Archive for the ‘Cellphones’ Category

July 19 2009 Load Lives Increased

July 15, 2009

The shelf life of credits of P10 to P50 will be extended from two to five days to 15 days.

More than P50 to P100, 30 days; more than P100 to P250, 60 days; and more than P250 to P300, 75 days.

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Nokia 5800 XpressMusic

March 2, 2009
Feb 27, 2009

Four months have passed since its announcement in October 2008 and the 5800 XpressMusic has finally landed in Singapore. It is the first touchscreen smartphone that runs on the Series60 (S60) 5th Edition platform and bundled with an unlimited music download service, Comes With Music (CWM).

Meanwhile, Nokia has already announced the N97, its second touchscreen S60 model, in December last year. That is expected to be available worldwide in the first half of 2009. Samsung, too, has shown off its Omnia HD based on the same software at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Editors’ note:

As this is the first handset that runs on the S60 5th Edition platform and bundled with CWM, we are taking a different approach for the review of the 5800 XpressMusic. Our evaluation will be split into three main sections looking at the software, service and hardware before ending with our usual performance tests and conclusion.

S60 5th Edition Software

Naturally, the highlight of this device is the touchscreen-enabled S60 interface. This is an extension of the current S60 3rd Edition UI, dubbed the S60 5th Edition. What happened to “4”, you might ask. Without elaborating too much, Tuula Rytila-Uotila, vice president for Live, GoToMarket, said the company traditionally doesn’t use that number in its products. In the Asian context, the number 4 is considered unlucky.

The 5800 doesn’t have a directional pad or an Enter button, but is instead fully controlled using the touchscreen and the three hardware keys below the display. The resistive LCD which allows you to use your fingers or a stylus for input requires a little more pressure to tap compared with capacitive screens.

Going with the music theme, Nokia has even included a plectrum–normally used with a guitar for plucking or strumming–as an alternative pointing device. Making up for the absence of tactility associated with hardware buttons is onboard haptic feedback.

User Interface
A lot of what you expect on an S60 phone has been retained, including the ability to bring up a list of running applications by holding down the menu button. To quit any application, just press and hold the corresponding icon and a context menu will pop up for you to do so. Additional shortcuts have also been added to capitalize on the touch interface. You can set an alarm by tapping on the time or switch from Silent to General by hitting on the profile. The battery indicator, on the other hand, brings up the connection manager.

The key takeaway with the touch interface is the inconsistency with scrolling and tapping gestures in the software. It’s not a deal-breaker, at worst marring the initial experience with the device. The irregularity makes it seem like Nokia hasn’t put much thought into what it wants to deliver with the 5800.

For instance, you slide your finger down in the menus to scroll down, but you “push” a page up in the Web browser instead. The swiping finger gesture is also implemented only in selected applications. One example is the picture gallery.

Applications need only one tap to activate, while other menu options require you to tap twice. Granted that a possible reason for implementing a second click is to prevent accidental presses, the constant switch between single and double taps is something which takes getting used to.

While we like the overall “stickiness” of the interface, it doesn’t beat the iPhone in terms of fluidity. Given an option, we would have preferred the rim that runs around the circumference of the device to be flush with the display instead. That will make it easier to scroll pages using the onscreen bars at the sides.

The Home screen on the 5800 prominently shows pictures or avatars of those contacts you want quick access to. Tapping on their pictures, you can then see your recent activity log with them on the screen and conveniently call or message them. Vital information like your RSS feeds and calendar appointments are also easily accessible via this Home screen.

Alternatively, you can switch back to the standard Shortcuts bar which you can customize with four frequently accessed applications. The icons are noticeably bigger to cater for finger-based inputs.

On the top right corner, a touch-sensitive “button” above the LCD brings up a shortcut dropdown column which allows you to access your music, videos, pictures and the Internet browser quickly.

Text Input
Various text input methods have been implemented including a full QWERTY for landscape mode use, a mini QWERTY if you’d rather thumb type in portrait format, the good old onscreen numeric keypad for one-hand operation, and handwriting recognition.


L to R: Alphanumeric keypad, full QWERTY, mini QWERTY.
(click for larger images)

There is haptic feedback for every action, a useful feature when you don’t have the tactility of physical keys. You can adjust the intensity, and we found that keeping it to the minimal, so that the vibration was subtle, gave us the best experience overall.

During our review, the mini QWERTY input was much too small to be useful. On the flipside, the full QWERTY and numeric keypads both take up the entire screen so you can’t see the screen you are on. That may also cause problems in some cases where you have to type in something while referring to text or images on the display at the same time.

While we fully understand the need for these onscreen keypads to be large for accessibility, some size compromise could have been implemented so you can still see part of the original page. That said, we got up to speed typing on the full QWERTY the moment we picked up the phone and it was our preferred mode of text input.

Applications
According to Rytila-Uotila, programs created for current S60 phones will also work on the S60 5th Edition, though many of them have not been formatted for the 5800’s 640 x 360 display and may look odd. The software development kit (SDK) for the S60 5th Edition has been released to developers and they will be able to tweak their current applications for this UI and create new ones, too.

Bear in mind that there are still very limited applications that are fully compatible with the 5800. Preinstalled are the Web browser, Maps 2.0, music player, file manager, calculator, converter, voice recorder, FM radio, Podcast, RealPlayer and your usual Calendar, Contacts and Messaging facilities. Missing are Quick Office and a PDF reader which would have been useful for document handling. Mail for Exchange, one of our favorite free apps for syncing with Microsoft Exchange, worked perfectly fine on our review unit though.

The Web browser hasn’t seen much improvement, so it’s basically still the Webkit version, but with touch capabilities. It’s a pity because Nokia could have taken the opportunity to make it more polished than the Safari browser on the iPhone. What’s good is that the browser supports Flash and Java.

The 5800 is preinstalled with two games–Bounce and Global Race-Raging Thunder. Interestingly, only the racing game makes use of the onboard accelerometer for steering the vehicle in-game.

Comes With Music

Also a big part of the 5800, other than the new software, is Comes With Music (CWM), Nokia’s unlimited music download service. According to the company, Singapore is the first market to get the 5800 bundled with CWM for S$798. For comparison’s sake, a local export set without CWM is priced at S$560.

Here’s the proposition of CWM’s unlimited premise. You can download as many songs as you want, within 12 months, from the Nokia Music Store and you get to keep or re-download the tracks after the service period. So far, tunes from EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music, Universal Music Group and local labels including Rock Records and Ocean Butterflies are available from the store.

Music downloaded from the store are encoded with a 192kbps bitrate in WMA format and are shackled with Windows Media DRM. This means you cannot copy the tracks to another MP3 player, for example, an iPod. Burning music onto a CD also requires additional rights which you must pay for. You can, however, transfer the songs you’ve downloaded to a new PC within three years of purchasing the CWM handset.

So is this for you? Depends, but the price-for-feature ratio is rather compelling. In the four days that our CWM service was activated, we downloaded over 700 songs, though we would chalk that number to our initial enthusiasm over downloading whatever that’s readily available. That brings us to the next point.

What we find most appealing about CWM is the instant gratification it offers. The only thing to watch out for if you are downloading from the device are the airtime charges incurred, which means you’ll need to factor in a data plan with decent bandwidth. What would have been great complements to the service are a music recognition app like Track ID on Sony Ericsson mobiles and a feature that pulls the lyrics of the song you are listening to off the Web.

A few other things to note about CWM are that after the initial phase of downloading all the music available on the storefront, it comes to a point where you either search for a particular album or track that you want, or wait for Nokia to refresh the store’s page so you can pick from there again.

The downloading speed is also dependant on the network which can make or break the user experience. Mass downloads are best on a PC (no support for Mac) and single tracks on the handset. Syncing between the PC and device is only via the bundled micro-USB cable connection (no Bluetooth). A nice feature to have is the ability to charge via micro-USB.

We did encounter a few errors during downloading where the songs couldn’t be found and albums couldn’t be downloaded fully. A Nokia representative said that could be due to our network connection as she didn’t encounter the problems we noticed on her end. There were instances where we resume the download though that doesn’t work all the time.

The 5800 XpressMusic

The 640 x 360-pixel display on the 5800 may seem strange at first because it’s not the VGA (640 x 480) screens we are more used to seeing. The reason for this becomes clear when you think about its 16:9 aspect ratio. 640 x 360 is exactly one-quarter of 1,280 x 720, the minimum resolution for something to be classified as high definition (HD).

If you visit video-sharing sites like Vimeo which allows you to upload HD clips, you will notice that the streaming clips are displayed at 640 x 360 within the browser. For a media-centric mobile phone like the 5800, this is ideal for watching movies and television clips originally formatted for HD displays. You may also want to know that the 5800 has 50 percent more pixels than the iPhone 3G, but has a smaller display which measures 3.2 inches diagonally.

The choice of a plastic chassis may irk users who are used to the metallic accents on premium handsets, but we found the build quality impressionable overall. The SIM card, once inserted, is difficult to remove without a prodding stick (stylus), but that’s not an issue unless you swap SIM cards often. A keylock switch is found on the right edge of the 5800 and it was indispensable for quick locking of the touchscreen.

Internally, there’s little to gripe about. This handset comes with HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS and a touchscreen display. An 8GB card is included as standard and the microSD card slot supports up to 16GB and even 32GB cards when the latter becomes commercially available.

Having lots of storage is, of course, important to a music-focused mobile phone, and that’s further complemented by its built-in speakers and a 3.5mm audio jack so you can plug in your favorite headphones. This same jack also lets you to output the sound and screen onto an external display using a TV-out cable that’s included by default.

Performance

Overall, we found the 5800’s performance to be snappy and there weren’t any issues with call quality. Audio playback via the onboard speakers was also surprisingly good. If you own a pair of decent earphones, the 5800 is a very good alternative to standalone MP3 players.

The 3.2-megapixel camera wasn’t fantastic, although it would suffice for occasional snapshot moments.

On average, the 5800 lasted two days with combined Web browsing, music playback, calls and text messages. Your experience with the device may vary depending on your usage pattern.

Nokia rates the 5800 for up to 9 hours of talktime and 35 hours for music playback.

Conclusion

Though we expected Nokia’s first touchscreen UI to appear on a high-end device like one of its Nseries or Eseries products, the birth of the S60 5th Edition on a mass market phone like the 5800 has its advantages, too. For one, it has an amazing price of 279 euros (about US$386). That’s phenomenal considering the features you get–a comparable Windows Mobile phone is easily 50 percent more expensive than that. With Comes With Music, the additional premium puts the device in the midrange portfolio.

The positioning of the phone also makes sense if you take into account the competition the 5800 faces. Most manufacturers are already into their second- or third-generation touchscreen handsets. For Nokia to come in at this price point and with a laundry list of features, it will force other makers to revisit their lineup.

That’s not all. The Finnish outfit is also going all out with Ovi, its online portal for a range of services. In the case of the 5800, the Comes With Music is key. Building a tightly integrated ecosystem is pertinent to a successful product. The Apple iPhone clearly showed the way with iTunes. BlackBerry is catching up and Nokia is obviously not far behind.

The 5800 isn’t without misses, too. There aren’t that many third-party apps right now, though that will change down the road. Plus the touch user interface isn’t consistent, which is what the company should urgently address. We were close to giving the 5800 our Editors’ Choice award but felt that this aspect caused it to miss the mark slightly.

Overall, it’s hard to find a touchscreen smartphone that matches the 5800 in terms of price and features.

According to Nokia, the red and blue versions of the 5800 XpressMusic bundled with a grey plectrum will be available on February 28 in Singapore. A silver-black model will come in mid-March. Nokia added that a standalone 5800 XpressMusic without CWM won’t be available at launch, but didn’t comment on whether its decision will change in the future.

Specs

Physical design
Phone type Candy bar
Dimensions (W x D x H) 111 x 51.7 x 15.5 mm
Weight 109g
Secondary display resolution x pixels
Input method(s) Touch screen
Available colours Silver–Black, Red, Blue
Phone
Network Quadband
Network type(s) GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
Connectivity options 3G, GPRS, GPS, HSDPA, Bluetooth, A2DP, USB, WLAN
Calling Features Video calls
General
LCD display size 3.2-inch 640 x 360-pixel, up to 16 million colors
Color LCD? Yes
Performance
Operating system Symbian OS
Max. talktime (in hours) 9 hours
Max. standby time (in hours) 408 hours
Internal memory 81 MB
Expansion slot(s) TransFlash / microSD
Included accessories Handset with stylus, extra pen stylus, stylus plectrum, headset, 8GB microSD card, carrying case, portable stand, video-out cable
Multimedia
Built-in digital camera? Yes
Maximum camera resolution 3.2 megapixels

5630 XpressMusic

February 19, 2009

Most interestingly, the 5630 comes equipped with a powerful 600 MHz ARM 11 CPU. Also, as standard, the 5630 will come with a 4GB MicroSD card in the retail box.  The 5630 will be available on the market sometime in the second quarter of the year, at the price of €199/$256, before taxes and subsidies. A Comes With Music version is set for release sometime after, as well. Tehnical specifications are as follows:

  • Connectivity: Quad-band GSM, GPRS, EDGE, HSUPA, and HSDPA
  • Display: 2.2″, QVGA resolution
  • Camera: 3.2MP, fixed focus lens, Dual LED flash, VGA video recording – 15 FPS
  • Memory: 60MB internal, 4GB MicroSD card in box, MicroSDHC expansion slot
  • Extras: 3.5 mm jack, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Wi-Fi, FM Radio, with RDS
  • Battery capacity: 860 mAh
  • Dimensions: 112 x 46 x 12 mm
  • Weight: 83 grams

Nokia E63

February 18, 2009

What you need to know
We like:

Qwerty keypad; Wi-Fi
We don’t like:

Lack of HSDPA and GPS
CNET.co.uk judgement:

The Nokia E63 is a good phone that delivers a competent texting and email experience, but it’s E71 predecessor is better, offering more features and greater finesse. If you want a smart phone that stands out from the crowd, however, the colourful E63 is worth checking out

Score:
7.9 Very good
Full Review

Reviewed 17 February 2009

Last year, Nokia announced the E71, a superb phone that provides tonnes of features in a great-looking, compact package. This year, Nokia is launching the E63, a less expensive version of the E71, with a few tweaks here and there. But is it as good? We took the E71 look-alike on the road to see if it delivers as good an experience.

You’ll soon be able to get the E63 for free on a monthly contract with several major networks, or for around £200 SIM-free.

Design
From the front, the E63 looks similar to the E71. There’s a wide screen and a full Qwerty keypad. Unlike the E71, however, the E63 comes in a red or blue plastic casing, instead of a metal one. The E63 is also chunkier, but not so large that it doesn’t fit into a pocket comfortably.

One of our favourite E71 design features is its easy-to-press Qwerty keypad, and we’re glad to report that the E63’s keypad is also a winner, delivering a satisfying typing experience. Each key on the keypad is raised, making them easy to press, and there’s enough space between each key so that you don’t feel too cramped when tapping out long messages. The keypad feels a little less slippery than the E71’s and the thicker design means there’s more phone to hold on to — something you may or may not like.

While it doesn’t have the finesse of the E71, the E63 looks good overall, and it certainly delivers when it comes to messaging. With a more colourful casing, the E63 looks less serious than the E71, and will most probably appeal to you if you want a phone that stands out from the crowd.

Features
You might think that a thicker casing would mean additional space to cram in more features, but the E63 actually has fewer features than its predecessor. There’s no HSDPA (3.5G), no GPS and no infrared. If the lack of those features doesn’t bother you too much, the rest of the E63 delivers an almost identical experience to the E71.

You can browse the Web relatively quickly thanks to the phone’s 3G capability and, if you want a faster experience, the E63 comes with Wi-Fi.

The E63, available in red or blue, is a more colourful alternative to the E71

The E63’s browser lets you see full Web pages, popping up an overview window when you’re scrolling around so that you can see where you are in relation to the rest of the page. We also downloaded the third-party Opera Mini browser onto the E63. That worked really well — we recommend that you try it out too.

Setting up email is fairly straightforward. The E63 supports Microsoft Exchange but doesn’t support Exchange folders, which is very annoying if you need access to them.

A massive improvement on the E71 is the E63’s 3.5mm headphone jack, which lets you plug your own headphones straight in. The E63’s music player has a straightforward interface and supports a variety of formats, including MP3 and AAC. We like that you can search tracks by typing in the one you’re looking for.

When it comes to the E63’s photography capabilities, a 2-megapixel camera delivers okay pictures for small prints and MMS messages, but don’t expect photos to look sharp when you view them on a large screen. In low light, the LED photo light doesn’t illuminate objects very well, and only works properly at close range.

Other noteworthy features include the ability to download podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and listen to FM radio and Internet radio stations. A microSD slot lets you add more memory for storing songs and pictures. Although there’s no GPS, the E63 comes with Nokia Maps and you can hook it up to a Bluetooth GPS receiver if you want.

Performance
Audio during calls sounded clear, with no noticeable muffling or distortion. The loudspeaker is loud enough to use as a temporary hands-free solution but you’re better off using a Bluetooth headset.

Battery life lasted for over a day, but will vary depending on what features you use — using 3G and Wi-Fi will drain the battery more.

Conclusion
Overall, we enjoyed using the Nokia E63, particularly for writing texts and sending emails, but it just doesn’t feel as special as the E71, partly due to its thicker design and plastic casing. We also missed the E71’s built-in GPS and HSDPA, which add that extra oomph. The E63 may be cheaper, but, as the E71 can be had for free on a contract, it’s hard to recommend the E63 over it’s more up-market predecessor.

5630 XpressMusic Slim phone by Nokia

February 14, 2009

February 13, 2009


Expanding its line of music-focused mobile phones, Nokia today announced the 5630 XpressMusic handset. Most may not associate this series with high-end handsets, but the 5630 could challenge that notion and may even be an inexpensive alternative to some E- and N-series devices.

This slim candybar runs the Symbian S60 operating system and comes with so many features it will make you wonder how they kept the dimensions at 112x46x12mm. Connectivity-wise, the 5630 comes with HSDPA as well as HSUPA for high-speed uploads (depending on whether your operator supports this, of course). Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both included, with the latter supporting A2DP for wireless stereo headsets.

Storage is in the form of microSD cards with a 4GB capacity included in the box. The breadth of features is pretty impressive, rivalling the high-end N- and E-series devices with the only notable absence being GPS. Being an XpressMusic device, it also comes with a standard 3.5mm audio jack so you can plug in your favourite pair of headphones.

Interestingly, the Home screen on the 5630 looks different from other S60 phones. An additional Contacts Bar at the top makes it appear similar to what’s found on the new S60 5th Edition touchscreen phones from Nokia. If this works the same way as the 5800 XpressMusic, you will be able to access all the details of your favourite contacts conveniently from the Home screen.

According to Nokia’s press release, the 5630 will be available in selected markets in Q2. The Nokia Conversations blog states that it will sell for about €199 (AU$390) before taxes and subsidies. About 12,000 to 13,000.

My next phone in the collection. Goodbye Sony Ericsson Walkman.

Samsung SGH-i450 – EXCELLENT RATING

May 23, 2008

Samsung SGH-i450

May 05, 2008

Out of the box, Samsung phones often struggle to impress. Maybe it’s the egg-carton packaging that Samsung uses, or perhaps it’s the gun-metal grey plastic bodies of recent Samsung phones, but the G600 and i450 have both made poor first impressions, defying their much hyped features.

Design

Sliding the i450 open to reveal its recessed keypad did little to raise our opinion; a flat plastic layer with numbers defined by tiny raised strips. It was only when we slid the body in the opposite direction that we encountered the first of many pleasant surprises.

Similar to Nokia’s N95, the i450 employs a dual-slide design with music controls under the top half. Media controls for the i450 are comprised of a single-ribbed rubber semi-circle that gives the impression of being a spinning wheel. Dragging a finger over the ridges scans the music menu like an iPod’s touch wheel. Combined with the on-screen interface, this feature looks great, though we found the wheel to be too sensitive when scanning menus, and often ineffective when trying to make a selection by pressing down on the “wheel”.

On the back of the i450 is a 2-megapixel camera, and on the top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone port; a very welcome addition to any music-centric mobile phone. For some reason Samsung bundle headphones with a proprietary input–similar to the input on the charger–even though the 3.5mm headphone port is crying out to be used. The i450’s paltry 40MB of internal memory is expanded by microSD memory cards with the slot for these on the left side of the handset.

Features

As audiophiles are probably aware, Samsung has again partnered with Bang & Olufsen in developing the i450, similar to the recently released Serenata, however, the i450 is definitely the first phone in this partnership we can actually afford.

The most surprising feature of the i450 is that it runs on Nokia’s S60 operating platform and is one of a very small list of non-Nokia phones to use S60. While we’ve criticised the platform in the past for being drab and uninteresting to look at, there’s no doubting the platform is both stable and intuitive to use. Best of all, recent users of Nokia phones will feel immediately at home with the menus and shortcuts, making a transition to the i450 very easy indeed.

In terms of Web access, the i450 is an HSDPA-capable handset, though unlike similarly featured Nokia handsets, there is no Wi-Fi. The pre-installed Web browser is the same Web 2.0 compliant browser found on all S60 handsets with feature pack 3.1 and it does a decent job of navigating most sites. If you think you might prefer a different browser, the flexibility of the S60 platform means you can download just about any mobile browser available.

Performance

We definitely think the i450 is a music phone to rival the best of the Walkman range of devices, and for this credit must go to the Bang & Olufsen audio technology it calls ICEpower. This title seems inaccurate to us as the sounds we heard were rich and warm, with thumping bass and nice clear mid tones. We tested a variety of headphones with the i450, and even connected stereo speakers to the handset, and the results were outstanding. Even the handset speakers sounded good for music playback, like a decent quality portable radio.

We were similarly impressed by the 2-megapixel camera; real proof of the great megapixel myth. Even though it may not sound like much, this pint-sized shooter outperformed many higher res cameras, particularly the 3.2-megapixel cameras we’ve seen on recent Walkman branded phones. This camera is assisted by a LED photo-light, which works well to fill in shadows for day-time photos, but struggles to light an image at night.

In terms of basic calling functions the i450 worked as expected with clear voice calls and a loud internal speaker. Accessing the menus is speedy, and the phone processes quickly, giving instant access to selections even when multitasking. During our tests we saw battery life cycles of between three and four days, which is about standard for an HSDPA capable mobile phone.

Closing Thoughts

Shabby aesthetics aside, the Samsung i450 is an excellent music phone and sure to give the Walkman range a run for its money. Our favourite Walkman phone of late has been the W890i; a sexy, slimline phone with great music playback but with a less than attractive S$728 price tag. The i450 trumps the W890i in price–at S$688–and in the outstanding quality of the music we heard. Add to this the Nokia S60 operating platform and the decent performance of the 2-megapixel camera and the i450 should be one of the first phones you check out when shopping for your next handset.

Specs

Phone
Phone type Quadband
Networks GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
Connectivity options 3G, EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, Bluetooth, A2DP, USB
Calling Features Video calls
Physical design
Form factor Slider
Dimensions (W x D x H) 101 x 52 x 17.8 mm
Primary display type TFT
Secondary display type None
Secondary display resolution x pixels
Interchangeable covers? No
General
LCD display size 2.4-inch QVGA LCD
Color LCD? Yes
Primary Display Color 18 bit
Performance
Operating system Symbian OS
Battery type(s) supported Rechargeable 1,140mAh Lithium-ion battery
Max. talktime (in hours) 5.4 hours
Max. standby time (in hours) 515 hours
Expansion slot(s) TransFlash / microSD
Other Features
Additional functions Full landscape UI; automatic switching display; S60 Safari Browser; second VGA camera; USB for mass storage and power charging
MMS? Yes
Predictive text input? Yes
Polyphonic? Yes
Built-in vibrate alert? Yes
Multimedia
Built-in digital camera? Yes
Maximum camera resolution 2 megapixels

Creative Zen: I love this toy!!!

May 9, 2008

  • The good: The Creative Zen sounds fantastic and features a brilliant color screen capable of displaying photos and video. The player offers a smorgasbord of desirable extras such as an SD card expansion slot, an FM radio, a voice recorder, and a user-definable EQ. It has a slim, pocket-friendly design; is very user-friendly; supports subscription music; and sports a reasonable price tag.
  • The bad: None!!!
  • The bottom line: We’re hard-pressed to find anything not to like about the Creative Zen. It’s a great option for anyone looking for a great-sounding, pocketable MP3 player with an excellent, video-capable screen and plenty of extra features.

In a move that surprised many a Creative fan, the company has ushered in a flash-based replacement for its Zen Vision:M, a full-size, hard-drive player that offered up to 60GB of space. Though the news was not well-received by some proponents of carting around a large library of tracks, those who give the new player–dubbed simply the Zen–a chance will find that it’s a completely worthy follow-up to its chunky predecessor. This new Zen–which comes in 2GB ($79.99), 4GB ($99.99), 8GB ($129.99), 16GB ($199.99), and 32GB ($299.99) versions–may not hold as much media as the 60GB Vision:M, but it offers the same, lovely screen in a much smaller body, and it packs in a couple of new features for good measure. Plus, it’s an incredible value for the price.

It’s all about sleek understatement
Creative has gained somewhat of a reputation for putting MP3 players in a vast array of colors, so it comes as a bit of a shock (and maybe a letdown, for some) that the Zen will be offered in just one: black. Still, it must be said that black does make an excellent frame for the awesome 2.5-inch TFT screen, which is capable of displaying 16.7 million colors. Also, while the design might not be as innovative as that of the iPod Touch and iRiver Clix–or as cute or as eye-catching as that of previous family members–the Zen has a certain understated elegance with its shiny face and brushed-metal backside. It’s like a smaller, sleeker version of the Vision.

Despite its ample screen, the Zen is pleasantly compact. At just 3.3 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.4 inch, it’s about 60 percent smaller than the Vision:M and it’s definitely pocket-friendly. We’re also pleased to note that Creative didn’t skimp on the controls and has migrated completely to the user-friendly tactile variety. Main functions are handled by a four-way control square surrounding a center select button. This is flanked on the top by a back/contextual menu rocker and on the bottom by a shortcut and play/pause toggle. Sadly, there’s no dedicated volume control, but the right edge of the Zen houses the ever-handy hold/power switch along with a standard mini-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The reset and mic holes can be found on the bottom and top spines, respectively.

Fun features for all
Exploring the top side of the Zen also reveals one of the new extras we alluded to earlier. In another departure from the norm, Creative has built in an SD card expansion slot–a first for its MP3 players. We’re happy to report that the slot can take SDHC cards, which currently go up to 16GB in the full-size SD variety. (Of course, at a price that exceeds the 16GB Zen itself, those are a bit cost-prohibitive at the moment.) Considering the move away from more capacious hard drive memory, we definitely think the addition of memory expansion was a wise–and necessary–move.

Another new feature to be found on this Zen is its support of unprotected AAC files, meaning it will play back iTunesPlus tracks, though you can’t use iTunes to transfer them. The player can sync via drag-and-drop in Windows Explorer, or you can use a jukebox such as Windows Media Player or Rhapsody. Like its other family members, this Zen also supports MP3, WAV, Audible, and both protected and unprotected WMA tracks. Unfortunately, it also shares Mac incompatibility with the other players in its line. Photos must be in JPEG format, which Windows Media Player can convert to automatically during syncing. On the video side, the Zen plays WMV and Motion JPEG out of the box and MPEG4, DiVX, and XViD with conversion. Creative includes an app–Zen Media Explorer–which can take care of the conversion painlessly and (somewhat) quickly.

In addition to its media capabilities, the Zen includes Creative’s usual impressive array of features, though it’s worth noting that there is no line-in recording for audio or video (the latter in particular would have been a nice touch). You do get voice recording and an FM radio with autoscan and 32 preset slots. There’s also basic PIM functionality: you can sync contacts, tasks, and calendar info from Outlook to the device. Plus, you get the usual shuffle and repeat playback modes, handy contextual menus, and the ability to search for artists and songs as well as rate songs on the fly and set up to 10 bookmarks. Nine preset EQs, a five-band, user-definable mode, and a bass boost function ensure that you can adjust sound to your liking.

But it’s the fun visual display option that set the Zen line apart. Album art can be viewed as a thumbnail or in full-screen mode on the playback display, and Creative includes various themes for interface customization. You can also set any image on the player as wallpaper, and the photo-browsing experience is great: there’s a 5×4 thumbnail grid and each one magnifies as you scroll over it. Naturally, you can view photos and slide shows while listening to music. There’s even a nifty, semi-split-screen deal on the main menu that cycles through album art, photos, or video image clips, depending on which media type you are browsing.

Shining performance
No two ways about it: the Zen’s screen is fabulous. Photos look vibrant and bright, with excellent color saturation and good detail. Videos are similarly impressive–clear and bright with no noticeable pixilation (though we did notice the occasional blurring around some sharp edges)–and the viewing angle from side to side is excellent. Even the interface looks stellar, right down to the transparent icons on the main menu. It’s a nice screen to look at for sure.

Frankly, we’ve come to expect stellar audio quality from Creative’s MP3 players, and the Zen did not disappoint–once we swapped in the Shure SE530 headphones. (For their part, the included headphones were passable.) Perhaps the best thing is that all genres of music sound equally great. The bass of Zeb’s disco house track “Disco Patel” was tight and enveloping without overshadowing the sparkle of the high hat and minute ting of the triangle. In the Bangles’ high-end heavy intro to “Hazy Shade of Winter,” the detail of each instrument was crystal clear, and the relatively quiet Spanish guitar was not lost among the frantic chorus of the rest of the track. Overall, music was rich, warm, and detailed…and it just made us happy.

The Creative Zen also boasts plenty of volume to drive a full-size set of ‘phones–we only had it up to about a third with some noise-isolating buds. The rated battery life of 25 hours for audio and 5 hours for video is solid, and CNET Labs pretty much matched these estimates at 24.7 hours and 5.6 hours, respectively. It may not be the longest-lasting battery on the market, but the Zen certainly offers a good value with its lovely screen, nice sound, and good combination of features

Nokia 5320 XpressMusic

April 24, 2008

Nokia 5320 XpressMusic

Support 8 GB Cards!!! I love this!!!

Firstly, and most importantly as far as music phones are concerned, Nokia told us it has put brand-new audio chips inside these two new models to improve sound quality over previous handsets. This is a sensible decision, as more people are turning to mobiles as their primary music players. For some inane reason, the phones were on display with headphones that can only be described as utter bullshizzle, so we couldn’t judge for ourselves whether the new chips were making a real difference.

Another good move was the decision to shift the native 3.5-millimeter headphone socket to the bottom of the handsets, as opposed to the side-mounted design seen on the N95, for example. The 5320 also has dedicated side-mounted gaming keys for use with N-Gage software, which felt very natural to use when we had a swift play. It also supports up to 8GB of microSD memory and HSDPA, but not Wi-Fi.

Both phones were easy to use, with decent keypads, good screens, and ergonomic designs, although we weren’t all that keen on the 5220’s asymmetrical look. The 5320 had a curious “Say and Play” feature that lets you speak the artist or song you want to listen to, and the handset automatically plays it. To our genuine surprise, it worked when we tried it out.

Technical specifications are as follows:

  • Quad band GSM support, with EDGE support, and dual-band HSDPA support
  • 2 inch QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) screen, supporting up to 16 million colours
  • S60 3rd Edition, with FP2
  • Dimensions: 108 x 46 x 15 mm
  • Weight: 90 grams
  • 3.5 mm jack
  • Dedicated Hi-Fi audio chip
  • 890 mAh battery
  • 24 hours music playback
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • Micro SDHC card slot
  • Say and play – say an artist, r song name, and the song will start playing

Cellphones and Card Support

September 21, 2007

A music cellphone must support at least 4 gb for music storage and photos, not to mention movies. A microSD card is cheaper and more readily available.

Sony Ericsson cards are okay, but my main objection about them is the PRICE! SE cards are simply TOO EXPENSIVE especially the M2 variety.