capsule review

Sony Ericsson W518a Walkman Cell Phone (AT&T)

At a Glance
  • Sony Ericsson Walkman W518a

    PCWorld Rating

    The attractive Sony Ericsson W518a has some unique features, but lack of a standard headphone hinder its capabilities as a media player.

The inexpensive Sony Ericsson W518a ($50 with a two-year contract from AT&T; price as of 8/18/09) combines style, sound, and socializing, making it an attractive cell phone for a teenager (or a teenage budget). But just like the coolest kids in school, under its snazzy surface the W518a has plenty of adolescent awkwardness.

The W518a offers one must-have feature for the teenage set: instant Facebook access. Unfortunately, the app doesn't quite make the grade. Pressing the Shortcut key updates the screen with your News Feed info (status updates, Wall postings, and so on). From there you can update your own status, configure the Facebook app to show your friends' status updates on the phone's home screen, and...well, that's about it. Anything else requires you to use the mediocre built-in WAP browser to go to Facebook Mobile, just as on any other phone.

The app is useful if you just want to see the last 30 minutes or so of your News Feed, but considering that Facebook access is one of the W518a's huge selling points, Sony really should have included a full-featured program instead of an anemic accessory. If you're a Facebook addict, you'll appreciate the ability to upload pictures directly from the phone to your profile, but you might not want to share the subpar snapshots from the phone's 3.2-megapixel camera.

Music is the W518a's second specialty. The phone's built-in Walkman app handles all of the music functions. The interface looks kind of like a brushed-metal version of the PlayStation 3's menus, matching the W518a's brushed-chrome-and-silver hardware. Through the interface you can access your music collection as well as the built-in XM Radio ($9 to buy the app, though you'll need a data plan as well), FM Radio, Shop Music, and other miscellaneous music apps.

This is where some of the W518a's flaws show: It doesn't have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and worse, it doesn't come with a headset, so you'll have to shell out some extra cash for a compatible headset or an adapter. Until you get one, you won't be able to use the FM radio application (because it uses the headphone cord as an antenna), and to listen to music at all you'll have to use the phone's built-in speakers, which, while an improvement over earlier Walkman phones like the W580i, aren't an ideal solution.

The phone's physical design complements its musical functions nicely. When closed, the face of the W518a shows the artist and the title of the current track. Three playback buttons (rewind, skip ahead, and pause/play) sit below the track display, while the volume controls reside on the right edge, giving you easy access to them while the phone is in your pocket. Oddly enough, while the face buttons look like regular buttons, they're actually touch-sensitive spots that don't depress, which was hard for me to get used to. If you don't want to fiddle with the face buttons, you can hold down the pause/play button and shake the phone to change tracks instead. However, this is not only awkward (shake left for the previous track, shake right to skip ahead, shake wildly to shuffle) and potentially dangerous (I almost flung the thing across the office), but it's also pointless considering the minimal effort required to press the next-track button.

Along the same lines, the W518a introduces a few new control gimmicks that probably shouldn't have left the drawing board. Supposedly you can set your alarm on snooze, or silence incoming calls, by waving your hand in front of the camera. It didn't work too well, though: I tried a casual wave, a deliberate wave, even the Obi-Wan Kenobi "These aren't the droids you're looking for" wave, and had no luck with any of them. I did get the W518a to shut up one time by holding my thumb over the camera as soon as the call came in, but frankly it's less efficient than pushing a button. The volume controls on the side of the phone let you do the same thing without opening the phone up, and they're easier to find than the camera if you're holding the phone in your pocket.

Though the phone's physical design is undeniably attractive, most of the buttons are downright annoying. Besides the face-button problems mentioned earlier, the phone's menu buttons and numeric pad have sizable gaps between them, and my hands got tired quickly.

Other than the Facebook app, the music functions, and the gimmicky controls, the W518a is a fairly run-of-the-mill flip phone. The call quality was clear (nothing stunning), and it was reliable (I didn't have any dropped calls while I was testing it). The battery life was fairly standard for a flip phone, too. AT&T advertises the phone's battery life at 10 hours talk time and 400 hours standby, and I found that with my everyday-use patterns (Internet browsing, music playback, and about 30 minutes of phone calls a day) I had to recharge the W518a only every four or five days, which was nice.

Ultimately, the Sony Ericsson W518a is an incremental update to the Walkman phone line. At the low price point, the W518a isn't a bad choice if you're looking for a basic flip phone with a few extra features. However, for a device that claims to be a socially connected music phone, it lacks an awful lot--namely a full-featured Facebook app, headphones, and a standard headphone jack, all of which you can find in a refurbished iPhone 3G if you don't mind that handset's larger size.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The attractive Sony Ericsson W518a has some unique features, but lack of a standard headphone hinder its capabilities as a media player.

    Pros

    • Attractive design
    • External music display and controls are convenient

    Cons

    • Doesn't come with headphones
    • Gesture controls are gimmicky
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