Sony Ericsson W380

Mobile phone design is a delicate balancing act between form and function. A mobile phone is a tool intended to enrich the everyday life of its user, so function is obviously of paramount importance. However, these same handsets are also objects of desire, so they have to look attractive and alluring.

The struggle to maintain equilibrium between these two conflicting factors has resulted in some in strange creations over the years; the Nokia 7500 Prism is one extreme, and the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is the other – the former being a designer's folly and the latter being so formal and businesslike you feel you should be wearing a suit whilst using it.

It only takes on glance at Sony Ericsson's latest venture, the W380, to understand which category it falls into. With its sharp edges, futuristic styling and faint glimmers of metallic pink cropping up here and there, it's obvious that this is a handset aimed squarely at fashion-conscious mobile users. Which is fortuitous because in terms of specifications the W380 makes a far less pronounced impact.

For starters, the camera is a lowly 1.3-megapixel affair and lacks a flash for low-light photography. While this set-up is perfectly adequate for taking a few impromptu snaps when you're out and about, it doesn't really make the grade when you consider that many sub-£60 handsets are boasting three-megapixels at the very least, and some five-megapixel camera phones can be purchased for less than £100 these days.

Elsewhere, the technological disappointment continues. The W380 is branded as a Walkman phone yet it showcases a more primitive version of the media player software than is currently being bundled with stable mates such as the W890 and W910. Obviously this makes very little difference in terms of actual music playback, but the little embellishments found in the most recent revision of the Walkman software are a nice touch and are sadly missed here.

The W380 also bucks the trend of SE's latest phones supporting 3G. This is a resolutely 2.5G affair, with no additional camera for video calling and painfully slow access speeds for downloads and surfing the net.

At least the main TFT display of the W380 maintains parity with the more recent entries in the SE canon; it's both sharp and colourful. However, while the phone also possesses a second screen, this additional display is hardly spectacular. It resides on the front of the handset and only makes it presence known when a call is received or when you're playing back music, shining through the purple plastic with a rather muddy and ill-defined glow. The matt surface of the phone makes it almost impossible to view the screen in anything but darkness, so don't expect it to be legible in direct sunlight.

Another lacklustre aspect of the W380 is the external speaker. SE previously had a habit of equipping loud and refreshingly bass-heavy speakers to its phones (the W550 is a good example of this) but more recent handsets have showcased some disappointingly tepid sound qualities. The W380 continues this worrying trend and unless you're prepared to use a particularly shrill and annoying ring tone, you can expect to miss a lot of calls when you're out in the hustle and bustle of the open world.

Thankfully, one aspect of the latest SE phones that has been carried over rather more successfully to the W380 is the gesture command system. Avid readers of Pocket Gamer will recall that the W910 allowed you to skip tracks with a flick of the wrist. While the W380 doesn't boast this facility, it does almost goes one better by permitting you to mute a call or cancel an alarm via a simple sweep of your hand across the front of the phone.

I initially deemed this to be rather cheap trick, but a few unwanted calls later and I'd actually grown quite fond of the feature. It will certainly appeal to those Star Wars fans out there; the act of controlling your phone without actually touching it practically screams "I'm a Jedi" and is incredibly satisfying.


The W380 is thankfully well stocked when it comes to entertainment, too. The Sims 2, QuadraPop and the practically prehistoric Extreme Air Snowboarding (which was seen as far back as the W550) all come pre-loaded, and should provide plenty of mobile gaming joviality. The circular D-pad is flat and disappointingly lacks travel, but it's responsive enough to ensure you remain in firm control of your digital adventures.

To be honest, it's rather unfair to lambaste the W380 for its deficiencies. The phone is clearly not aimed at the higher end of the market and the relatively modest price point (around £80 in PAYG) is evidence of this. It certainly possesses the robust and dependable character that has almost become SE's trademark; navigating the phone is a breeze, the menu system is a joy to use and everything operates with the bare minimum of niggles and quirks.

Yet, sadly, there's no escaping the fact that technologically superior handsets like the K800 are now retailing for less than asking price of the W380, which raises the question of whether such a phone is worth considering. The design is clearly going to be the deciding factor here. If the look of the W380 appeals to you then it may be worth picking up, but only as long as you're prepared to receive a modest and functional handset rather than feature-packed super-gadget.

Sony Ericsson W380

The unorthodox appearance of the W380 is likely to divide opinion but in terms of what's under the bonnet, this latest addition to the Walkman stable is likeable, yet uninspiring
Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.