Sony Ericsson is giving a masterclass in music phones with the W995 Walkman. The company wants to blow our minds with its upcoming entertainment-orientated powerhouse, the Satio, but, after using the W995, we're pretty blown away already, thanks very much. This is a music phone that takes everything great about the Walkman range and makes it even better, thanks to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. And, with an 8.1-megapixel camera, it makes a very good camera phone as well.
You can grab the W995 from free on a £30-per-month, 18-month contract with T-Mobile, or for £330 when bought with £10 airtime on a pay-as-you-go deal with O2.
Update: We initially said that the bundled external speaker unit toppled over when we put the W995 in it. In fact, it can be easily stabilised, and we have corrected the review accordingly.
We've been long-time fans of Sony Ericsson Walkman music phones, but we've always had a huge, heavy axe to grind: the proprietary headphone socket. The adaptor that's included with, for example, the W705 Walkman is fine for hands-free use with the included (very short) headphones, but it's a metre long -- so when we use our own headphones, we could skip with the cable. It also takes up the phone's USB port, which is inconvenient since it necessitates unplugging the headphones every time you want to transfer music.
We've been holding our breath for months in the hope that the W995 will live up to its promise of being the first Walkman phone with a proper headphone jack, and it hasn't let us down. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits right in the centre on the top of the phone, and the W995 also comes with a headphone adaptor (with a hands-free mic) that you can plug into the proprietary USB socket, so you can actually plug in two pairs of headphones at the same time.
We compared the sound of high-quality MP3 files on the W995 to the sound on a dedicated MP3 player, using some beautiful Audio Technica headphones, and found the difference in sound quality to be almost imperceptible.
As well as an FM radio, the W995 has some wacky music features like TrackID, which can identify a song based on a clip of a few seconds, and SensMe, which displays your music on a graph of happy/sad and fast/slow. In our tests, these features gave accurate results, but we're not sure if we would take advantage of them in day-to-day use.
Stereo speakers rock
out but fall down
The stereo speakers on the phone are large compared to those of other handsets, and they belt out solid sound at a surprisingly high volume. To really get the party on the bus started, there's a stereo speaker stand included in the box. Its flimsy plastic feel belies its loud, powerful sound, and it includes a radio antenna so you can blast out radio on the speakers without plugging in the headphones. The only downside to the external speaker unit is that, although it's meant to act as a stand, it becomes too top-heavy when the phone's attached, and topples over instantly, unless you take the plastic cap that covers the connector on the speakers and stick it on the back of the stand to make it more stable. This isn't an obvious step to take, though.
You can control the music player with the phone closed, using the dedicated buttons on the side, but they're tiny and not easy to feel with your thumbs. We'd have preferred them to be on the front, and we think they'll take some getting used to.