Review posted October, 2007 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
When it comes to Sony Ericsson phones, US users are often out of luck. US carriers don’t offer many SE phones which means we have to pay very high prices for import models. But once in a while, AT&T picks up a new Sony Ericsson model and this time it’s the W580i. The new Sony Ericsson Walkman W580i comes with the usual set of strong music tools including Disc2Phone, TrackID, FM radio and much more; plus built-in Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support. In addition to strong music features and a good 2 megapixel camera, the W580i also comes with great gaming capabilities, a 2” bright display and a Memory Stick Micro M2 slot.
The Sony Ericsson W580i slider is a quad band GSM world phone that’s offered by AT&T in the US and has EDGE for data. Sony Ericsson also sells an unlock version in Sonystyle stores and online. There are some variations in the packaging and software bundles between the to units and we cover both versions in this review. The unlocked Sony Ericsson currently comes in two colors: Style White and Urban Grey and is priced at $299.99 unlocked. The AT&T version currently comes in Style White and Boulevard Black colors and is priced at $79.99 with 2-year contract.
Design and Ergonomics
Sony Ericsson Walkman phones have a bit of Euro chic and they’re never afraid of intense colors (like Sony Ericsson orange) or unique forms (like the W600i swivel design). The W580i however has a more modest slider design, though it does have a touch of style: the side of the phone is curved rather than straight. The slider form ensures that the 2” display, large d-pad and and slide-out number pad can fit into a small phone that’s shirt or jeans pocket-friendly.
Measuring in at 3.89 x 1.85 x 0.55 inches, the W580i feels just the right size in hand. Slide the display up to reveal the number pad (in stunning orange on the white and black models and gray on the Urban Gray model). All menu buttons and the number pad have backlighting which is bright enough to see in the dark (the white and black phones with orange keypad have white backlighting for the numbers and orange for the d-pad, while the gray phone with black keyboard has blue backlighting). The d-pad feel roomy when gaming and playing music. Like many Sony Ericsson phones, the W580i doesn’t have dedicated call send and call end buttons. Instead you use the left and right selection keys to make and end a call. A dedicated Walkman key launches the music player with one touch, and on the AT&T version, you will also get a dedicated key to launch AT&T’s MediaNet (web portal). For those of your who aren’t familiar with Sony Ericsson controls, use the Back Key on the left of the D-pad to go one step back (press once) and to quit out of an application you are currently in (press and hold). To turn T9 on and off, press and hold the * key.
The black AT&T and unlocked Urban Gray W580i versions.
Side buttons are minimal: the Sony Ericsson Fast Port charging/headset port is on the right, the volume rocker is on the left, and the Memory Stick Micro (M2) slot is on top along with the power button. Though the design in modern minimalist and might be called understated, Sony Ericsson isn’t shy with colors: the back of the slider is brightly colored (orange in the White and Black versions and Blue in the Grey version) and the side LED light in green when the phone is slid open. The battery is located under a door on the back of the phone and you must remove the battery to access the SIM slot.
Phone Features and Reception
The Sony Ericsson W580i is a quad band GSM world phone that works anywhere in the world where GSM service is available and can operate on 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands. In the US, AT&T is the only carrier that offers it. Unlike the many 3G GSM phones in AT&T’s portfolio, the W580i has only EDGE for data. The phone’s reception is very good in the Dallas area where AT&T has strong coverage. The Sony Ericsson usually gets full bars and loses 1-2 bars when inside of a large building. We have never experienced any drop calls or lost of signal. The Sony Ericsson W580i has outstanding voice quality for a GSM-only phone (some 3G phones with their superior voice codec, like the Sony Ericsson K850i do sound even better). The voice is not only clear and full but also loud. If you are looking for a near-landline voice experience, consider the W580i or the higher end K850i as they both have pristine voice quality.
The W580i offers some common call management features including flight mode, speakerphone, speed dialing, call forwarding, call waiting, conference calls and more. The phone also comes with a Contacts application where you can save up to 1,000 contacts and up to 2,500 numbers. Most of these features are intuitively laid out and veteran feature phone users should learn the phone quickly. The only thing that might take some time to set up is the voice control since it uses voice tags rather than true speech recognition. The voice control works with hands free solutions including headsets and car kits.
Multimedia, Gaming and Display
Sony Ericsson phones have always been heavy hitters in the entertainment department, and the W580i Walkman phone is no exception. The sound quality through the included stereo earbud headphones is superb and if you turn on the MegaBass boost feature in the Walkman player, the phone outputs full and powerful sound that booms. The W580i also has support for A2DP which allows the phone to play music via Bluetooth to stereo headphones. When we played tracks through the Plantronics Pulsar 590A and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth stereo headsets, the sound quality was excellent and volume was even louder with stronger bass than the wired headset. The Walkman music player supports playlists, and has shuffle, repeat, an equalizer, bass boost (Megabass), stereo widening and skins. Sony Ericsson added another gimmick to music playback: Shake Control. Press and hold the Walkman button and shake the phone to change tracks-- a great features if you are jogging or biking. Like other Walkman phones, the W580i supports music files in the MP3/AAC/AAC+/e-AAC+) formats and you can rip music CDs using the included Disc2Phone software for Windows. The process is quite easy and we tested it on both Windows XP and Vista and it worked well with both. In addition to music playback, the Sony Ericsson also comes with an FM Radio that uses the included headset as an antenna. The built-in radio offers RDS support for station IDs and song info, has a favorite channel list and the Track ID service which identifies songs playing on the radio for you. On the AT&T version, there’s an icon for AT&T’s music store where you can shop for ringtones, listen to steaming radio and much more, but no music is for sale.
Playing games on Sony Ercisson phone is always a joy. Like Nokia, Sony Ericsson spends ton of money and manpower to cultivate the game developer community. The W580i is another strong performer when it comes to gaming. Though the Sony Ericsson comes with a couple of games to start you out, their games portal currently doesn’t offer many titles to download for free or for purchase (the phone may be too new, and more games may yet appear). The AT&T version is better equipped for users to get a large number of game titles in one catalog, and several game demos are pre-installed, though no full versions were included. We tested many enjoyable games in various genres including action, puzzle, strategy and simulation, and the Sony Ericsson W580i worked well in playing all the titles with smooth performance and good controls.
To store music, pictures, videos and game files, the Sony Ericsson has 12 MB internal memory and a Memory Stick Micro (M2) slot that supports up to 4GB cards. The AT&T white version of the W580i comes with a 256MB card in the box while the Sony Ericsson version comes with a 512MB card. The AT&T Black version doesn’t include any starter card.
The Sony Ericsson W580i has a 2” QVGA display that’s capable of displaying 262K colors. The screen can’t compete with the Sony Ericsson K850i’s gorgeous display, but it’s very decent, bright and color saturated. Pictures, videos and music visualizations look good and the screen is amazingly usable outdoors even in direct sunlight. With the newly added animated Flash themes, you can get some really cool themes, wallpapers and screen savers. You can set the screen brightness level, but not the backlight time-out, which is too short.
Sony Ericsson enthusiasts know that one thing they can always rely on is the built-in camera. The Sony Ericsson W810i showed US cell phone users what a good camera phone could do. Yes, there are plenty of import phones that do even better, but those offered by US carriers aren’t high-end imaging phones. Even among the impressive high-megapixel import phones on the market, Sony Ericsson W580i’s 2.0 megapixel camera doesn’t disappoint for the price. It’s a good performer in its class and takes very sharp photos with good color balance and saturation. Photos in well-lit outdoor shots are sharp with correct colors and reasonably full details. Some photos show slight over-sharpening but it’s by no means bad. Direct sun shots have white-out on reflective surfaces which is a problem for most digital cameras. Overcast outdoor shots look a bit hazy but still have reasonably good detail and sharpness, and have very good color balance. Photos taken indoors have a noticeable cool color cast and the noise level is high compared to outdoor shots (higher noise indoors is the norm). But there’s still enough good image data to edit a dimly lit shot and turn it into something decent.
The camera can take picture in 2 megapixel, 1 megapixel and VGA sizes and offers additional shooting modes such as panorama and burst. There camera app offers a variety of white balance, color effects and other settings for still images. The camera can also take videos with audio. You can shoot videos for video messaging (MMS) or long videos to store on a card or on the phone. Video quality is good with audio in sync. It deals with low-light conditions fairly well, but you can see a bit of yellowish tint in indoor videos under incandescent light. Otherwise the clips are sharp and playback smoothly.
The Sony Ericsson W580i has Bluetooth v2.0 and supports most common Bluetooth profiles including Headset, Hands-Free, A2DP, AVRCP, DUN (Dial Up Network), Object Push for vCard and vCal and FTP profiles. The phone also has an interesting Bluetooth remote control profile that lets the phone control desktop applications via Bluetooth.
When working with the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo headset, the W580i had excellent and powerful sound. Music sounded full on all channels and volume was very loud. The playback controls on the Pulsar 590A worked like a charm for forward/back and play/pause actions. When a call comes in while you are listening to music, the headset will fade the music out and alert you of the incoming call. When you end your call, the music will resume playing automatically. We weren’t surprised by the Pulsar’s good performance (it sounds great with most A2DP phones), but we were pleasantly surprised at how superb the Motorola S9 stereo headset sounded with the W580i. The Motorola S9 is prone to low background hiss and can sound a bit thin, but the sound quality with the Sony Ericsson W580 was absolutely amazing. The audio was full, bass was strong and volume was super loud. In-call voice quality was also very good.
While the Sony Ericsson works great with stereo Bluetooth headsets via A2DP, it didn’t do so well with mono headsets for hands free phone calls. We tested the Scala 700LX, the Plantronics Explorer 330 and the SouthWing SH440 Bluetooth headsets with the Sony Ericsson, none of them had good performance with the phone. We heard digital noise and distortion on both incoming and outgoing ends, and voice wasn’t very clear. The range isn’t that good either: the SouthWing managed about 7 feet while the Scala 700 LX and the Plantronics Explorer 330 got less than 5-foot range between the phone and the headset. Voice dialing through Bluetooth headsets worked well.
The Sony Ericsson W580i comes with a Sony Ericsson standard rechargeable Li-Polymer battery that’s 930mAh in capacity. The battery is user replaceable. The claimed talk time is 9 hours and the official standby time is over 15 days. Our tests showed that these numbers were a little too optimistic, especially in standby mode. We got about 5 ½ hours of talk time and standby time was about a week at the most in our tests. The claimed music playback time is 20 hours which is right on target compared to our battery test.
In addition to the entertainment and phone applications, you also get PIM (personal information management) tools under the Organizer group. These applications include Calendar, Alarms, Tasks, stopwatch, calculator, Password Saver and notes. If you work out regularly you can use the fitness tool to monitor and record your workout progress and keep track of calorie burning and more. Like most Sony Ericsson phones, the W580i has a file manager (My Stuff on the AT&T version). You can access all your files and applications under this group.
For synchronizing with Windows PCs, the Sony Ericsson W580i offers PC Suite, a very capable syncing solution that will sync your PIM data and media files. The current Sony Ericsson PC suite version for the W580i is 2.10.38, and you can use the included USB cable for syncing. Other software bundled on the companion CD include Adobe Photoshop Album starter edition 3.0 and Disc2Phone. There is no Mac iSync plugin in the box.
The Sony Ericsson W580i Walkman phone continues its strong position in music and gaming, and it offers plenty of goodies in a small package. If you to listen music frequently on your phone, this is a great choice at an entry to mid-tier price range. Call quality is excellent and EDGE data speeds are quite good on AT&T. The 2 megapixel camera takes great photos and the M2 slot is very handy to store photos and music tracks. We wish that the phone had better battery life for calls and standby, and for those who buy directly from Sony Ericsson, we wish the Sony Ericsson portal had more content to offer. Bluetooth headset voice quality wasn't that good in our tests, though A2DP stereo quality was excellent. We wish that like Nokia, Sony Ericsson would release Mac OS X iSync plugins for their phones at the time of phone release or shortly after.
Price: $79.99 online only price with 2-year contract and after mail-in rebate. $299.99 from Sony Ericsson.
Battery:Sony Ericsson standard BST-38 Li-Polymer rechargeable battery (3.6v). 930mAh capacity. Battery is user replaceable. Claimed talk time is 9 hours and standby time is 370 hours. Claimed music playback time is 20 hours.
Size:3.89 x 1.85 x 0.55 inches. Weight: 3.3 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone supporting the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands. EDGE and GPRS for data.
Camera:2.0 MP camera with 4x digital zoom. Also records video clips with audio. Picture sizes include 2 megapixel, 1 megapixel and VGA and videos have MMS size video and long video modes.
Audio:Built in speaker, mic and a Sony Ericsson's proprietary Fast port stereo headset connector. Supports polyphonic ringtones, MIDI and MP3/ACC audio. Mega Bass software included to boost the bass. Supports MPEG4 video with Media Player bundled on the phone. Vibrating alerts supported.
Software:Sony Ericsson OS. Bundled applications include Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Messaging (supports SMS, MMS and email), HTML browser, Walkman media player and Image Gallery. Also included are two JAVA games (on Sony Ericsson version only), MusicDJ, VideoDJ, PhotoDJ Sound recorder and calculator applications. The desktop companion CD includes PC Suite software for syncing with Windows PCs, File Manager, Image Editor and Adobe Photoshop Album 3.0 Starter Edition.