Sony Ericsson W580i review

I am not a massive telephone user. I have a dirt-cheap pay as you go plan (if "plan" is the word), out of which I get so little use, I have to completely figure out how to top the thing up from scratch every time I do it. When I first knuckled under and decided to get a mobile phone I walked into Carphone Warehouse, explained that I needed a phone but didn't particularly want one, and was presented with an extremely cheap, functional Nokia 1100, whose built-in LED torch I used more than the actual phone tools.

That was many years ago. But as time passed I realised that I was habitually carrying around both the ultra-cheap phone and an ultra-cheap MP3 player and, on such occasions when I could be bothered, an ultra-cheap digital camera which I had purchased from Tesco's for £20 solely to find out what the catch was. (It was that the pictures sucked.) Thrice as many gadgets as strictly necessary! I was an inefficient, bulky-pocketed geek.

So, recently, I decided it was upgrade time. I ducked into The Warehouse Of Carphones a second time and showed them the antiquated number I was hoping to replace. The salesman gasped, sat me down in the corner and brought me water until I felt better. He then asked me what I wanted my new phone to do. I said "play MP3s" and was pointed at the Sony Ericsson Walkman phone range (the ones beginning with W, apparently). I thought about it for a few weeks, sought a few more opinions and plumped for a black W580i. I paid just under £100 (which included an obligatory second SIM card with £20 of calls on it, which I have not yet bothered to open).

Here is what I think of it.

In the box

The phone itself is quite a sexy piece of hardware. I am quite picky about aesthetics. It is black and has orange detailing and some inexplicable colourful glowing sidelights which serve precisely no function.

The front layout of keys is sensible and easy to use. The buttons for texting, revealed when you slide the phone open, are extremely tiny and relatively fiddly to use.

There is one all-purpose connector on the side, which can accept any of the three plugs supplied with the phone: one is the battery charger, one is a USB cable and one is a set of headphones. The headphones come in two parts, the lower half (with the longer wire) plugging into the phone and ending in a little nodule with a conventional headphone jack, a microphone and a "push-to-talk" button (for using the phone hands-free), and the upper half a set of asymmetric Sony Ericsson earbuds with an extremely short lead.

You CAN, if you want, plug your own choice of headphones into the W580i, but because the phone itself has no headphone jack, you have to use the above-mentioned long cable connector as an adaptor. Your headphones will, of course, have their own wire which is quite long enough. As a result, the combination will have twice as much wire as you need. Dashed inconvenient! You're pretty much forced to use the Sony earbuds that come with it.

This is not, however, a great hardship. At first I didn't like the rubber buds; they weren't hook-shaped in any sense so they fell out easily, even if they were really properly screwed into my ear canal. However, the box also contained a small plastic bag with two sets of spare rubber buds: one smaller, one larger. I swapped out for the larger buds and all is now excellent. The buds keep a great deal of sound in and let very little out. The seal around your ear is practically airtight, and conducts sound so well that I find I can not only hear the wind whistling past the outside of my ears when I'm walking, I can also hear blood pumping in my own ears. It's an interesting sensation but overall I rate the earphones highly. Without any music playing, they also work very well as earplugs.

Urgent headphone update 2008-07-29

Okay, the headphones are trash.

Less than a month after I bought this phone I discovered that the top half of the headphones were malfunctioning. The left bud was no longer producing sound. (The lower half was working perfectly, I tried this with another set of phones.) I assumed this was a one-off fault and went back to Carphone Warehouse for a replacement. They don't stock accessories, apparently (??) but the manager got me a new set from somewhere and I went away happy. Good going.

However, it is now another two weeks later and already the new set of headphones has malfunctioned in exactly the same way. I believe that this is actually a design flaw arising from the way in which the asymmetric wires are joined together (pic forthcoming) and the way in which I wind the cables around my phone when they're not in use. I would argue that my winding practice makes perfect sense, so this is Sony's stupid fault overall. Nice going.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this. Probably get some other headphones to use instead.

I do find it very annoying that all three cables have to jostle for the same connector. I can't, for example, leave the headphones plugged into the phone while it charges.

Linking up to the computer

There are three ways of doing this.

USB

The simplest is the USB cable. When you install the Sony application that comes with the phone, you can synchronise contacts between the phone and your Microsoft Outlook address book, but I don't use Outlook, and I loathe and despise having to use proprietary software, especially Sony's, and it couldn't do anything really indispensible, so I uninstalled the software and put it away.

As an alternative to this, you can just have the phone function like an external mass storage device. Sony Ericsson provides an entirely worthless second piece of software called "Disk2Phone" or something, whose sole purpose is to facilitate file transfer in this mode, but it's not worth the CD it's printed on because you can do it using your file manager. I found just using Windows Explorer to be a much more agreeable way to transfer music onto the thing.

But still unsatisfactory, because I hate cables. It's 2008, for crying out loud.

Bluetooth

Your second option is Bluetooth. Bluetooth was an entirely new thing to me. I got a thumbnail-sized USB Bluetooth dongle online for a pittance just for kicks and... well, it works, but I discovered to my mild irritation that Bluetooth transfers information excruciatingly slowly, and only one file at a time. Bluetooth is best saved for wireless phone-to-phone communication, and wireless headsets.

Memory Stick

Lastly is just using the memory chip. A slot in the top of the W580i accepts Memory Stick M2 Micro flash memory chips and comes with a 512MB chip already inserted. This isn't a lot, if you want to tote music around, so I got a 4GB replacement online. Note that these are marketer's figures, 512 "megabytes" is actually 488 mebibytes and 4 "gigabytes" is about 3.75 gibibytes.

Buying solid-state memory online

...is a joke. Prices for a 4GB M2 Micro vary wildly, but almost always work out to the same when you factor in the cost of shipping. It's all a ploy to get the lowest quotable price, when all the vendors actually sell the same product for basically the same cost.

Getting the memory card in and out of the phone is slightly fiddly and requires a fingernail. However, it's worth doing, if you happen to have a card reader on your computer and the size adaptors needed to safely fit the M2 Micro (which is literally the size of a fingernail) into it. This is because the rate of transfer directly to the Memory Stick from your computer is literally ten times faster than with the USB cable. I calculated about 23 minutes to transfer a full 4GB load, compared to nearly four hours the USB way.

Memory Stick adaptors

My card reader only reads full-sized, old-school Memory Sticks. These days you are more likely to find the smaller Memory Stick Duo for sale, but these typically come with an adaptor to regular Memory Stick size. But when you buy a new Memory Stick M2 Micro, it will probably come with an adaptor to Memory Stick Duo size, but no second adaptor to full Memory Stick size! I had to scrounge one from a friend.

Listening to music

One thing I look for in a music player is tactility. I like to be able to switch tracks without taking the gadget out of my pocket and looking at it. The W580i does allow this, though naturally you have to disable the automated key-locking function which, otherwise, deactivates the keys if you wait so much as ten seconds without doing anything. This in turn presents a security/privacy risk if your W580i gets stolen.

Naturally you can create/edit/delete playlists and the W580i reads tag information to sort music into artists, albums and tracks automatically. This is all fine.

What is not fine is that the W580i doesn't read track numbers. Tracks are simply sorted by the order in which they were added to the memory card. So you can either queue your albums one-track-at-a-time, or in bulk, and in the wrong order. This is completely unacceptable in a music player.

Workaround for the track-sorting problem

Go into the phone's file manager and then into your music folder. Find the album folder you want to queue, use the options to "mark" all the tracks, and then select the "queue in playlist" option from there.

There are no facilities to either sort or reorder tracks once they are in playlists. Tracks can only be appended or deleted, which is tedious as hell.

There is a single, not-very-good music track by Sony called "Sunbeamz" on the phone. This is apparently intended as a ringtone, but appears in the "Music" namespace and CANNOT be expunged from the phone by any means I've discovered, which is exceptionally annoying.

Oh, and finally: despite a large, full colour screen with acres of space, full track/artist/album names are not shown. If they won't fit on the screen? They just go off the right edge. Even my novelty £10 1GB Sweex MP3 player had the decency to scroll long track names back and forth in the LCD window.

In other words the W580i fails as a music player on several levels. However, these are quirks I have become used to and I don't know if other phones necessarily offer better options. This is just my limited experience with this one phone.

Other features

The W580i has a mediocre but functional 2 megapixel digital camera, no flash. It can function as a music metronome, guitar chord tuner or piano tuner, all features I have no use for. It comes with Lumines and The Sims 2 and will apparently run other Java-based applications. The phone can be used as a remote control for your PC, which I tried out briefly. This was amusing, but ultimately not particularly useful because the mouse pointer moves so slowly when directed using the phone's arrow keys. Probably this is a feature best reserved for Powerpoint presentations.

The W580i has some limited motion sensitivity: it can count your steps and use the counter to do some simple fitness measurements. It can also detect being shaked, using the shake to select a new random track on your music playlist. This is apparently being marketed as a major feature but frankly, I can't think of anything more useless. It can function as a dial-up modem, though this is probably horrifyingly expensive. It stores... contacts and stuff? I have no idea which of these features are notable. It makes calls and sends text messages. What the hell else do you want your phone to do?

Conclusion

I bought one, haven't really regretted it so far, but other W-something-something-somethings may be better purchases as regards music functionality. B+. Four stars. 499 marks out of 586.

Back to Blog
Back to Things Of Interest