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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson W890i
Live photos of Sony Ericsson W890i
The first Sony Ericsson phone where thin was definitely in was the Sony Ericsson W880i. It was designed with a handful of simple guidelines in mind – they wanted to come up with a slender fashion-savvy device that would do a perfect job as a secondary handset. But it had to bear a hefty price tag at that – a trade off for being eye-candy, wafer-thin and carrying a hyped brand. When the Sony Ericsson W880i only debuted, one didn’t even need to have any lowdown on the maker’s plans to figure out that a successor was coming. In contrast to other SE-branded offerings, this “music-heavy” solution came with no radio onboard, which was nonsense for Sony Ericsson even a year ago. Given the rate which certain models are getting updated at these days, the year we have been waiting for the W890i doesn’t seem all that much.
What have the sales of the Sony Ericsson W880i shown? They have fully met our predictions that the techi aren’t this product’s target group – very few of their breed actually went for the W880i. And at the same time it was spot-on with its true audience. Let’s see what our verdict on its target demographic was:
“The target audience for the W880i may be defined as young people, both women and men, at the age of 25 and older, with a higher-than-average income. It may be that they already own a stand-alone music player, so such experience isn’t something new for them. Music sessions for these people take place on an occasional basis – in trips or while away on business or on a vacation. It might sounds strange, but a music-capable device, as far as this group is concerned, serves for emphasizing the owner’s status and as a rule iPod Nano is best-suited for this purpose. The members of this target audience don’t use public transport for the most part and prefer going about their business by car, hence they spend most of their time in-doors.
Another group the handset focuses on is enterprise users, those who already own a gadget for work but would love to put a fashion phone in their pocket (to show off their status) with a lot of technological talents (music). To put it simply all they want is purchase a phone for soul’s sake. It is another remarkable audience that overlaps the one mentioned previously in the sense of lifestyle.”
The Sony Ericsson W890i is no different in terms of target audience, plus it gets all those who loved the original device, but now crave for something new with a better camera and radio onboard. What I need to note here is that the W890i’s spec sheet in fact takes a back seat, as its elements of fashion come to the fore. As a successor to the W880i, this handset couldn’t be better and is set to repeat its forefather’s success, thankfully, it has all it takes.
Some may well take this device as the same old Sony Ericsson W880i that has had its letdowns dealt with, which won’t be the wrong way to think of it. But to my mind, this handset is another step towards the fashion-savvy market, which Sony Ericsson is now climbing up to. The first newsworthy sign of this was the Sony Ericsson T650i with its aluminum accents, and now comes the turn of the W890i. Below is a chart listing all the major differences between the two models:
The handset comes in three trims - Sparkling Silver, Black and Mocha Brown. All three colors are quite appealing, although the sales will kick off only with silver and brown editions being on offer – the W890i in black will come later, which is exactly the same thing they did with the Sony Ericsson W880i.
The handset measures 104x46.5x9.9mm, being marginally bigger than the W880i; plus it adds an additional 0,5mm to its girth. Could this be a deal-breaker? By no means, the phone is still petite and easily slips into just about any pocket. The W890i is also a lightweight, tipping our scales at just 78 grams.
They have tried to design the W890i along the same lines as the W880i, hence the metal accents on the front plate and aluminum battery cover. Unlike the W880i, this phone delivers a more metallic feel, and nicely chills your palms. The antenna is mounted in the bottom half of the handset, meaning that the surface there is all plastic styled after a metal plate. The W890i’s build quality is superb; the battery compartment cover feels very solid thanks to two latches it sits on. Over the month that we spent with this device, it didn’t get scuffed, scratched or damaged in a big way; so generally it did a good job keeping its pristine condition intact.
Perched on the left-hand side is the music key along with the Fast Port socket. Sitting on the right are the service LED, dedicated camera button and the volume rocker. The holes for a carrying strap are placed on the back of the phone, as well as the 3,2 Mpix camera lens. Detaching the battery cover you will find the M2 memory expansion slot.
The display shows up to 262 K colors at 240x320 pixel resolution (2 inches diagonal, TFT, 30x40mm), which allows accommodating up to 8 text and 3 service lines in most applications; and when browsing web-pages, or handling e-mails or text messages, you can cram more lines into the display by decreasing the font size. The W890i handles direct sunlight in a convenient fashion – its display remains readable, however the diagonal proves somewhat insufficient, causing certain inconveniences.
This screen seems to be potent enough for most core features of the handset, although browsing web-pages with the W890i is not the most gratifying experience. In terms of picture quality, this is a decent display; however it ends up behind the Sony Ericsson W880i because of somewhat faded colors – despite trumping its predecessor diagonal-wise, the W890i still can’t match it in brightness and colors.
We also took the Sony Ericsson K660i for comparison purposes, in theory it had to retain the same display, but, surprisingly, we found out that the pictures offered by these two phones were immensely different – the W890i’s display was lackluster in comparison. Probably, the only legitimate explanation is that for such a slender handset they had to cut power consumption in every way possible.
The stumbling stone of the W880i was its keypad –many judged it by still pictures of the phone and deemed it awkward to use and crippled even before trying it. However the experience has shown that it is not the case, and the handset handles well, probably not as well as other solutions out there, but it is pretty much tolerable. So there was absolutely no reason for rumblings like “what a monstrosity” to unfold in the first place. Nevertheless, the maker has taken this criticism seriously and armed the W890i with conventional buttons – its number pad is average size-wise, but the keys feel cramped. Honestly speaking, we can’t say that the ergonomics of these particular buttons is way better than that of W880i. Exactly the same thing, but psychologically, most feel better about the new unit, for it seems more familiar. Our consciousness carefully notes that “Look, these are normal keys, they are comfortable in use, and what am I saying, you have used them so many times before – forget all these fancies!”.
Being so much into psychology, I carried out an experiment – I showed the images of the Sony Ericsson W880i and Sony Ericsson W890i to people who had never owned any of them. My question was always the same: “Which one has the better keypad?”. The vast majority of respondents assured me that the Sony Ericsson W890i was the winner. Then I took both phones out of my sleeve and asked them to try typing something with them. Interestingly, not so many people changed their mind (around 30%), so the majority of respondents kept claming that the W890i was better. The moral here is that all assessments of particular features are very subjective at times and have nothing to do with reality.
For truth’s sake I should mention that the W890i’s array of functional keys is crafted better – the keys themselves are still tiny, but now they are curvy and this makes for better usage experience. The handset comes bundled with an ambient light sensor that adjusts the white backlighting of the keypad, which is not very bright. Localized editions of the W890i, with two alphabets on them, have all miniscule symbols engraved right on the buttons.
The handset employs a 950 mAh Li-Pol battery (BST-33), and according to the manufacturer it is good for up to 9 hours of talk time and 330 hours of standby.
In Moscow we managed to squeeze around 2,5-3 days out of it with average use (up to an hour of calls, 30 minutes of games, 20 minutes of web-browsing, a couple of hours of music). In Europe its battery performance will get at least 1,5 times better all thanks to superior coverage quality. We got around 16.5 hours of music out of the W890i. It takes the handset around 2 hours to charge up.
The handset boasts around 26 Mb of user-manageable memory (delete all preinstalled applications to get around 38 Mb), also its sales package includes an M2 memory card (2Gb, the W890i supports up to 4Gb, and even more capacious cards, when they arrive, will do as well) – you can also swap these cards on the go.
On USB-connection you are 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. Also there is Media Transfer (MTP mode for accessing, say, Windows Media Player). 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. Despite the maker claiming it to be USB 2.0, data transfer speed doesn’t exceed 500 Kb/s. If you just want your W890i 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 W890i. Its data transfer speed tops out at 100 Kb/s. The list of supported profiles:
The handset also comes with HSDPA connectivity onboard.
The W890i’s new hardware, plus some tweaks they made in the A200 couldn’t be more welcome – the handset’s performance in 3D-enabled apps has improved, making it one of the market’s fastest solutions. Interestingly, the W890i offers speedier menu navigation, which is especially notable when facing it off against the W880i.
There are no limits on JAR-files size, HEAP size – from 512 Kb to 1.5 Mb.
We won’t review the W890i’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 5 different themes, plus you can install other themes as well to keep yourself entertained with the W890i.
There are three games available in the W890i - Lumines Block, SIMS 2, Tennis Multiplay. This roster is pretty interesting.
The Applications menu offers only one application – Music Mate 4 – the new version allows using drums, guitar and synthesizer.
One of the foremost changes introduced in the W890i is the integration of Google Maps version 2 with the handset’s firmware. While it doesn’t carry an in-built GPS module onboard, it tracks your location via cellular networks, and the truth be told, the result is quite passable. Compared to the Java-application available as a stand-alone program, Sony Ericsson has beefed up its functionality with some new features. Specifically, you can have a log file tracking your routes and check out how fast you were moving about with the help of diagrams. Similar applications are found on all Sony Ericsson’s handsets that come bundled with GPS-receivers.
The W890i’s RSS reader and channels are no different from the implementation used in the Sony Ericsson K660i.
The handset enjoys a 3,2 Mpix CMOS-matrix without autofocus. The W890i also employs the CyberShot camera interface that you know so well from the previous devices.
The Camera settings look as follows:
The screen serves as a viewfinder while in the shooting mode. The picture moves very smoothly, details don’t get dropped out. Numeric keys help in switching between various functions and shooting parameters quickly that significantly speeds up work.
Video may be recorded in two resolutions (176x144, 128x96), file format used for clips is 3GP. Clip duration may be limited (up to 10 seconds) or unlimited. The quality of clips is beneath any criticism; so far this has been the weakest spot of all Sony Ericsson-branded devices.
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 W890i 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 to the player automatically.
The sonic experience delivered by the W890i hasn’t changed a bit compared to the previous models. With the five-brand equalizer you can create some settings of your own; the option of stereo widening is also available with the W890i.
The phone also boasts TrackID and an RDS-enabled FM-radio module (learn more about them in our dedicated write-up on A200).
Sound quality. The phone ships with the HPM-70 headset, which provides pretty good sound quality. In my opinion this model is neither better nor worse than other members of the Walkman line-up. And its 15-point volume level scale feels pretty sufficient.
When it all started for music playing phones, this very concept was quite new, and the Walkman brand went up in ranks in no time. Hardware-wise, the W890i sports no dedicated chips for sound enhancement, and in the sense of sonic experience, rather than player’s functionality, all Sony Ericsson branded handsets turn out to be pretty much in the same boat.
While it made sense when the line-up had no real competition, with the development of Ultra Music from Samsung and Nokia’s XpressMusic, Walkman starts getting a run for its money. When we compared the sound quality delivered by the W890i with the Nokia 5310 and the Samsung i450, it was clearly behind both of them. Its bass level is less decent than that found on other solutions, the same goes for its top volume settings, and the equalizers found on the Nokia’s phone have greater impact on what you actually hear. It turns out that the Sony Ericsson’s product trumps them only with its software, whereas it comes short on the hardware front. Furthermore, those looking for superior sonic experience will have to look elsewhere – this flagship is definitely not for them.
Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with results of our RMAA tests, since the handset’s output signal strength is lower than the level we needed to put it through its paces in this app; however that’s the thing many Sony Ericsson-branded devices suffer from. On the other hand, the maker has embedded sound effects into this phone – supposedly, they should improve the user’s experience (sort of presets that you can’t change). But because of these “enhancements” our tests kept telling us gibberish.
After having a couple of music sessions with the W890i, we had an impression that its sound was quality solid, no different from other Walkman-branded phones, but it wasn’t a particularly great music-savvy solution. Surprisingly, this department isn’t the W890i’s centerpiece, despite it bearing the Walkman brand.
There aren’t many models rivaling the W890i in a direct way. Technically, these should be other music-minded solutions - the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic and the likes. This handset offers better sonic experience, but comes clad in plastic, which doesn’t make it look classy at all. They have comparable dimensions; however Nokia’s offspring focuses solely on music, whereas the W890i’s game is fashion alone.
The phone that really rivals the Sony Ericsson W890i is the Nokia 6500 Classic, whose philosophy is pretty much similar, it aims at the same audience and these two brands are nearly identical value-wise.
The big picture is quite interesting – the W890i trumps the Nokia 6500 Classic functionality-wise, yet retails for more money. Since it is a new solution, its elements of fashion will play, so the sales of this phone will do just fine. All in all, the difference in price is justified in this particular sense.
Those who are in the market not after top-of-the-line functionality or hottest new offerings will find that the Sony Ericsson W880i has become an extremely appealing offering – going for only 250 Euro, effectively, it rivals the Nokia 5310. But the target audiences of these two are so vastly different, that they don’t clash on the market in a big way. Consumers who are in search of better sonic experiences are more liable to pick the Nokia 5310, while the Sony Ericsson W880i will win the hearts of those looking for stylish casing and sophisticated design.
Despite having 40-chord polyphony onboard, the W890i breaks no new grounds in the way MP3 tunes sound, as compared to other Sony Ericsson branded devices. The overall volume of this phone is pretty average, although occasionally you might miss calls while on a busy street. Honestly, the W890i just doesn’t deliver in terms of volume level at times, but we didn’t expect it even to have this in the first place. Playing many mp3 tracks full-out, the loudspeaker starts creaking and crackling a bit, which is a tradeoff for the W890i being a svelte device. The vibrating alert is below average strength-wise, meaning that you might not feel it when the phone is in your outerwear. Thankfully, we never experienced any trouble with the handset’s reception quality.
The W890i has a lot of things going for it – updated platform, HSDPA and EDGE connectivity, lightning fast interface and speedy3D applications. More importantly, not only does it trump its predecessor on these fronts, it also holds the upper hand against other A200-powered solutions that debuted earlier.
The handset is set to hit the shelves early in May at 400 Euro. Judging from the sales of the Sony Ericsson W880i, Nokia 6500 Classic, this price tag is quite adequate, so consumers will happily go for it. You can consider it as the good old W880i with its letdowns addressed, or as the W880i’s successor, or a rival to the Nokia 6500. Regardless of what side you take, the W890i is a decent phone that doesn’t disappoint on all fronts. It will do a great job as a secondary handset, especially if you need no bells and whistles, but rather a nice looking and well-designed gadget.
Published 09 February 2008
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