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Sony Ericsson W950: Let Them Have Music Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Monday, 12 March 2007
Sony Ericsson's W950 Walkman phone represents an important opportunity for UIQ developers. In a series of articles, Richard Bloor takes a look at the W950's Walkman player, ponders on mobile music, listens to the radio, identified some new music, and rounds up the W950's key developer resources.

Launched at the end of 2006, the Sony Ericsson W950 personifies the platform approach to smartphone development. The W950 shares UIQ 3 and its basic physical design with the messaging orientated M600. Despite its common heritage the W950 is a very different beast from the M600 and Sony Ericsson's other current and past UIQ phones.

The W950 utilizes a touchscreen in combination with a convention numeric keyboard. Supplementing the keyboard is a dedicated Walkman button and a set of play controls, which illuminate when the Walkman player is in the foreground. The Walkman button facilitates easy access to the player by toggling the user between the player and last active application or menu.

On the right hand edge of the phone is another play/pause button (which functions regardless of whether the Walkman player is visible or not) and the volume control. On the right hand edge are the jogdial and back button.

From the standby menu the music orientation of this device is clear. The Walkman player appears as a permanent item in the "today" list and is the first quick link icon. The other default quick link icons reinforce the W950's character, offering access to the radio, web and messaging. The fact that the W950 is also a phone is not forgotten with the call functions accessible from the left screen key.

The main menu is constructed in a similar vein, for example the Calendar is now under a sub menu and no longer a main item.

The basic functions of the W950, such as calendar, call functionality, contacts etc, are similar to those of the P990 and M600. However, the some office features, such as Microsoft Office document editing and PDF viewing, are not present on the W950. Unlike the M600, the W950 includes an FM radio.

The key application on the W950 is the Walkman player. Its heritage in the standard Sony Ericsson UIQ music player is clear, but the implementation, features, and interface are significantly improved.

The Walkman Player opens to the play screen (shown above). Initially the player has no track information loaded. Tracks on the phone are loaded into the player by selecting the "My Music" option and manually starting "Update music" from the More menu.

This manual update is slightly disappointing, particularly as it has to be done each time new tracks are uploaded form a PC to the phone. With the W950's processing power there seems no reason why it could not automatically update the music catalog.

Once the phone's music has been loaded the player offers three basic categorizations: artists, albums and tracks. Selecting any of these scrolls the display left to reveal the next level of detail. This sliding display lends sophistication to the player, but is sufficiently quick not to slow the browsing process.

Once in a detail list a specific artist, album, or track can be found by either scrolling - with the jog dial or stylus - or entering a search string (as shown in the image above, right.) This search finds the first item that starts with the entered string. There is no filtering, so finding a track with a specific word somewhere in the title is still a manual task.

To return up the hierarchy, for example to go back from tracks to albums to artists to the main list, the user can either repeatedly click the back button or use the hierarchy icons in the My Music status pane to jump directly to a specific level.

To the right of the search box there are three icons that allow playlists, ratings and moods to be manipulated. The playlists option allows a track to be added to the current play queue, an existing playlist or a new playlist. Ratings allows an artist, album, or track to be rated. The ratings trickle down; so if an album is rated its tracks take the same rating, although individual tracks can then be rated separately afterwards. However, if an artist or album is re-rated the linked albums and tracks are also re-rated, over writing any individual rating. Finally there is mood, which allows artists, albums, and tracks to be given one of four named moods, or left without a mood.

A list of artists or albums can be sorted in ascending or descending order, however any selection of tracks can be sorted by title, file size, play count, rating, or using a combination of artist, album, and track number known as the smart sort.

Selecting a track from the catalog plays it. At the same time the player takes its play queue as the tracks in the category selected. So, if a track is selected from an album, the album is set as the play queue, selecting a track from "tracks" results in the entire collection of music on the phone becomes the active play queue.

In addition, to the three basic track categories the player also offers the ability to browse music by mood - initially Happy, Sad, Energetic, Chilled or none. As well as offering another classification for music, the Mood setting also control the color and speed of the visualization displayed when a track is played. The style of visualization is set from the player's settings options (found on the More menu). Other settings allow a mood's visualization speed and color to be selected.

In some ways the visualization is a little disappointing. It does not appear to be music activated; rather it is a simple animation of abstract shapes. As it is unlikely that any user will spend any significant time looking at the screen while their music is playing this is not a huge disappointment. However the visualization has a limited wow factor. The visualization does however also carry into the standby screen when music is playing. Curiously the visualization does not display when the audio is being played through a Bluetooth headset.

The Walkman player offers two playlist features. The first is the users own playlists. This is supplemented with a set of automatic playlists that allow the top rated, most played, least played, and last played tracks to be used as the play queue. The least played is a useful way to identify tracks worth clearing from the phone. Bookmarks are also accessed from the auto playlists. These allowing a track to be marked so it can be restarted from a specific point.

Finally the user can also access their own recordings through the player.

Once a track has been selected the main Walkman player screen is displayed. In this view the track's ratings and mood can be adjusted directly from the icons just above the menu bar. A set of controls next to the album icon allow the repeat, shuffle, and equalizer options to be set. The equalizer offer 11 presets, but there is no option to modify these or create new personalized settings.

With the player's main view active the user can control the play position and track in a number of ways. Fast forward and rewind features are available by holding the left and right Walkman play control buttons, or using the stylus to shift the play head directly.

Tracks can be forwarded or reversed to with a single tap on these same buttons, or by using the jogdial, which displays the active play queue.

Curiously, the functions of the illuminated controls are duplicated on the 1, 2, and 3 keyboard buttons directly below them.

Once a track is playing the user can switch away to another application. This deactivates keyboard play controls, but music can be started and stopped from the play button on the right hand side of the W950. Music is also automatically controlled when a call comes in, with the player pausing automatically. Once a call has finished the player can be set to automatically resume.

Other features of the player include the ability to assign a track to the default ringtone, a contact's ringtone, or the alarm clock sound; send tracks; activate a sleep timer; and exclude small or low quality tracks amongst other.

The W950's 4GB memory is capable for storing g upwards of 100 albums, 60 full length CDs, or over 800 5-minute tracks (assuming a sample rate of 128Kbps and little else being stored on the internal disk.) While this does not match the cavernous memory of many stand alone players, the capacity is certainly enough to keep most music lovers happy.

The Walkman player is a significant improvement over the standard UIQ music player. It functions well and is visually impressive, although the visualization feature feels somewhat basic. Browsing music on the W950 is straight forward and the options for creating customized play list are comprehensive. The added benefit of touchscreen interaction enhances the ease of use and text searching simplifies the process of finding specific artists, albums, or tracks. Overall the Walkman Player should offer more than enough features for the users to store, manage, and play their music collection.

While the quality of the player is important, getting music onto the W950 is the feature that will really govern whether this phone really delivers on the promise of mobile music. This is the subject of the next part of this W950 review.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 March 2007 )


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