Review: Sony Ericsson W960: SE Music Manager
The W960, as a music device, has the bone of contention that all devices have, you need to get your music onto them. Sony Ericsson bundle their brand new Media Manger application with the W960 to deal with this, along with a number of other features that lift this out of the ‘utility’ pile into something… well, something that sits a little bit awkwardly at the side of the room.
Media Manager From The Top
For those of you with a music collection on your PC, on first installing, Media Manager started scuttling round my hard drive to build up a list of all the media it could find. A long process (roughly 15 minutes on my laptop’s 80GB hard drive) but after this was completed, you’re taken into the main application (it only happens on first running, subsequently opening the application jumps straight to the main screen).
So the core of the application is a split screen view, with your PC's contents on the top, and the W960's on the bottom, and you can switch between various ‘media types’ with the tabs at the top. These are Music on your PC, CD Music, Pictures, Video, RSS, PC Transfer and Settings.
All of these are available bar Video, for which you’ll need to purchase Media Manager Pro from Sony Ericsson – this seems a bit of a cheat, after you’ve spent your money on a video capable smartphone – it’s also a similar trick to what Sony did with the PSP, making users buy all the media transfer software beyond basic USB Mass Storage connectivity. So if you want to check this out, then it’s another $10 direct to Sony Ericsson. (It's also not necessary, as the W960 will play standard MP4 clips and there are many free MP4 encoders -Ed)
Managing Digital Music
After the time Media Manager takes to index your media, I was hoping for a big searchable list of all my music tracks, with all the info tags read, and able to be sorted by artist, track name, or album., Unfortunately this was not to be.
The collapsed folder view on the left side of the screen illustrates how Sony Ericsson think Media Manager will be used – so you’ll need to be comfortable with navigating a directory structure. Open up these directories and you’ll eventually get to a folder that has music files in it – and the info grabbed from the tags in the music files will be on display for Artist and Album, but strangely not the track name – you see the file name, which isn’t always the same.
Remind me again why I spent all that time letting you index the files and I still have to plough through a mix and mash of files and folders? It’s a little bit frustrating.
Searching for specific tracks is about the only saving grace for this part of Music Manager – thanks to the indexing it’s lightning fast as you start to type in the find box, and it narrows the results down with every keypress – and, unlike on the W960 itself, you can search for strings in the middle of a name (so 'CH' will pick up Voodoo Chile). It doesn’t make up for the previous flaws, but it does make them easier to live with.
Transferring Your Music
You drag it from the top screen (be it digital music, CD, or an RSS feed item) to the bottom – i.e. PC to phone, and it gets put in the right place on your phone. If you prefer a big arrow button to press, you have that as well. No holding lists, no intermediate boxes, just ‘boom’ it’s over. Simple.
One little tweak is available for music files – if you want to change the bit-rate (and hence have a smaller file size) during the transfer, there’s a dropdown on the PC box at the top right to over-ride the default rate you have requested in the settings.
Ripping Your CDs
Much like the transfer of files, this has been kept as simple as possible. Pop the CD into the tray and the display will call up a similar view to the digital music view, i.e. title, artists and album name. These are worked out using the Gracenotes CDDB lookup system, an online index of music. The list of tracks on the CD can be manipulated and transferred in the same way as other digital music – the ripping and converting of the music is done when you start the transfer with a drag and drop or one-click move.
Media Manager also provides a simple interface to move your pictures from your W960 – and this is where the choice of a file based system, as opposed to one of music playlists helps. Because the directory system which is sometimes awkward for music proves to be perfect for transferring pictures from the phone into your PC’s file system; with the added bonus of clear thumbnails on both the PC and mobile side.
RSS and Podcasts
RSS also makes its first appearance in the PC client, and as far as I’m aware, it’s the first time RSS and Podcast ‘sync’ has appeared on a client side piece of software since iTunes. It’s very rough and ready – you’ll still need to manually transfer the files over from the PC to the W960, but you can set up your favourite feeds, either one at a time, or by importing an OPML list of your favourite RSS feeds.
You can toggle the settings to check for new podcasts, from 'every hour' up to 'once a day' – or you can leave it on manual update to grab files when you are in the mood.
Like the initial ethos of the application, this is the simplest way possible to bring podcasts into the W960 – there’s no podcast category on the W960, so you’ll have to find them as you would any other track. Hopefully this is going to be cured in later firmware updates.
Remember The Focus
Rafe’s pointed out that what Sony Ericsson have here is very similar to the Disc2Phone software that was bundled with the W950 – it relied on the folder metaphor as well, with a screen in the middle listing what was about to transfer, and then the contents of the device on the right – a simple three column layout that was easy to understand. So why did I love that and not get on so well with this?
I’m pretty sure it’s because of the targeting of the application. Disc2Phone was a simple, one-shot utility to facilitate getting your music onto the W950 – it was optimised for getting over folders of music. Music Manager (and the clue here is the word ‘manager’) adds in a lot more features (RSS, video and pictures, which we’ll look at next) and expands the scope of the application away from the tight focus of Disc2Phone. Yet this sprawl of functions isn’t matched by more features or options. It’s Sony Ericcson's way or the highway.
A key question has to be is how Media Manager is meant to be used – it’s based very heavily on the folder structure of music on your PC, so the target audience of young professionals is going to be familiar with all the options and will be able to get the best out of the application. It’s just a shame that the application's lofty goals don’t match up to its rather basic capabilities.
Much as the W960 frustrates me because it just misses being a good, solid, well thought out product, Media Manager does the same. In the lab it may be wonderful, but out in the real world its missing features and technical assumptions of knowledge stop it being anything more than cumbersome and functional. The point of any music managing software is NOT to show me how the hard drive is organised – it’s to make it quick and easy to get to my music, put what I want on the phone, and do it without getting me frustrated.
As for part three, there's a lot of smaller music and media functions on the W960, and I'll be looking at them next.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at