The W960i sports dimensions closer to a PDA handset than any of the recently released Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. The W960i is wider than your average mobile phone, but without being ungainly. In fact, if you want an accurate idea of how the W960i will feel in your hand -- and in your pocket -- then spending some time with the Sony Ericsson P1i will offer the closest comparison in size and weight you're likely to find.
Also similar to the P1i, the W960i employs a jog-wheel on the left side of the handset, which is pressed in to make selections. On the right of the phone are volume adjustment keys and a dedicated camera button for opening the camera app and firing off photos. At the base of the phone is a standard Sony Ericsson input port; used for charging, USB connectivity and as a Sony Ericsson headphone jack. As with all music-focused phones, we'd love to see a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it seems we'll have to accept that Sony Ericsson may never give us one; the upside to this being that the bundled headphones offer excellent sound quality.
The bright 2.6-inch QVGA (320x240) display is large enough to make good use of the touchscreen functionality, and a stylus, tucked away on the top-left corner of the phone, is on hand to help with some of the smaller, larger-than-finger selections, of which there are plenty.
Sony Ericsson has obviously thought hard about implementing touchscreens into their mobile devices. Unlike full touchscreen mobile phones, such as LG's Viewty, which force you along the learning curve before you can navigate all touchscreen menus fluently, Sony Ericsson's phones, the W960i included, offer multiple input methods -- both physical and virtual -- effectively allowing you to decide which input method is best for you in a variety of different menu and application contexts.
On the entertainment front the W960i features a predictably excellent Walkman music player. There's no doubt that the Walkman music application is the best and most attractive music player in a mobile device to date, and when you add navigation via the touchscreen and the jog-wheel, you have a winner. The W960i will play most popular music files types; with the exception of DRM protected files, like those purchased from the iTunes music store, and also supports album art display.
The W960i also features much of the business functionality you'd find in the P1i, as well as other popular smartphones; calendars and organisers, and the business card reader we liked so much when we reviewed the P1i. This software's ability to identify the different information on a business card from a black-and-white photo is nothing short of astounding. The W960 supports POP3 and IMAP e-mail, including push-e-mail for IMAP accounts.
A few of the advances on Sony Ericsson's previous Walkman smartphone, the W950i, are the inclusion of a 3.2-megapixel camera with auto-focus, which takes excellent photos, 3G and Wi-Fi data connections for Web browsing, and the increase of the non-expandable internal memory from 4GB to 8GB, all of which show the W960i to be much more than an incremental update on its predecessor.
While there is a lot to like about the W960i, the sheer weight of its features makes the operation of the phone very slow and clunky indeed, and it's a crying shame. The W960i runs on a 220MHz ARM9 processor -- as used previously by Sony Ericsson in the P1i, amongst others -- which is inadequate for performing the various tasks required. Some applications and menus can take five or more seconds to open, and even then, we encountered serious lag-spikes when trying to perform simple tasks, like accessing album lists in the Walkman player, or creating new SMS messages. The more we used the phone the more these lag spikes impaired our experience of the W960i.
Considering the input methods and Wi-Fi connectivity it was no surprise that the W960i excelled as a Web browser. Navigating pages and RSS feeds with the jog-wheel is a breeze and, with the help of the stylus, using the touchscreen feels natural and intuitive.
Surprisingly, we found text input to be cumbersome with the absence of Sony Ericsson's usually excellent predictive text input for SMS messaging and other text fields. Instead you're required to enter each letter manually -- either with the numeric keypad or an onscreen QWERTY keyboard -- until you have entered enough for the phone to make an educated guess. Ultimately this system requires far more button-mashing than should be necessary to tap out a text message.
As noted briefly above, the 3.2-megapixel camera is a gem, and out-does even some of the 5-megapixel camera phones we've seen recently. As with the rest of the phones operation, there is considerable lag entering camera mode and after you've pressed the shutter, but the auto-focus is sharp, the flash is bright, and overall the images we took looked great.
When we first heard about the W960i we started asking if this would be the Apple iPhone killer. On paper the W960i has the iPhone beat, with faster data speeds, a better camera, and comparable storage. With that considered you'd be probably be burned at the stake for suggesting the W960i was a more attractive device, and the slow operation may be enough to turn off a portion of shoppers.
But if you can get past the clunky interface there's no doubt a vast range of features waiting beyond the load times; both for basic business use and for entertainment.