Sony Ericsson W550i

There’s a lot to be said for being flexible. If you’re flexible with your time, you’ll get more done than you would if you stuck to a rigid schedule and refused to budge from it. If you’re flexible in your body then you’ve got an instant ice-breaker at social gatherings when you entertain people with your rubber-limbed antics. Who isn’t going to be entertained by someone who can put their feet behind their head? In short, flexible is good. So the fact that mobile phone handset manufacturers haven’t adopted a similar mantra means that you rarely, if ever, come across a model that does everything you want it to, and does it all well. We’re hoping that this, the Sony Ericsson W550i, is the start of a new era. Because it truly is a flexible phone, turning happily to whatever task you ask of it.

And ‘turning’ is the operative word here; the keypad swivels out from behind the screen and locks into position when you need access to letters and numbers. But you’ll rarely need the keypad to do anything other than send text messages because the W550i is designed to be used with it hidden away. But the phone’s big party trick is the fact that you can turn the handset sideways for playing games on, changing the screen from a portrait orientation to landscape, so it features the same shape and aspect as your television or PC monitor. This might not sound like much but when you’ve got a compatible game it’s less like playing on a mobile phone and more like playing on a proper handheld games console. You’ve got a joypad to the left of the screen that’s chunky and feels good to use, and there are two dedicated fire buttons to the right, to boot. All of which combine to make playing games a much more immediate, accessible experience. There’s no fumbling as you look for the right button to press – you’ll find it almost immediately with your thumb.

The screen, while not huge, is bright and colourful and is capable of handling some pretty demanding 3D games, too. And as it’s a Sony Ericsson, you just know that there’s going to be wide support for the handset from games publishers. Whether they choose to add in support for the landscape screen remains to be seen – a game has to specifically feature a landscape mode and they’re still relatively thin on the ground at present. Compatible titles we tried out were Worms Forts 3D and Extreme Air Snowboarding, both of which come pre-installed on the phone, and Johnny Crash Stuntman Does Texas, and they work brilliantly. When games don’t support the landscape screen, the W550i does lose some of its appeal but the controls and the screen are still better than a lot of the competition.

The fact that the W550i is also a Walkman phone, with 256MB of memory for up to 80 tracks, and boasts a decent 1.3 megapixel camera as well, means that it’s an extremely rounded handset. The looks are probably the only sticking point; while you get a white snap-on fascia to replace the orange one and other colours are available separately, it’s still not what you’d call pretty. But we’re prepared to forgive it that. In fact, we’re prepared to say that it’s probably the best gaming phone currently on the market. If you’re after a new handset, give it some serious consideration. It does everything you need a phone to do; the software is easy to use, it’s well built and it’s as entertaining as a double-jointed party guest.

Sony Ericsson W550i

Aside from the looks, it's almost impossible to fault; it does everything you could ask and does it well