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Sony Ericsson W980

>> Saturday, January 24, 2009

With so many slider and candy bar Walkman phones, the sleek styling of the W980 is a welcome diversion. The shiny, black skin catches the light without attracting fingerprints or smudges and the clean lines give the handset an attractive edge. Another cool design touch is a quarter inch of clear plastic on the bottom of the front flap. Sure, it's slightly gimmicky, but it's also eye catching and we like how the embedded lights flash when you get a call and when music is playing.

At 3.6 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and weighing 3.5 ounces, the phone travels well and fits comfortably in the hand. What's more, the hinge mechanism also feels solid. We noticed, however, that the plastic battery cover feels a bit flimsy and is rather difficult to remove. The external display measures a generous 1.5 inches. It won't support photo caller ID, but it shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID.

None of display's options are adjustable, including the back lighting time. Below the display are the dedicated music controls, which have a design of three overlapping circles. The controls are touch sensitive, so there is little tactile definition besides the center circle being slightly recessed. As expected, you can manipulate all aspects of the player and radio without ever opening the phone.

It makes for a comfortable user experience, yet we had one complaint. When you close the W980, it goes directly into music mode with the external controls activated. It then remains in music mode until you switch to standard mode or activate the locking switch. It was a little annoying, and if there is a way to change it we couldn't find it.

The aforementioned locking switch sits on the left spine below a rather stiff volume rocker and the control that changes the handset from music mode to standard. Twin speakers sit on either spine, and the connection port sits on the right spine. Note that Sony Ericsson uses a proprietary connection for the charger, a wired headset, and a USB cable. Also, the combined port means that you can use only one peripheral at a time.

The camera lens sits on the rear face, which unfortunately is the same place we wanted to rest our finger when we were holding the phone to take a picture. It's also disappointing that you don't get a flash or a self portrait mirror for a 3.2 megapixel camera. The internal display measures 2.25 inches and supports 262.144 colors (320x240 pixels). Like most Sony Ericsson displays, it is bright, vibrant, and colorful, with sharp graphics and photos.

You can adjust the brightness and choose from a selection of menu styles. All of the styles are intuitive but the menu text might be a little small for some people. We were apprehensive about the navigation array typically that's where Sony Ericsson makes design missteps but the W980 pulls through.

The circular keys feature a four way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End controls, a clear key, and a control that activates a user programmable shortcut menu. Though the controls are flush, they're tactile and easy to use, even if the calling buttons are a bit cramped.

You'll also find a dedicated power button and a Walkman control just below the array. The circular keypad buttons are also flat, but they have a spacious arrangement and a relatively comfortable feel beneath our finger. We could dial and text without any problems, but rapid texting felt a little awkward. The bright back lighting helps in dim situations, but dialing by feel is difficult.

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