Sony Ericsson W995 review: Ready, set, play

GSMArena team, 06 March 2009.
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Video player

The video player on the Sony Ericsson W995 supports fast-forward, rewind, and slow-mo playback. It can play in landscape and has three options for video size - original, auto fit and full screen (which crops the video if needed).

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The video player

A nice feature of the video player is the screenshot capability. It allows you to save a frame of video and add it to the gallery. To help you get exactly the frame you want, there's the option to skip frames one by one.

All this is nice but the kickstand on the back and the bigger screen seem to promise great video viewing. However, in this respect the W995 fails to deliver, since there's no support for DivX and even better XviD, or any other advanced video codec. A shame really, given the provided 8GB memory card can store hours of high quality video.

Since W995 is not a smartphone, there's no way to install a third party program to get around this disadvantage. DLNA support could have made it a pocketable movie player but apparently, video capabilities took second place to music and imaging.

Of course, you can always convert your video files to the supported MPEG4 format, but that will probably bring down the bitrate and audio quality. Additionally, the regular 3:4 aspect screen will hardly fit widesceeen videos nicely.

Walkman is catching up with Cyber-shot

The 8 megapixel power of the W995 is harnessed in the friendly and efficient camera interface which we've known - and appreciated - across a number of high-end Cyber-shot handsets such as the C905. While the handling and features are quite familiar, the camera quality is not what we expected - no, a Walkman is not a Cyber-shot. The picture quality of the W995 snapper is just adequate, while on the C905 it's exceptional. Bear in mind though that this is a pre-release unit and the final quality may differ from our test shots.

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The 8 megapixel camera

The 8 MP AF camera on the W995 offers a wide range of features like face detection, camera images geotagging, exposure metering, image and video stabilizer, BestPic, auto-rotation, macro mode, etc. The W995 camera interface lacks any option for setting the ISO levels, something that was also missing on the Cyber-shot flagship, the C905.

The W995 is capable of a maximum image resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels with an average file size of about 2 MB. The lens is not protected, but there is a PowerLED flash to assist in short-range shooting.

The camera controls are very comfortable to use, especially the shutter key.

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Scene presets and picture size

There are no surprises in the latest Cyber-shot interface. Settings on a toolbar with pop-up submenus and the Multi Menu have become well known since the K850 and do help the overall user experience.

The two photo keys over the display and the D-pad in camera mode give access to the most frequently used camera settings like focus mode, exposure, flash control, and self-timer.

Traditionally, the viewfinder toolbar lets you control shoot mode, scenes, picture size, focus mode, flash, self-timer, exposure metering, white balance, effects, and additional settings.

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Cyber-shot v2.0 camera user interface: viewfinder viewfinder with settings multi menu

Like most modern cameraphones, the Sony Ericsson W995 has face detection built right in. The face recognition system allows you to simultaneously track as many as 3 faces, unlike normal focus, which is usually locked on the one that's closest to the center of the frame.

Unfortunately, there is no smile detection or a.k.a. Smile Shutter.

Sony Ericsson W995
Face detection

The ultra quick-snapping BestPic mode has two varieties - fast and slow. In fast mode it produces 7 full-size 8 megapixel images at intervals of about 0.8 sec, while in slow mode it takes 7 images again but at a longer interval of about 1.7 sec. Sadly, the flash is unusable in either of the two modes.

With a built-in GPS receiver, the Sony Ericsson W995 is capable of putting standard GPS coordinates in images. You can enable geotagging (Add position) from the settings to add GPS location data to your pictures. A flag icon at the bottom of the viewfinder indicates that the option is activated. A satellite icon in the top left corner shows that the phone is attempting to get a GPS lock.

The proper geo-tagging of images requires some time for the GPS to lock position. The successful lock is depicted by a set of green stripes in the upper right corner of the camera viewfinder (right next to the satellite icon).

You can, of course, speed up the process by enabling the Assisted-GPS function, but this generates extra data traffic on your account so bear that in mind.

When browsing tagged images in the gallery, the View on map option displays the place where the picture was taken directly on the preinstalled Google Maps.

Sony Ericsson W995
Geo-tagging option is in settings

The Sony Ericsson W995 has a Power LED flash, which is also used as a focus assist beam. The flash is pretty bright and surprisingly effective in dark conditions. Of course, nothing can really compare to a xenon flash, but it still does a nice job and can be used for video recording.

Sony Ericsson W995
The Flash control tab in the menu

The dedicated macro mode in the W995 allows you to take images from as close as 10 cm. The optional silent shutter is also a feature worth mentioning.

The one shortcoming we found with the W995 concerns the one-way menu layout - to get to the Extra settings you have to go through all the other settings on the toolbar as it's the last item there. Looped browsing of items on the toolbar should have been possible, as with the camera interfaces of competing brands. This problem persists in W902, C905 and other previous Sony Ericsson phones.

So what's up with the picture quality? Unlike the 8 megapixel Cyber-shot C905 - whose photos astonished us - the W995 suffers a similar problem to all other Walkman phones: the pictures are noisy and oversharpened, and the lively colors and contrast are gone. Another old friend makes an appearance here too - the purple fringing on the edge of buildings. Even the picture detail is less than on the C905.

But, hey, don't get too gloomy over this - the overall impression is good. The W995 camera catches the moment just as any Cyber-shot does. It has almost all of its features and the photo quality is reasonably satisfying. There is certainly work to be done on the image processing algorithm and we really hope this will happen before the phone is out on the market.

Finally, a picture is worth thousand words, so here come several camera samples produced by the Sony Ericsson W995.

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Camera samples

Of course, the W995 is also capable of capturing video, which according to a Sony Ericsson rep over at the MWC 2009 should go to WQVGA resolution at 30fps - not really impressive but still a progress. Unfortunately, our pre-release unit, was only able to record video in QVGA resolution at 30fps. The clips are recorded in MPEG4 format and take about 6 MB for every minute of recording.

Here is a sample video for you to check out.

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