- Has Wi-Fi
- Capacitive touchscreen
- Poor apps
- No 3G
- No bundled SD for music
- Review Price: £79.99
- 3in 240x400 pixel screen
- Proprietary OS
- 3.2-megapixel camera
- Zappin shuffle function
Once upon a time, when the world was sepia-coloured and men walked around in bowler hats, doffing it at every passer-by, the term “Walkman” held significant power. Although used by many as a generic term for portable audio players, it was actually a Sony brand. Now, in the time of the iPod – when the ubiquity of Apple’s iDevices all-but makes the iPod brand a generic term in itself, a Walkman seems like a quaint throwback to days of yore.
The brand is still used in Sony’s rather great dedicated MP3 players like the NWZ-A845 and NWZ-A866, but it is rarely seen as prominently in phones as it is in the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman mobile. Could it be because this phone is grasping for a reason, an excuse, to exist?
From a casual glance, it looks a lot like a budget smartphone. It has a 3in touchscreen, a single Home button on the front, but it’s chubbier and a bit gaudier than most budget Android or Symbian phones. Between the glossy black front and the matt soft-touch plastic battery cover is a band of bright rubbery plastic. Our review model had a lime green one attached and a silver one stashed in the box, but bright pink and more subdued bronze editions also exist.
You can pull this strip away from the body, altering the look just by quickly popping off the battery cover and switching these bands around. With the silver band on, it’s a much classier-looking handset, but the Sony Ericsson Mix still looks and feels more like a £50 phone than one that sells for just under £100. The back is lumbered with too many cluttering bits including speaker ports and logos while the 14mm thickness is chunky and the style lacks coherence. The colourful strip may make the phone look a “bit different”, but that doesn’t equate to the phone looking good. It’s uninspiring stuff at best.
We reckon the silver looks a lot nicer. What do you think?
The body does offer some unusual buttons, though. There’s a shutter button on the right edge, pretty unusual at this budget level, and there are two Walkman buttons up top. They take you to the media player and the Zappin function, which we’ll cover later. It’s enough to just-about justify the phone’s Walkman status, but note that there aren’t actually any direct playback buttons – no play/pause, no fast forward and rewind.
The internal memory also limits the Mix Walkman’s potential as a music player. Fresh out of the box there’s just over 100MB of free internal memory, barely enough for an album encoded at a decent bit-rate. Yes, the memory is expandable and microSD cards are very cheap, but it’s no way for a “music player” phone to make a good impression.
Like the touchscreen-led design, the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman’s interface has a go at convincing the ill-informed that it’s a smartphone. Using the corner shortcut layout seen in the Xperia range’s neat little smartphones, it’s reminiscent of dinky Androids like the Xperia X10 Mini.
Any phone function can be put into these four corner shortcut spots, and the shortcuts appear on both of the two home screens. Before you get excited at the mention of home screens, hold back. They don’t do much. One houses a clock while the other displays the favourite contacts list. It looks like a cover flow system, but is static. Like so much of the Mix Walkman, early promise falls apart like a talcum power statue as soon as you look beyond the surface detail.
Delve into the favourite contacts “widget” and there’s a bit more to it than just phone numbers, as it collates their Facebook and Twitter updates as well as text messages and call logs – but using it is hopelessly clumsy and, at times, broken. Contacts have to be manually linked to each of their social network accounts, and the Mix Walkman continually refused to link with Twitter, even while signed-into the built-in Twitter app.
The dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps are less problematic – at least they work – but are in reality little more than web links to the services’ mobile sites. The giveaways are the browser navigation bar at the bottom and the URL bar at the top. This, along with limited connectivity features ensure this isn’t a particularly good social networking phone. There’s no 3G connectivity, so tweeting a picture taken with the phone’s camera when when out of the house is a slow process. So is looking at other people’s pics, although the built-in EDGE connectivity is just about quick enough to make downloading text tweets and updates bearable.
At home, this situation improves. The Sony Ericsson Walkman Mix has Wi-Fi, letting the phone suck data off your home broadband, or the Wi-Fi hotspots of cafes and restaurants. At the best of times, though, this phone is no match for a budget Android phone like the Huawei Blaze or Orange San Francisco. Every time you run one of the phone’s connected apps, you’re asked whether or not to allow mobile internet access – a question that seems rather redundant when you’re accessing Facebook, and one that quickly becomes annoying.
All of the Mix’s apps and games are java-based, making them largely incapable of the kind of behind-the-scenes activity that smartphone alternatives are all about. It’s not a good way to keep up with emails, requiring manual updates and using a rather basic look. Games tend to look very basic and dated too.
Java gaming – fun, but all a bit 2004
Additional apps and games for the phone are sparse too. There’s no proper app store here, just a link to Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow WAP portal. This offers no real apps as such, but does have a bunch of additional games, plus wallpapers, music and ringtones. The price of each is much higher than the smartphone norm though, games usually costing £3 a pop.
The one positive thing to say about the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman’s low-rent interface is that it’s all operated using a fairly responsive capacitive touchscreen. This is the same kind of technology used in the iPhone 4, and means you don’t have to press down on the screen to get it to respond – contact alone is enough. However, if it had used a resistive screen, at its price it would deserve to be paraded through the streets while being pelted with tomatoes.
With a 3in widescreen, Sony Ericsson has sensibly left you with T9 numerical keypad input rather than a full Qwerty. This keyboard is used when typing out text messages and in the default web browser. The predictive dictionary is pretty limited, though, and typing-out words manually to get them added to its library feels clumsy and slow. We also wished an option to use a full Qwerty in landscape mode had been included – as there’s enough space when held like this. Instead, you’re stuck with the T9 pad.
A “dumb” phone selling for smartphone money, the Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman’s one defence is that it’s all about the music, not apps and Angry Birds. However, this line of argument doesn’t get it very far.
There’s no bundled microSD card and the internal memory only offers enough storage for one album. Memory is expandable – there’s a microSD slot under the battery – but fresh out of its packaging, it’s pretty much useless as a music player.
Undeterred, we loaded up a microSD card with tunes to see if its software is much cop. Press the Walkman button on the phone’s top and you’re taken directly to the media player. It uses the corner shortcut layout seen throughout the interface. These take you to your library, show the current playlist (or album), and give you access to the Zap and Karaoke functions.
Zappin is Sony’s own take on a song preview mode. This plays you either a clip of each song lasting just a few seconds or around 15 seconds, skipping to the next afterwards unless you press the Zappin button up top. It’s a neat enough idea, but the execution completely puts us off using it. “Zapping in”, “Zapping out” and moving between tracks are all accompanied by whoosing or spoken sound effects. Maybe the kids will enjoy it, but we find it utterly tasteless and a bit embarrassing.
The Karaoke feature is sure to appeal to a similarly niche audience, but at least it doesn’t limit its appeal through its technique. It effectively removes the central channel, where lead vocals tend to be mixed, in order to turn normal tracks into backing tracks. It’ll also display lyrics if they’ve been added to your MP3s. Basic ID3 tagging won’t do this. It works pretty well.
These secondary features are ones you’ll find in Sony’s dedicated MP3 players, but these are richer in those dedicated players. There’s no pitch altering, no speed changing here – hardly essential but handy if you do want to get your Karaoke on. Our personal highlight of Sony Walkman’s partly-superfluous features is SenseMe. This scans through your music and splits it into moods, effectively making playlists for you. There’s an option for this within the Mix’s music player, but it doesn’t split up tracks for you like the NWZ-A866 will. Instead you have to get your computer to do that for you, before syncing the music to your phone. Who would have thought an MP3 player would have more power than a phone these days?
Once stocked with albums, the Mix offers a perfectly decent music experience. Navigation’s fine, cover art displays and the audio output quality is solid if unremarkable. However, when its extra features aren’t worth shouting about, and there’s not a full complement of playback buttons, its musical ability won’t trounce any other half-decent £80-100 phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack. The supplied MH140 earphones are well above average for a bundled pair, though, offering decent bass and clarity. But they leak sound, offer no isolation and aren’t as comfortable as an IEM-style pair – in our opinion.
Whatever way you look at it – not a web browsing star
The browsing experience is more notable, but not for a good reason. There are two separate web browsers pre-installed – Sony Ericsson’s own stab and Opera Mini, probably the most popular “third party” phone browser. The interface of each is good enough, but hampered by a number of technical limitations. The screen, at 240×400 pixels and 155dpi, is very low-res, there’s no multi-touch support and without 3G connectivity, it’s too slow to load full web pages unless you’re on a Wi-Fi connection.
The Sony Ericsson Mix has a basic 3.2-megapixel camera. There’s no flash and it’s fixed focus, but there are a few features missing from most affordable alternatives, most notably the dedicated camera button.
This, in tandem with the fixed focus, makes taking pictures pretty quick. With an autofocus sensor, you’d have to wait for the camera to hone-in on its subject. It does limit the kind of photos you can take, though. Try and get a shot of something up close and it’ll be blurry, but we’ve seen worse performance in phones of this spec. As you can see below, while the berry-like bits on the branches aren’t entirely sharp, they’re not a blurry mess either.
In perfect conditions, the relatively low resolution and budget sensor limit the amount of detail captured, and colours are fairly muted too. It’ll do the job for the most basic of applications – for sending MMS messages or posting the odd shot to a social network. But you won’t get shots worth printing out, even at standard 6x4in size. If you’re desperate to save your shots for posterity, connecting the phone to a computer lets you access the file system directly, for drag ‘n’ drop transfer.
Unusual even in a budget phone, you’re given no control over the camera’s settings. The camera app uses the corner shortcut layout adopted throughout, but these only give you access to the gallery, the stills/video switch and a touchscreen shutter button. Manual settings are of limited use in such a low-powered camera anyway, but panorama and burst shot modes would have been appreciated – and the lack of some fun effects seem like an oversight in an arguably youth-oriented device.
Call quality is decent if unspectacular. The earpiece speaker is nice and loud, but there’s no noise cancellation to combat noisy environments.
The Mix Walkman is powered by a 1000mAh battery. This is a bog-standard capacity for a small-screen phone like this, but the phone lasts longer than a proper smartphone because it doesn’t have 3G and its apps don’t secretly pay poker with each other while the phone’s in your pocket. Under normal nonintensive use, it can last for a solid 2-3 days off a charge. Set it to more intensive tasks and the battery performance is thoroughly unremarkable.
The Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman would seem like an OK deal if its price were lowered, but, as is, it competes with fully-fledged smartphones. And it doesn’t come off too well. There’s no 3G, no GPS (ruling out using the phone to find out where you are) and there are no worthwhile apps here. Its Walkman cred can’t make up for these gaps and its generally good-looking UI is all surface and no substance. It falls well short of earning a recommendation. Seek out the Samsung Galaxy Europa or Orange San Francisco for the real smartphone package, or look to spend less.
The Sony Ericsson Mix Walkman wills buyers to believe it’s a smartphone, with an interface that looks snazzy and seems to offer plenty of connected functionality at a quick glance. The problem is that it isn’t, and doesn’t. There’s no 3G connectivity, and while Wi-Fi is on-board the clumsy implementation of built-in apps makes web browsing and social networking feel clunkier than it would with other phones.
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We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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