We weren't quite convinced by the Xylo, Sony Ericsson’s attempt to breathe new life into the music phone, but its younger brother, the Spiro, looks like a much more tempting proposition. Not only does it cost around half the price, it also fixes some of the Xylo's key flaws by coming equipped with a standard headphone jack and micro-USB port, both of which we think should be prerequisites on any music phone, and especially one that falls under the Walkman brand.
The Spiro has a slider design, but it's extremely small and pocket-able as even with the slider open it stands just 117mm tall. It's very light, too, at 90g, so if you drop it in a shirt pocket you'll hardly know it's there. The petite dimensions and curved edges makes it look rather cute and while the design isn’t exactly high-end it does look better than it’s £40 price tag would suggest, especially as the glossy black finish on the front makes it look more sophisticated than many budget mobiles.
Unlike the Xylo, the Spiro doesn't use Sony Ericsson's old propriety expansion port as a headphone jack and synchronising dock. Instead, it has a standard mini jack headphone socket at the top along with a micro-USB port on the left-hand edge that’s used for charging the phone and synchronising it with a PC.
Sony Ericsson hasn't exactly skimped on the physical controls either. The right-hand side is home to a volume rocker switch, while the central d-pad doubles up as a music controller when the Walkman app is running. Pushing up on the pad launches the app from the home screen, while hitting left or right skips forward and backwards through your tracks, and the central button acts as a play/pause control. Naturally, there are dedicated call answer and hang-up buttons along with two soft keys under the display, which are in turn linked to the bottom cancel and return keys.
The Spiro’s sliding mechanism is one of the best we’ve come across on a budget mobile as it feels very robust, and when the slide is open, the two sections don’t wobble about when you apply a bit of pressure. Once the slider has been opened, the keypad’s backlight immediately lights up - something that will be useful if you’re calling or texting on your way home at night. However, the keypad feels rather cramped and the membrane keys don’t have very much travel, so speedier texters will need some practice before their words per minute rate reaches a level they’re used to on a handset with more finger-friendly buttons.
One neat feature of the messaging app is message threading – a bit like the iPhone. However, the phone doesn’t have full email support. You can send emails to your contacts, but these seem to be routed via your operator's MMS gateway – something that doesn’t always work properly.
The idea of a 2.2in display seems quaint in this age of smartphones, but to be honest you don’t really need a huge screen on this type of handset. And although the Spiro’s screen is small, its resolution of 240 x 320 pixels is quite high for a display of this size and as a result, text and icons look razor sharp. It can also fit a surprising amount of text on the screen in one go, which helps when messaging. The screen is bright, too, and colours are impressively rich and natural for a budget handset.