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Review of GSM-handset Sony Ericsson W380i
Live photos of Sony Ericsson W380i
Sony Ericsson’s Walkman series has always been targeting the more savvy part of the audience – those who value not only sound quality but also visual appeal in their phones. Interestingly, the latest and greatest devices in this line-up often put fashion above music, although the latter is still of some interest as far as software goes. The epitome of this approach is the sliding Sony Ericsson W910i, whose offbeat design, skinny profile and extended player functionality aren’t quite backed up by the quality of sonic experience it offers. While its overall specs are decent, its audio is nothing to write home about. But what seems to be a crucial letdown on flagship devices couldn’t be more welcome in low-tier solutions. Plausible sound quality can grab a lot of ears, but it all comes down to what this phone actually packs under its hood and how hefty its price tag is. That’s the area where Sony Ericsson hasn’t seen much success – for instance, take the entry-level Sony Ericsson W200i with its eye-candy design and fairly good sound quality that could trump the competition in its class hands-down, being marred by the fact that for 200 USD its owners got the same feature pack as that available with offerings going for half as much. This huge gap couldn’t be justified, neither by the W200i’s bundled speakers, nor by a pair of decent headphones that came boxed with it. So, since it was out of demand in the segment it had originally been meant for, it ended up competing with better, yet not particularly music-savvy solutions - after all, music is only one of the things that make today’s phones.
Another attempt to enter the 200 USD segment has materialized in the form of the Sony Ericsson W380i. It wouldn’t be right to state that it is the first affordable folding Walkman handset, as the market already had the Sony Ericsson W300i that was relatively successful, but was no big thing in the maker’s portfolio. It was rather a neat phone with no critical omissions or shortcomings, whose selling points were design and price tag – in fact, very few viewed it as a music-centric device. That’s why the maker has resolved to really highlight the new model's music department; and the only way to do that was to bring music controls to the front fascia.
Speaking of the 200 USD price bracket we don't mean what the W380i will go for upon its debut, but the money that will buy you this phone in 8-9 month's time, when its price will get almost halved. We wonder, though, whether someone will seriously consider it as a possible way to go right now – with its price tag of 240-320 USD it is way out of line as far as this price bracket goes.
Based on the experience of previous devices, we can infer that the W380i’s primary audience is youth (men for the most part) and students. But Sony Ericsson couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring along another iteration of the W380i for fashion-conscious girls – as you probably have already guessed, it is the Sony Ericsson Z555i with its reflective surface decked out in shiny squares. Curiously, pretty much similar look-and-feel is offered by the Sony Ericsson Z770i, although it is a bird of a different color – positioned way above the W380i and very different from it on all fronts on top of that.
That said, the W380i targets 11-22 year old males and will also look to appeal to young girls and women of the same age.
The W380i just feels so Sony Ericsson – with the slope at the base of the casing, just like the one on the Sony Ericsson W910i and some cues adopted from the latter here and there. Since it has youth as its main audience, matte plastic doesn’t seem out of place in the W380i – while it is relatively inexpensive, thanks to the pattern stamped on it, player controls and a glossy insert, it doesn’t look cheap whatsoever. All up, as far as design is considered, the Sony Ericsson W380i is vastly different from the ocean of folding phones out there, its curves and lines are unparalleled, which is already worth something.
The phone comes in a choice of two colors - Electric Purple and Magnetic Grey. Both are not without a certain aesthetic appeal.
The W380i’s front plate houses the lens of a 1.3 Mpix camera along with the loudspeaker and an array of music controls, which are all touch-sensitive, and as long as they are locked (enable them with the help of the toggle on the back) no matter how you press them, you won’t get any feedback. Once you unlock them, however, pressing the Play key will start playback and bring current song’s name to the outer display. A nice touch to the W380i’s player controls is that when unlocked they provide decent tactile feedback, as the phone vibrates a little every time you tap one of the keys – we were surprised that it felt almost as if we were punching a mechanical button. When out of use, the controls get locked automatically.
The outer display is mounted beneath the casing’s matte plastic and when inactive prefers to keep very low profile. It is a 128x36 pixel OLED unit with white backlight, although it doesn’t look white, all thanks to the layer of plastic sitting on top of it – for example in our Electric Purple flavor it swayed more towards blue hues. This screen’s backlight power is just enough for indoors use, but as soon as you step outside with the sun barely shining, this single-line display gets washed out completely. This is by far the worst thing about the W380’s external display – tilting the phone didn’t help either. All in all, it is just another example when substance has been sacrificed in favor of visual appeal.
The handset measures in at 92x48x16 mm and tips our scales at 100 grams. It readily slips into a trousers pocket and certainly won’t weigh you down. The W380i also felt robust in the hand, and we have no grips with its build quality. On the downside, we were somewhat disappointed about its plastic being exposed to wear and tear, so it loses its pristine conditions two weeks into use – in our case it was the battery cover, although the damage was light, as we could tell that there were some scuffs only after a close inspection. On the other hand, should it spend a year in your pocket or so, these worn spots will be visible even to a naked eye, although the front fascia is unlikely to suffer from this problem.
The W380i has a tendency to creak in the hands at times, although it is largely due to its battery compartment cover; overall, it doesn’t feel rock solid, but as we have just mentioned its build quality was never an issue.
The left-hand spine sports the Fast Port connector; the M2 memory expansion slot is perched underneath the battery cover; on the right are the volume rocker and the lanyard eyelet.
Opening the W380i single-handedly is pretty much a breeze, although you will need some time to master it. It turned out that some people didn’t find it convenient in this sense, while others simply paid no attention to its folder action.
Since the W380i is an entry-level solution, it has no QVGA display and enjoys a 176x220 pixel screen (1.9 inches, 262 K colors, TFT), that can accommodate up to 7 text and 4 service lines. The picture quality is quite mediocre, on top of that it is somewhat grainy, yet fares well in the sun – all in all, a typical low-tier device.
The number pad is made of glossy plastic; unfortunately, the travel distance is disappointingly short, but other than that, the W380i’s keypad is a breeze to handle. All keys are lit in white, plus the phone includes an ambient light sensor nested on the display’s right.
The back cover firmly sits in its slot, and is easy to open. Removing it reveals a 930 mAh Li-Ion battery (BST-39). As the maker claims, the W380i provides up to 350 hours of standby and up to 9 hours of talk time. In Moscow its battery life averaged two and a half days with moderate use (up to 1 hour of calls, about 30 minutes of games and 20 minutes of browsing). Should you get heavier on its features, you will need to recharge once every 1.5 days or so. And if you cut your total call time to the very minimum, the battery will stay up and running for about 3-4 days, but that’s an improbable scenario. Within the European networks the device will last for at least twice as long in all modes thanks to better coverage. Continuous music playback drains the battery in 15 hours. Its takes the W380i a tad under 2 hours to charge up.
Upon linking the W380 with your PC via USB you will be forced to pick connection type – specifically whether you will be accessing data stored on the memory card or just keep managing the phone or activate Print mode. For the first mode, we mentioned above the handset turns off, and you gain access to the contents of both the memory card and the phone’s internal storage. Despite the maker claiming that the W380i supports USB 2.0, data transfer speed doesn’t exceed 500 Kb/s. If you just want your W380i to turn into a modem, then pick the second option, where you will have a chance to play around with various USB settings for going online.
The handset comes with EDR-enabled Bluetooth 2.0, the menu enables you to turn on enhanced power saving mode. There is also A2DP support, which allows employing wireless headsets with the W380i. Below is the list of supported profiles:
The handset ships with about 15 Mb of user-manageable memory; the retail package includes a 512 Mb M2 memory card (the W380i can handle memory cards up to 2 Gb). Plus, you can always swap cards on the go;
The W380i puts up typical numbers for the company’s current generation of devices, being ahead of most models available on the market. There are no limits on JAR-file size, while HEAP size can range from 512 Kb to 1.5 Mb.
The W380i’s camera is no bells and whistles at 1.3 Mpix with no video recording capabilities. Among supported resolutions are 1280x1024 pixels, 640x480 and 320x240; two compression settings, a bunch of overlays (B&W, Negative, Sepia), and white balance. Other than that, we don’t have much to add about this handset’s camera.
One of the interesting things about the W380i is so-called gesture control – it’s disabled by default, but you can always change that from the Settings menu. Basically, when you are receiving a call, or the alarm clock triggers off, a bright white LED sitting next to the camera springs into life, so that when you swing your hand above it, the phone will mute the sound – a quite similar ability is available with the Nokia 8800 Arte, where by turning the phone face-down you can reject calls.
But as far as the W380i goes, this gesture control feature is more a gimmick that is of no real use. Some might really fall for this functionality, but I doubt feats like this will become all the rage any time soon.
The W380i runs Sony Ericsson’s previous platform – A100. Learn more about its standard abilities, features and applications in our special write-up.
There are three games coming pre-installed with the W380 - Sims 2, QuadraPop, Extreme Air Snowboard.
Also the phone packs in Music Mate2.
Unlike the vast majority of low-tier phones in this class, the W380i comes boxed with pretty decent earphones – the HPM-65. The handset sports Walkman 2.0 onboard, and we could hardly expect it to pack in something different. The music quality (by the way it can handle wireless headphones too) is quite average, plus its volume level has obviously been lifted up, as compared to other models in this line-up. I see no point in going over the player’s standard suite of features – you will find more about them in our dedicated review of this platform.
On the plus side, the W380i also comes equipped with RDS-enabled FM-radio.
The W380i’s ring tones volume was never an issue – its speaker fared well in most environments. The reception quality was nothing to complain about either. Our only gripe is with the phone’s vibro alert, which occasionally proves to be on the weak side.
The question is, who is going to buy the W380i two-three months into its sales – basically, after dealing with the first surge of interest, Sony Ericsson will run into exactly the same problem as with the W200i. Its affordable music-savvy device will be a step behind such solutions as the Nokia 6131/6267 that retail at the same price point. What is superior: music or bigger screen and a bunch of extra feats? The jury is still out on that. Another thing of note is that the segment the Sony Ericsson W380i is stepping into is crowded with other folder-type phones, and in this case its off-the-wall looks can well play a mean joke on it. Like it usually happens, standout things get both zealous followers and haters, but they rarely become really popular. For 340 USD (while its fashion-conscious edition, the Z555i, retails for 275 USD), the W380i isn’t exactly an affordable offering. Actually, we wouldn’t tell you the whole truth if we called it well-balanced in terms of the price/quality ratio. All in all, this handset is nearly a perfect choice for students, but looking at today’s youth I have to admit that their tastes and preferences are vastly different from mine or those of phone makers.
Published 03 April 2008
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