With the upcoming Nokia N96 and Apple iPhone 3G packing mammoth 16GB dollops of storage, top end music phones are making a strong case for you to ditch your iPod Nano in favour of their many charms.

On first impressions the W980 looks, at half the capacity, woefully short of these two stadium fillers. But 8GB of storage (enough for 2,000 average quality MP3 tracks) isn’t to be sniffed at, especially when it arrives inside a compact clamshell that puts both of its portly rivals to shame.


Budget looks, solid build

While it’s undeniably pocket-friendly, the W980’s design divides opinion. Its mirrored fascia is a fingerprint-magnet and the lightweight frame initially feels quite budget, though it’s certainly nicely constructed. But after a week in its company we’re still undecided whether its design is cool or just plain tacky.

The W980’s Walkman player is easily the friendliest we’ve handled. The sizeable hi-res display on the front and receptive touch-sensitive music keys allow you to completely control the player without needing to flip open the phone.

A dedicated side button also lets you neatly toggle between phone info, FM radio and the music player while adjacent lock switch stops the music controls unexpectedly going off when nestled in the trouser pouch.

Stunning equaliser

You could never criticise Walkman phones for sounding anaemic but Sony Ericsson has nonetheless revamped its equaliser modes with a new streamlined ‘Clear Audio Experience’. This claims to minimise the sound leakage between the left and right channels, while Clear Bass technology aims to clip and sharpen the bass range to eradicate distortion.

And with the help of with the above-average in-ear headphones, the low-end is certainly less overcooked and more dynamic, easily making it the most flexible and slickest sounding Walkman we’ve heard. You can also manually tinker with the five individual frequency bands or plump for one of the other nine-presets to adapt the audio.

True to Sony Ericsson form, there’s still no sign of an integrated 3.5mm headphone socket, so expect a tangle of wires via an adapter instead. On the plus side, an FM transmitter to stream your music to a free FM radio frequency has been added and it worked fine over the car stereo, despite a heavy loss in sound quality.

Camera clanger

Just like the recent W760, the 3.2megapixel camera takes a back seat to its Walkman chops, with the lack of autofocus and flash proving crushingly disappointing. Just to add to the frustration, the lens is poorly positioned above the battery cover so a stray finger sometimes accidentally encroaches when taking a snap via the centre navigation button.

Based purely on its mobile music moves this W980 is impressive but its alarming lack of other stellar features mean it’s still not the all-singing, all-dancing multimedia handset we hoped for, and the lack of a memory card slot to boost storage is frustrating. Let’s hope the forthcoming Xperia X1 or W902 are better equipped.


Stuff says... 

Sony Ericsson W980 review

A talented music phone that’s let down by the rest of its feature arsenal