You’ve lusted after your high-school crush for two semesters, and you’ve finally got a date. But now that you have alone time, every feature that you found cute or enticing shows a transparency, a shallowness. As you spend time together, the very things you liked start to grate on your nerves, and new discoveries show how ill fit you are for each other. That’s how it goes – and that’s how it is with the Sony Ericsson W350: What appeared to be a cool little phone proved itself to be an annoyance and a hassle to use.
Not that it doesn’t look good. The W350 has style to spare. Sleek and petite, this Walkman phone is dwarfed by an average hand, slimmer and narrower than most candy-bar handsets. The matte-black surface is accented by metallic trim and Walkman-style navigation controls. A small flip panel that houses the controls opens to reveal a keypad composed of glossy Chiclets and a squared-off oval navigation pad.
Though pretty, these design touches are the most irritating features of the phone. The smooth keys are hard to press in isolation. The navpad leaves little room for easy navigation — you’ll often press the “up” button when you mean to press the center “select” button, opening the wrong menu item or application. And the flimsy flip panel takes great skill to open one-handedly, which makes it bad for efficient answering.
And the Sony influence brings frustration in new forms. The proprietary headphone connector is ungainly, jutting from the side awkwardly and removing any trace of grace from the unit. The phone comes with what looks like a 512MB microSD card. But wait – it’s Sony’s own memory card, the incompatible Memory Stick M2. When was the last time you’ve seen any Memory Stick slots in a non-Sony notebook?
Call quality was muffled, but we tested a prototype, so that could improve before the final version ships. Don’t forget to lock the phone after every call, because when it’s flipped shut, the phone defaults to Walkman mode, and a key in your pocket could start an impromptu jam session in a company meeting. In our case it was the lone provided song, an electronica instrumental that sounded like hold music or the background track to a ’90s sexual harassment training video.
On the bright side, when this phone comes out, it’ll be cheap, around $29 with a two year contract. It seems you can also buy unlocked versions of this handset now for about $200, but why on earth would you?