Friday, 26 June 2009

The Sony Ericsson W508

The Sony Ericsson W508 walks and talks midrange though by no means does it keep a low profile. What we have here is the full Walkman package at a bargain price and the rest of the W508 specs may as well be irrelevant if music is the first thing on your list.

A true Walkman at heart, the W508 takes after the Sony Ericsson W980 in many ways and even adds a dash of color to the Walkman experience - in fact, the StyleUp covers make it a regular chameleon.

There are eight StyleUp covers to choose from and the W508 always ships with a spare one in the box. And in case you wonder what's with all those paintjobs, let's not forget the W508 is in a twin predicament and has an identity to assert against the T707. That one we just reviewed, so we're sort of in for a sequel, though in Walkman flavor this time.

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Sony Ericsson W508 official photos

Key features:

  • Quad-band GSM and 3G with HSDPA support
  • 3.15 megapixel camera
  • 2.2" 256K-color TFT display with 240 x 320 pixel resolution
  • Secondary monochrome OLED external display
  • Scratch-resistant surface for both displays
  • Touch sensitive external music control keys
  • Hot-swappable M2 card slot (up to 16 GB), 1 GB included
  • Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP)
  • Walkman music player with Shake control and SensMe
  • FM radio with RDS
  • Gesture control
  • Accelerometer for screen rotation
  • Basic multi-tasking support
  • Smart dialing
  • Threaded messaging
  • Exchangeable StyleUp covers

Main disadvantages

  • Camera doesn't have auto focus or LED flash
  • Low-grade video recording (QVGA@15fps)
  • No web browser screen auto rotate
  • No document viewer

The Sony Ericsson W508 is a friendly phone that has many ways to interact with you - TrackID to find the track you've just overheard at the caf?, SensMe so you can pick songs based on your mood, Shake control to change tracks at the flick of the wrist plus touch-sensitive music buttons and even Gesture control to mute calls with a wave of your hand.

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Sony Ericsson W508 at ours

The proprietary audio jack and the single, lonely loudspeaker are points against W508 but support for 16 GB M2 cards and FM radio with RDS are guaranteed to keep you rocking from dusk till dawn.

3G goodies like video calls and HSDPA for high-speed browsing are here, complemented with the nice web browser. The lack of document viewer is a bit of a letdown but not really a feature a Walkman can't do without.

So without further ado, the Sony Ericsson W508 is in for a proper hardware inspection. Join us on the next page, as we go through our checklist.

60-degree spin

The W508 is made completely of plastic and there's nothing about it that screams luxury. Under this modest guise however is a phone that certainly measures up to the Sony Ericsson W595, which we quite liked.

The clamshell measures 93.5 x 50 x 14 mm when closed and weighs 98g. Its 14 mm thickness is commendable as very few clamshells are more than a millimeter thinner.

Design and construction

Sony Ericsson don't seem too keen on clamshells lately - most of their recent releases have been either bars or sliders. In fact, the form factor as a whole seems to have been falling out of favor. It would be interesting to speculate as to why that is, but now's not really the time for an analysis of Sony Ericsson's design choices.

Anyway, the few flips they've released recently do look very similar. Let's check them out.

Sony Ericsson R306 Radio Sony Ericsson Z780 Sony Ericsson TM506 Sony Ericsson T707 Sony Ericsson W508
Sony Ericsson R306 Radio, Z780, TM506, T707, W508

Just to clarify, the Sony Ericsson W508 and T707 are only slightly different breeds of the same species. It's the same chassis and specs, one repackaged as a Walkman and the other as a ladies' fashion phone.

The Sony Ericsson W508 is a midrange phone and that becomes clear on closer inspection. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say, and what better gadget to imitate than a former king of the hill? That's right, we're talking about the Sony Ericsson W980. The only reason we didn't include it in the selection above is the haughty Walkman wouldn't have blended in with the low and midrange crowd.

The W508 display is 2.2 inches in diagonal, which is the largest you get in Sony Ericsson flips but still not the most respectable size in clamshell terms. The unused space on the upper part of the clamshell doesn't make much sense and hurts the looks too. QVGA resolution and 256K colors make for decent picture quality and legibility under sunlight is passable, although viewing angles are not very wide.

The video-call camera is above the display next to the earpiece. That camera lacked on the T707.

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Quite a waste of space on the flip

The keypad is made of plastic and comes across as a cheap attempt to mimic that brushed metal look. It's quite practical though and it definitely feels better than it looks. We think the T707 keypad is more attractive, but the keys on the W508 are ergonomically much better. Then again the difference may be due to the pre-production status of our review units.

While both handsets use a flatbed membrane, the alphanumeric buttons on the W508 have a genuinely nicer press feedback and they are more raised than on the T707 and so are slightly more tactile. These slight differences are quite essentials as they can make or break the typing experience.

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W508 is more typing-friendly than the T707

The control and navigation pad, which takes the upper part of the same flatbed that accommodates the numberpad, is quite user friendly. The call keys, along with the Activity Menu key and the Clear button are on each side of a round D-pad, while the soft keys are at the very top. The context keys are slightly bigger than those on the T707 and that's another point in favor of the Walkman.

The round D-pad raises no usability issues except that some users may miss the alternative color backlight in Walkman mode. The center key is big enough to use comfortably as is the direction rim, which is exactly the right width for perfect handling.

The keypad illumination is even, and light appears to spill down the keypad as it comes on and that's a nice visual enhancement.

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The keypad illumination is nice and even, the only omission is D-pad backlighting in Walkman mode

On the right side of the W508 from top to bottom are the volume rocker, the lock slider and a slit with M2 written next to it. Don't get excited though, this just marks the location of the M2 card slot under the rear panel and the slit helps you pry the cover open.

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Lock slider prevents accidental touches

The W508 left side is occupied by the standard FastPort only, yet again left uncovered. These two are small faults but still we'd like to see some improvement to the handsets as time goes on. A 3.5 mm audio jack would have scored some serious points in favor of the W508 but sadly, no such luck.

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Say proprietary port ten times fast

The bottom of the device is featureless - the mic hole is on the left of the 4 key.

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That hinge makes us cringe

The front of the device is where this phone makes a play for a place in your pocket. It was clearly inspired by Sony Ericsson's Walkman former flagship, the W980, and houses three touch-operated controls for the music player, the external display and the camera.

The three keys are a play/pause key and skip forward and backward keys that also work for seeking. The icons on the keys are backlit. Here's also where the side lock slider comes into play - it locks the touch keys to prevent accidental presses.

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Touch-sensitive keys are always a nice parlor trick

The secondary display is a low-resolution monochrome one but offers plenty of information - time, battery charge, signal strength and network type, as well as song info during playback. Its legibility under sunlight is disappointing, partly because of the glossy plastic covering it - when the display is off, it almost blends in with it.

The camera is a 3.15 megapixels no-thrills fixed focus unit. There's also a small LED beside the cameras but that's mostly for assisting gesture control in the dark. It's so feeble it's next to useless as a video light (it's not supposed to work as a camera flash at all).

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The LED is next to useless as a video light

The front plastic generally looks cheap with the color appearing to be printed on. There's a good reason for the latter - Sony Ericsson W508 can be quite colorful with a little help from the StyleUp covers available for it. Whether it's Sunny Orange, Forest Green, Architectural Purple, Mysterious Graffiti, Midnight Summer, Splashed Art, Radial Blue or Street Hip-hop, they all bring a little color to the generic sounding Metal Grey and Poetic White color schemes.

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There's no shortage of color variations here

The back of the device is home to the Sony Ericsson and Walkman logos. The Sony Ericsson logo as usual is raised, making the device wobbly on an even surface. At the bottom is the single loudspeaker.

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The Sony Ericsson logo and the Walkman badge of honor

Under the pry-to-open battery cover is a Li-Ion battery as well as the SIM and M2 card slots. The battery is quoted at 400 hours of standby. The M2 card slot supports capacities of up to 16GB. The back cover is made of thin plastic and because you have to force it in and out, frequent opening will certainly reduce its lifespan.

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The battery is a BST-39 unit, same as the one on T707 and W910

The Sony Ericsson W508 is a solid device with no creaks. The choice of a monochrome secondary display was a good one - it's not overloaded with features and it gives the handset a bit of an old school look.

The touch-sensitive keys are a nice touch as well, no pun intended. They don't break up the front panel making it easier for Sony Ericsson to splash on a lot of color, without having to go around physical buttons.

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Sony Ericsson W508 in hand

User interface: nothing new under the sun

The W508 interface is the regular Sony Ericsson feature phone UI and it is still used in most of their top handsets.

The standby screen is arranged in the usual manner with information on top indicating signal strength, currently used data carrier and battery status. At the bottom of the display just above the context keys are their labels.

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The well-known Sony Ericsson home screen

The options for the menu layout are the standard foursome - theme-dependent, 3 x 4 grid of icons, rotating view and single icon view. There's nothing that we haven't seen before. But if you're new to Sony Ericsson's latest devices, our in-depth review of Sony Ericsson C903 is a pretty up-to-date reference.

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The standard menu layout

The well-known Activity menu offers quick access to a user-defined list of favorite features, web, recent events and, of course, the Running Apps tab that takes care of multitasking.

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The well-known Activity menu

Flight mode can only work with a SIM card in the device and requires a restart.

The interface is visually appealing and snappy. Unlike the Sony Ericsson T707, the W508 features an inbuilt accelerometer so auto rotation is enabled in the Media Center.

The Sony Ericsson W508 supports Flash Lite themes, which change the color scheme and wallpaper. Our handset has 2 themes preinstalled: Clarity and Kaleidoscope black.

The nice thing about Flash themes is that they can be dynamic. We've seen various implementations with Sony Ericsson phones - for example the themes on the W508 change their color according to the time of day. We've also seen Sony Ericsson Flash themes that display new artwork on selected days such as international public holidays.

When the Kaleidoscope black theme is activated on the home screen a Walkman logo appears surrounded by many colorful patterns. Thanks to the accelerometer the logo rotates when the device is turned.

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The two preinstalled themes: Clarity and Kaleidoscope black

As before, you can also use an application as a background instead of an actual image.

A phonebook we already know

The phonebook has space for 1000 contacts and 7000 numbers. You can choose to view contacts in the phone memory or on SIM, but not both. Either way you can set up the phone to autosave to SIM all contacts that are being saved to the phone memory. You can also back up your entire contact list on the memory card and restore it from there.

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The Sony Ericsson W508 phonebook

The name of the contact is written in only one field, but you still have the option to sort contacts by first or last name. The phone guesses which is which and it does it very well. Naturally, you can search by gradual typing.


Before we see how this little fella handles calls we'll take a closer look at one of the intriguing features it packs - gesture control. While you may have seen it before (in the Sony Ericsson W380, for instance), it still remains a unique feature to Sony Ericsson handsets and it deserves due attention.

So here's how gesture control works. Once you get a call or your alarm goes off, the Sony Ericsson W508 activates the front-panel camera and uses it for motion detection - something even cheap webcams can do nowadays. Then you just wave your hand in front of the lens and the call or alarm gets silenced.

Sony Ericsson Roundup
Gesture control is a nice little gimmick

The Sony Ericsson W508 offers videocall functionality and unlike the T707, there is now a dedicated front-facing videocall camera.

Handling of regular voice calls is excellent with the W508 and we didn't experience any voice quality or reception problems. Call clarity is great in both the earpiece and speakerphone.

Smart dialing or Smart Search as Sony Ericsson are calling it is a great boost to usability. It looks up contacts whose numbers contain the digits you have typed or whose names begin with the corresponding letters.

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Smart dialing makes life a lot easier

Here is how the Sony Ericsson W508 stacks up against some of the other handsets we've measured in our speakerphone loudness test. More info on our test, and all results so far, are available here.

Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOveral score
Nokia 6600 fold66.7 62.164.6Below average
Sony Ericsson W99565.5 66.573.5Average
Sony Ericsson W30271.668.676.7Good
Samsung G400 Soul69.773.584.7Very Good
Sony Ericsson W50875.582.776.0Excellent

Wanna chat?

The Sony Ericsson W508 handles all common types of messages, all of which - save for emails - share a common inbox. The phone also supports push email but can't handle any documents that are attached to emails (such as .xls, .doc, or .pdf files for example) due to the lack of a document reader.

Much like all the recent Sony Ericsson phones, the Sony Ericsson W508 has enhanced message sorting - the so-called Conversations mode, a.k.a. Threaded messaging.

Conversations mode is the alternative conversation-style layout, which displays messages in threads - the SMS communication with a certain contact is organized in speech bubbles much like in an instant messenger program.

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The Conversations section in the messaging department

Along with the standard messaging functionality, the Sony Ericsson W508 also offers the proprietary Manage Messages feature, plenty of settings for accounts, and the option to assign categories to messages. Messages can be moved to memory card or phone memory, arranged by categories, date, size, and contact.

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The Manage Messages application enhances message handling

The Media Center is a winner

The Sony Ericsson W508 runs the flash-based Media Center. Its menu lists the Photo, Music, Video, Games, RSS feeds and Settings icons. As we've already said, there's an accelerometer on board so auto screen rotation can be activated if needed.

Walkman player

The Sony Ericsson W508 features the Walkman 3.0 player with all possible extras included, just like the W595 which we took a closer look at not long ago. The player supports a vast collection of file formats and has several equalizer presets (including the famous Mega Bass).

In addition, you also get Album art and the proprietary Sony Ericsson Shake control, which makes use of the phone's built-in accelerometer. The accelerometer is also put to use for automatic rotation of the display.

Naturally the music player also offers step-by-step filtering of the tracks you want to hear. The D-pad is in charge of music controls and also brings up a list of all the tracks in the current playlist or album.

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Sony Ericsson W508 has the Walkman 3.0

The animations on the home screen during playback depend on the currently selected Flash Lite theme.

The highly promoted Walkman Shake control feature works just fine. To make it work you'll need to know only one thing - the Walkman key located on the D-pad does not activate Shake Control - for that, you need to hold down the volume rocker on the side of the phone.

Another music-related Walkman goodie, SensMe, offers a different approach to populating a playlist. You can read more about the SensMe feature and the other details of the Walkman player in our Sony Ericsson W595 review.


The Photo gallery stores the shots you've taken along with the prebundled wallpapers. Luckily, auto rotation is available so you can still rotate images to landscape orientation not only manually but automatically as well.

Images are generally displayed as a 3 x 4 grid of thumbs. The shots in the dedicated Camera Album are sorted by the date they were taken on.

Opening an image makes the thumb zoom in to fullscreen view mode, while exiting the fullscreen view smoothly zooms out to thumb view.

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The dedicated Photo viewer

The Sony Ericsson W508 doesn't sport an inbuilt GPS receiver, but it can still geotag camera images using cell tower triangulation. If you pair it with an external Bluetooth GPS receiver, it will use it to properly geotag your camera images.

No matter whether you use Cell-ID or real GPS geotagging, you still get the View on map option in the image gallery. It allows you to check the place where the shot has been taken directly on the map using the preinstalled Google Maps application (data charges may apply).

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The view on map feature that we love


The video player in the Media center supports fast-forwarding and rewinding, and the interface is simple and stylish. The video files are accessible via the file manager too. Display mode automatically switches when the phone is rotated.

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Videos in the Media Center • playing a clip in portrait and landscape mode

The video section also houses the pre-installed YouTube client, which gives you full access to clips and uploading, bookmarked favorites and so on.

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YouTube is integrated in the Media Center

FM radio with RDS and TrackID

The integrated FM radio of the Sony Ericsson W508 has memory for 20 stations and supports RDS. It has a nice interface and makes great use of the TrackID music recognition service. The radio can be minimized in the background much like the music player, but offers none of the fancy fullscreen graphics.

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FM radio interface

The TrackID functionality is the same as on devices like the Sony Ericsson C903.

Audio quality

The audio quality of Sony Ericsson W508 bears the typical for the company mid-range handsets traits. It offers results identical to the Sony Ericsson T707, meaning excellent scores on most readings and a disastrous frequency response.

The frequency response deviates severely from the textbook rules. It has extremely boosted bass and treble and reduced mid frequency sounds. The graph looks as if an equalizer has been applied only that it wasn't. We can hardly imagine how far off the frequency response would be if you actually apply one.

On the positive side all of the other readings are pretty good with the distortion levels simply great. The stereo crosstalk, the noise level and the dynamic range are also nothing short of excellent. You can see for yourselves that save for the frequency response the Sony Ericsson T707 is quite a gifted musician. You can also notice its resemblance to some of the other Sony Ericsson handsets we have tested recently.

TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
Sony Ericsson W508+7.30, -2.18-85.984.70.0052 0.020-84.7
Sony Ericsson T707+7.30, -2.18- 0.020-85.7
Sony Ericsson W595+7.30, -2.18-86.485.00.00490.020-85.3
Sony Ericsson W902+7.31, -2.18-81.784.10.0039 0.020-85.4
Sony Ericsson W910+0.25, -1.25-81.582.70.00710.028-81.9
Sony Ericsson W980+0.31, -1.25- 0.828-86.3
Apple iPod Touch 2G+0.04, -0.05-91.491.50.0027 0.012-90.0
Samsung M7500 Emporio Armani+0.86, -6.28- 0.134-73.9
Nokia N81+0.39, -1.13-86.685.80.0410.040-69.9

Sony Ericsson W508 has identical audio quality with Sony Ericsson T707
Sony Ericsson W508 has identical audio quality with Sony Ericsson T707

Fixed focus 3 megapixel camera is nothing new

The 3 megapixel snapper, like most things about this phone, is the same as in the Sony Ericsson T707. It shoots at a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels and has no autofocus or flash. Pictures are taken with the handset held in portrait mode, part of the display serving as the viewfinder. The center of the navigation key is the capture button.

The options include white balance, shot mode, geotagging and various color effects. You can capture panorama images by taking three consecutive shots using the dedicated shooting mode.

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The camera interface

The image quality is the same as it was in the T707 - significantly short of exceptional - the noise-suppression processing is pretty harsh on the details, giving the photos a watercolor painting effect.

However you've got to remember our W508 is a pre-release unit so the camera will most probably be tuned differently (better) in the final retail product.

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Camera samples

Again the video recording is limited to QVGA resolution at 15 frames per second - there are no surprises here. It's like most of the Sony Ericsson handsets in this class and we won't even bother publishing a sample.

Sweet and fluent browsing

Sony Ericsson W508 comes with the nice Access NetFront web browser v3.4 featuring the extended home screen, also available in the other recent Sony Ericsson handsets. Plenty of shortcuts arranged in a tree structure are listed on the homescreen right under a search and an address bar. The appearance of the home screen changes to various bright colors each time you start the browser too.

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The extended home screen is a nice touch on the latest Sony Ericsson phones

Elaborate web pages are rendered well and there are lots of configurable settings too. There is a full screen mode both in portrait and landscape view. Unfortunately, it must be switched manually because there is no auto-rotate capability. View modes include Text only, Pan and Zoom, and Zoom page. The panning/scrolling speed is up to standard.

The Sony Ericsson W508 web browser offers a virtual mouse pointer that is nice to work with. Another interesting and practical feature is the "Find on page" option.

Mid-range connectivity for a mid-range handset

The W508 scores highly on connectivity options. Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and 3G are all on board for worldwide roaming. HSDPA is also supported.

Besides the network-based connectivity, the Sony Ericsson W508 offers the usual Bluetooth v2.0 and USB options. There is also support for the A2DP profile allowing you to listen to music on a stereo Bluetooth headset. Last, but not least, there is also the M2 card slot, which is often one of the quickest ways of transferring data.

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The connectivity menu with the available USB modes

Typical organizer and familiar apps

The Sony Ericsson W508 offers a wide range of time-management features as is usual for its class. There is an Organizer icon in the main menu and it contains several applications: File manager ,Java Applications, Video call, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Synchronization, Timer, Stopwatch, Calculator, and Code memo.

The Calendar offers monthly, weekly and daily views. When you add a birth date in the phonebook, the phone prompts you to add it to the calendar. Tasks can be of two types: simple Tasks and Phone calls. Notes are written similar to messages and the T9 dictionary can be used here as well.

The Alarms application hardly needs any introduction. There are five alarm slots available. Each one offers a lot of options - you can choose to repeat the alarm on chosen days of the week or everyday.

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Calendar • Alarms

As for the additional applications, Sony Ericsson W508 comes with AccuWeather, Music Mate 5, Music Quiz and Walk Mate, all well known from the Walkman series. The last app can be used as wallpaper.

Available for free download and compatible with a variety of mobile OS and Java-enabled handsets, Google Maps for Mobile come preinstalled on the Sony Ericsson W508.

After defining a start and end location, the possible routes are calculated with overall guidance based on the available information in the database.

Two different view modes are available - Satellite and Map view and the user interface is clean and intuitive. Traffic information is another important feature here.

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The Map view is very informative • zooming in a street • satellite view

Sony Ericsson W508 packs three preinstalled games. All of them are old and known: Bowling, Guitar Rock Tour, and FMX III.

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The three preinstalled games: Bowling, Guitar Rock Tour, and FMX III

Final words

The Sony Ericsson W508 is the first Walkman flip since the Sony Ericsson W980 and the two have a lot in common. It's sure welcome that the new Walkman midranger almost matches the specs of the high-end W980 that was released almost a year ago.

Sony Ericsson W980
Sony Ericsson W980

While the W508 doesn't have the roomy 8 GB internal storage of its spiritual forefather, it supports M2 cards of up to 16 GB, giving it even more storage potential as the W980 doesn't even have a card slot.

The FM transmitter is missing (it's still a strictly high-end feature), there are no stereo speakers and the external display is monochrome, but the W508 has a much more attractive price tag.

Online stores are currently accepting pre-orders for W508 at under 130 euro (180 US dollars) and the price will probably drop even further once the handset becomes available.

But the story of W508 won't be complete without its T-series twin. The Sony Ericsson T707, which we recently reviewed, is similarly spec'd but trades the Walkman moniker for a slight design edge. The T707 omits an accelerometer and the Walkman goodies but has some really cool light effects. Other than that, the two are pretty much identical in terms of hardware.

Sony Ericsson T707
Sony Ericsson T707

Basically, you shouldn't have any second thoughts about these two mainstream phones, as Sony Ericsson have come up with two rather capable mid-rangers in their ranks. However, the way we see it, the concept of an affordable style-driven phone (T707) is somewhat questionable. But an affordable music phone - which gets the real high-end Walkman treatment (W508) - sounds just right.