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Sony Live with Walkman Review: In Depth

The Good

  • 1Ghz processor keeps everything smooth
  • UI modifications are pleasant and unobtrusive
  • Affordable

The Bad

  • Low screen resolution
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You would be forgiven for thinking that the Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman is a featurephone, and at first glance, it does seem that way. Delve a little deeper though, and you’ll find a small yet capable smartphone. The Live with Walkman features a 3.2” 480×320 display, 1Ghz single-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and 720p video recording, all running on Android 2.3.4 with Sony’s modifications to the OS.

Is the Live with Walkman worthy of consideration? Read on to find out.

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman Design and Build

Turns out the Live with Walkman is surprisingly comfortable to hold. Sure, the screen might be plastic, but the compact nature of the phone combined with the rubberised back gives it a great feel in the hand. There’s zero flex or give to the device, and we reckon it could survive a tumble or two without seeing any serious damage. It’s a little chubby at 14.2mm, but if anything it adds to the fantastic grip and feel in the hand. As a result, the phone feels a bit more premium than it really is – always a plus.

Going around the device, on top you’ll find the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, but with a bit of a twist. Around the port is a green LED ring which lights up and pulsates in time to the music you’re listening to. We’re not exactly sure what the practical benefit of this, and luckily you can turn it off in the Walkman settings.

  

On either side of the 3.5mm jack are two large, soft rubber buttons. On the right is the standard power, while the left button is emblazoned with the classic Walkman logo, in bright green no less. Hit this button and no matter where you are in Android you’ll jump straight to the Walkman music player – a nice touch.

Volume rocker and camera button reside on the right side of the phone, microphone on the bottom, and microUSB port on the left. On the back you’ll find the camera with flash, and on the front the Home, Back, and Menu Android buttons. Home is a physical semi-circle button while the other two are capacitive touch.

There’s 320MB of internal storage on the device, and you’ll also find a 2GB microSD card in the box.

    

Our one big complaint about the Live with Walkman is the screen. We can understand having a slightly smaller screen, we just wish it were brighter. Colours are generally good, but not great, and viewing angles and contrast ratio are both weak. The 480×320 resolution also wasn’t a pleasant sight in a world full of high resolution screens and high pixel density. Websites weren’t viewable at all zoomed out, with lots of aliasing from poor scaling. Pixels were also visible even from a normal viewing distance. You can’t have it all, but the Live with Walkman would have benefited greatly from a higher resolution screen.

  

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman User Interface

Although the Live with Walkman is running Android 2.3.4, it does come with Sony’s enhancements and modifications to the OS. Overall though, we like what they’ve done compared with other manufacturers.

  

Unlock the phone and you’re presented with a typical launcher, requiring you to flick through your apps left to right rather than endlessly scroll. On the home screen though, you’ll notice the four “pockets” in the corners. While they are similar to traditional folders, they present a quick way to bundle together apps that you would want to easily access from any of your home screens.

The Timescape feature also makes a return, aggregating your various social network feeds into a single scrollable stream, although we can’t say it was particularly helpful compared to standalone clients.

Overall we like what Sony Ericsson have done. They’ve tidied up the rougher edges of Android and given it some overall spit and polish. It’s not as garish or cartoony as something like TouchWiz either.

  

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman Browser

Once again, the same WebKit browser you’ll find on a plethora of Android devices. No shocking alterations here, just the same browser you all know and love.

As for Flash, it is indeed supported on the Live with Walkman, and runs very nicely to boot. Resolution be damned, it played a 720p clip from YouTube smoothly, although 1080p was beyond its capabilities. BBC iPlayer also worked without a hitch. The one problem though is that since almost all online video is higher resolution that the screen can provide, you’ll see some aliasing and jaggies from downscaling.

  

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman Multimedia

The 5 megapixel camera on the Live with Walkman generally produces good results, although noise reduction can rear its head in some instances. Colours are generally fine, but sometimes it’s as if a haze has been cast over the whole image, with a general lack of sharpness and dull feel. It’s decent enough for snapping occasional pics, just don’t throw away your point and shoot.

  

You also get 720p video recording at around 6Mbit/s, and we have the same complaints there too. Having said that, motion remains consistently smooth regardless of fast the camera is moving, with no skipped or dropped frames.

The Walkman music player is pretty much this phone’s raison d’être, so is it any good? Definitely. Gone is the standard Android music player in favour of Sony Ericsson’s offering, and it’s a welcome improvement.

The Walkman player features a smooth and polished design. Big, easy to press control buttons are front and center with album art lurking in the background. There’s a small seek bar at the bottom, but drag your finger and a time ticker will appear which lets you navigate your track down to the second.

  

The top left pocket pulls up your artists, albums, tracks, and playlists, as well as allowing you to search for what you’re looking for. The top right pocket features your current playlist, and you can drag your tracks around to mix things up too. Pressing the wonky infinity symbol top middle gives you a menu with related options, such as searching for the music video to a song on YouTube, or looking up the lyrics.

We really like what Sony have done with the music player, even if it is the same as what can be found on the Xperia line of phones. It doesn’t have a ton of features or customisable options, but it’s a massive improvement over the stock application.

  

As for video playback, out of the box the Live with Walkman is lacking, using the standard Android video player. That means you’re limited to the usual H.264 MP4, with no native XviD playback. Grabbing an alternate player from the market such as DicePlayer quickly rectifies the situation, with XviD playing smoothly, and even a 720p High Profile H.264 MKV working without any problems thanks to hardware decoding. Once again though, the resolution on the Live with Walkman’s screen means your video won’t look as good as it can do thanks to the downscaling.

Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman Performance

The Live with Walkman impressed us in this area. The 1Ghz processor under the hood may be single-core, but scrolling between home pages and apps was always smooth regardless of the number of widgets. Animations weren’t quite fluid 100% of the time, but they were close enough, with only a few dropped frames here or there.

When websites were still loading in the browser the phone did seem to chug a little, but once things were fully loaded then everything was golden. Pinch to zoom was smooth and responsive, and even heavier websites didn’t seem to pose too much of a problem. Loading times weren’t what you would get on high end phones such as the Galaxy S II or iPhone 4S, but considering what’s on offer for the price, we were pleasantly surprised.

A Quadrant benchmark revealed a score of 1535, a nice result considering the price point this phone is hitting, and that seems to be backed up by everyday performance.

The battery may only be 1200mAh, but the reduced screen size should help to ease the pain a little. We played a 30 minute H.264 High Profile L3.1 1280×720 video with screen brightness on max and drained around 8% of the battery. When the phone was idle it generally lost about 1 to 2% per hour. With our light usage we managed to go around 28 hours before the phone was begging for the charger, so even if you’re a heavy user you should be able to make it through a working day with ease.

Verdict

The Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman is a surprisingly good device. If you can look past the Walkman branding of old and accept this for the long lost budget Xperia device that it is, you’ll find a good all round package.

Pricing, of course, is key. Having a quick look around, the unlocked model ranges from between £165 to £200, while Three offer the phone on PAYG for £129.99 (with a minimum of £10 top-up). We wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending the Live with Walkman at the top end of that scale, but Three’s pricing is great.

The only real letdown of the phone is the screen resolution. If you’re looking for something that won’t hurt your eyes as much, maybe take a look at the Orange San Francisco or Monte Carlo, although in exchange you’ll be giving up some performance.

Specification

OSAndroid

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