Sony Ericsson W710i

We like different here at Pocket Gamer. Why follow the crowd, wearing their Reeboks, driving their Ford Focuses, listening to their iPods and using mobile phones that, if you took the badge off, would be virtually indistinguishable from each other? It's the very reason we aware scores in innovation in our games reviews.

It's also why we like the Sony Ericsson w710i so much. It stands out from the crowd, it's not afraid to go in its own stylistic direction and it doesn't back down. Nothing about it is half-hearted. Once down the path of a purple and white colour scheme, it sticks to it with conviction. (An only marginally-less striking grey and white model is available too.)

It's the colour and look of the w710i that first brought it to our attention when we received our most recent batch of new handsets. It was hard to miss among the black Samsungs, grey Nokias and dull-metal of its Sony Ericsson peers.

It's almost Manga-esque in its look. The purple trim on the top of the clamshell is rubber and conceals buttons for operating the built-in MP3 player. The pearlescent white plastic is smooth and warm to the touch and the silver highlights give it a science fiction air. You half expect to see it on screen when you watch the Star Trek repeats on TV.

We'd like to believe that Sony Ericsson has gone with this design to set its latest Walkman phone apart from the pack on purely aesthetic grounds. But, in fact, it's because the W710i is pitched as a sports phone for the get-fit brigade. Hence the rubber MP3 buttons, which you can't ruin by sweating all over, and the slightly chunkier than normal size.

With a 10MB internal memory and 512MB Memory Stick Micro card included, you'll barely fit enough music on-board for your average marathon, but we feel pretty safe in saying that this won't be a problem for most.

To reinforce the W710i's healthclub credentials, a Velcro armband is included into which runners can slot the handset. A suite of fitness programs will count the number of steps you walk every day, a calorie counter keeps track of the pounds, and a clever calculator can work out how fast and how far you've run when you hit the road or treadmill.

To be quite honest though, you need never use any of these features to find this an appealing handset. Aside from the looks of the handset itself, the screen is easy on the eye, with a higher resolution than most Sony Ericsson models on the market. This makes for smoother on-screen text, flashy animated wallpapers and more detailed visuals when gaming.

It's recreation of the digital kind that we're most interested in, and the W710i puts in a decent performance. The screen, as we've discovered, is a joy, and so is the audio – like the entire Walkman range, this handset was built to deliver quality sound. And because it's a Sony Ericsson, you're pretty much guaranteed widespread support from games developers and publishers.

The keypad is well built and the handset as a whole is easy to hold while playing, thanks in part to that subtly muscular frame. The number keys are responsive and firmly seated, and there's a clear rise and fall in profile between them, meaning your finger or thumb is in less danger of sliding from the key you want to one you don't.

It's almost heartbreaking then, to discover that the directional pad and action button aren't as fit for pocket gaming as the rest of the phone. While they're responsive, they're fitted too flush to the surface to be ideal. This means having to play with your thumb crooked, so that you can push down in the direction you want without pressing somewhere else by mistake.

This isn't a problem if you're playing a sedate game of cards, a puzzle or any other title that doesn't require quick reflexes, but for sports (ironically), driving and other more active games, it's a source of frustration and soreness.

This problem brings the W710i's match fitness into question. Are you prepared to sacrifice some agility and speed on the virtual pitch for a phone that, in all other areas, is in fabulous shape?

If you hadn't guessed by now, we are. The overall experience of owning and using the W710i is, in all other respects, never short of magnificent. But consider carefully your pocket gaming line-up before deciding to splash out on signing this particular handset to your squad.

Sony Ericsson W710i

A fabulous phone that's let down by a thumb pad that's too slim for full-on pocket gaming