The top half of the W850i looks a little similar to the K800i. The screen is identical and they have similar speaker grilles and small VGA cameras on the front. The rest of the phone, however, is very different to the K800i, and indeed different to every Sony Ericsson phone ever made.
The W850i is Sony Ericsson's first slider phone, a form factor it has avoided in the past. The top section houses the screen, which measures 32mm by 42mm, and is pleasingly bright so you don't have to shade it with your hand in daylight. The screen changes its brightness depending on the level of ambient light, which is measured by a sensor on the top of the handset. This improves the battery life -- the screen isn't at its brightest setting all the time and therefore doesn't drain as much power.
Next to the sensor is an easy-to access Memory Stick Pro Duo slot for the generously sized 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo. The power button is to its right.
On the front section of the phone, above the screen, is an ear speaker and a VGA camera for 3G video calls. Compared to the last 3G Walkman phone, the W900i, the W850i is compact and feels comfortable to hold both in the open and shut positions. Like the W900i it comes in dual-tone, although this time Sony Ericsson has opted for graphite and white.
It's easy to slide the top section up and down because unlike many sliders the W850i has a metal ridge underneath the screen for added grip. To the right and left of the ridge are two soft keys that give you access to the call log and menu. In between those two keys and directly underneath the metal ridge is a transparent orange button that takes you straight to the music player. When you press it, it glows orange.
Further down is a four-way navigation key that's disguised as part of the casing, aside from four small dots that light up blue and also turn orange when the music player is being used. In the centre of the four dots is a select key that also doubles up as a play and stop button for the music player.
To the right of the navigation button is a small cancel button and dedicated shortcut menu key and to the left is a back key and dedicated Web browser key. The soft keys are well laid out and easy to press, but the new-look navigation key feels a little cramped. If you have large thumbs, it's easy to press the select key by mistake.
On the right side of the W850i there are two volume keys that adjust the volume during calls and when using the music player. Further down there's a dedicated shutter button that automatically accesses the 2-megapixel camera when pushed. Right at the bottom of the left side there's an infrared port.
The back section of the W850i is textured and houses a 2-megapixel camera with an LED photo light and small portrait mirror. The camera lens is surrounded by a plastic border that does a good job of keeping the lens protected from fingerprints and scratches. We would have preferred it, however, if the camera was protected behind the slide, as it is on the LG Chocolate KG800.
Underneath the camera is a loudspeaker that lets you listen to calls in speakerphone mode and listen to music without headphones. Right on the bottom is a charging port that doubles up as a headphone port and USB port. In the box you get a 3.5mm headphone adaptor, in-ear headphones and a USB cable, as well as a CD of the Sony Ericsson PC Suite software and an AC adaptor.
Once you slide the phone open, the keypad appears. The phone feels well balanced, with the bottom half being heavier than the top. This means that unlike a top-heavy slider phone, you don't get the feeling that the phone is about to slip out of your hand when you slide it upwards.
The keys on the keypad seem small, but are easy to press, aside from the top row that is, unfortunately, very close to the bottom of the top section of the W850i. If you have large hands you might find this means you have to use the tip of your thumb to press the 1, 2 and 3 keys.
The slide mechanism itself is smooth and is also spring loaded so it won't leave you to do all the work like the mechanism on the Nokia N80. You can use the phone with the slide shut by unlocking it using the two top soft keys.
The W850i first and foremost is a Walkman phone aimed at music fans, and it definitely delivers on its promise. With the bundled Sony Ericsson Disc2Phone software you can transfer music on to your phone with relative ease. If you have any problems, take a look at our guide to getting music on to your Walkman phone.
We managed to transfer Kelis's Tasty album, which includes 14 songs, in just over six minutes. The Disc2Phone software will automatically convert CDs into MP3 files and then transfer them on to your W850i if you want to. Alternatively, you can simply transfer files already in MP3 format straight to the phone.
Sony Ericsson has included a 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo that will store around 240 MP3 tracks. The Advanced Walkman 2.0 music player supports AAC, AAC+, E-AAC+, MP3, M4A, WAV and WMA formats. You have the option to set the player to shuffle mode or loop mode and you can also adjust the equaliser. Other options include enabling stereo widening, displaying album art or visualisations and adding light effects.
The light effects option makes the dedicated orange music button flash to the beat of the track you're playing. It's a gimmick, but looks funky, and will have friends flocking like moths to a flame. Another cool feature is the option to send a friend a track from within the player via email, Bluetooth or infrared. This means you don't have to go back out of the player and find the track again.
The thing that really makes the W850i music listening experience great, though, is the bundled 3.5mm adaptor in the box that lets you connect your own headphones. You can also use the stereo Bluetooth connectivity (A2DP) to wirelessly connect a pair of stereo Bluetooth headphones.
If you use wired headphones, you can also listen to FM radio as well as your own music. The radio looks good and works well, letting you search automatically or manually for stations, see what station you are listening to and save that station so that you don't have to search for it again. It also provides a service called TrackID. This records a clip of whatever song you are listening to and then sends it off via GPRS or 3G to a music-recognition service, which then sends you back the name of the track and artist. It worked with about 80 per cent of the tracks we tried.
The W850i lets you minimise the music player or radio alongside other applications so that you can run several of them at the same time. You can use the shortcut soft key on the front of the W850i to pop up a list to access the ones that are running.
Another important feature of the W850i is the 2-megapixel camera, which is activated using the dedicated shutter button on the left side of the phone. The camera lets you take still photographs and video. In the settings menu you can adjust the shooting mode, picture size, white balance and picture quality. You can also activate the LED light, timer, night mode and shutter sound, or add some simple effects.
You can make further changes to your images using the PhotoDJ application. This lets you change the light balance, adjust the brightness and contrast, remove red-eye, add more effects and insert clipart, a frame or text.
There is a second camera on the front of the W850i for 3G video calls. The 3G connectivity not only supports video calls, but also allows you to download music or games directly to the handset. It makes browsing the Web using the built-in browser much faster than on GPRS phones.
Impressively, there's still more on offer, including some fun applications. For example, in the Organiser section there are two Java applications, one called Face Warp that lets you morph somebody's face into weird shapes, and another called Music Mate that teaches you the chords on a guitar or pitch on a piano -- there's even a virtual metronome.
In the Entertainment section of the menu there's an application called MusicDJ that lets you compose your own simple tunes and use them as ringtones. Then there's the VideoDJ application that lets you add a soundtrack and transition effects to your video clips.
Other features include flight mode, MMS and SMS messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, tasks, a voice recorder, over-the-air synchronisation (SyncML), a Bluetooth remote, a video player, Java games, a timer, a stop watch, an SOS light option, a calculator and a file manager. The W850i's firmware will automatically update itself over the air.
One niggle that we have is that you can't set the W850i to lock when you slide it shut from anywhere other than the main window. If you're in the settings section of the menu, for example, and you shut the slider, it won't lock the phone.
The W850i also won't end a call when you shut the slider. It will answer a call when you slide it open, but won't do the opposite, so you can't simply slide the phone closed when you finish a conversation. This might seem like a small problem but many slider phone users are used to that functionality and we found it annoying.
The audio on calls is clear and loud and the speakerphone works as expected. The audio on the music player is great and it doesn't sound tinny at all. The provided in-ear headphones are better than the majority of bundled ones, but we found the player sounded best when using our own headphones.
The stereo Bluetooth also worked well and we found it easy to pair up a set of stereo Bluetooth headphones with the W850i. As with other Walkman phones, if you're listening to music and you get a call, it will automatically pause the music until you end the call, which we found very useful.
Unfortunately, after being exposed to the Sony Ericsson K800i's camera, the W850i's camera really disappointed us. There's no autofocus, so pictures don't come out as sharp, and no xenon flash, so shots in low light don't come out as well lit.
In fact, compared to the 2-megapixel camera on the almost two-year-old K750i, this camera simply doesn't measure up. If, however, you just want to take the odd snapshot for MMS messages, then it is more than suitable.
Video calls were acceptable and worked well, we could see the other person clearly over a 3G connection and they could see us.
Battery life is quoted at 350 hours on standby and 210 minutes of talk time. We found that battery life was good aside from when we made 3G video calls.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield