Ericsson -- a 50-50 mobile devices venture between Sweden's Ericsson AB
(privately held) and Japan's Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) -- appears to be
finally getting serious about the U.S. smartphone market.
In May it released the long-rumored
"PlayStation Phone" (official
the Xperia Play) in the U.S. on the Verizon Communications, Inc. (VZ)
network. While the phone received enthusiasm for its slide out gaming
controls and overall relatively slick Android experience, it has been sluggish
in sales with Sony Ericsson resorting to selling the phone for 1 penny with
contract through retailer Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN).
Today Sony Ericsson revived [press
release] another familiar brand -- the
Walkman. It has created the "Live With Walkman" phone, which
promises a music-themed smartphone experience.
The phone features several key technologies including a proprietary
Walkman-branded music player app, which promises to make slicker playlists than
the average Android, and xLoud integration, which promises to allow users to go deaf quicker by making
"it possible to listen loud without distortion."
The phone itself looks distinctive, with a slick stylized case featuring
extremely curved top and bottom lips. It's hard to tell if this is
conscious effort on Sony Ericsson's part to avoid becoming Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) latest lawsuit
victim  (Apple claims to own the rights to any thin
black rectangular smartphone). But regardless, it's nice to see smartphone
makers thinking outside the box when it comes to design (à la Nokia Oyj.'s (HEL:NOK1V) unusually-shaped
X7 smart phone).
When it comes to the operating system, Sony Ericsson again deserves kudos.
Unlike some sluggish third party partners, Sony Ericsson is delivering
the latest and greatest version of Android -- Android 2.3
And it even has one of the first skins that seems like it might be more of a
help than a hindrance -- a design in which the home screen has four interface
elements that serve as customizable launchers for apps and features.
Overall the launcher looks pretty sweet.
But for all the good, comes the bad. They say that beauty is often only
skin deep. That's certainly true with the Live With Walkman phone.
Inside it packs an anemic 512 MB RAM (with 320 MB for apps, same as the Xperia
Play) and a single core 1 GHz MSM8255 Snapdragon processor (with second
generation ARMv7 "Scorpion" core design and Adreno 205 GPU) from
Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) -- a chip also found in Xperia
Play and "Desire" from HTC Corp. (SEO:066570). It's not exactly
weak, but to call it "powerful" seems a bit of hyperbole, when many
Androids are debuting with faster dual-core
While in most apps you may not notice that big a difference with the processor
-- and may come out a bit ahead even with battery life -- the phone's single
most egregious flaw is its low resolution 480x320 3.2-inch color screen.
Such screens are going the way of the dinosaur, and it's sad to see one
in what otherwise would have been a polished flagship product.
The rest of the hardware is mediocre -- Bluetooth 2.1 (typical), Wi-Fi, aGPS, 5
MP camera w/ HD (720p) video recording, mini USB, etc. Since the phone is
a bit more bulbous, it would have been nice if they could have squeezed in a
full 1/4" headphone jack (which would have added to the audiophile
appeal), but they only manage the standard 3.5 mm model.
In short, if you asked us if we wanted to "Live With Walkman", we're
pretty conflicted. After all Sony Ericsson is offering some sweet
exclusive smart phones between this and the Xperia, and is showing off some
surprisingly good-looking GUIs. However, its poor screen resolution and
lack of memory make this an Android phone which we feel is best suited for
entry level Android buyers only.