Saying that the W995 is based on the 8-megapixel C905 Cyber-shot isn’t really a good start to the review. Although the C905 was an excellent phone, early models were not exactly ultra-reliable. Some of our forum members will be grinding their teeth and saying that this was the understatement of the year, but Sony Ericsson did manage to fix most of the issues at the start of the year.
Back when Cyber-shot and Walkman were two distinctly different brands, Sony Ericsson intentionally crippled a certain level of functionality on each phone to give them their enhanced camera or music credentials. A stark contrast to Nokia giving consumers’ everything with the Nseries range.
A radical rethink has seen the company decide to combine the two elements into the new range of ‘Connected Unlimited’ devices mentioned in What’s Hot (see on the web: tinyurl.com/l4khou ). For now, Sony Ericsson has made one last attempt to produce a high-end Walkman, but instead of throwing in a 3-megapixel fixed focus camera as favoured on models like the W705 and W715, the W995 has the same 8.1-megapixel sensor as the C905. The difference is that there’s no Xenon flash (the benefit is a slimmer design) or dedicated camera buttons, but besides this it’s as close to being a Cyber-shot as it can be.
The point where you can clearly see that this is a Walkman phone comes when you look at the phone from either side, and the dedicated Walkman button comes into view on the left, with three keys to pause/play, forward and rewind on the right. Beneath that are two volume keys that are rather tiny. Fortunately, the volume keys are raised enough to make it possible to press them without too much precision, but on the flip side, the Walkman key is far too easily pressed by accident when you hold the phone – meaning you’ll sometimes fire it up when you don’t want to.
The good news is that it won’t just start blasting out the music should you press it (and, equally good, is knowing that if you accidentally disconnect the headphones or the batteries run down on your wireless headphones, it will stop to ask you if you wish to continue playing through the internal speakers). These internal speakers are quite loud too, and stereo, but in the box is a desktop stand that has even louder speakers – these power themselves from the phone.
The stand keeps the phone on its side. Back when Sony Ericsson moved the data connector to the side, people thought they were mad. Although it was down to keeping the casing rigid on the thinner models coming to market, it was still a sign of madness because all of the usual accessories looked silly plugged into the side. But, now we have large screens and support for high quality video playback in widescreen, who looks silly now?
The W995 can play a range of video formats and you can simply drag and drop files from your PC or Mac over the supplied USB cable, or use the Media Go software which will compress and encode smaller videos for playback on the 2.7-inch, 320×240 pixel screen. No point having a video any bigger, especially as the supplied 8GB card will fill up rather quickly. If you don’t use the supplied stand, the back of the phone reveals a pop-out metal stand.
If you don’t already have access to a suitable digital video library, the phone comes with a movie service that will let you download films from the PlayNow arena service for free, although you can only watch them on the phone. The choice of movies is rather limited, but you can’t complain too much – and the choice will change monthly.
Every other part of the phone is the usual Sony Ericsson affair, from the email client that supports push-email if you have a suitably equipped IMAP account, the web browser that does a pretty decent job of rendering a full page – or chopping it down to fit the screen (Opera Mini still beats it, mind), and the large range of connectivity options. (USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi).
Enable network sharing over Wi-Fi and you can play your media via your computer or any other DLNA compliant device, such as a television, that will play your videos, music and photographs without going anywhere near a computer. You can also plug the USB lead into a printer that supports PictBridge and print without a computer.
How do I look?
A lot of reasons to buy a new phone these days is about how it looks either physically, or when in use. The W995 certainly looks like a premium product, with its brushed metal fascia and raised lettering on the back. When you activate the camera, the camera button illuminates in white, while the Walkman mode sees the relevant control buttons switch to orange. The menus are as fast as ever, thanks to the latest hardware platform that is shared with the C905. The main benefit is no audio delay when playing high resolution video, but the speed increase makes just as much of a difference when you’re navigating the menus or using the web browser, for example.
I did notice that there’s still a large slowdown when you try and reply to an email and quote the text. Perhaps Sony Ericsson don’t expect many people to do more than read their email, as this has been an issue for quite a few models now.
If you should get stuck at any time and feel the need to consult the manual, the chances are you won’t have brought it with you. In fact, most people probably never take the manual out of the box. However, if you really do get stumped, the W995 now includes the user guide on the phone itself as an application in the revamped settings menu. On our SIM-free model, the new ‘User help’ menu includes the ability to download network settings (MMS, email, web etc) and go through the basic set up. You can also see basic tips and tricks, although this may seem rather patronising to anyone who has used a Sony Ericsson within the last five years.
With only a 930mAh battery, there is a concern that it won’t last very long if you use the media functions heavily, as you probably would want to. For music, you won’t notice much impact, but switch to video and things do become more of a, no pun intended, drain.
The camera quality is impressive, but the lack of the Xenon flash or the dedicated camera keys (or indeed the physical shutter cover that also started up the camera automatically) means that you have to consider what you regard as most important; media or imaging. It’s harder to use this as a regular digital camera than the C905 is to use as a media player.
But, the W995 is slimmer, more reliable and has a larger screen. Decisions, decisions. In my humble opinion, the W995 probably emerges as the winner because of the overall package. With the 8GB memory card, bundled speaker stand and the free movie downloads, the C905 might just be a little past it now.
One downside of the large display is that QVGA is beginning to become rather too low resolution for things like web browsing, reading emails or even playing some of the preinstalled games. It might sound picky, but when the anti-aliased fonts begin to show jagged edges, it’s time to switch up to VGA or something in between.
Sony Ericsson is working on giving less emphasis to the separate Cyber-shot and Walkman brands, in favour of handsets that offer top-quality imaging and music combined. Hence the W995 Walkman is designed with video in mind too, offering free movie downloads, an integrated stand and even a plug-in stand that houses two more powerful speakers. The phone also has the same 8-megapixel camera from the C905, but without the bright Xenon flash. All things considered, and with the inclusion of an 8GB memory card, the W995 is the better offering and promises to be more reliable too.