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Sony Ericsson W950: Let Them Discover Music Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
In this last look at the user features of the Sony Ericsson W950 Richard Bloor discovers some new tunes and explores the different ways users can listen to their music.

While the ways in which people discover new music have changed in recent years, radio remains a significant source for many. The Sony Ericsson W950 Walkman phone not only provides an FM radio, but has ways of helping its user find out what any piece of music they hear is.

The W950's FM Radio is an integral part of this device's music features. A fact reinforced by the presence of the radio on the standby screen's default shortcuts.

Tuning can be performed automatically or manually. Automatic tuning also saves the stations found as presets. Presets can be accessed from either the on-screen"Presets" button or by simply rotating the jog dial. Presets can be rearranged by selecting the "Move" option, when the presets list is displayed.

Presets 1 to 10 can also be accessed from the keyboard, if the option to use the keyboard as a number pad is selected. The alternative option is to have the Walkman keys active to provide mute (on the 2 or start/pause button) or station search (forward and reverse on the 1 and 3 buttons respectively).

The radio offers text and RDS, if they are supported by the station. RDS allows the radio to automatically switch frequencies to dedicated news or traffic report channels when bulletins are broadcast. It also gives the radio the ability to switch to a station's alternative frequency if this offers better reception in a particular area.

The radio includes the same visualization as the Walkman Player, which also displays in the standby screen when the radio is playing. As in the Walkman Player, the visualization can be turned off from the "settings" options. The standby screen also displays the active station in the space normally occupied by the Walkman player link or track information.

There is also a sleep function.

While these features are similar to the FM Radio offered on the P990, the key differentiator for the W950 is TrackID™. This allows the user to sample a piece of music, which is then sent to Gracenote for recognition. Then, if the track is matched, the track details, name, artist and album are displayed in the phone's browser.

To use this feature, the user simply select TrackID from the "more" menu. As the sample is sent over the user's data connection a simple alert to this fact is provided.

In our testing TrackID worked very well. From a well tuned radio station the match rate was near perfect. The same service can be used to recognize music from an external source, such as a TV or radio. This alternative recognition option is found in the sound recorder application. This may not be obvious to many users and some users may miss this feature. Once activated the sound recorder TrackID feature works in much the same way as the radio version.

The sound recorder version of TrackID seems less reliable. This may have as much to do with the fact samples from TV music could include commissioned pieces. It is also likely that the ambient soundtrack on music recorded from the TV shows interfered with the recognition process.

One particularly impressive, at least to us, example of the services recognition ability was from the external source option. The sample was incomplete, as we forgot to take the track off pause quickly enough. Then the W950 was moved away from the sound source during the sampling. Add to this the fact that the track was a remixed version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", which for the short sampled section sounded much like an instrumental section from the original. Given all this TrackID successful identified the track as "Tainted Schall" by Thomas Schumacher, very impressive.

So with TrackID the frustration of hearing a record, liking it, but then spending days of frustration trying to catch the artist and title are banished forever.

The W950's FM radio requires the handsfree headset to provide the radio's aerial, however this does not limit the way in which the radio can be heard. The radio's audio, as with the Walkman player, can be redirected to the W960's speaker or a Bluetooth audio device, while the handsfree is installed.

The rear mounted mono speaker does not provide spectacular sound quality, but is perfectly acceptable for occasional or shared listening. On the other hand the sound quality on the supplied handsfree, with its bud style earphones, is very good. The sound is rich, with a surprising bass response, and should be more than adequate for most users. The handsfree can also be used with any third-party headphones with a 3.5mm jack, which is plugged into the handsfree's microphone unit. This means that handsfree calling is still possible with a pair of standard headphones. Similarly the convenience of the handsfree's remote control - to adjust volume, select tracks and start and stop playback, - is not lost when using an alternative set of headphones.

The big bonus of the W950 is support for stereo sound over Bluetooth technology. For those who really wish wireless could be just so, a set of Bluetooth stereo headphones eliminates all that irritating untangling that seems to be a given with corded handsfrees. The W950 worked well in combination with a set of Jabra BT620s headphones. All the headphone features - play control, volume, and calling - worked in conjunction with the W950.

Sony Ericsson also offers a number of accessories that allow the W950 to be connected to a stereo system via 3.5mm or RCA jacks. These include simple cable connections, a Bluetooth music sender, and a remote control stand; the latter two are yet to be released. Similar accessories are available from third-parties too.

Sound is automatically transferred between the handsfree and built in speaker when the handsfree is unplugged and transferred back when it is plugged in. To select an audio device, other than the default, the "transfer sound" option is used. In the radio sound can be transferred from right most sound icon in the lower right of the radio screen (as highlighted below, left) as well as from a "More" menu option. By contrast the Walkman Player hides this option under "Settings" in the "More" menu.

Overall the W950 is an impressive package. The Walkman Player offers a sleek sophisticated player. Disk2Phone offers a straightforward way to upload an existing CD collection and an operator's music service (such as Vodafone Music) allow music to be discovered, downloaded, and purchased anywhere there is network access. The radio provides good FM reception and TrackID banishes those "what was that song" blues. Combined with the 4GB memory the W950 offers music fans a functional, stylish mobile music player.

However, the W950 does much more besides. The complete range of core UIQ 3 applications offers an address book, calendar, to do list, calculator, and others. In addition, the W950 offers potential as a gaming device. It is equipped with the same graphic acceleration technology as the P990 and M600. Unfortunate the preloaded games, QuadraPop and Nightclub Empire, do not showcase this feature, nor do any of the try and buy applications shipped with this particular phone. This is a shame, as games such as Interstellar Flames 2 are impressive on the W950.

The W950 offers a very attractive user package and as such developer's with a significant opportunity. While the W950 is clearly aimed at a more mature user, with the disposable income to justify the purchase of a smartphone, it will be shifting the demographic profile of UIQ device owners significantly. No longer is UIQ the domain of business users, it firmly in the mainstream.

The final article on the W950 will provide a round up of the resources available to help kick start the development of applications for the W950.



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