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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson W902
Live photos of Sony Ericsson W902
The W902 is the music-minded flagship among Sony Ericsson's candybar-shaped phones. Positioned like this, it comes with a fairly decent sales package that, for the first time ever, includes an 8 Gb memory card. While it seems more like an addition to the gorgeous Sony Ericsson W980, the W902 lacks the social function we pondered over in our review of the W980, simply because there is nothing catchy about its design. All in all, it’s a standard Sony Ericsson fare without any bells and whistles in the way of looks – we can’t say it’s unattractive, though, quite the contrary, but there is nothing in it that would set our hearts racing.
The W902 targets a relatively young audience – 22-35 year olds, which is nothing out of the ordinary within the Walkman framework. In many respects this phone is the epitome of what Sony Ericsson have been doing over the past couple of years: it’s a costly solution, with the bulk of the price being a charge for the brand name. Curiously, Sony Ericsson view their brand value as an intrinsic part of the W902’s positioning. Perhaps, this approach has some merits, but the fact of the matter is that the W902 has to go up against a whole array of other similar offerings, and more importantly, they are all considerably cheaper. The W902 will have to sweat it out and struggle a lot to generate at least acceptable sales, simply because Sony Ericsson have turned it into a niche solution with their own hands by playing around with its price tag a bit too much. Unfortunately, there is not much else to talk about – it’s just the way things are these days. Die-hard Sony Ericsson fans who will find a reason to like the W902’s design will definitely purchase it, while all others should better wait until the first price cut that is bound to come alone early in 2009. The question remains, however, whether it will be substantial or not. Seeing how their sales have been rolling down lately, Sony Ericsson will have to seriously consider sending their prices through the floor. On the other hand, lured by higher profit margins Sony Ericsson’s management has long forgotten about the company’s market share – with the financial crisis raging out there, they have shifted their burden of being unpardonably slow in the uptake and unable to predict the market movements onto regular consumers, including it in the W902’s price tag.
The W902 comes in a choice of two colors - Volcanic Black and Wine Red, although more color schemes will see release later (such as Earth Green).
The phone measures up at 110x49x11.7 mm and tips our scales at just 100 grams, which is a pretty decent size/weight ratio for a candybar type design. The W902’s build quality is solid overall, except for the fact that the battery cover feels somewhat loose and makes a distinguishable clicking noise when you squeeze the phone. Whether or not to treat it as a serious flaw is entirely up to you.
Sony Ericsson W902 vs Motorola ROKR E8:
Sony Ericsson W902 vs Motorola ROKR EM30:
The mineral glass coating the Sony Ericsson W902’s display is sturdy enough and doesn’t pick up any nicks or scratches. However, there are some chinks between it and the rest of the casing, which is the reason why you see all these dust particles around the forward-facing camera and ambient light sensor (thankfully, the display remained clean).
Both the rear and right-hand side are adorned with a grill-esque pattern, although we’d also like to see a similar finish on the left; but this is a minor wish.
The interface connector is mounted on the left-hand spine, while the opposite side houses the volume rocker, music controls and dedicated camera key. The trademark Walkman button is perched on the top end of the W902. Topping the display is the ambient light sensor along with the forward-facing camera for video calls. The lanyard eyelet is found on the back of the phone, which is not where you'd expect to find it.
The W902’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 3 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.
However, the W902 can’t stand comparison with the Nokia N85’s bigger OLED display. Keep in mind, though, that it retails at the same price point, and this fact suddenly makes the W902’s screen quality so much more crucial.
Sony Ericsson W902 vs Nokia N85:
Sony Ericsson W902 vs Nokia N79:
The W902’s numberpad is nothing out of the ordinary – it features a standard layout with decently sized buttons that are well spaced out, easy to press and generally pretty responsive. The navigation cluster may appear to be on the smaller side, but it won’t give any trouble – we found it was a breeze to handle. All in all, we have no gripes with the W902’s keypad whatsoever.
The back cover is easy to open. Removing it reveals a 930 mAh Li-Ion battery (BST-38). As the maker claims, the W902 provides up to 385 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 it every day. 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 24 hours.
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. Despite the maker claiming it to be USB 2.0, data transfer speed doesn't exceed 500 Kb/s. If you just want your W902 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 W902.
The W902 comes with around 32 Mb of user-manageable memory, the sales package also includes a 8 Gb memory card (M2), and you can always swap them on the fly. The top size of your memory card that this phone can handle is 16 Gb.
The W902 puts up typical numbers for the company’s latest generation of devices. There are no limits on JAR-file size, HEAP size – from 512 Kb to 1.5 Mb.
The phone comes bundled with a 5 Mpix CMOS camera with autofocus. The camera UI is laid out vertically; pushing the shutter key launches the camera application.
The W902 supports four resolution settings:
Also there are two image quality levels – Normal and Fine, the difference between which translates into file size, and that’s about it. There are four shooting modes available with the W902 – normal, BestPic (two speeds – slow and normal; allows taking a series of images and picking the best ones), Panorama (three portions of one panorama are stitched together automatically), Frames (almost two dozens of these, but the W902 will scale down the image resolution).
There are also six scenes in the W902: Twilight Landscape, Landscape, Portrait, Beach/Snow, Sports, Document, as well as Auto. Focus settings: auto, macro, infinite.
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. But since the W902 doesn't come with a bundled GPS receiver, this ability is more of a gimmick here.
Since the W902 is usually dubbed as a do-it-all phone, we decided to pit it against its “classmates”, specifically the N85 and ZN5 (both come with 5 Mpix cameras onboard). Needless to say, it did have a chance against the N85, for the latter offered more details and significantly sharper night shots. Images snapped by the W902 in the daylight fared a tad better, but still we found that a lot of smaller details got smeared away. Plus, it doesn’t have a lens cover which will require you to clean the lens before shooting.
As for the MOTOZINE ZN5, the W902 couldn’t stand comparison with it, putting up less vibrant colors and much fewer details.
Video. Video may be recorded in the 320x240 pixel resolution or 176x144 at 30 FPS (3GP). Clip duration may be limited (up to 10 seconds) or unlimited. Clips are pretty average quality-wise, and as always, we’d like to have VGA resolution for videos.
We won’t review the W902’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, 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.
The W902 comes preinstalled with three games: FMX III, Need for Speed and Jewel Quest II.
The phone features a handful of default applications, including AccuWeather (allows getting up-to-the-minute weather forecasts) and Standby World.
Walk Mate – all this application can do is count all steps you've made during this day/week/month
Music Quiz – the point of this game is to guess which song from your music library is playing.
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 W902 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 tariff.
The W902 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. Sony Ericsson’s trademark Clear Experience technology is a mere equalizer that makes your music sound a bit smoother and ear-pleasing. Unfortunately, there is no way to disable it – after all, it changes the entire audio experience, which is not always a good thing.
SensMe. In addition to its default Walkman 3rd edition pack of goods, the Sony Ericsson W902 comes with the SensMe functionality - it's sort of a playlist 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).
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 W902 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 W902, 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 W902 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 W902. 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 an excellent pair of headphones, one of Sony Ericsson’s finest offerings to date. On top of that the W902 turned out to be a pretty loud phone, personally I found that it fared better than other handsets from this maker, specifically the W910i.
Like we said at the beginning of this write-up, the W902 won’t experience lack of competition out there, although curiously, all these phones come out on top in terms audio quality, while not positioned specifically as music-minded solutions.
It seems many phone makers have gotten the hang of churning out similar products and charging 30-50 Euro for every extra feature. And while the Sony Ericsson W902 doesn’t have any advanced feats per se (all in all, it's not quite state-of-the-art, lacking GPS and WiFi connectivity), for some reason its price tag suggests otherwise.
While on paper all there phones seem quite even in terms of specs, the W902 can’t stand up to the N79 and ZN5 on many fronts, including image quality, as all it has to offer are somewhat mediocre snaps, whereas the other two solutions come armed with top-of-the-line 5 Mpix modules. If you are after something without bells and whistles, then the W902 is probably worth looking at, but there are other options for the same money, yet with more on offer as well.
I feel somewhat uncomfortable comparing the Nokia N79 and Sony Ericsson W902 mainly because a smartphone will always trump a feature phone in most regards. While previous one could argue that smartphones were way more power-hungry, these days it’s exactly the opposite – the N79 lasts longer than the W902 in most cases, and its dedicated sound processor definitely helps. And you can get it for less money. Checkmate.
The W902’s stereospeakers can’t save the day either – its sound quality is the lowest among these three phones, even though being a music-heavy phone and all it’s exactly the area it should excel in. After all, the main reason to go for the Sony Ericsson is to get a decent music player along with some phone features. But it turns out the W902 can’t give you that, since it’s has got more fashion to it than music or imaging. If you look at it from this angle, all its shortcomings in functionality won’t really matter, nor will its price tag (nevertheless, the latter point is debatable) – the W902’s design will be its major selling point.
The Sony Ericsson W902 is no revelation in terms of its calling features: it's got a solid vibro alert and perhaps overly loud ring tones, which still make it a decent performer on this front. The reception quality was nothing to complain about, and the microphone quality was more than satisfactory.
The Sony Ericsson W902 retails for around 400 Euro (in most European regions), and it seems Sony Ericsson themselves have done everything possible to prevent it from going into the mainstream by setting exorbitant wholesale prices. Truly, while it’s available for 520-550 Euros in Russia, all local distributors get it from Sony Ericsson for 342 Euros (VAT excluded), meaning that there little to no wiggle room for them at all. Furthermore, it falls into a higher price-bracket than most of its rivals, and ends up one on one with the Nokia N85.
Again, I do feel bad about putting the W902 up against the Nokia N85 – it simply can’t stand comparison with this top-of-the-line slider phone that retails at the same price point, comes with the same memory card in the box and sports quite decent materials at that. As far as candybar-shaped phones go, the ZN5 won’t just as popular, although it features superior audio quality, more advanced imaging department and WiFi connectivity. At the end of the day, the only things going for the Sony Ericsson W902 are its quirky design and brand name – there are no other strengths that would justify its 400 Euro price tag. What is worse, local retailers get insufficient supplies of the phone, while having to distribute it with miniscule profit margins.
So, what our bottom line is going to be? The W902 is a likable and functional solution without any bells and whistles, yet positioned as a top-of-the-line do-it-all phone. Interestingly, even the market’s leading manufacturer, Nokia, can’t afford these games and prefers to offer really balanced and interesting handsets in this price bracket. The most fair price point for the W902 would be 330-340 Euros for European countries and 400-430 Euros for Russia, which is pretty much what Sony Ericsson’s wholesale prices are these days (although the wholesale price for Europe is significantly lower). The reason why it’s so overprice is simple – they are trying to offset all missteps and losses in Russia they have made in 2007 and 2008.
On balance, the W902 doesn’t have any glaring drawbacks. If you find it likable and at the same time ready to pay 20-30 percent on top of its real price for, basically, nothing – then it’s worth looking at. But for all people in the know there is a slew of other more able and significantly cheaper solutions.
On the bright side, Sony Ericsson have already launched PlayNowPlus service in Sweden, which is an all-you-can-eat music download service for the W902, and, essentially, their only chance to keep it afloat, as even local carriers aren’t particularly enthusiastic about it. If anything, we haven’t mentioned the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic in this write-up yet, however, with its commercial release scheduled for December it will deliver a knock-out blow to a whole array of phones out there, including the Sony Ericsson W902. Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson have long forgotten the meaning of such words as “innovation” and “price/quality ratio”, and those who still can’t agree should wait and see how the market reacts to their carelessness.
Published 25 November 2008
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