While a music phone may reduce the number of objects you need to carry around, it does so at the cost of features and performance.
Expect the same deal with Motorola's ROKR (aka the Apple iTunes phone) and Sony Ericsson's W800i Walkman - which isn't directly compatible with iTunes but third-party developers have released applications that allow integration.
Neither phone wowed me but at least make music transfers a little easier than other handsets - excluding phones that let you download music over the air, which is convenient but costly.
With both phones you can use included software to download music from your own CDs. The ROKR also lets you transfer songs that you've purchased from the ITunes music store, which is perhaps the ROKR's biggest selling point.
Transferring music to each of these phones is straightforward - but very slow. You install the software on your computer; launch the application; connect the phone to your PC via the supplied USB and drag and drop your selected tunes from your system to the handset. Download times and the number of songs that each phone holds depend on each track's compression rate and its file size.
When tested, both the ROKR and the W800i Walkman took 45 seconds to 1.5 minutes per track, plus or minus. These transfer times don't seem so bad when you're copying just a few songs. But when you want to fill each phone's 512MB of storage to the maximum, the download can take more than an hour – squeezing 83 tracks on the ROKR took about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Motorola say the ROKR can carry up to 100 songs, while Sony Ericsson claim that the W800i Walkman can hold up to 150. The Walkman phone can hold more because its PC software lets you shrink file sizes. Yes, MP3s are already highly compressed. So why would anyone down-sample even further and degrade the sound quality?
The music playback interface on both phones is simple, but each interface has multiple layers -both very slow. There was a noticeable lag on the screen each time I made a selection. Worse still, though the phones support Bluetooth, you can't transfer music wirelessly.
If you get an incoming call while listening to music, both phones automatically pause the song. To resume playback, you select Play. The handsets are bundled with earbuds, but those provided by Sony are more comfortable than Motorola’s. Sony's are small and have a soft, rubberised covers but the ROKR earbuds are hard, even with their foamy cover; too big for my ears.
Both handsets follow that white is the new black: the W800i Walkman is white with orange around the edges; the ROKR sports a pearly white finish with light grey edges. The Walkman phone is smaller and looks cooler than the ROKR - it's also slightly lighter.
The W800i Walkman works better as a camera phone. The backside is designed like a standard digital camera with a small flash and lens. Ideally you hold the phone horizontally when you take a picture and the shutter button is at the top right, just as if you're using a standard camera.
The W800i is equipped with a 2Mp camera, which worked fine on my informal shots. Viewing the files on my PC monitor, the pictures looked a little better than most images I've taken on lower-resolution camera phones. But some colours were off and the exposure on some images was dark. The ROKR's photo quality was worse, in part because it has a low-power VGA camera that captures less than a million pixels. Some of my shots with the ROKR were grainy and dark.
On a musical level, both phones performed well. The ROKR's iTunes compatibility is a nice bonus, especially for current iTunes users. However, the W800i Walkman phone accommodates my needs a little better: it has comfy earbuds, takes slightly better pictures, and looks good. Alas, it's too darn expensive. If Sony Ericsson could sign up a carrier that could mark down the price, I'd be a happier camper.