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Sony Ericsson W950: Let Them Download Music Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Thursday, 15 March 2007
While a functional player is good start for any music device, it needs quick and convenient methods to upload music. In this second article on the Sony Ericsson W950 Walkman phone Richard Bloor look the loading music from a PC and over the air.

While music can be transferred to the W950 from any device with a suitable Bluetooth technology or infrared capability, the two main mechanism for loading music will be from a PC or via over the air download.

Loading music from a PC is achieved with the Disc2Phone software supplied with the W950. To utilize Phone2Disk the W950 needs to be connected to a PC via its USB cable. When the USB cable is connected, the W950 displays a dialog so the appropriate transfer mode can be selected; the file transfer mode in this case.

With the W950 connected, Disk2Phone automatically detects the 4GB internal drive and displays the contents of the music folder in the right hand "Phone Tracks" pane.

The left hand "Music Source" pane initially displays the content of the PC's "My Music" folder. Music tracks can be dragged from this pane into the central "Transfer List" pane, to create a list of tracks to be transferred to the W950.

If "My Music" contains unsupported file formats or protected files, which can not be played on the W950, the files can still be dragged. However, after a warning, they are not added to the transfer list.

Once a set tracks has been chosen the bit rate can be set, before transferring the music to the W950. If the track has metadata defining the artist and album the tracks are stored in folders corresponding to this information.

As its name implies, Disc2Phone is able to rip CDs for transfer to the W950. This process is started by selecting "Audio CD" as the music source.

Disc2Phone then reads the tracks from the album and connects with Gracenote to collect the album and track information. This works well and is capable of identifying the most obscure music. Sometime it will offer choices, where it does not have enough information to make a definitive selection. If Gracenote can not identify the album the user can enter identifying details.

Gracenote can make mistakes; a anthology of Ska was identified as "The Best of Bob Dylan" - although each individual track was correctly identified. However, such errors seem to be rare.

Once the tracks have been identified they are listed in the transfer list. If the selected tracks will not fit into the spare capacity on the W950, the "excess" tracks are marked in orange.

Unwanted tracks can then be removed from the transfer list. When the selection is complete the bit rate can be altered from the default 128 kbps, before the transfer button pressed to transfer the files to the phone. A 3 minute song takes about 20 seconds to upload, while a 60 minute album around 4 minutes 30 seconds.

The tracks transferred to the W950 are also written to the PC's "My Music" folder. As any discarded tracks are not written to the PC there are advantages in transferring a complete album the first time. This eliminates the need to rip the CD again for any track wanted later.

There do not seem to be any restrictions on the ability to copy ripped CDs, so tracks can be deleted from the W950 with impunity and reloaded in the future.

Disk2Phone is simple and convenient to use. The integration of Gracenote's service simplifies the process of identifying CD information. Overall it works very well. There is one slight disappointment with the application. While it is possible to select the bitrate used in ripped songs and thus minimize the space used, tracks are ripped to MP3 format. While there is nothing wrong with this format, the W950i is capable of playing a number of other formats, including AAC, ACC+, and E-ACC+. These formats offer much better compression and could allow up to 10 times the number of song to be stored on the W950 than is possible using MP3.

While Disc2Phone helps mobilize an existing CD collection or unprotected tracks downloaded from the Internet, an increasing number of potential W950 customers will be looking for an online source of music. Many commercial sources use DRM that ties the song to a software product, such as Windows Media Player, or a device, as in Apple iTunes. This immediately limits the online sources of music for the W950.

The fact that many operators charge for data by the kilobyte, means that third party music suppliers are limited when it comes to delivering music directly to the W950. Data charge for delivering a track could easily exceed the cost of the track.

This monopolizes OTA music download for the W950 in the hands of the user's mobile operator. However, this does not necessarily mean that prices for OTA music are grossly inflated. In New Zealand, Vodafone offers a full track music service for $1.99 NZ ($ 1.37 US) per track or $17.99 for an album (an options only available when purchasing from the Web.) This compares favorably with the local iTunes store that changes $1.79 per track.

Vodafone Music allows the user to download each purchased track or album to a PC or their phone. Tracks are DRM locked to a single PC and delivered in WMA format, so if the PC is changed the track has to be repurchased. For OTA downloads any mobile phone containing the user's SIM card can receive a purchased track and its DRM rights object. This means the user can be downloaded their songs onto any new phone they buy.

Vodafone Music is accessed via Vodafone Live. The music link is easy to find on the Live home page.

The music page provides details of the current promotions. To get to the full track music store a link towards the end of the page needs to be used.

The full music store page has a similar format to the music page; the primary list of tracks is for those that are being downloaded the most and links to other features are below the list. So, to find specific tracks, or access tracks purchased earlier (on the Web or the phone) it is again necessary to scroll to the end of the page.

"Search Music" is used to find a track not on the most downloaded list. This allows music to be found through a combination of artist and/or song title. The result of a search is list of possible matches, not just exact matches.

Through a combination of searching and browsing the desired track can be located. This process is relatively straightforward, hampered only by the relatively short lists provided and the usual limitations of small screen browsing. Once a track has been found selecting further details are displayed befire the user is asked to confirm the purchase. Currently on Vodafone's New Zealand network a new customer gets their first three downloads for free.

Once the purchase option has been chosen the purchase is confirmed and there is a short wait before the download starts.

Before downloading commences a dialog asks if the download is to be accepted. Once it is accepted, the download is tracked in the browser's protected downloads view.

Downloading really requires a 3G connection. Over the GPRS network downloads can take several minutes to download even a short pop track, while on 3G the same track only takes seconds. Once the download finished a DRM key for the file is delivered to the phone.

With the track downloaded it can be opened. This displays details of the rights, which in this case are count constrained, although in excess of 2 billion plays should be sufficient for most.

The track can then be played and saved to the music folder.

Once the track has been saved it is deleted from the browser's downloads list. It is then necessary to perform an "Update music" in the Walkman player before the track can be played again. Whenever a play queue is started that contains a protected music file the user is warned that consumable access keys are about to be used.

It is noticeable that the first protected track played take a few seconds to start. However, there is no delay with subsequent tracks.

If the download fails Vodafone sends an SMS alert. If the key is not delivered, which seemed to happen quite often, the download has to be restarted. There is an option to request keys, but this does not work within Vodafone Music.

To download a track after purchase, to reload it, try again after a failed download or download a track purchased over the Web, it is necessary to go to the Vodafone music store "My Music" option.

Vodafone "My Music" lists the track waiting to be downloaded to the phone, making it easy to select a failed or Web purchased track. However, if an album is purchased over the Web (it's not possible to purchase them via Vodafone Live) it appears to remain on the "not downloaded" list permanently. The download process from "My Music" is essentially the same as for a new purchase.

While OTS download of music via Vodafone music is relatively simple the process does seem laborious compared to purchasing over the Web. Unless your taste matches with current trends, there is a degree of scrolling and page selection required to get to the search feature. Similarly the links to "My Music" require a bit of effort to find. These issues are exacerbated by the fact it is not possible to bookmark these pages.

There are two significant issues with Vodafone music. The first is a huge disappointment, given the features the Walkman player offers for organizing and locating music. The music supplied by Vodafone Music does not include metadata; the only identification is by the file name. This means all downloaded tracks end up in an "unknown" catch all category on the W950. Given the Vodafone music store is powered by Musiwave, who have been in this game for some years now, the absence of identifying metadata is unforgivable.

The second concern is the issue that will arise when the user switches a phone (or updates their phones firmware, as keys are held on the phone memory). Unlike music services offered through a PC download application, Vodafone music will require the user to download each track individually to their new phone. Many users will not think ahead to this issue, so it is unlikely to restrain their purchases. For those who realize this limitation, it may restrain there use of the service to impulse purchases.

Clearly music download services will vary from operator to operator, but given Vodafone's size it would not be unreasonable to expect they were offering one of the best. So here is the dilemma of the W950. It works well at mobilizing an existing collection of CDs or unrestricted MP3 files, but may be let down by the quality of online music services.

The symbiotic relationship between handset vendors and operators is a clear issue here. By offering an integrated Web store with PC upload, Sony Ericsson would be working against the interests of operators who want to add online music sales to their revenue stream. However, these services are going to struggle in the long term without a PC to device option for bulk music upload. Beyond the original purchase, few users will be happy to upload their collection OTA song by song.

However, does suboptimal OTA support really matter? iTunes, which is generally taken as the benchmark for digital music sales, has sold around 2 billions song. This may seem an impressive number, but it is not much more than 25 songs per player across the close to 90 million iPods sold. Judging by Apple's latest financial results downloads are running at 2 or 3 songs per player per month. Averages may not be an entirely useful measure here, given that iTunes has not been widely available outside the US until recently, while the iPod has been. However, it would seem that iPod users are downloading no more than a couple of songs a week, hardly enough to fill even a iPod Mano's memory in a hurry.

Therefore a digital music player is unlikely to live or die by the quality and accessibility of a download service. As such the W950, Disk2Phone and a local operators download service adds up to a convenient and usable package. Hopefully in the two to three years it will take for users to start contemplating their next generation Walkman phone, the services will have caught up and downloading their online music collection will be a breeze.

The music features of the W950 extend beyond the Walkman player. In the next article Richard Bloor looks at another service from Gracenote and the options for listening to music on the W950.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 March 2007 )


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