What's hot: Slim and attractive, great music features and video performance.
What's not: Mediocre camera, flat keys are hard on gamers and texters.
Reviewed July 21, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The Sony Ericsson W518a is for Walkman phone fans who crave a flip form. Even though AT&T has largely stayed away from high-end Walkman phones like the W995a, they continue the love for mid-tier Walkman phones. The W518a has Sony Ericsson’s signature XrossMediaBar (pronounced cross media bar) media player UI, Walkman Player 3.0, Bluetooth A2DP, an FM radio and gesture control. The quad band GSM phone has AT&T’s 3G HSDPA bands and works with AT&T’s services including CV on-demand video, Video Share video calling, AT&T Navigator for GPS navigation and music downloads over the air. The flip phone is very slim, and has a 3.2 megapixel camera with video capture capability, Facebook integration and the very capable Netfront web browser. We love the music features and video playback performance, though we don’t dig the camera quality.
Design and Ergonomics
The Sony Ericsson W518a is a good-looking flip phone; in fact it looks better in person than in photos. It has a shiny dark gray cover and a smooth black back. The front cover gloss is low key and not a fingerprint-loving piano finish. Measuring 3.7 x 1.9 x 0.6 inches with the flip closed, the Walkman phone is very thin. The phone has a small display, touch sensitive music control and the built-in camera on the flip and the rear firing speakerphone on the back. The 2.2-inch main QVGA display supports 262K colors, and it’s very useable in sunlight. The Sony Ericsson has a Moto RAZR-like flat keypad that’s very challenging for mobile gamers because the number keys have little travel. Menu keys include two shoulder menu keys, call send and call end buttons, Menu and cancel keys that flank the d-pad. The menu keys are as flat as the number keys and the d-pad has a decent sized center key surrounded by a very narrow ring that works as 4-way d-pad.
The SIM and the Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slots live under the battery door. You will need to take the battery out to access the SIM card slot but the M2 slot is accessible without removing the battery. The W518a has a volume rocker and key guard slider on the right side and the Sony Ericsson proprietary charging/syncing connector (Fast port style) on the left side.
Phone Features and Messaging
The Sony Ericsson W518a is a quad band GSM world phone with 3G HSDPA 3.6 Mbps on the 850/1900/2100 MHz bands. The 3G bands ensure the phone work on AT&T’s 3G network in the U.S. and in Europe. The 3G bands will not work on T-Mobile’s 3G network in the U.S. The phone’s reception is just below average. It occasionally loses 3G even in areas with decent 3G coverage. The phone never dropped a voice call and has very good voice quality on both incoming and outgoing ends. Data speed over 3G HSDPA feels fast, and load time for web pages and CV video clips is very reasonable. If you are in AT&T’s 3G coverage area, you can also use the Sony Ericsson to make video calls via AT&T’s Video Share service.
The contacts database on the Sony Ericsson can store up to 1000 contacts with up to 7000 numbers. You can also have 9 speed dialing numbers. The phone also comes with voice command software; however just as with the Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot C905a on AT&T, it requires you to record voice tags. Again, like the C905a, we experienced a bug where the volume for the beep that signals that the phone is ready to listen for a command is so low that we couldn’t hear it unless the earpiece was against our ear in a very quiet room. But once we recorded the voice tags, the phone worked well in voice dialing.
It was interesting that AT&T picked a Walkman phone as one of their social networking phones, but Facebook fans will get an integrated application on the W518a. Even though you can easily use the nice web browser to visit and update your Facebook page, the integration gives you something extra: when you turn on “update during standby”, your friends’ updates will scroll across the phone’s standby screen. There is also a Facebook client on the phone but oddly it only lets you update your own Facebook page but doesn’t show your friend’s updates.
The Sony Ericsson W518a also has aGPS that works with AT&T Navigator for turn-by-turn navigation and voice guidance. The GPS gets accurate fixes in most cases but noticeably lags behind the real time position. Route re-calculations are speedy and the speakerphone is loud enough to overcome road noise for spoken directions. Standard features for AT&T Navigator include POIs (Points of Interest), traffic and re-routing. AT&T Navigator isn’t free ($9.99/month subscription, or $4.99/month with a data plan) but you get 30 days to try it out for free.
True to its name, the W518a is a very strong music phone and once you have all the right accessories in hand, the Walkman phone can provide a complete music experience on the go. The Sony Ericsson has both the familiar XrossMediaBar (XMB) user interface (featured on the PS3, PSP, some Sony TVs and notebooks) and the latest Walkman Player 3.0 software. The music player supports the accelerometer, album art and MegaBass. If you're a fan of gesture control, you will be pleased with the W518a: you can shake the phone to fast forward and rewind tracks, change volume and even snooze alarms by waving your hand in front of the camera lens. The gesture control is responsive and you can turn it on or off. The music player can play MP3, WMA and AAC files. We tested music tracks from iTunes and all worked well. We also tested audio books and Podcasts on the Sony Ericsson and they worked well also. You will find quite a few applications accompanying the music player, some provided by Sony Ericsson, others by AT&T. These application/services include TrackID (for identifying tracks on the phone), MusicID (for identifying music from radio), XM radio and SensMe which sorts tracks based on the mood of the music. There is also an FM radio with RDS on board, but AT&T doesn’t include a wired headset, and you’ll need once since it acts as the antenna. If you want to listen to FM radio you’ll need to buy the headset separately, and since it’s the Sony Ericsson Fast port connector style headset it’s not the easiest or cheapest to find. A strange omission for a Walkman phone. Happily, if you have a stereo headset from an older Sony Ericsson phone, that will work.
You can play music via the phone’s built-in speakerphone, via wired stereo headset (again, none included in the package) or via Bluetooth A2DP stereo headset. The speakerphone on the W518a is decent. The audio quality can’t compete with the stereo speakers on the W995a, but it’s not too bad as long as you don’t turn the volume too high. The speaker sounds a little blown when the volume is high, though the speakerphone is quite loud and you don’t really need to turn it to max. Music sounded really good via Bluetooth stereo headsets with strong bass and clear audio.
Like most Sony Ericsson phones, the W518a has an M2 card slot for music storage as well as storing other media content. You can also sync music via USB or Bluetooth. Sony Ericsson offers PC Suite syncing software for free (download from sonyericsson.com/support), but the W518a package doesn’t include a USB cable. You can purchase the USB data cable from AT&T separately, and it’s the same cable used with most Sony Ericsson phones (Fast port to USB).
While the Sony Ericsson W518a isn’t a video-centric phone, it offers a surprisingly good video experience. The phone handles AT&T’s CV on-demand streaming video with ease (CV is included with the $15/month unlimited data plan). Both short clips and full-length TV programs look sharp and play smoothly over 3G. If you are into free video content, the phone can play YouTube video via the YouTube mobile site. YouTube videos play less smoothly than the CV videos, and the audio doesn’t sound as full.
The Sony Ericsson W518a has a 3.2 megapixel camera with fixed focus lens and no flash. The camera lens lives under a cheap plastic cover that’s easily schmeared with hand grease and it catches sun glare causing lens flare. Still images taken with the W518a aren’t impressive: both indoor and outdoor shots have noticeable noise that you shouldn’t see in a 3.2 megapixel camera phone, light objects often have white-out in various lighting conditions and there is a slight white haze near the edges of photos. But if you have just the right lighting and the lens cover is clean, you might capture some sharp photos with good color balance. The camera software on the Sony Ericsson offers the usual settings including white balance, effects, self-timer, picture quality, night mode and more.
The W518a can also record video with audio at QVGA 320 x 240 resolution at 15fps. You can record MMS short videos or long videos to store on the M2 card or on the phone. Video clips look smooth and audio is in sync with video. Without a flash, videos captured in dim rooms look dark. Luckily there is a night mode video capturing option which does lighten up the scene but reduces contrast.
The Sony Ericsson W518a has a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that’s user replaceable. The battery (model BST-39) is 900 mAh, and the claimed talk time is 4 hours. The claimed standby is over 16 days and in our tests that seemed to be on target. The battery runtime was noticeably shorter when we watched CV, used the GPS and downloaded apps over the air.
We finally get a flip Walkman phone from AT&T and it doesn’t disappoint as a music phone. The Walkman Player 3.0 has the latest music playback goodness: album art, accelerometer support, TrackID, gesture control and the SensMe playlist. It plays audio books and podcasts; and video playback via CV is very smooth. The phone has a loud speaker and music sounds good via Bluetooth stereo A2DP. It’s a shame that AT&T doesn’t include the wired headset that works with the Sony Ericsson proprietary port not only for music playback but also for the FM radio. GPS with AT&T Navigator and Facebook integration are convenient for users who need them. The Netfront web browser brings more smarts to a feature phone at this level. The camera is a disappointment; good for us that AT&T released the Sony Ericsson C905a camera phone with 8.1 megapixel camera at the same time for those who are more photo buffs than music buffs.
Pro: Slim and sleek design, XMB UI is easy to use, good music player and video performance.
Con: Camera isn’t impressive. No wired headset or USB cable in the box.
Price: $49.99 with 2-year contract after mail-in rebate and discount. $199.99 without contract.
Display: 2.2” QVGA 262K color TFT screen. Resolution: 240 x 320 pixels.
Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, 930/900 mAh, user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 4 hours. Claimed standby time: up to 16.6 days.
Performance: 100MB internal memory. Phone book can store 1000 entries.
Size: 3.7 x 1.9 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 3.35 oz.
Phone: Quad band GSM world phone. 850/900/1800/1900MHz. 3G 850/1900/2100 MHz for data.
Camera: 3.2 megapixel with no flash. Can take video with audio.
Audio: Supports MegaTones, HiFi Ringers and MP3 music tones. MP3 player onboard to play music in MP3, AAC, AAC+, Enhanced AAC+ and WMA formats. FM Radio. Fast port audio jack. Can record voice memo. Supports vibration alert.
Networking: Bluetooth v2.0. USB 2.0.
Software: Sony’s Xross Media Bar UI. Access NetFront 3.4 web browser, Walkman Player 3.0, PhotoDJ, MusicDJ, TrackID and Bluetooth Remote Control. PIM tools include Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Password Keeper, Calculator, Timer, Stopwatch and Alarm Clock. Downloadable software includes Sony Ericsson PC Suite 5.0 and Sony Media Go software.
Expansion: 1 Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot. Supports 8GB cards according to Sony Ericsson. No card included.
In the Box: The Sony Ericsson W518a phone with standard battery, AC charger and printed manuals.