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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Sony Ericsson W995
Live images of the Sony Ericsson W995
Originally, the Hikaru was designed as an addition to the Sony Ericsson C905, in tune with the company's philosophy that the samde model should have both a music-heavy and imaging-savvy editions (in the higher price-brackets, that is, since this approach doesn't quite work at low price points). Supposedly, the Hikaru was to live off the enormous sales of the C905, Sony Ericsson's flagship in imaging that they had had high expectations of. So the C905's launch went "by the book" - artificially created shortage, gradual saturation of distribution channels. However all of a sudden they ran into a plethora of problems with the phone and it simply didn't sell as well as they had planned. As a result, the units that had already been produced were sold to local partners at lower prices. One of the most common explanations was that the C905's dipping price was caused by the fact that all units had flawed earpiece flat cable, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that drives the movement of price at any point is demand. The failure of the C905 meant that certain changes had to be made in the way the Hikaru was positioned, the company's higher-ups had to come down and interfere into the phone's development, but opted not to. Interestingly, over at Sony Ericsson all business processes run in isolation, so up unit the phone's release date the creators of the Hikaru had the luxury of living in their own world, where the original directives were intact and they were still making a music-minded version of the "hotter-than-sun" C905. But in reality the problems with the C905 caused delays in the W995's development schedule, so it arrived only earlier this summer. Had they allowed for a longer delay, it would've spelled the end for this phone. That's why Sony Ericsson chose the lesser of the two evils and sacrificed the dated C905 that was of no use to me at that point anyway (it still generates some sales, but is barely noticeable in sales reports).
The price tags of these phones aren't well-balanced either, as in June the W995's wholesale price was at around 518 USD, and the RSP was set at 780 USD (VAT not included), whereas the C905 went for 500 USD and 750 USD respectively. It doesn't take a math wiz to see that the C905, retailing for mere 560 USD in most major retail networks, was losing them money. Furthermore, the grey market offered European editions of the phone for as little as 430 USD. Seeing this worrisome picture, the company's partners refused to purchase the W995, as it was pretty clear that its success would be short-lived and last only a couple of weeks.
Distributors that ordered first were billed in accordance with the original price list for the W995, but then Sony Ericsson came to realize that at that rate and their current volume of orders, the W995 had a pretty good chance to not even make it to the shelves of retail stores, so they decided to send its price through the floor. Here is there price list for July.
What is remarkable, the W995 hasn't been around for too long, but its price has already been slashed, which is not you would expect from Sony Ericsson, as normally they do their best to squeeze every cent out of their current prices, so usually they don't revise price lists for 2-3 months. But the terrifying uptake of the W995 has forced them to deviate from this rule. And, as far as ordinary users are concerned, this change is for the best. However, now the W995 repeats the fate of the W980 - another music-minded flagship from Sony Ericsson that was a quite decent phone, yet for a very narrow circle of people (which doesn't prevent some distributors from selling off their old supplies). So, why am I so skeptical about the future of the Sony Ericsson W995? Perhaps it's because the company has lost its passion. Let me give you an example - they are currently running a promotional campaign in the UK, where special booths are arranged for the W995. Surprisingly, those, some of them have no phones inside, since they have been torn out, and I have seen quite a few scenes like that. So, essentially, Sony Ericsson launched a campaign and has already forgotten about it, lost all interest and stake in this phone, as if it's not their area of responsibility.
Moreover, some lies have slipped even into the guidelines for shop assistants. Let's see how they position it: three main elements should be touted, these are the phone's 2.6-inch display (for "unprecedented" video experience), sound quality and 8.1 MP camera. According to Sony Ericsson's marketing department, these three features leave all competitors behind.
Please note that it wasn't my idea to compare the Sony Ericsson W995 with Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, Nokia N86, and Samsung INNOV8, someone did that. No doubt, it's an incredibly "strong" move to put the W995 up against smartphones, especially since this dilemma was solved years ago - a feature phone simply can't stand up to a similarly priced smartphone, it's a well-known and time-proven fact. As Sony Ericsson sees it, none of the above mentioned phones has got a 8.1 MP camera. You know why the N86 and the INNOV8 don't qualify? Because 8.1 is actually a higher number than 8, so eat that Nokia and Samsung. Things get even more amusing when we get to the W995's 8 Gb storage, as the 5800 ships with an 8 Gb memory cards, which amounts to the same thing and both the N86 and INNOV8 have just as much storage onboard.
Essentially, this attempt to put the W995 up against the market's most celebrated products was doomed from day one. After skimming through similar brochures its becomes clear why shop assistants start touting the Nokia 5800, even when you tell them you'd like a music-centric solution in a metallic casing. While shop assistants usually aren't very enlightened in the way of mobile phones, even they realize that Sony Ericsson's W995 brochure is a complete bluff.
As for the way Sony Ericsson position this phone, sure enough they see a top-of-the-line music phone in it, but I believe everything I've just said points at groundlessness of such a pretentious way of positioning. Now that we are done with Sony Ericsson's own gibberish, let's see what the W995 really is.
First off, there is no doubt that it is a music-minded handset. Build on the A200, it won't be an exciting proposition for geeks, but will suite ordinary users who spend a lot of time on the phone. The youth will find the W995's price tag exorbitant, meaning that the phone targets those who are conservative in their brand preferences, yet want to get the best possible feature pack and reassert their status with a fashionable product. It's important to understand, though, that this user group couldn't care less about cutting-edge technologies until they become a widely accepted standard. In other words, they value style over substance, plus they are quite sensitive to what is going on in the market and tend to disregard products from companies that are out-of-fashion. For the time being Sony Ericsson will deliver exactly what they need, but some seeds of doubt have already been planted. By the way, I almost forgot - this audience makes around 3.5 percent of the entire market.
The phone comes in a choice of three colors: progressive black, cosmic silver, energetic red.
The framing around the display, as well as the battery cover, is made out of brushed metal, while the rest of the casing is all plastic. The W995 sports a sturdy build, although the battery cover does creak a little when squeezed (due to the gap between the lid and the battery itself), but that's about it.
The W995's opening mechanism is fairly smooth, but because of the phone's size, its sliding action feels a tad sharp. The phone measures up at 97x49x15 mm and weights 113 grams, being both palm- and pocket-friendly.
Sony Ericsson W995 vs Samsung S8300:
Sony Ericsson W995 vs HTC Hero:
Sony Ericsson W995 vs Nokia 5530:
Sony Ericsson W995 vs Sony Ericsson C905:
Sony Ericsson W995 vs Sony Ericsson W705:
The phone comes with a kick-stand that allows for a more convenient setup for watching videos - apparently, this feature has been carried over from Nokia's latest Nseries solutions and Sony Ericsson is one step behind here, since when you flip it open nothing happens, while in the N86 opening the kick-stand launches an application of your choosing.
The W995's speakers are mounted on either side of the display and are covered by metal grills. As far as speakerphone mode goes, this phone is one of the finest offerings we've seen to date with its lound and clear sound. Sitting on the top end of the phone is the standard 3.5 mm audio jack for plugging in a custom set of earphones; remarkably, the pair of headphones you'll find in the box with the W995 utilize Sony Ericsson's proprietary Fast Port, found in the left-hand spine along with the Walkman button.
On the right there are three player control keys with separate backlight, which is a nice touch, further down is a fiddly volume rocker, since it's tiny and recessed into the casing. Thankfully the dedicated camera button, situated below, is easy to work with. As for the camera lens, located on the back, it's completely defenseless against dust and scratches, for there is no shutter.
Topping the display are the forward-facing camera for videoconferencing and ambient light sensor.
The W995 utilizes a 240x320 pixel TFT display (2.6 inches from corner to corner, 39x52 mm) that shows up to 262 K colors. Indoors the picture looks smooth, bright and crisp. In fact, as far as color reproduction goes, this display type was on top of the world in 2008, but these days that can't stand comparison with AMOLED screens. The W995's screen can accommodate up to 9 text and 4 service lines with some modes allowing for even more information. It does well in the sun, but it gets somewhat washed out.
The bundled motion sensor allows the W995 to rotate the screen automatically, be it in the web-browser or image gallery.
The W995 packs in a no-frills keypad with relatively small, soft-to-press buttons lit in white. The navigation cluster is a breeze to work with as well.
The W995 makes use of a 930 mAh Li-Pol battery (BST-38). As the manufacturer claims, it can keep the handset up and running up to 370 hours in standby and provide up to 9 hours of talk time.
In Moscow the W995 lasted around 2,5-3 days with average use - up to one hour of calls, around 30 minutes of games, 20 minutes of browsing, and several hours of music. In Europe its battery performance will get at least 1,5 times better all thanks to superior coverage. We squeezed around 20 hours of music out of the W995. It takes the Sony Ericsson w995 around 2 hours to charge from empty to full (1.5 hours to charge up to 80 percent).
WiFi time (non-stop file downloads) - 2.5 hours.
Navigation time (via WayFinder application) - around 3 hours.
If you turn Push Mail on and opt not to use the phone's navigation department at all, the W995 will last 6 to 9 hours. All in all, it's typical A200-based solution with slightly longer battery times in certain modes (navigation, WiFi).
The W995 comes with around 118 Mb of user-manageable memory, and a memory card slot that allows for hot-swapping (located underneath the batter cover on the left). The top size of your memory card that this phone can handle is 32 Gb (when more capable cards come along, it will deal with them as well). The phone comes boxed with an 8 Gb M2 memory card.
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. 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. The W995's data transfer speed tops out at 2 Mb/s. If you just want your W995 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 W995. Its data transfer speed tops out at 100 Kb/s. The list of supported profiles:
The W995 is the first phone running on A200 platform to support WiFi wireless connectivity (with DLNA certificate, 802.11 b/g). Luckily, it's not a paired-down option here, as the phone allows you to tap into active networks (passworded or not) or find new ones (by SSID). It also supports all input languages, which is pretty important for non-English speaking regions. On top of that, the W995 offers a list with your favorite networks which it will connect to automatically. You can opt to enable Power Saving mode, when the phone will cut all active connections if they are out of use.
Unlike its imaging-savvy sibling, the W995's WiFi isn't its most power-hogging feature - it can go into power-saving mode and save some charge for later, much like the C905 with the latest firmware version.
The W995's JP-8.4 update has severely affected its performance in our Java tests - in fact, it's results have nearly halved in JB1 and JB2 tests compared to other solutions. On the other hand, its interface is very responsive and speedy - we didn't experience any freeze-ups or hiccups in this department. At the same time, our JB 3D tests showed that the W995 fares much better than the competition, which is all another proof of how context-dependent these synthetic tests are. As far as JAR files go they can be of any size, while HEAP are limited to 1.5 Mb.
The W995 comes bundled with a 8.1 MP camera module, that is deemed one of the phone's key features, although in reality it's a pared down version of the C905's camera. This shouldn't come as a major surprise, since Sony Ericsson's music-savvy phones have never had the luxury of having top-notch cameras onboard. And while the W995 is more or less comparable to the Samsung S8300 and LG Viewty Smart, given ideal shooting conditions, it doesn't stand a chance against the Nokia N86, Samsung INNOV8 or Samsung HD.
The W995 makes use of a CMOS camera module with autofocus, as well as two quality levels: Normal and Fine.
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 things 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.
A quick comparison between the W995 and the Samsung S8300.
Now lets put the Sony Ericsson W995 up against the LG Viewty Smart that plays in the same price bracket and sports a similar camera module, although differs in terms of positioning. The images leave no room for doubt as to which of the two is superior: the Viewty Smart offers better colors and sharper details.
Needless to say, that the W995 won't be able to even put up a good fight against the Samsung i8910 HD, not to mention that it doesn't come close to the quality offered by its sibling, the C905. In all honesty, even if it incorporates the same camera module as the C905, then Sony Ericsson have done a tremendous job downgrading it.
Video clips may be recorded in 640x480 pixel resolution at 30 FPS in mpeg format (with unlimited duration, if necessary), although the quality found in the W995 is nothing to write home about - what other phone makers have been offering for years now, becomes available in Sony Ericsson's handsets only now.
We won't review the W995'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 several 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.
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 Ц this application allows accessing the mobile version of YouTube.com. While the quality of clips leaves much to be desired in most cases, the W995 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.
Games and Applications. The phone comes preinstalled with seven games: Bowling, Bubble Town, Diamond Island, Guitar Rock Tour, NitroStreet Racing, Playman Extreme, Real Football 2. Apart from games, the W995 offers a bunch of applications, including Comeks Strips (adds comics-esque effects to your snaps), Facebook, Music Mate 5, Sound Sensor, Walk Mate, YouTube and Wayfinder Navigator.
But the real centerpiece here is VoiceFX application that may seem like nothing serious, but can easily help you kill several hours and give some good laughs. In a nutshell, it allows the user to record some sound (say, your friend's voice) and then apply one of numerous effects to this fragment, such as Robot, High Pitch, Low Pitch, Drunk, Fast Talker, Old, Backwards, Intonation flip.
The W995 comes preinstalled with Walkman 3.0 and retains all features and specs of the Sony Ericsson W910 and other music-minded phones from this maker. The W995's centerpiece is not a quirky piece of software that enhances music or updated hardware, but rather a pair of "top-notch" noise-cancelling earphones that come boxed with it (HPM-88). Although in reality they are designed in such a way that even with the noise-cancellation mode off they provide a pretty decent degree of isolation - I gave them a run for their money in planes, cars and trains. Since I normally use the Sennheiser CX300, I didn't see much of a difference between them and the HPM-88, as in its noise-cancellation system muffles the sound a bit, yet isn't capable of cutting out the noise produced by a plane. So then I took Sennheiser's PCX300 - as far as I'm concerned, these earphones are the only benchmark I use when it comes to dealing with noise inside an aircraft. And, well, the PCX300 was miles ahead of the HPM-88. The latter should rather be considered as a decent pair of headphones for mobile phone, especially for those, who aren't all that into music. Plus, unfortunately, the W995's default earphones can only be plugged into the Fast Port slot - another creation of Sony Ericsson's marketing genius.
The phone boasts Clear Audio feature, although this equalizer doesn't really add to the W995's musical merits. As a part of a comprehensive comparison of music-minded phones, we carried out a blind test for a handful of models - you can see some of the results we got below. Each phone was armed with the Sennheiser CX300, plugged into their 3.5 mm jacks, and listened to by a group of 20 people. Cutting right to the chase, here are the relevant results:
Regardless of how our tests went (with all phones kept anonymous or revealed to all participants), the W995 got the worst ratings among all other phones. And since the figures above were calculated as averages based on over 20 assessments, I believe they can be trusted. Unfortunately, 2009 spells nothing but disaster for Walkman - without breakthroughs in audio quality, these phones won't be able to stand up against other music-playing devices.
SensMe. In addition to its default Walkman 3rd edition pack of goods, the Sony Ericsson W995 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 gimmick 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 W995 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 W995, 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 W995 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 W995. 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).
The Sony Ericsson W995 doesn't bring anything new to the table with its moderately strong vibro alert, a bit too loud ring tones and decent call quality.
Let me be honest - I spent a whole lot of time writing this review, trying to play the role of devil's advocate, forcing myself to dig deeper into the phone's menus and specs in order to find more positive things about it. And I got some, for example the W995's speakerphone mode that exceeded my expectations thanks to the phone's decent loudspeakers. But unfortunately, the phone's attractions were few and far between.
What other flagship phones of 2009 bring to the table? As a rule, they come armed with a touch-sensitive display, brimming with new features and UI improvements, above-average music processor and reasonably good camera. A good example of this breed of phone is the Samsung S8300 with its nearly perfect display, great sound quality and an 8 MP camera (although the lack of a 3.5 mm audio jack spoils things a bit). But while it trumps the W995 on most fronts hands down, its sales leave much to be desired.
Moving on to the Nokia N86 that is about 10 percent more expensive. It's a touchscreen-less smartphone, whose functionality doesn't leave the W995 a chance, and it's got a 3.5 mm jack along with splendid music quality. By the way, the volume of orders for the N86 in Russia is five times that for the W995. Having written this, I realize now that it's time to stop - comparing a 2008 flagship phone with today's multimedia powerhouses doesn't feel right. And in truth the Hikaru is really stuck in 2008. All in all, this phone is intended for people who miss good old Sony Ericsson and are willing to support their favorite brand at the time of trouble, or those who truly dig its design and don't need the multimedia prowess of its competitors.
I bet that the W995's sales will only reach those of the Sony Ericsson C905 at best - it definitely won't become a landmark in the industry, no matter how much time you spend training and brainwashing your sales assistants. Who needs a phone from 2008 for over 600 USD that doesn't even have the updated version of its trademark music player? No way it's Sony Ericsson's 2009 flagship device. No way.
Published 20 July 2009
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