What's hot: Great music features and loud stereo speakers. Good call quality.
What's not: 8.1-megapixel camera doesn’t make it a killer camera phone. Price isn’t competitive.
Reviewed July 10, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
We see very few high-end Sony Ericsson phones offered by U.S. cell phone carriers. A pity really because there is still a large fan base here who love their Sony Ericsson Walkman and high-end camera phones. Luckily you can buy the latest Walkman phones unlocked and use them with your US GSM carrier (T-Mobile and AT&T but not Sprint or Verizon). Sony Ericsson’s US versions usually end with an “a” and often have 3G on AT&T’s bands, as is the case with the W995a. The Sony Ericsson W995a packs a ton of eye-catching features in a surprisingly compact body: an 8.1 megapixel camera, a 2.6” display, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a GPS and a Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot. Being a Walkman phone, the W995a has all the music trimmings including the Walkman player, FM radio, stereo speakers, a 3.5mm stereo jack, Bluetooth A2DP and TrackID. If you are looking for a great music phone, the W995a should please you. But if you are looking for a killer camera phone, the W995a isn’t it, despite the high megapixel count.
The Sony Ericsson W995a is a quad band GSM world phone with UMTS/HSPA on the 850/1800/1900 MHz bands. If you’re on AT&T the W995a will work on AT&T’s 3G network (you’ll see an “H” for HSPA on the phone’s signal indicator), and if you are on T-Mobile the Sony Ericsson will work with T-Mobile’s GSM and EDGE networks. The Sony Ericsson W995a comes in three colors: black, silver and red, though only the black color is currently available at Sony Style stores.
With high-end feature phones getting bigger and bigger in size, the compact Sony Ericsson W995a is refreshing. The slider phone measures 3.8 x 1.9 x 0.6 inches and weighs 4 ounces. Like most Walkman phones, the W995a has loads of dedicated hardware buttons for music playback including a Walkman player launcher (on the left), track forward and backward, play/pause and volume keys (on the right). When the Walkman player is active, the music control buttons are lit up in orange. The camera launch key/shutter button is on the right side of the phone, and it’s backlit when the camera/camcorder app is active. The front buttons are similar to other recent Walkman phones and include call send and end keys flanking the two shoulder buttons, a shortcuts button, cancel key as well as a 5-way d-pad. Slide open the phone to reveal the number pad, and the backlit number keys are slightly domed.
Above the 2.6” display there is also a video call camera next to the earpiece and light sensor (two-way video calling isn’t supported by any US carrier). The Sony Ericsson W995a has stereo speakers that fire on both ends of the phone, a 3.5mm stereo audio jack up top and an 8.1 megapixel camera with flash on the back. To open the battery door, first raise the small pop-up chrome stand, and then slide the latch. The M2 slot, the battery and the SIM card slot live under the battery door. You don’t need to remove the battery to gain access to the Memory Stick Micro card slot like you do with the SIM card. The phone has excellent build quality and the brushed aluminum casing is more attractive and durable than plastic.
Music controls on the W995a's side.
Phone, Web and GPS
The Sony Ericsson W995a works well for voice and decently for data on AT&T’s networks. The phone doesn’t get a robust signal but it didn’t drop a call. The voice quality is excellent on both incoming and outgoing ends and it has average volume. The W995a works well with Bluetooth headsets, as do most Sony Ericsson models.
The phone comes with a phone book that holds 1,000 contacts, a calendar, calculator, alarm clock, timer, tasks, stopwatch, notes and voice recorder. The user interface features slightly strange bright animated icons that pulse against a dark background.
The Sony Ericsson W995a has a built-in aGPS and Google Maps pre-installed. There is no full navigation software with turn-by-turn driving and voice guidance. Google Maps offers directions, maps (including satellite view) and traffic info as well as POIs, but no real time navigation or voice guidance. Also utilizing the GPS, Sony Ericsson has a location-based exercising tool called Tracker which tracks your walking/running distance, calories burned and more.
Music, Video and Gaming
The Sony Ericsson W995a has the popular Xross Media Bar (XMB) UI that’s featured on the PSP, PS3, Sony TVs and Sony Ericsson phones. The XMB makes navigating through your music library, photos, videos, games and other entertainment content a breeze. The Walkman phone comes with Walkman Player 3.0 which supports 16 audio formats including MP3, AAC, audio books and podcasts. The Walkman player supports the phone’s accelerometer and the phone’s dedicated hardware music buttons make it very easy to control playback and volume. The built-in stereo speakers are very loud which makes it a good phone for sharing music with friends. As we’ve come to expect from high end Walkman phones, audio quality is very good by mobile phone standards. It’s slightly tinnier compared to the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone which has slightly fuller sound and stronger bass. The music playback quality is better via 3.5mm stereo headset and via high-end Bluetooth stereo headphones. We tested the W995a with the Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800 Bluetooth earbuds and the Samsung SBH-500 Bluetooth stereo headsets, and found that while we really liked the Sony Ericsson IS800’s small size, we loved the audio quality via the larger over-the-ear Samsung SBH-500. The bass was booming and the audio was full via the Samsung thanks to its larger drivers and ear covers.
The video playback experience is also very good thanks to the bright 2.6” display and loud audio. Mobile format YouTube videos played smoothly on the Sony Ericsson W995a in our tests, and we tested other MPEG-4 videos and all played nicely. 3D gaming is also fun with good audio and responsive controls. The Sony Ericsson supports motion-controlled games and the U.S. version of the phone even includes a few games to get you started.
With 12.1-megapixel camera phones like the Sony Ericsson Satio waiting on deck, Sony Ericsson generously put an 8.1 megapixel autofocus camera in the W995a—a surprise considering it’s not a Cybershot phone. But before you Sony Ericsson K850i and C905a users jump ship, you should know that this 8.1-megapixel camera phone doesn't take exceptional photos. In fact when we put photos taken with the K850i and the W995a side by side, the K850i photos actually looked much better even though that phone only has a 5 megapixel camera. The Sony Ericsson C905a takes much better shots in terms of detail and clarity. When we compared photos taken with the Nokia N97 (with 5 megapixel camera and Carl Zeiss lens) with the W995a, the images from the Nokia N97 were noticeably superior. The W995a’s photos have noticeable digital noise in both indoor and outdoor shots when viewing the images at full resolution. For example, grass blades in a long-view shot look jaggy or blurry and rocks in close-up shots have digital artifacts that make them looked painted. Colors in the still photos are balanced with a slight green tint in some shots.
The full photo taken at highest resolution and sized to fit this page.
Below, a 100% crop taken from that photo.
The Sony Ericsson W995a camera phone deals with macro shots very well with correct focus and good depth of field. If you are not a camera phone enthusiast or have no need to use photos at higher resolutions, the W995a’s 8.1 megapixel should take care of your online photo sharing and offers location tagging for the pictures. The images look sharp when sized down to 1000 x 750 (especially with a little sharpening on the desktop) and are suitable for 4 x 6 prints. The camera software on the Sony Ericsson W995a offers a full range of options including shoot mode (panorama, frame, etc.), resolutions, focus (face detection, macro, etc.), metering, white balance, effects and more. Indoor shots have more noise, as you'd expect and the LED flash helps with close range subjects but can't compete with a Xenon flash.
The Sony Ericsson W995a takes video with audio at QVGA (320 x 240 pixel) resolution at 30fps. The video quality is quite good and playback is smooth with audio in sync with video. But QVGA is uninspiringly small for a high megapixel camera phone. The phone can shoot video at two resolutions: normal (QVGA) and MMS. It offers effects and a stabilizer feature as well.
The full photo taken at highest resolution and sized to fit this page.
Below, a 100% crop taken from that photo.
The Sony Ericsson W995a has a rechargeable Li-Polymer battery that’s user replaceable. The battery is 930mAh in capacity and the claimed talk time is 9 hours on GSM and 4 hours on 3G. Music playback should last you 20 hours on GSM and about 8 hours on 3G (we found those estimates conservative). The phone comes with an AC charger and a USB cable.
Sony Ericsson Walkman phone fans have enough to be excited about with the W995a: it has an excellent music playback experience thanks to the easy-to-use UI and the new Walkman Player software. The dedicated hardware music controls, very nice sounding stereo speakers, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and Bluetooth A2DP round out a strong music-centric package. Add a built-in GPS with Google Maps, U.S. 3G support, built-in Wi-Fi and 3D gaming, and you’ve got a very nice feature phone that’s unlocked and works on all GSM networks. Alas, though we love the idea of putting a high-end camera on a music phone, the 8.1-megapixel camera didn’t impress us. But it certainly beats 3 megapixel autofocus cameras on the market. The build quality and brushed aluminum make for a good looking, though boxy phone.
So is there anything that might stop people from getting it? Yes, the price. At $599 list, the Sony Ericsson W995a is about $150 more expensive than the Nokia N85 NAM which also has U.S. 3G and a better camera. The Nokia N85 is a smartphone that has an OLED display, works with Ovi Maps and 3rd party navigation applications that offer full navigation, and a 5-megapixel camera that takes better photos and videos (full VGA video at 30fps). That said, the W995a has better build quality. Shop around for discounted prices—online retailers do offer it for much less than Sony Style stores.
Phone: Quad band unlocked GSM world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE. 3G HSDPA on the 850/1800/1900MHz bands.
Camera: 8.1-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash. Face Detection, image and video stabilizer, BestPic, PhotoDJ and Picture/video blogging tools included. Takes video with audio in QVGA at 30fps and in MMS resolution.
Audio: Music tones and Polyphonic 72 ringtones supported. Built-in stereo speakers, 3.5mm stereo audio out jack, and music track controls and volume controls. FM Radio with RDS. Walkman Player 3.0 supports AACE, MP3, WAV, WMA, M4A, AMR and XMF formats. Has vibrating alert and voice recorder.
Networking: Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR supporting hands-free, A2DP, AVRCP, file transfer and printing profiles. Wi-Fi 802.11b/g.
Software: Sony’s Xross Media Bar UI. Access NetFront 3.4 web browser, Walkman Player 3.0, PhotoDJ, TrackID and Walk Mate included. PIM tools include phone book, timer, tasks, stopwatch, notes, calendar, calculator and alarm clock. Google Maps preloaded and Tracker app included for exercising. Also included in the package: Sony Ericsson PC Suite 5.0 and Sony Media Go software.
Expansion: 1 Memory Stick Micro (M2) card slot supporting up to 8GB cards. An 8 gig card is included with the U.S. version of the phone.
In the Box: The Sony Ericsson W995a with standard battery, AC charger, wired stereo headset, 8GB M2 card with adapter, USB cable, Sony Media Go software and PC Suite, and printed user documentation.