Sony Ericsson W995 Review : SE's Super Secret Bargain

It is very unlikely that you have missed Sony Ericsson's latest mobile phone sold under the Walkman brand; the W995, as it is called, could probably be one of the last Sony Ericsson handset that tries to stick to doing one thing particularly well.

With the Aino, the Satio and the Yari, Sony appears to be have given up on niche phones and concentrate more on "Jack of all trades" devices.

Ironically, the W995, which is supposed to be a great audio player, also happens to be an excellent all-rounder. First impressions of the phone are excellent; it is solidly build and the black/silver colour scheme of the W995 looks classy. It is also available in Energetic Red and Cosmic Silver as well.

The brushed aluminium fascia is almost immune to greasy fingers; ditto for the matt plastic back of the W995. It weighs 113g in a 97 x 49 x 15mm body. Not the smallest of all sliders but it would sit comfortably in most palms.

The phone's connector (which is used simultaneously as a power connector and for the earphone) is situated on the left hand side while the right hand side has all the control buttons. Onboard speakers are located at the top and bottom of the phone.

Finally, there's a build in stand that can be deployed to support the phone as well as a 3.5mm headphone socket. The slidephone also comes with a snap-on peripheral, the MS410, which is basically a portable speaker bar that acts as a stand as well.

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As far as the hardware per se is concerned; it has a 2.6-inch screen capable of displaying 320x240 pixels - this means that it only supports 4:3 movies, therefore no widescreen ones. The screen is not touch-capable and is very prone to fingerprint marks.

As the W995 predates Sony Ericsson's new range of mobile phones, it still comes with Memory Stick Micro (M2) support (up to 16GB); sadly no microSDHC support, which would have allowed users to get 32GB or more.

The phone itself comes with a measly 118MB onboard memory but SE has thrown in a useful 8GB M2 card. The W995 comes with an 8-megapixel digital camera with an LED flash (no Xenon), geotagging, autofocus, a 16x digital zoom and face recognition.

There's no cover for the camera unfortunately and having to access the photo functionality takes 3 steps (unlock phone, go to menu, press on photo icon). On the K800i for example, you only had to uncover the lens et voila!

The camera is great and produces properly balanced photos both indoors and outdoors. Taking several pictures at its maximum resolution within a few seconds doesn't freeze the W995 altogether.

The macro mode works exceedingly well and overall, if you can live with the rather absent image stabiliser, then this is a great everyday camera (ed: Sony says that it should avoid blurriness caused by SLIGHT hand movements).

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The W995 can also be used as an effective digital camcorder not unlike the Flip, although recording is limited to 320x240 which is roughly VHS quality. Because the phone doesn't support DiVX and Xvid formats, you will have to go through the Media Go software which we found slightly clunky shall we say.

Speaking of which, Sony Ericsson has bundled a 100 minute movie made by none other than Woody Allen. There are 10 other movies available from Sony's dedicated website at Playnow-arena.

Getting compatible movies to play on the W995 is seamless - you can even fast forward movies and get them to play through the speaker bar.

You will also be able to stream content straight from the iPlayer or Youtube. Be careful about doing it over the W995's WiFi rather than through your 3G connection as this might contravene your network operator's T&C. Sony Ericsson also included a nifty accelerometer function although it feels rudimentary compared to others like the iPhone (no smooth transition, works only one way).

As for its audio capabilities, the W995 shines brightly; we liked the audio jack, the FM Radio with RDS, the "shake me" control, equalizers that work properly as well as the two ways of connecting one's 3.5-mm equipped headset to the phone. The W995's earphones are in-the-ear types which almost guarantees deeper than usual basses and good noise cancellation capabilities.

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Amongst the other music-related features that come with the W995 are Album Art, SensMe (so called Music Mood mapping), TrackID, Album Art as well as compatibility with AAC, WMA and MP3 tracks.

There are eight control buttons on the top with one multi directional control button and they are used mainly for phone functions rather than for managing your music experience. Some reviewers say having proper physical buttons is certainly better than relying on a touchscreen user interface.

Sony Ericsson says that you should be able to listen to music on the W995 for up to 20 hours, something unfortunately we couldn't verify but we were worried of what appears to be the limited battery life of the handset (SE says on 3G, you should be able to talk 4 hours).

Probably our biggest complaint is the Media Go accompanying software which is supposed to work in a similar way to Apple's iTunes or the Nokia Suite but is only available for the Windows platfom - no Mac or Linux.

The W995 comes with a slew of near useless applications (like Voice Transformer and Elvis Rock Bobblehead) and you can also download applications and free software from Sony Ericsson's website although you won't be spoilt for choice - there are only 37 in all with 31 of them paid for.

Then if you have to re-encode your video library, it might take you a while. You will need roughly one minute to encode two minutes worth of video which is not what you'd expect given the firepower than our Octo-core PC can provide.

I used the W995 for a few days as my main phone and although there were a few mishaps, it was an overall enjoyable journey made better by the fact that Sony Ericsson seems to have slashed the cost of the phone in the past few weeks.

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You can buy the W995 from O2 on a 24 month contract with 200 minutes and 200 texts for £20 per month only. We have yet to see a quality 8.1 megapixel camera phone available for this amount without any cashback or redemption.

Alternatively, Vodafone's Your Plan Text Value tariff gives the user 600 minutes, 3000 texts and £10 off their bill every month for £30 per month for 18 months, rather than 24 months for the aforementioned one.

But Orange surely has the best deal with the phone (the silver version) available at £29.36 for 12 months through Mobile.co.uk (Dolphin 30), you will only get 200 minutes and 500 texts per month but at less than £335, it is a bargain, especially when you consider that the phone costs a whopping £350 Unlocked/Sim Free at Play.com.