Sony Ericsson w960i review

By Michell Bak at Sony Ericsson Unofficial blog

Sony Ericsson W960i is Sony Ericsson’s top notch music offering featuring a massive 8 gigabyte flash memory, Walkman 3.0 Touch player, QVGA resolution touch screen, WLAN & Symbian OS with UIQ 3.0. Don’t start shaking in your pants because you just saw UIQ 3.0 being used in the phone – it’s running absolutely flawlessly on W960i due to the 128 megabytes of RAM memory. Multitasking is superb and it’s nearly impossible to dry out this baby!

Official product pictures of Sony Ericsson W960i

Advantages

  • 3G connection & WLAN
  • Bluetooth 2.0 (with A2DP support)
  • Large 2.6 inch QVGA resolution touch screen
  • UIQ 3.0 – enhanced compared to earlier products
  • Walkman 3.0 Touch player – best music player on a phone EVER
  • 8 gigabytes of internal memory
  • Nice design, size and weight
  • Bundled accessories

Disadvantages

  • No EDGE and HSDPA
  • Booting the device is a bit slow
  • No memory card slot
  • Somewhat strange T9 word input – many normal words missing, too

W960i is probably one of the best phones from Sony Ericsson – also when it comes to build quality. It feels extremely sturdy and the materials used are nice. The back is rubberised, which gives you a good grip of the phone. The front is glossy and looks good, but needs a good clean a few times a day. The stylus, however, isn’t that great and feels a bit cheap. It’s good for the touch screen, though, because soft plastic has been used in the end.

The ’smart’ W960i compared to the ‘dumber’ W910i

The W960i is a black glossy box with a CD print on top of it. The Walkman logo on the side is golden and even before opening the box you get the feeling that it contains something very exclusive. So what’s in this holy box? The W960i – of course – a charger, USB cable, great Walkman headset, MMC-70 (3.5 mm jack output cable), a Walkman-branded pouch fitted for the phone and of course the usual amount of manuals in different languages, warranty papers and a CD with standard software on it.

The name is Stylish… Extremely Stylish

W960i is Sony Ericsson’s first music-oriented attempt at making a relatively small smart phone while still packing lots of features in it (business-oriented attempt was the very successful P1). In my opinion they’ve done a very good job – the phone is a mere 109 x 55 x 16 millimetres in size and it only weighs 119 grams, making it both smaller and lighter than P1. Pretty amazing (keeping in mind that it’s got a large 2.6 inch screen and many features). The phone comes in Vinyl Black colour only, and while the colour itself is fine, Sony Ericsson should have launched at least one other colour variant. It’s not really too much of a problem since the black one is very stylish looking.

The front is made of glossy plastic which feels rather good when using the relatively small keypad and it makes it easier to clean the display. The display is at level with the rest of the phone which is excellent and it feels much better to use it like this than on P1, where the display is lowered a bit compared to the rest of the phone. Furthermore, the display is protected by a plastic layer on top of the display.

W960i front – black luxurious design

The rubberised back on W960i feels very good and it gives you a good grip when using it. The back of W960i houses the camera and the large speaker. The camera is left unprotected with no lens cover. You’ll also find the plastic stylus – which feels a bit cheap – on the right top corner on the back. The battery is well protected by a good battery cover.

W960i back – speaker near the camera at the top and a shiny Sony Ericsson logo

On the left side of the W960i, you’ll find a strap eyelet, jog dial and an engraved Walkman logo. The right side houses the camera button, zoom/volume keys and a show-off-sign saying “8 GB”.

W960i sides – jog dial and strap eyelet Camera keys and “8 GB” sign

The bottom houses nothing extraordinary – the usual FastPort connector and of course the microphone. The power button is located at the top of the phone.

Connector at the bottom Power button at the top

The battery cover on W960i is very good and feels extremely sturdy. No chances of the battery falling out when dropping the phone or any other sort of loose connections. Underneath the battery is the SIM card holder and phone infos. The battery is a standard BST-33 (900 mAh) and the official battery life times are 370 hours of standby time and 9 hours of (2G-) calling. The battery seems quite good and does relatively good in terms of staying alive – I have to charge it every other day.

Battery cover BST-33 battery

Best UIQ 3.0 ever

So, lets start off with the geeky stuff. W960i’s operating system is Symbian OS 9.1 with UIQ 3.0 user interface. It’s got 128 megabytes of RAM memory (73.6 megabytes on fresh boot) and a 220 MHz CPU. Furthermore it supports OpenGL (which basically has something to do with hardware accelerated graphics). So, what does this mean in a normal everyday English? It’s good a good operating system with great multitasking features, and is capable of running high quality graphics games as well :-)

Multiple standby and menu layouts

OK, enough with the geeky stuff. W960i is known as the most highly animated smart phone ever from Sony Ericsson. And well, honestly, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the menu system and such – if you don’t count the slow transition effects – that can be turned off, if needed – of course. It’s the Walkman player, but more about this later on in the review. W960i is running Symbian, which means you can set up the menu icons pretty much how you like them to be – either list or grid view. You can add and remove the applications to the main menu and of course also sort them into other folders and so on. There’s no option to change the menu icons, unless you start hacking the firmware, which is rather complicated and not really worth doing at the moment (lack of knowledge in this area).

Making use of all three soft keys • Large icons for easier finger input

The menu system offers three soft keys (on the screen) and both a physical and virtual back key. The soft key on the left is rarely used in the system, and is mainly for applications. The centre soft key is for selecting and performing actions (such as “Write new message”), while the one on the right is the Settings-soft key, so to speak. It usually houses the “More” fly-out menus for additional settings, etc.

The stylus pen can be used in most situations (about 99% of the time, I guess), but with the W960i it’s not necessary to use it all the time. The interface has been improved compared to, say P990i, so there’s more room for finger input.

Here’s something you wouldn’t see on earlier UIQ 3 phones – 30 applications opened

Overall, I’d say that UIQ 3.0 performs its very best on W960i (and P1i for that matter). Former Sony Ericsson smartphones running UIQ 3.0 – M600i, P990i & W950i – don’t even come close when talking about stability, multitasking and general joy of use. It seems like Sony Ericsson and UIQ Technology have finally found the perfect recipe for a stable OS.

Comes with office applications, too!

Being that W960i is a smartphone based on Symbian OS, it supports third party applications and games, that can make your phone even better and enhance its functionality. W960 comes with lots of pre installed applications. Among these are Opera Mobile 8.65 (default web browser), QuickOffice, Pdf+ and Exchange ActiveSync. Of course these are just a few, and Sony Ericsson offers loads of other applications and games – there’s even a menu option for “More applications” in the Multimedia menu. Here you can try out lots of applications and games for free, and buy if you decide so!

Organizer menu • Calender showing month and week view

Notes with formatting • Handwritten note • Setting up a task

If we shall have a look at the more business related applications on W960i, we’ll find the excellent calendar, the nice note application with full support of both keypad and touch screen input (drawings, etc.), to do-list, QuickOffice with Word and Excel editing (go for DocsToGo if you need a better application, though!), Pdf+ for PDF-viewing and finally a business card scanner. Simply snap a picture of the business card and the application will scan the picture and look for details. When it’s done, it has created a new contact and gives you a chance to edit, if there should be any mistakes. This is extremely nice!

QuickOffice • Editing a Word document with QuickOffice Pdf+

Business card scanner • Different business card standards

 

‘Normal’ applications like calculator, file manager, alarms and stop watch are to be found in the Tools menu.

Time and date control • Converter application • Connections manager

Remote synchronizing • Calculator with basic features • Excellent file manager

But W960i is not all about work in mono coloured suits and such. It’s also meant as a fun device to use, which is why it has several small and funny applications and games – lets start with the applications. You have a good video player with support for a large amount of file types, on-line music and video streaming, MusicDJ and of course a voice recorder with added functionality (TrackID). Now, lets move on to the games! The amount of preloaded games isn’t great, there are only two. These are Vijay Singh Pro Golf 3D, which is an absolutely amazing golf game, and also QuadraPop, which is an arcade game, many people might find quite amusing.

Entertainment menu • Voice recorder with TrackID • MusicDJ

Video player in landscape view • Vijay Singh 3D golf game

Best Walk-cam

The camera in W960i is a 3.2 mega pixel CMOS sensor with auto focus. Auto focus enables taking both macro shots as well as full figure landscape pictures. Furthermore it’s got an LED flash on the back for taking pictures in bad lighting conditions.

UIQ 3 camera interface

The camera interface in W960i’s camera application is about the same as the one in Sony Ericsson’s two other smart phones with camera – P1i and P990i. It’s optimized for using both stylus and the jog dial, which makes it a bit hard to use your finger only. It’s possible, but takes time and practice. Overall, the interface is nice and smooth with see-through menus and cool gimmicks, like removing all icons when taking pictures, so you’ve got a full viewfinder.

There is a set of short cuts in the camera on W960i as in most Sony Ericsson branded solutions. You can get an overview of these by pressing ‘0′ (zero) on the keypad. Among some of the short cuts are focus settings, night mode and flash mode. The W960i has a total of 3x digital zoom, but the zoom has an effect on the resolution. This is what Sony Ericsson calls Smart Zoom. No zoom is 3 mega pixels, 1.1x – 1.2x zoom is 2 mega pixels, 1.3x – 1.6x is 1.3 mega pixels, while 1.7x – 3x zoom is VGA (0.3 mega pixels).

You can easily switch between the different modes (photos or videos) on the right of the screen as well as settings. There are a quite a few settings in W960i (most presented with informative pop-ups available):

  • Shoot mode – Video, Frame, Burst & Photo
  • Frame size – 3 MP, 2 MP, 1 MP & VGA
  • Auto focus – Normal, Macro & Off
  • White balance – Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent, Incandescent & Auto
  • Light – On & Off
  • Effects – Black & White, Sepia, Solarization, Negative & Off
  • Quality – Fine, Normal & Economy
  • Night mode – On & Off
  • Save to – Media memory preferred, Media memory & Phone memory
  • Auto review – Off & On
  • Shutter sound – Shutter sound 1, 2, 3, 4 & Off
  • Self-timer – On & Off
  • Reset file number – Reset now

Now, lets have a look at some of the photos taken with this baby! Remember, press to enlarge the photos.

W960i camera samples

As you’ve probably noticed, the W960i does quite well with the camera and is without doubt the best camera phone in the Walkman series at the moment. W890i won’t come till next year, and although this will also be packing a 3 mega pixel camera, there is no auto focus in it, so the pictures won’t be at much use. Now, back to the W960i.

There is a certain amount of noise in the photos and this is because W960i’s noise reduction isn’t that aggressive. This, however, also gives much better details and the photos become more real life-like. The colours are also very much like real life, and I’ll let you decide if this is an advantage or disadvantage. Personally I believe it’s an advantage, since I’m fairly good with photo editing software and could easily fix the colours.

The camera is fairly quick and there’s no substantial shutter-lag in good lighting conditions. In what I would call ‘fair’ lighting conditions, however, the camera viewfinder seems to be reacting very slow and focussing is slow, too [has been fixed in later firmware update!]. If this is a firmware fault or not, I don’t know, but it’s not that great. When using the LED flash in dark surroundings, you’ll have to stand still with the camera for about a second or so. It’s not that bad, but luckily it’s a bit quicker sometimes. Again, it depends on the lighting conditions.

Videos can be recorded in QVGA resolution (320 x 240 pixels) with 15 frames per second. The format is 3GP, and the result is pretty good. Not as good as some of the other offerings on the market, but more than approved for every day usage. Most of the features from photo mode are also available in video mode. The interface is the same.

You can find a video sample here.

Once you’ve taken your pictures, you can edit them in the Picture Editor application. This application is nowhere to be found other than through the Gallery, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find it in the Tools menu or somewhere alike. The editor is quite simple, yet packs the most necessary features like clipart, text, frames, different effects and corrections as well as the option to paint the pictures with the stylus in a set of colours.

Photo album • Zoom in action

The picture gallery is quite nice and has features like advanced slide shows and nice zooming options. It’s easy to browse around in and you have the option to browse through just about all photos on both the phone and media memory.

Music mania!

Those of you, who have read my W910i review, will know that I pretty much named the W910i the king of music by saying that it “triumphs as a music phone”. Well, guess what – I was wrong! W960i is the new king of the castle and does like the W910 feature Walkman 3.0 player with the exception that this is the smart phone – also called ‘Touch’ – edition, which makes it much better!

Walkman 3.0 Touch player without visualizations • Music rating

The Walkman player can be accessed in several ways. Either by pressing the dedicated Walkman button in the middle of the keypad, pressing the large Walkman field in standby mode or by opening the application in the main menu. In short – you’ll have access to your music from anywhere! Once the player is active and opened, a set of three touch sensitive music keys will appear in a bright whitish orange colour. And trust me, you’ll be using these a lot!

Player layout • Searching • Album with cover, mood and rating set

Auto playlists • Time machine • Different visualization effects

The Walkman player itself is pretty easy to use. The functions are nicely sorted out into different categories such as Artists, Albums, Compositions, Moods and Playlists. All are represented with a large icon on its left. In the background you’ll see animated particles flying around in the air around the “laser beam” hovering your selection. See the video below for a full walk through of the player with all animations on.

The W960i is the most complete music phone out there at the moment, and does pretty much everything the competitors does. Plus more, that is! Here goes a few of the ’special’ features;

  • Auto playlists – extensive amount of auto playlists with everything from most played to least played and latest additions to bookmarks.
  • Time machine – a very cool feature that sorts the music by year. Then you simply select a year of a decade – like the 80’s – and a playlist with all the 80’s music starts playing. Furthermore there are some cool effects when playing songs!
  • Moods – you can pick out moods for every song on your phone. There are four to choose from and if either the name, colour or speed doesn’t fit you, you can change it!
  • Compilations – the phone can also sort albums by what kind of albums they are. Say, it’s a “best of…” album, then the phone will somehow recognize this and put in in the Compilations menu.
  • Smart album cover zoom – simply by pressing the album cover in play mode, it’ll get enlarged so you can see details.
  • Visualizations – there are five different visualizations available in the Walkman player. The colour varies accordingly to the mood and so does the speed. It seems to be OpenGL-based and looks great, but is somewhat of a gimmick feature.
  • Great layout – W960’s Walkman player layout is by far the best I have ever seen on a mobile phone. It’s extremely easy to use, there are loads of settings to personalize it and many show-off features.
  • Equalizers – there are lots of equalizers on W960. 13 of them, to be exact. This includes everything from Pop and Rock to Jazz and Classic. Also included is MegaBass, of course.

Visualization settings • Player settings • Easy playlist navigation

Press to go to album • Equalizers • Album cover zoom

Audio quality wise, this baby rocks! The bundled headset with W960i is by no means crappy and gives a good sound at a fitting volume level. The bass level seems to be just about perfect. The only thing I dislike a bit is that the headset is an in-ear one, which pretty much seals you from the outside world. This is both positive and negative, though. Some love it, while some hate it.

W960i supports a variety of audio codecs – all kinds of AAC formats, m4a, MP3, Real Audio and WMA. Support for codecs such as OGG and FLAC is missing.

FM radio with RDS and lots of features

Not only does the W960i have the best music / Walkman player ever, it’s also got the best FM radio application ever! Just like the Walkman player, there are also visualizations in the radio application. It’s an RDS FM radio that can store up to 20 radio frequencies automatically and of course also manually. The reception is nothing else than marvellous! In Denmark we’ve got multiple radio stations that send out all kind of information with the FM signals, such as the radio station name, current song playing and also phone numbers if there’s a contest or something like this. W960i is capable of displaying it all!

If you don’t know what song is on the radio, but you seem to like it, don’t worry about not knowing the name. W960i’s got TrackID, that’ll quickly record a sample of the song (works with the radio and music from the surroundings – not music played on the phone, though) and it’ll be sent off to Gracenote, where it gets analysed and a few seconds after, you’ll be redirected to a website with the song’s name, artist, album and even a link to where you can buy the song (this is operator dependant at the moment). It’s such a genius application – and it works with both via the mobile network and also via WLAN!

Golfing on a large screen

W960i comes with two games; Quadrapop and Vijay Singh 3D Pro Golf. Now, I’ve already gone through the first game in my W910i review, so you can read about that one there. Either way, it’s also the second game that’s the far most interesting one.

Vijay Singh 3D Pro Golf

Vijay Singh 3D Pro Golf is a fully 3D animated golf game with great graphics and sound! It’s running pretty good on the W960i – a bit laggy, though – but it’s still very playable. In the game you can compete in lots of championships and beat the contestants. You’ll win money for every won championship, good round and so on. The money can then be spent on making your character even better (new clothes, golf bars, etc.).

Lacking EDGE and HSDPA

W960 is a tri-band GSM mobile phone with GPRS and UMTS support. EDGE and HSDPA support is lacking however, which is sad for a music and web phone like W960i. It’s got Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, but no EDR, so you’ll be stuck with data transfers at about 50 KB/s. USB 2.0 is one of the big selling points with this phone and it’s lighting fast! I’ve transferred a few gigabytes of videos to the phone and it took about five minutes in total, which is more than impressive. It’s also got WLAN (b-standard) up to 11 Mbps, which is totally fine with me.

Opera Mobile 8.65 in portrait mode • Whole page zoom

Landscape mode • Usable buttons at the bottom

The web browser in W960 is Opera Mobile 8.65 and although it seems to be working great for most websites (both fully HTML-based and also xHTML-based ones), it’s lacking a better Flash and Java support. Other than that, it’s great and supports multiple tabs opened at once, high speed downloads, website fitting, landscape mode, option to save websites and so on. It’s got just about everything :-)

RSS reader • USEB’s RSS feed on W960i

RSS reader in action • Settings

 

The RSS reader in W960i is the best in all Sony Ericsson phones. You can download the RSS feeds by either mobile network data transfers or WLAN. All the feeds can be managed and sorted right on the phone and if you click on an RSS icon with the web browser, it can automatically be added to your RSS feeds. Clever thinking!

Email menu on a slightly modded W960i • reading an email from My-Symbian.com

To start off with I had some trouble setting up my Gmail account on W960i, but I quickly resolved this and now it’s working great and I’ve set it to download full emails with attachments, too. Currently I’ve got about 300 emails in the inbox and the phone hasn’t slowed down a bit. The email set up is quite easy and most people should be able to do so. It also supports push emails, which I’m pretty fond of.

Smart phone book

W960i has got room for up to 2000 contacts, all with full details and several telephone numbers, fax number, email and so on. Like with most other Sony Ericsson (smart) phones, you can store loads of informations about each contact. I’m not going to spend time listing all these, but trust me – there are lots of things to fill out! ;-)

Contacts • Viewing a contact

The search capabilities of W960i seem a bit old compared to the two ‘dumb’ phone, K850i and W910i, that have both got SmartSearch making it much easier to find contacts. Overall, the search feature is OK, but not great.

Messaging monster

The handset supports MMS and SMS messaging. There’s a limit of 100 kilobytes when creating MMS messages, and a limit of about 10 SMS text’s length when creating SMS messages. It’s very unlikely that some will use more characters than this when writing these small messages.

W960i handles the messages quite well and I have yet not found any limits on how many messages it can store.

Text messages can be created with smilies, animations, mono coloured bitmaps, sound effects and different kinds of formatting. This is by far the best EMS implementation ever on a smart phone (this goes for all UIQ 3.0 devices). Texting can be done either by using the alpha-numeric keypad, the on-screen keyboard or by using handwriting recognition. However, W960i is a bit weird on this front. If you’ve enabled T9, which is the intelligent word speller, then there’s no option to use handwriting recognition. This is only available when having set the phone to multi-tap mode. Furthermore I found the T9 word book lacking lots of every day words and general use of the T9 is a bit strange as you must use the jog dial on the side to change the word. This means that you’ll have to use both the keypad, the jog dial and in some cases also the stylus on the screen to write a message.

Messaging Animations Test message

Phone part is great

There are two ways to make calls on W960i – regular, old school 2G-calls, that most people use, and then there is 3G video calls, that just about nobody uses.

The first day I got my W960i was also the day of the first call. Cool, I thought, because then I could already start testing the sound quality. It then appeared that the person calling, was no less than the Administrative PR Team leader at Sony Ericsson. Anyhow, the sound quality seemed very good and it was loud and clear. A couple of guys were watching a film in the back of the room at full blast, but I could still hear what Elona said and it seemed as though she had no problems hearing what I said.

I have yet to try out the video calls, but I’m sure they’ll work as well on W960i as they do on other Sony Ericsson phones.

Phone • Calling • Video calls

You can manage your calls on the phone and set the various call settings like speed dialling. The call list can hold the last 30 in and outgoing calls (in total).

Conclusion

Sony Ericsson W960i feels like one of the best products ever from Sony Ericsson. The operating system and user interface is strong and performs well. Multitasking is good because of the excessive amount of free RAM memory.

Calls are good and the speaker is loud, so there’s no chance of missing a call, unless it’s on silent profile. The vibrator is good and you’ll feel it most of the time.

Battery wise, the phone isn’t a top player, but it’s not bad either. On a full charge it lasts about 2 days of normal use (in my case, that’s about 2 hours of WLAN use every day, camera usage, texting, a few calls, gaming, music and so on).

The price of the Sony Ericsson w960i phone on a contract in the UK has remained quite high since launch due to the extensive features and target audience the phone is geared towards but it can found for free on contracts as low as £40 per month with plenty of inlcusive minutes and texts

Compare the current Sony Ericsson w960i prices in the uk.

Overall, this is an excellent smart phone with lots of features and an acceptable price. If you need a QWERTY keyboard, then I’d suggest you’d look at P1i, which is W960i’s work oriented brother.

[Review based on firmware revision R6F41]

w960-review-grade.jpg


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