It’s hard to believe, but not so long ago, a touchscreen phone wasn’t synonymous with smartphone. Quite the opposite, in fact.While Nokia and RIM had the nascent market sewn up with button-packing powerhouses like the Nokia N81 and N95 and the first BlackBerry Curve models, touchscreen phones were feature phones, with shiny exteriors, silly names and exponentially increasing camera-resolution sizes.
And no apps.Then, in 2007, the iPhone came along, actually living up to the marketing for once, and changed everything. Just by using more finger-friendly capacitive touchscreen technology, big screens and no buttons became all the rage – with a little help from the App Store, of course.
So it’s a little strange that here we are in 2011, and we’ve gone almost full circle with the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman. It’s a new phone, but with a three-inch 400 x 240 (262,144 colour) display, you wouldn’t at first glance think that, as there’s few smartphone features.
Small and simple
If your top priority is that your phone looks like a pebble, we would suggest that you’ve got your priorities very wrong, but nonetheless there’s an “aww” inspiring cute quality to the compact Sony Ericsson Mix. It weighs in at just 88g, and while it’s not especially thin at 14.3mm deep, its short length and width (95.8 x 52.8mm) mean it nestles snugly in the palm of your hand.On the front, just below the screen and the Walkman logo, you’ll find a physical Home button. On the left-hand side is the micro USB charging slot and a power/lock button, while the right side plays host to a volume rocker and a physical camera button.
Unfortunately, this proved incredibly tricky to use, and since it requires a long push on the home screen to launch the camera, you won’t be using it much as a shortcut. On the top, you’ll find the 3.5mm audio headphone jack, along with two buttons, a Walkman shortcut, and the amusing ‘Zappin’ key, which we’ll come to shortly.
Although the Mix Walkman feels sturdy, the plastic back-panel prises off with relative ease to help you get at the battery. You’ll need to as well, as in the first of a series of disappointments, we discovered that the Mix Walkman does not include a microSD memory card in the box. Given you only get 256MB onboard (much less of which is available for storing MP3s), it’s an irritating restriction.
Things take a slight turn for the better with the Mix Walkman’s screen. We would normally scoff at a mere 400 x 240 resolution, which would leave pixels on larger displays looking like chunks of corn, but stuffed onto a three-inch screen, it’s not so bad, although it does mean that only parts of desktop websites can feasibly be viewed at one time.
Colours are bright, viewing angles are wide and it’s perfectly visible outdoors. It’s even capacitive, meaning you can prod away at speed with your fingertips in place of a stylus. The real limiting factor is in fact the on-screen T9 keyboard, instead of a full virtual QWERTY keyboard. If you want to send anything more than brief text messages, it’s probably not for you.
Inside, the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman is powered by an unspecified (or ‘slow’) processor, paired with 64MB of RAM. Those are paltry specs in an age of dual-core gigahertz mobile CPUs, but for a simple phone, it’s not really a problem.
What is a problem, however, is the complete lack of a 3G connection; you’ve got Wi-Fi for fast speeds in hotspots, but we’re still struggling to work out what you might use them for with this. We’re skirting around the 3.2-megapixel camera without flash or auto-focus in this review, since Sony Ericsson clearly did when putting the phone together – yes, the noisy, flat results are that bad, as is the QVGA ‘video’ it shoots.
Music and software
Sony Ericsson’s proprietary feature phone is still alive and kicking on the Mix Walkman, doing its laziest attempt to imitate Android with three home screens and a widget that shows what your friends are saying on Facebook and Twitter. Very slowly.
While the Opera Mini browser and a preloaded Google Talk app for instant messaging are welcome, many other ‘apps’ on the menu are just web shortcuts to mobile sites.
Worse still, the software is full of bugs. The Mix Walkman packed in more than once in testing, the slider to accept calls doesn’t actually slide (you have to tap it) and unforgivably, the phone doesn’t even mount on Macs to use it with iTunes.
That’s awkward, as Sony Ericsson is hoping the Mix’s saving grace will be that trusty Walkman. It’s perfunctory, sure, but we’re not sure who the extra features will appeal to. The Zappin key lets you skip to the chorus of a song to see what it is, which is spooky but pointless, since you’ll almost certainly know what you put on your own phone, because you ARE you, after all.
As for the karaoke feature, which lowers the volume of vocals on a song so you can sing along, where do you plan on using it? On a bus? In your kitchen?
Even Sony Ericsson’s standard TrackID song-recognition service and surprisingly high-quality earphones can’t make up for the fact that feature phones simply haven’t been the best music phones for half a decade now. What about a Spotify unlimited streaming app? A 7digital download app? An app to open high-quality lossless audio codecs on your phone? Why would you want this phone, when Android can give you all this at a similar price?
The tiny touchscreen is just as fiddly as those found on the most ‘affordable’ Android smartphones, such as the Vodafone Smart 858, Huawei Blaze and Orange San Francisco. And given that it costs the same, the Mix Walkman is fighting a losing battle. Music fans would be better looking elsewhere.
What Mobile Test verdict: 2/5