Sony Ericsson's Walkman range has some serious catching up to do. The delayed launch of the much anticipated, 8GB-toting W960i meant the iPhone and the Nokia N95 8GB stole its thunder late last year. Now it's finally here – but can it compete in this three-way clash of the music phone titans?

It's a funky P1i

Essentially this is a P1i smartphone with Walkman tattoos. Everything from the Symbian UIQ OS to the camera and the pen-driven touchscreen navigation is almost identical. The only real difference is that whopping dollop of 8GB storage and some slick Walkman software.

Where its predecessor, the camera-less W950i, was purely about the music, the W960i arrives with a sharper multimedia edge, including a 3.2MP snapper and video capture skills. There's little difference in size and weight over the W950i, but it has had a design overhaul – one that's provoked howls of derision for its dull black lines. We didn't think we'd say it, but the Nokia N95 8GB is starting to look mighty attractive.

General usability has been improved, though. The W950i's awkward pressure-pad keys have been given the heave-ho, replaced with the more comforting click of our familiar mechanised friends – particularly welcome when texting. However, both the soft key commands and music controls are touchpads, so be warned.

After experiencing the fluid multi-touch talents of the iPhone, the W960i's side jog wheel and poke-and-prod touchscreen combo feels antiquated. The stylus makes navigation much easier when your finger becomes too unwieldy, while the thumb wheel is decent enough for trawling through your music library.

Best Walkman player yet

Naturally the W960i is rigged with the latest Walkman player, and it's business as usual on the audio front. It remains simple to use, sounds dynamic and offers all the latest music mods, such as album artwork, an 11-mode equalizer (the Mega Bass setting serves up good low-end thump), TrackID music recognition and a smorgasbord of playlist options. These include mood modes that let you assign labels to tracks according to tempo and sound, while you can even play songs from specific years or decades for those still hankering for the summer of love.

The lack of an integrated 3.5mm headphone jack is mind-blowing. Naturally you get an adapter, but plug in your own headphones and you're confronted with a length of wire long enough for skipping. Stereo Bluetooth is supported so it is possible to discard this tangle of cables, but it's still a massive oversight.

While the autofocus-loaded 3.2MP lens doesn't hit the heights of its Cyber-shot stablemates, picture quality won't disappoint. The LED flash is a tad feeble though, while the user interface awkwardly demands you use the stylus to alter settings.

Review continues after the break...



The HSDPA oversight

Because the W960i is based heavily on the P1i, you receive some its compadre's business smarts and power. This includes Wi-Fi for rapid internet surfing, push email, Quick Office software and a PDF viewer. Unfortunately it hasn't been fitted with a shiny new HSDPA engine, so original 3G is the order of the day.

The W960i offers both a major feature and performance step-up from its predecessor, and despite a prosaic design it's still a wonderfully accomplished Walkman music phone. But when you line it up against the stunning touch dynamics of the iPhone and nuclear arsenal of the N95 8GB's feature list, it feels hugely underwhelming. Shame.


Stuff says... 

Sony Ericsson W960i review

A massive disappointment. Sneaks a fourth star for its musical talent, but both the iPhone and N95 8GB are more compelling multimedia mobiles