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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson W508
Live images of the Sony Ericsson W508
The Sony Ericsson W508 is meant to offer those who are looking for a music-minded folder-type phone with a relatively no-frills design exactly what they need – in other words, it’s not tailored for the youth, who normally go for models such as the Sony Ericsson W380, although some even go as far as claiming that the W508 comes in to replace the latter. However in reality there are no similarities between them, neither in terms of positioning, nor feature pack. So, perhaps this newcomer is supposed to carry some other phone’s heritage? As it turns out, the W508 is a stand-alone offering that was originally designed with one goal in mind – to beef up the phone maker’s portfolio, and its purpose hasn’t changed much since then. They opted not to cancel it, but the time frame they picked for its launch has led to some interesting consequences.
Sony Ericsson W380
Sony Ericsson W508
Effectively, Sony Ericsson has two slider-type phones similar to the W508 on offer – the W910 and the W595. In both cases the price is either equal or a bit lower (30 Euros or so) than that of the W508. And since spec-wise they are on a par with the W508, we get three models in one price bracket from the same manufacturer, which is way too many. Even though they differ in form-factor, the W910 will have an overwhelming advantage sales-wise, so the question is, when Sony Ericson are going to withdraw it in order to make way for their new models. And it’s a very difficult decision to make, ditching a popular solution that enjoys a very stable demand, as it’s almost for certain that all newcomers will see much smaller sales. That’s why Sony Ericsson are going to keep the W910 on the shelves as long as possible, which spells disaster for the W508’s potential market. In fact, the only things going for it now are its form-factor (for those who like it), and a 3.2 MP camera that trumps the old 2 MP unit found in the W910.
When they were only scheming the W508, Sony Ericsson assumed that their music-heavy flagship, the W980, would generate significant sales and become extremely cherished, but not everyone would be able to afford it. As a result, a less sophisticated offering, yet housed in a similar design, would really come in handy. Has the Sony Ericsson W980 triumphed, as they thought it would? As of now, it’s available for 347 Euros in Euroset, while its wholesale price is locked at 370 Euros, which, obviously, can not indicate that the W980 is anywhere near “wild success”, even though it’s a decent offering for its niche.
The bottom line is this: the W508 steps into the market at a price point higher than that of its two slider-type predecessors that happen to have very similar technical specifications among all other things, and associated with a not-so-hot music-minded flagship, so its chances for success are between slim and nil. As far as positioning goes, the W508 missed the market completely, offering a no-nonsense design for middle-aged men and partly the youth (18 to 35 year olds), while going for pretty much the same money as its more sharply positioned alternatives. So the only niche left for the W508 is comprised of clamshell buffs, who can’t imagine their phones being anything other than Sony Ericsson. Unfortunately for the W508, there aren’t many users who fit this description.
The W508’s design definitely seems to follow in the footsteps of the Sony Ericsson W980, featuring the same layout of touch-sensitive controls. It comes in a choice of two colors - Metal Grey and Poetic White. The extra front cover the phone comes boxed with may vary in color depending on your region. For instance, the Metal Grey variation may ship with one of these panels: Sunny Orange, Forest Green, Architectural Purple or Mysterious Graffiti. For white the following color schemes are available: Midnight Summer, Splashed Art, Radial Blue or Street Hip-hop.
While the panel is easy to swap, in fact all you need to do is hook it up with your nails, it doesn’t feel loose or insecure. All in all, the W508 sports stellar build quality, and I especially like its plastic quality. Its glossy front fascia is accompanied by rough matter plastic on the back, similar to that used in some other Sony Ericsson branded phones.
Since the W508’s production costs are kept at a relatively low level, it doesn’t have a spring loaded mechanism, meaning that in order to flip it open you’ll need to push the top half all the up manually. While it’s easy to get used to this setup, those who are already dependent on swift and easy flip action will be disappointed. Another thing of note about the W508 is its hinge – there is some friction between its plastic parts and it makes a characteristic noise every time you open/close the phone. However, it won’t bother you too much, and this glitch only affects the inner sides of the halves when they meet.
The phone measures up at 93.5x50x14 mm and tips our scales at 98 grams, but thanks to the sliver strip on the side it appears to be narrower than it is. The top end features a lanyard eyelet.
The interface connected is housed on the left-hand side, whereas on the right there is a volume rocker along with the hold switch for the phone’s touch-sensitive controls (it’s very essential, since even a slightest touch makes it fire up the music player). Mounted on the front is the camera lens and the phone’s outer display, covered by hardened glass.
As for the latter, this 128x36 pixel monochrome screen (1.1 inch diagonal) sports pretty average specs and has one line for caller ID, however all service indicators and the clock are displayed in two lines.
The W508’s display shows up to 262 K colors in the 240x320 pixel resolution (2.2 inch diagonal, 34x46 mm, TFT). This screen size allows it to accommodate up to 9 text and 4 service lines in most modes (plus it’s possible to cram in more information when browsing Web or handling Email). All in all, the display is superb – we were very pleased by its color reproduction and how it performed under sunlight.
The W508’s keypad employs a single-slab design with all keys separated by rubber inserts, which add to the overall comfort. The phone's backlight makes the keypad look even more better, and while some might complain about it being on the dimmer side, we found that it was sufficient for most tasks. Pressing the navigation key up does the same thing as a dedicated Walkman key, although you can re-program it to any other feature or application.
Unlike most previous offerings, employing Li-Pol batteries, the W508 makes use of a 920 mAh Li-Ion unit (BST-39). As the maker claims, the W508 provides up to 400 hours of standby and up to 4 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, several hours of music). Should you get heavier on its features, you will need to recharge it every day. 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 22 hours (against 24 hours claimed by Sony Ericsson).
It takes the W508 around 2.5 hours to charge up (it gets to 80% in around 1.5 hours).
The W508 comes with around 100 Mb of user-manageable memory, the sales package also includes a 1 Gb memory card (M2), and you can always hot swap them. The top size of your memory card this phone can handle is 16 Gb.
On USB-connection you are forced to pick connection type - specifically whether you will be accessing data stored on the memory card to just keep managing the phone or activate Print mode. For the first mode we mentioned above the handset goes off and you gain access to the contents of both the memory card and the phone internal memory. The W508’s data transfer speeds top out at 2 Mb/s. If you just want your phone to turn into a modem, then pick the second option, when 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 W508. Its data transfer speed tops out at 100 Kb/s. The list of supported profiles:
The performance is typical for company’s latest-gen device. As far as JAR files go they can be of any size, while HEAP are limited to 1.5 Mb.
The device is equipped with a 3.2 MP camera with a CMOS matrix without auto-focus. The device supports three possible resolutions - 2048x1536, 1632x1224, 1280x960, 640x480 pixels. Two types of data compression (Normal and Fine) are at your disposal. The majority of the sample photos were taken with "Fine" quality settings. The camera’s interface is laid out vertically; since there is no side-mounted shutter key, its functions are performed by "OK" button.
The camera settings look the following way:
The screen serves as a viewfinder while in the shooting mode. The picture moves very smoothly, details don’t get dropped out. The numberpad helps in switching between various functions and shooting parameters quickly that significantly speeds up.
There is also a new feature in the camera menu, specifically “Add Position”, in other words, it allows tagging your images with current coordinates. This feature may be disabled in the settings menu. But since the W508 doesn't come with a bundled GPS receiver, this ability is more of a gimmick here.
Video may be recorded in the 320x240 (176x144) pixel resolution at 30 FPS (3GP). Clip duration may be limited (up to 10 seconds) or unlimited. The W508’s videos are pretty average quality-wise, and as always, we’d like to have VGA resolution for videos. Alas, there is no such option.
We won’t review the W508’s standard feature pack, for it comprises all the goodies of the A200, which were given an in-depth close-up in a dedicated article. So here we will be focusing on the phone’s unique abilities and features.
The phone comes preinstalled with 4 different themes, all of them involving flash animation to some extent, and changing the looks of the main menu to a circle-shaped appearance or the matrix we are all used to. There are several menu layouts available: grid, rotating, single icon.
There is only one game available in the W508 - FMXIII.
As far as improvements in the way of platform go, we can’t overlook the new Chat mode that’s now available in the Messaging menu – all you need to do is push the navigation key to the right to browse your chats with various contacts, where messages are grouped up by date. Apart from obvious visual appeal, this mode also allows for one click replies be it via an SMS, MMS or email. All in all, it’s a welcome feature that will become par for the course in many new phones.
While at the standby screen, pressing the right soft-key will call up Search – a pop-up menu allowing the user to search for information in blogs and content providers. Pretty useless feature.
The phone’s Applications section includes YouTube and AccuWeather.
YouTube – this application allows accessing the mobile version of YouTube.com. While the quality of clips leaves much to be desired in most cases, the W508 lets you view videos in full-screen mode and even check out ratings. But the greatest hurdle here is that for want of WiFi such video sessions will definitely set you back a good amount, unless you are a lucky owner of an unlimited data plan.
The W508 makes use of the market’s most sophisticated offering as far as players go these days – Walkman 3.0. It also comes with a handful of improvements, like new visualization of the equalizers. Other than that, it is the same as the Sony Ericsson W910.
SensMe. In addition to its default Walkman 3rd edition pack of goods, the Sony Ericsson W508 comes with the SensMe functionalit - it's sort of a playlight that maps all tracks stored in your music library and offers ready-to-use playlists with coherent tunes in them. You won't even need to tag all songs, as Sony Ericsson have created a very handy application for these purposes - Sony Media Manager. The advantage of this Media Manager is that it handles memory cards as well, so you don’t necessarily need a handset connected to your PC - it took us around 20 minutes to go through 1.5 Gb of music with it. On top of all that it can convert photos and video for your handset.
Is this SensMe functionality of any interest? Definitely yes. The tunes map features dots (your music tracks) showing you how particulars song stand on either of the two scales. You can move between these dots and every time you hover over one, it gets highlighted and played back right away. However the scope covers a couple of a dots (or songs, if you like), so by hitting the OK button you will compose a playlist with some mood- and speed-keyed tracks on it. You will really appreciate the phone’s ability to pick the most fitting music when you have another mood swing.
However you need to understand that this feature will really make the difference only if you have various music genres stored on your phone and you do have loads of tunes as well. And in case you feel content with a couple of albums from one artist you are very likely to find them residing in one of the quarters of the tunes map, so SensMe won’t make sense any more (pun intended). Also, we highly recommend 2 Gb memory cards and larger – playlists get really different only when your music library is this big .
Shake Control. There is nothing tricky to it – you tap and hold the Walkman key and then start shaking the phone – shake it forward to get it to jump to the next track, and pulling it backward will move you to the previous song. And if you just shake it around, the W508 will take it as a command to turn the shuffle mode on. Every time you shake it, you get some tactile feedback as well – the handset vibrates a little.
Apparently, this feature won’t be widely adopted. It is more likely to be appreciated by those who are into running or other sport-related activities, so they would love to jump between tracks on the fly. The youth might only want to play around with it for some time, but that’s it. The remote is a much better option for controlling music playback.
As for a couple of new filters available with the W508, we can’t overlook the Time Machine that picks only tracks released in some particular year. More conventional categories include the lists of the most and the least popular songs.
Walkman 3.0 rundown. Among the fundamental improvements over Walkman 2.0, the new version sports DRM 2.0 support as well as support for MTP, which makes for direct music transfers with Windows Media Player.
The handset locates all files and folders on the memory card, and then gets the necessary data from ID3-tags. Supported audio formats - MP3, AAC, AAC+, E-AAC+, WAV, WMA and m4a. There are no limitations on bit rates; you can also upload files with VBR. The company recommends using files with 192 Kbit/s bit rate.
In the music library, all saved tracks are classified by the following parameters:
Unlike the second version of the player, while all transitions are still horizontal, they are designed in a slightly different matter, which won’t bother you, however. You won’t need to hit the buttons too many times to move about the player.
You can take advantage of the Repeat (one/all) playback mode. The W508 also features a progressive fast forward with customizable steps. You can’t pick any visualization (an animation instead of the album art) here.
If your phone is playing music and you are at the standby screen, bringing up the Media section will lead you straight to the music player interface.
The audio quality hasn't changed a bit compared to otherWalkman-branded offerings. With the seven-brand equalizer you can create some settings of your own; the option of stereo widening is also available with the W508. The equalizer settings become available only once you have plugged in a pair of earphones.
The phone also boasts TrackID and an RDS-enabled FM-radio module (learn more about them in our dedicated write-up on A200).
Audio quality. The phone ships with a good pair of headphones, one of Sony Ericsson’s finest offerings to date. On top of that the W508 turned out to be a pretty loud phone, personally I found that it fared better than other handsets from this maker, specifically the W910i.
The Sony Ericsson W508 doesn’t bring anything new to the table with its moderately strong vibro alert, a bit too loud ring tones and decent call quality. The phone is set to arrive some time in April at the price point of 250 Euro, which may seem like a bargain until you take the Sony Ericsson W910 (220 Euro) and W595 (220 Euro) into consideration. While the W508 will retail for 30 Euro more, it doesn’t offer any significant upgrades compared to the abovementioned models. With its slightly revamped A200 platform and bog-standard specifications, it will never make it out of its pretty narrow niche, thus repeating the fate of the Sony Ericsson W980. Its target audience will definitely see it as a nearly perfect phone, but much like the case of the W980, there won’t be many people with this mindset and demands.
Published 6 April 2009
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