"Sony claws back to the portable media market"4.5 starson by chrisjothi
Pros: Music sound quality, vastly improved user interface, great camera, tons of features, smart physical design, long battery power, I could go on and on...
Cons: One of two generations away from being an iPod beater
Summary: I won't lie, I'm a Sony fan. Have been for years. When I was at school, I would take the Sony catalogue with me and look at each of the hundreds of products and admire the constantly evolving designs and technologies this company offers. Sad, I know.
There are two things that made Sony what it is today; televisions and Walkmans. Their TVs were and still are today the standard by which all TVs are measured by. And Walkmans, well, they revolutionised the way people listened to music. And of course they are now good, if not the best, at many other things, from video gaming to professional video cameras used by James Cameron and Michael Mann!
The company however has always annoyed a number of people by unnecessarily introducing proprietary formats. Some good, some bad, but ONE company alone will always find it hard to win public support with a format if it is not supported by other manufacturers. This was highlighted by the company's biggest EVER mistake, encapsulated in one word: ATRAC.
Sony were slow to the MP3 market. In the beginning they shunned it, devoloping the MD and Discman lines whilst Napster was taking on the world. It took computer companies like Creative and Apple to introduce MP3 players whilst the likes of Panasonic, Sony and Philips failed to embrace such a simple concept. Sony were so complacent that they built their own audio compression format, ATRAC, which could only be made by Sony's own Sonic Stage software, and played by Sony's hardware. The software was absolutely appalling, and did not really improve on MP3's already strong compression rate. It was cumbersome to use, and next to the hip image of an emerging iTunes, and the ever improving iPod, Apple did not just overtake Sony, they pretty much obliterated them out of a market they dominated. Heck, they invented the portable audio market.
Come 2005 and Sony execs are looking at themselves wondering what happened to their once-guranteed hundreds of millions a year. They quietly admitted to themselves that they blew it. But their other markets were thriving. Look at the PSPs, the PS2 and upcoming PS3. Look at their Bravia HD displays. Look at their groundbreaking HDV cameras. Sony are kicking butt, but Discmans and MD players are no longer a top 5 option for ANYONE. It is either an iPod video, an iPod shuffle, an iPod nano (get my point) or maybe, for those somewhat bored, a Creative whatchamacallit!
But they have found a way to use the Walkman brand, by using cutting edge technology and simple, ingenious design, and incorporating a music player in their line of phones.
The W810i is one of the more recent additions to an ever-expanding line of sublime phones and I've got to say "it is amazing!"
This phone, unusually so from Sony, allows a great deal of flexbility in terms of how the user can import and export data. The phone boasts a memory stick port, which is such a massive feature, because this means you can replace it with a 2GB stick (4GB is now available, but let prices fall before you buy one). 2GB!!! We may no longer be impressed by such a figure, but may I remind you that with an average 4 minute, 4 MB MP3 we are talking a ridiculous 500 song/45 albums capacity. That's an iPod nano my friend! Hook up your phone via USB and two drives pop up on your computer, the memory stick and the phone's internal drive, and just like your own HDs, you simply drag and drop data from folder to folder. It's brilliant, and obviously lends itself well as a USB stick for students. This means you can use it with PC and Macs, unlike an iPod, and it is not restricted to working with ONE program, unlike an iPod, although iTunes does rock!
So just how good is the Walkman feature? Well, it is very similar to the iPod interface, and whilst it may not boast the brilliant iPod navigation wheel it still has some effectively positioned buttons that allow volume change, starting and pausing music and skipping back and forth tracks. They are in the perfect place, and I commend the designers, because this is where the phone truly excels; ergonimics. With such a vast array of features, it must take a pretty smart bunch of people to make it anything but a hassle to use. The devoted Walkman button transports you to Artists/Albums/Playlists etc etc. You can change the equalizer, you can send your tracks via Bluetooth/Infrared to other people, you can basically have fun.
Sound wise? It sounds damn good. Is it hi-fidelity? No, not by a long shot (but then, neither are iPods!). It comes with good earphones, but I like good sound, so will use my best phones, and encode at a slightly lower compression to cull the best performance from this hardware. It does not sound as good as an iPod, but this is a very personal opinion. The differences are marginal, but this, unlike an iPod, does so much MORE!
A test of whether this is a direct competitor with an iPod is whether, if you took away all the other features and were left with just the Walkman feature, would it be good enough, and the answer is yes. It can improve. It would be great if Apple would allow iTunes to work with other players, because integrating the W810i with iTunes would be phenomenal. The W810i could improve by showing the music artwork, having MORE control over how your music is played, and I would argue to somehow make the menu less cluttered, although it is already well designed. The small details Apple lend their products are great, so if Sony could change the font or anything, to make it a LITTLE bit more streamlined I think it would be more or less perfect!. A great extension to this would be allowing Walkman phones to be dockable in cars like the iPod is, so drivers can control the songs through their stereo. Basically it is a great product, and Sony needs to think big like Apple so it can really stop people buying iPods!
Next up is the 2 MP phone, which, for a phone, is remarkable (and is now no longer the biggest, with Nokia's N80 offering 3MP). Compared to the first batch of dedicated 2 MP cameras, this wipes the floor with most of 'em. It does not come close to any dedicated digi cameras on the market today, but I took some pictures this past weekend that were full of colour and detail. It is impressive stuff, and serves perfectly well for a number of applications. Yes it is grainy, no there is no optical zoom, but it has a macro feature, which is amazing. Noise is naturally evident, and I won't be taking my holiday photos with it, but considering where we were two years ago with camera phones it has to be said it no longer is a gimmick. In a year or two cameras on phones will be able to take pictures comparable to point and shoot digicams, and that my friends is a fact. Please look here at a picture I took with the w810i! (http://www.auff11.dsl.pipex.com/w810i.jpg). Looks good, doesn't it! The phone comes with flash, white balance, macro, panorama, nightshot, and a number of other features. The video camera is subpar, so I guess another year or two will mean DV quality cell phones coming own way!!!
Another massive plus is the RDS radio. Reception seems to vary, but once it hooks onto a strong signal it sounds very good, and if you have RDS services it will show you the name of the station.
As for the phone. Well you got simple navigation towards your address book. Text messaging and calling is straightforward. The person on the other end of the line sounds good. C'mon guys. This is the EASY bit!!!
I wish I could comment on the internet capabilities of this camera but my service provider still charges too much for surfing the web via my phone, and I find the whole experience a bit boring and slow. Mobile internet still has some way to go before it can really be an attractive proposition for me HOWEVER, the RSS reader function will certainly serve me well if I want a quick headline from the BBC website.
You see, when you have a camera, a phone, a Walkman, internet, text messaging, radio, games etc all in one package, that because of consumer demand needs to be small, be light, pack in a colour screen, long lasting battery and removable media, then you have to wonder how it will all work together. Sony have done brilliantly here, and as technology becomes more and more advanced (smaller, lighter, quicker, brighter etc) phones will continue to evolve. They are clearly the best place to find the latest technology, and the W810i may not be cutting edge, but it is certainly the king for the moment. Apple better watch out. Sony want their crown back. Thankfully there will be only one true winner, and that's us consumers!