Sony Ericsson W810i Part Two: The Bad

I recently bought a W810i from Rogers. It's a pretty nice phone; after using it for a couple months I find that I am generally happy with it. This is part two of my review of the Sony Ericsson W10i. See Part one for the good; this part focuses on the bad.

The downsides
There are several things that are not ideal about this phone. Number one on this list is the audio quality. Two issues prevent this phone from being an iPod killer:
1. There is an audible hiss, even when playing a "silent" MP3 file. This is most noticeable at low music volumes. On the subway I have to raise the volume so this isn't a major problem. However,
2. There are glitches, or chirps, between certain songs. I haven't been able to figure out what causes this, but sometimes when going from one song to another there is a loud chirp. This is the digital equivalent of a record skipping and is extremely annoying, not to mention sometimes painfully loud. I suspect it's due to the MP3 decoder switching modes.

The other major issue with the music application is the sorting of songs. This phone reads ID3 tags from MP3 files in order to sort songs by artist and album. You can't do anything fancy, such as select music by year, or by genre, but the basics are covered. Unfortunately, there is a major problem: the songs in an album are not ordered. Well, they are ordered but they can appear to be random, because the default ordering is by created date. That's right, the date the file was created. In Windows you can't even control this attribute of a file; it just exists. "No problem," you say. "I'll just click 'Sort' from the menu," which would be a reasonable choice if 'Sort' provided anything useful. Sadly, it gives you three choices: 'By Title', 'By Artist', and 'By Created Date'. For most albums, 'By Artist' is completely useless, as the artist is the same for every song. And I can honestly say that I've never wanted to sort songs on my album by title; song titles generally do not reflect on play order. Sony, Sony, wherefore ist there no 'By Track Number'?

Aside from those two major issues, both of which are in the Walkman app, the phone has no serious problems. The rest of the problems can be laid squarely at the feet of Rogers, who provide this phone. First, there is the decision to bundle no real games, only demos and limited versions. The full versions can be purchased online for $5/game. Seems like a lot considering the quality of some of the games out there.

Second, the phone's ability to use MP3s as a ringtone is crippled. Only MP3s purchased from Rogers online music store can be used as a ringtone. This is a pure cash-grab; there is no valid reason why I can't use any MP3 I have as a ringtone. In fact, you can download a utility from Sony that adds DRM information to an MP3 file, thus taking an unencumbered song and encrusting it with grime, which the phone will gladly use for its ringtone. This process works well but requires Windows (I hear the program works under Wine on Linux). I can confirm that a DRM-encrusted file will play as a ringtone on the Rogers phone. Let me just say to Rogers that it's a total disservice to your users if they buy your phone and can't even use the pre-loaded songs as ringtones.

The other thing I don't like about the Rogers-branded variant of this phone is the Rogers music player. This is a Java app shipped by Rogers that adds no value to the phone but consumes one of the keys on the main screen and also a prominent menu location in the main menu. This music player is slow to load, does not recognize songs from the memory stick automatically, and isn't integrated with the phone as fully as the Walkman application. Having two apps to play music is poor usability.

In fact there are three ways to play music; you can play music from the file manager. This plays a song individually without running the full-blown Walkman application. I can see this confusing some users but it's handy when making a playlist or browsing the memory stick.

Speaking of playlists, there is only one way to make a playlist and that's from the Walkman application. There is no way to make a playlist on the PC and then transfer it to the phone. For some people this could be a major problem as they have lots of songs to list. For me I only listen to one album at a time or all songs in a jumble. The phone handles this reasonably well but it can take a long time to load and shuffle all 4 GB of music. And unfortunately there are some "music" files that are pre-loaded into the phone and can't be deleted; these appear in the "All artists - all albums" playlist and always surprise me when I'm in the middle of a Zeppelin/Pink Floyd/Coheed and Cambria/Bjork/Tea Party trainwreck.

The phone is overall quite good, and despite my negative comments I recommend it.
  • Lots of features
  • Well integrated music player
  • Camera, USB storage, memory stick
  • Poor audio quality
  • No sorting by track number
  • Rogers-branded phone has some dumb, but minor, restrictions

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