Sony Ericsson roundup: W380, Z555, W350, T280 preview
Sony Ericsson W380
The Sony Ericsson W380 is a lower midrange clamshell, which is both attractive and well constructed. It boasts several juicy features such as Flash Lite theme support, gesture control, external touch-sensitive keys and light effects. Other specs are not that intriguing such as the 1.3 megapixel camera and the 176 x 220 pixels TFT display.
The Sony Ericsson W380 is expected to hit the markets in Q1 2008 so it won't be long before we see it in a retail version. It offers a balanced feature pack and if the price tag is right it's bound to be a success.
Sony Ericsson W380 360-degree spin
Design and construction
The Sony Ericsson W380 has a striking design that pleases the eye. It's fairly compact and as far as current clamshells go it's rather "rectangular" in design. The frontal cover is dominated by the touch-sensitive music keys. They have an auto lock feature in order to prevent accidental key presses. You can also spot the Walkman logo in green and the 1.3 megapixel camera.
What you won't see on first sight is the hidden OLED display beneath the front cover surface. It displays status information such as the clock, the battery and signal meters plus some missed events such as a call or a message. It's also used for displaying music information while the Walkman player is running. The dedicated touch sensitive keys respond to each command with a slight vibration - that's the so-called "haptic" feedback. The keys themselves react only when pressed by a finger and not some other object.
Operating with the external music keys
The display and the keys have a nice backlighting, but only when used in the dark. Under bright sunlight the display is totally illegible and becomes useless.
The secret behind the gesture control magic of the device is this. Once you get a call or your alarm sounds, the Sony Ericsson W380 activates the camera and uses it for motion detection - something even cheap webcams can do nowadays. Then you just wave your hand in front of the camera and the call or alarm gets silenced. According to Sony Ericsson you have to wave twice in front of the camera to accept your gesture, however as you can see from our video, even a single wave would do it. Unfortunately there are no advanced settings for this feature so you can't use it for other purposes or applications, nor does it understand other gestures besides waving.
In order for the feature to work, Sony Ericsson has equipped the camera with a really small LED (strangely enough it can't be used as LED flash for the camera). When there's an incoming call and the light is not enough for the camera to "see" you waving, the LED turns on in order to assist it.
Here's a short video on how the features works in reality.
Using the gesture control to silence an incoming call
The keypad fares well
It should be noted that the task of opening the clamshell becomes almost an impossible one if you attempt it single-handedly. Once you open the clamshell, the spacious keypad gets revealed. The keys are well made but the surrounding plate is covered in dots which reminded us of the now elderly Nokia 6170. The alphanumeric keys are somewhat hard to give in under your finger press, but there's ample space between them so you are unlikely to make typos, if that's a consolation.
The upper part of the keypad features the standard Sony Ericsson keys - a D-pad, two context soft keys, a correction C key and a Back key which is becoming obsolete in the upper range of the latest Sony Ericsson phones. Below those there are three really small shortcuts keys - one for the file browser, a second one for the Activity menu and finally, a third one that switches the phone on and off and toggles profiles (the location of the on/off key certainly caught us off guard as it's a bit unexpected).
You also might notice that just below the display there's a tiny ambient light detector.
On the back side of the Sony Ericsson W380 there is a hardware unlock slider that is used for unlocking the external music keys (you probably didn't think of that, did you?).
The back cover hiding the battery has a pretty awkward opening system. Awkward, but simple - there's a little notch on the left that you use to stick your fingernail in and then you just push until the cover pries open. Opening the back cover this way surely packs an additional excitement element about the phone - you never know whether this next time you open it won't be your last one.
Beneath the cover there's the Sony Ericsson BST-39 Li-Ion battery, which has a capacity of 930 mAh. The manufacturer rates it at up to 300 hours of standby time and up to 7 hours of talk time. Unfortunately, we can't comment on those figures.
The M2 memory card slot is also accessible only with the cover off, but otherwise it's fully hot-swappable. So it seems that the Sony Ericsson W380 user might end up using the pry-to-open method more often than one would like to.
The user interface won't surprise
The user interface of the Sony Ericsson W380 is a pretty standard Sony Ericsson issue. It supports Flash Lite themes so it can be changed almost beyond recognition. It doesn't look bad even despite the low 176 x 220 pixel resolution.
The Sony Ericsson W380 is equipped with the Walkman music player 2.0. It has several equalizer presets including the proprietary Mega Bass. It can be set to run in background so you can do other things with the phone while listening to music. When in background mode, there is an indication of the name of the song and artist of the track currently playing in the top part of the screen. The control of the player is intuitive and really easy to use. It displays the album cover during playback if you choose so.
There are two other skins beside the standard black one and you can use those to suit your themes, since the theming itself doesn't change the music player interface.
The Sony Ericsson W380 also has a FM radio that supports RDS. It can store up to 20 radio stations.
The 1.3 megapixel camera sounds really low end, since there are a number of handsets now that come with 2 megapixel modules. Well, indeed it is, and the camera interface follows the same simplistic line. The only thing that the camera outperforms the others by is the Panorama shoot mode which none of the other handsets in this roundup has.
We even have some camera samples for you to enjoy, however those will be listed on the last page of this article.
There are two games preinstalled on the Sony Ericsson W380 we received and those are ExtremeAir Snowboarding and QuadraPop - we've seen them in past models two. Obviously gaming is not the selling point of this device and the two games are only there to complement the package. You can of course download more Java games to enjoy.
So that's about our hands-on experience with the Sony Ericsson W380. Jump to the next page for an overview of its twin the Sony Ericsson Z555 and don't forget to hit the last page of this article for some comparative camera samples.