Samsung YP-P2 Bluewave 2 Firmware

As promised in my review of the Samsung YP-P2 MP3 player, here is an update on the player with the new Bluewave firmware. I was going to write an update on the new features added in the first Bluewave firmware update (v. 2.08), but by the time I got around to that, Bluewave 2, version 3.07, was already out, so I decided to write about both of them together. However, as Samsung would have it, a further revision to Bluewave 2, version 3.15, was released a week ago. Aside from one change, it’s functionally the same as the version 3.07, which I’ve been using for a few weeks.

Bluetooth

The biggest set of features for the Bluewave updates is the enabling of more Bluetooth functionality, specifically the ability to make and take phone calls on the P2 as well as file transfer. Once you’ve paired a cell phone with the Samsung P2, incoming calls will interrupt your music, and you can choose the take a call directly from the player interface, without accessing your cell phone at all. Furthermore, you can choose to make outgoing calls, at which point a number pad appears on the screen and you can dial a phone number. You can also transfer contact information from your cell phone (if that is supported by your phone) and use that to initiate calls.

Bluetooth calling

Bluetooth file transfers are also enabled. I’ve tried sending a few MP3s between my cell phone and the P2 and it worked perfectly. Although I’d imagine it would be technically possible to enable some sort of Bluetooth sync for your music library, the limited speed of even Bluetooth 2.0 means that transferring a large amount of data isn’t very reasonable, especially since Bluetooth range isn’t up to par with Wi-Fi either. Still, for transferring a couple songs here and there, it would be acceptable, and would make it a little more convenient than having to dig out the USB cable to send over a song or two. Perhaps Samsung could consider enabling that functionality in a future firmware update.

Bluewave 2 (v. 3.07) didn’t add any further Bluetooth functions, but it did seem to vastly reduce pairing time between my Sony Ericsson K790a and the Samsung P2. Pairing between the two didn’t seem very reliable in v. 2.08 (on occasion, they would be unable to connect), but with 3.07, this has been improved.

UI and Emoture

Bluewave 1 (v. 2.08) brought some user interface changes, including a modified Now Playing screen, taking better advantage of the real estate by increasing the size of the album art or visualization. In all the browsing interfaces, more room is given to the scroll bars, making it easier to quickly scroll through lists.

Samsung P2 Now Playing

Bluewave 2 (v. 3.07) brought several feature additions for the user interface as well the supported touch gestures. Now in photo and video modes, double tapping will zoom in, while drawing a circle with the finger in photo or text viewer mode will rotate the viewing orientation.

Samsung P2 Text Viewer

Browsing by albums now presents a new interface mode. Up to 5 album covers are arranged in a semi-circle. The list is advanced either by swiping up and down or by tapping on the album covers.

Samsung P2 Browse Albums

Miscellaneous

One improvement, that was oft requested, is the ability to delete files directly on the player. There’s no need to remember photos or music that you no longer want on the player until the next time you sync with your computer. Now, you can go ahead and delete them right in the File Browser.

The user now has the ability to record FM radio. A record button is conveniently placed in the radio user interface. Recordings are done in MP3 format at 128kb/s.

Bluewave version 3.15’s only improvement as far as I can tell is a new ‘instant startup’ feature. If the player is ‘asleep’, turning it back on will bring you immediately to whatever screen you left off at. Previously, you’d have to wait through Samsung’s startup screen, which took 10 seconds or so.

Wrap Up

I think one of the biggest bonuses of all these firmware improvements is the fact that Samsung is listening to the user community and actively supporting this device. The Samsung P2 was already a great MP3 player, but these continued feature additions by Samsung has made it even easier and more fun to use.

Samsung YP-P2 8GB MP3 Player Review

Introduction

I set out over a month ago to find an MP3 player that could replace my 5G iPod Video. It was rarely used, sitting on my desk gathering dust. It was too bulky and fragile. Apple produced a fantastic looking device, but that ‘feature’ made me afraid to use it. The iconic iPod was also starting to lose its luster in my eyes (and according to Apple’s latest earnings report, perhaps in other peoples’ eyes as well, iPod sales growth is slowing, with replacement sales being the main driver). I wanted something smaller, lighter and required less babying. Truth be told, part of me just wanted a new gadget to play with. I ended up buying the Samsung YP-P2, a touchscreen, NAND flash media player. I’ve already described my reasoning behind selecting the device as the replacement MP3 player in earlier posts.

After extensive use for a couple months, I’m ready to write the review.

Samsung

To start things off, here are some specifications of the P2 8GB MP3 player, courtesy of Samsung.

Samsung P2 Specifications

Samsung P2 Dimensions

At present, the highest capacity offered is 8GB and with no expandable memory, that’s as far as you can go, for now. If the plan is to use it as a video player, 8GB may get chewed up awfully quickly. Do keep that in mind.

Unboxing and packaging

I can’t comprehend why companies still insist on putting their products inside these sealed plastic packages. Not only is it not attractive, it also necessitates numerous self-inflicted hand wounds when forcing open the package.

Samsung P2 packaging

Unfortunately for Samsung, even once the buyer is past the dreaded plastic, the unboxing experience is still decidedly mediocre. Since the player is fully visible through the plastic packaging, there isn’t much in the way of anticipation. You merely have to get through the multiple layers, all the while looking at the gadget. A plastic box opens up and you’re greeted with the colorful backdrop to the player and the earphones. Depending on your taste, you may like the colorful and visually stimulating design – I tend to prefer a more muted or conservative approach.

Samsung P2 box

After digging out the top half of the contents, which holds the earbuds and the MP3 player itself, you’ll see the driver and software CD, quick start guide, a USB cable for charging and file transfer, a little stand, earbud covers, and a warranty information card. Nothing really out of the ordinary, although some will bemoan the lack of a wall charger. However, if you have a Samsung cell phone, you can use its charger – cross-computability is a wonderful thing.

Samsung P2 contents

Some Samsung P2’s shipped with a companion clear plastic case in the United States. Unfortunately, Futureshop did not have this case nor did it have any other case for the player at all. While it doesn’t seem as scratch-prone as the 5G iPod it’s replacing, I’d feel much more comfortable with some form of protective casing.

Microsoft Zune 2.0 Software Review

This is probably the part where you call me crazy, but I’m very impressed with Microsoft’s version 2 of their Zune software. When the first generation Zune was launched with its associated software, the software was described as nothing short of a total disaster, with problems ranging from atrociously long install times to completely uninstallable. The first gen hardware was also nothing special – clunky and not aesthetically appealing.

Microsoft Zune

So, it seems only appropriate that the revamp of the Zune MP3 player lineup, which has been well received in general, is accompanied by a vastly improved software component. After reading of the faint praises of the new Zune 2.0 software in a few reviews, I knew that I’d have to take it for a test drive. If these reviewers, who were previously burned by the horrid software, were more than cautiously optimistic, I suspected it would be even better than they let on. And I wasn’t disappointed. I’m so impressed that it has since become my main music player. Let me explain.

Simplicity

One of the main ‘features’ that made the iPod so popular is its simplicity. Recently, other features, such as videos and photos have started appearing, but they are still first and foremost music players. The user interface is designed for easy navigation of music. Although it may lack a ton of customizability, it does what it was intended to do well. The same can be said of the new Zune software. While I cannot test the syncing functionality, since I do not have a Zune, my impression with the rest of the application has been extremely positive – for playing music, it performs beautifully and simply.

This time around, installation isn’t a problem (that’s a good sign…). A short wizard prompts the user for the location of various types of media and we’re off to the main interface, which is split into three panes. From left to right they are: Artists, Albums, and Songs. The Artists and Songs columns are text-based, while the middle Album column shows off the album art for the albums in you library. In addition to the straightforward layout, the artistic design of the user interface is also very clean and calm. Important – the interface is extremely smooth. Unlike Windows Media Player 11, which takes a little while to become perfectly responsive during the loading of all the album art, and iTunes, which just performs poorly overall in Vista, the Zune software ‘scrolls like butter’ as a certain someone would say. The album art loads extraordinarily quickly and performance isn’t compromised while its loading either. Props.

Zune Software

There are two search methods. The first one is most obvious – in the form of the search dialogue at the top right. A search here is not ‘live’ as in you have to press enter to display the search results. In a day and age when almost all desktop search has become of the search-while-you-type kind, this was a little weird. However, once you press enter, you’ll realize why this compromise was made. Not only are the contents of your collection matching the query returned, results from the Zune Marketplace are also displayed in a panel to the right.

Zune Software

Luckily, if all you’re trying to do is search through your music collection, just start typing what you’re looking for at any point in the browsing interface. As you type, a display will appear that shows what you’ve typed so far, while in the background, the search results are being displayed. This search design takes search immediacy to the next level. You don’t even need to indicate that you want to search by clicking on a search dialogue. I find this search implementation feels quite natural, and after using it for a while, you’ll start wondering why search in other applications aren’t designed this way.

Zune Software

Now Playing with Zune

Lots of media players include visualizations that pump along to the beat of the music and almost every player has the capability to display the song’s associated album art while playing the song, but none that I’ve seen have taken the new Zune software’s route for background visuals during music playback. Instead of jiving bars (I’m not even certain there are any ‘visualizations’ to speak of) a collage of album art from your collection provides visual pleasantries. Just click the little pink bars beside the music controls in the browsing interface to activate this view. Every once in a while, the background album art switches to different ones, providing a bit of motion and change. The current artist, album name, song and art are displayed prominently towards the top left. Mouse over the applications and a now playing list and controls fade in. Otherwise, they stay hidden, making this application a very solid choice for playing music at a house party or the like.

Zune Software

One addition that could be cool is to have the ability to click on the album art to have that album start playing, right from the now playing screen.

The aesthetics, performance, and fancy effects do have an effect on system load unfortunately. Compared to Windows Media Player 11, the Zune software uses substantially more memory – to the tune of around 60-70MB, compared to ~30MB after some use. On the other hand, it uses less memory than iTunes, which with CoverFlow browsing shoots up into triple digits of memory usage.

Playlists, Podcasts and the Marketplace

Of course no media player would be complete without playlist support (and more recently Podcasting support). The Zune software offers both of these, albeit in a somewhat dumbed-down fashion.

There is a separate ‘tab’, if you will, in the interface that allows control over playlists. Here, they can be created, deleted and modified. To add songs to a playlist, from the browsing interface, just drag the song or album or artist onto the playlist button at the bottom left of the application, at which point releasing it will send it to the currently selected playlist, or if you hold it there a little while longer, a pop-up will appear, presenting other playlists you can add to. Fairly standard.

Podcast support on the other hand will be slightly lacking, especially if compared to something like iTunes. Most podcast RSS feeds have dedicated, one-click buttons to subscribe in iTunes; however, to subscribe to new podcasts with the Zune software, you’ll have to manually copy and paste that address. First you’re greeted with a prompt for the podcast URL.

Zune Software

Then, depending on your podcast settings in the Zune software, it’ll automatically start downloading the latest few podcasts from that subscription.

Zune Software

The general features of a podcast are there. For example, you won’t have to restart or find your place in a podcast if you pause it partway through and go off to listen to some music.

Microsoft has integrated the online Zune Marketplace music store within the Zune software. Fortunately, it’s much, much more responsive than the iTunes store. It keeps with the style of the application and doesn’t feel like an embedded browser (to be honest, I’m not even sure it is an embedded browser that’s fetching the store).

Zune Marketplace

Purchases are made using the same Microsoft Points you use in the Xbox Live Marketplace. Other options include a $14.99/month subscription deal. I don’t have a Zune, so obviously, I didn’t test out the integration of the store and a Zune. Clicking through to an album brings up the album with all songs listed, as well as other albums by the same artist.

Zune Marketplace

Photos and Video

With the big 3.2″ screen on the new full sized Zune’s, it’s obvious that it was designed for viewing photos and videos as well. As such, the Zune software has support for both. Unfortunately, there is no support for much outside of WMV. DivX and Xvid are both definitely not supported by default. While it makes sense that you cannot play Xvid/DivX videos using the software, since the Zune doesn’t have support for those formats, it’s still disappointing as I won’t be able to use it as default media player outside of music. For some who want to be able to use one piece of software for all their multimedia needs, this could mean crossing the Zune application off the list.

Still for the formats it can play, the application does a fine job of it – like the music playing screen, the player controls only appear if you mouse over the application and they fade in and out nicely.

Zune Software

The photo gallery continues with the slick design of the rest of the program. The photos are organized by file structure hierarchy. At higher levels, the number of photos in each folder is indicated. Once you enter a folder, thumbnails will be shown, all generated extremely quickly, without bogging down the interface.

Zune Software
Zune Software

Double-clicking on a image will bring you to the display screen. If you had music playing, you needn’t worry – it’ll continue playing in the background. Here you can manually peruse your photos, or you can start a slideshow. At any time in the gallery or during a slideshow, a button allows you to switch the controls from controlling the flow of photos to the music.

Zune Software
Is that an iPhone I see?

So What’s Wrong With It?

I’m generally very impressed with the music playing capabilities and the aesthetic appeal of the new Zune software. While being a fairly niche product for now (serving the needs of Zune users), it presents one of the best user experiences of any program I’ve used to date. However, it’s not without its faults.

The nearly complete lack of video format support is a big downer. I’d love to be able to use it as my movie player as well, but currently, that’s not possible. Additionally, many features have been completely cut out to keep the program simple. For example, there’s a complete inability of modify an MP3’s tags. You can edit an artist, album or song name, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually change its tag outside of the Zune program. Better support for finding and adding podcasts would also be a big plus. In its current form, searching and adding podcasts requires the user to find the RSS URL, the manually copy and paste it in. Hardly user friendly, and I’d imagine many users would rather skip the whole process altogether, leaving the podcasting functionality unused.

My final point isn’t so much a flaw in the software as something that I’d like to see added – support for other MP3 players. Microsoft at one point initiated a big push with their PlaysForSure initiative, but it seems like since they launched the Zunes, there’s been a substantial conflict of interest. Taking a page from the iPod/iTunes book, Microsoft’s promoting much more integration between the Zune and its software. As much as I want to use the Zune software for all my multimedia needs, I still need to open up Windows Media Player 11 every time I hook up the Samsung P2 to transfer music. Opening up the Zune software isn’t something Microsoft’s likely to do in the near future, but definitely should be considered. It would help drive more users to the Zune Marketplace.

Wrap Up

A very good user experience would aptly describe what I feel the Zune 2.0 software is. The user interface, aesthetic design, and simplicity have made it the default music player on my desktop computer. The flowing design and smooth effects make Windows Media Player and even iTunes feel a little dated.

I was, unfortunately, unable to test the entire syncing portion of the software, as I don’t have a Zune (hey, Microsoft, feel free to send me one, and I’ll be more than glad to test that portion of the software 😉 ) but given the level of integration in the rest of the application, I’d be surprised if it didn’t work well. I think it says something that I’m impressed, even though half the functionality of the program wasn’t even tested.

Have a Zune? You’re probably already using the software and being impressed. Don’t have a Zune? Give the software a test run – you may find it’s better at playing music than what you’re using now!

Pros:

  • User experience, user experience, user experience
  • Aesthetics
  • Speed/performance
  • Good integration with the Zune Marketplace
  • Simplicity and ease of use
  • Very slick search-as-you-type implementation

Cons:

  • Very limited video format support
  • Simplicity can also be a disadvantage – no MP3 tag editing
  • Podcast support is a bit lacking
  • Memory usage is higher than Windows Media Player 11 and other lighterweight players

Like-to-have:

  • Support for MP3 players other than the Zune

ASUS Eee PC First Thoughts

Impressions

The ASUS Eee PC’s been out for a little while, but I haven’t had the chance to get a first-hand look at it until earlier this week. A friend picked one up and was kind enough to let me get in a few unboxing pictures as well as some comparison photos of it with my Dell XPS M1330. I was also able to use it a bit and get some quick first impressions in. This device really excited me when it was announced by ASUS for $199. Has the new price tag of $399 and some time with it changed my opinion?

You don’t even have to open the box to realize that this device is going to be small. The retail box it comes in is absolutely tiny. The first box shot doesn’t really do it much justice, but when compared with an EVGA video card box, you get a feel for just how diminutive it is. The Eee PC box is almost exactly the same dimensions as the 8800GT box.

ASUS Eee PC Box ASUS Eee PC Box

Opening up the box, you’re greeted with an even smaller laptop. The package comes with a nice sleeve for the laptop, a 4 cell ~38Whr battery, a charger (no power brick here – it’s like a power adapter for a modem), and some manuals/warranty cards (and a driver CD).

ASUS Eee PC

After removing it from the box and connecting the battery, I performed the subjective weight test and was very impressed. This thing is light! Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like ASUS sacrificed material quality for weight. You can pick it up from a corner with no creaking or flexing (the small size also helps). Don’t get me wrong; the casing is completely made of plastic, but thickness is good and the hinges are especially beefy. They feel like they’ll last plenty of repeated openings and closings.

ASUS Eee PC

I purchased my Dell XPS M1330 because it has a great balance of portability, power, and battery life. But on the portability front, the Eee PC completely shows it up. Just look at the comparison photos and you’ll know what I mean.

ASUS Eee PC ASUS Eee PC ASUS Eee PC

There’s just no comparison in size. The user interface is also extremely simple and attractive. It is extremely graphical and intuitive. There are no long menus of applications and folders. It’s a great setup, especially for beginner users or other non-advanced users.

ASUS Eee PC User Interface

Issues

Unfortunately, that’s also where its disadvantages stem from. A consequence of the small chassis is an even smaller display. I hadn’t thought much of it prior to seeing it, but the 7″ display is tiny. It doesn’t help that the wide bezel and speaker combination makes the display seem even smaller. The 800×480 resolution is enough for many uses, but more and more web pages are expanding beyond 800 pixels of width. Chalk it up to lack of concern of usability by the webmasters or what have you, the fact is, you’ll be side scrolling quite a bit. Fortunately, the integrated graphics and CPU are more than capable to playing back both internet video and DIVX/XVID files.

As well, the size of the keyboard had to be reduced. This means typing is a rather difficult affair, although I’m sure with some time, I’d be able to get used to the size of the keyboard. On the other hand, some of the layout sacrifices are terribly annoying. I’d especially like to point out the smaller than usual backspace and enter keys. Perhaps even more annoying is the fact the right Shift key is on the outside of the up-arrow. Even in the brief amount of time I had with it, attempts to hit the right Shift resulted in going up a line instead.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly test the battery life, but ASUS is saying anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. Some reviews have cited around 3.5 hours of battery life with light use, which in itself isn’t bad at all. However, considering the battery is rated at almost 40Whr, we’re talking about approximately 11W power consumption per hour (at light load), which is surprisingly high for such a small and low-powered device. In comparison, with the optical drive disabled, but wireless on and screen brightness at 6/8, the Dell XPS M1330 only consumes around 13W idle and 15W while browsing the internet. That’s with a dual core processor and a dedicated 8400M GS video card. Perhaps ASUS can optimize it further for power as a low-power 900MHz single core mobile CPU, a 4GB SSD, a 7″ LED backlit display, and integrated video still sucks up quite a lot of power. Plus, the two yet-to-be-announced lower-end versions sport even smaller batteries, to the tune of ~18% less capacity. Hitting 3 hours of use under light load may be all you can hope for with those.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time with the device, but I did manage to answer just about all the questions I had. At the original announced price of $199, the Eee PC would have been an absolute steal, but it’s much harder to swallow at double the price. I could stand to lose some usability at the lower price, but for $399+tax, it’s just a little too much money for too many sacrifices. The thing that stands out most is the screen size – it’s just too small to use comfortably or effectively.

I’d wait and see if a 9″ or 10″ version pops up that would solve almost all my complaints in one swoop, from the small display/low resolution to the annoying keyboard. At $399, that device would really be the one to get.

Dell XPS M1330 – Review

Well my promised review of the Dell XPS M1330 has been posted over at Notebook Review. Hopefully you find it a good read. I figured it would get much more exposure and as a result help out more people if I posted it over there. I put a lot of effort into it to make it as impartial and informative as I could. Clearly, my enthusiasm wasn’t able to be completely contained.

Enthusiasm indeed. After waiting for over a month, I was in absolute shock to see my order status change from something other than the dreaded ‘In Production’. When I finally held the box in my hands, I thought I was going to die from excitement. Let me go over some of the more interesting points of the review I want to touch on.

Most important thing first – build quality. In terms of the actual materials used, the M1330 is absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, that’s let down by manufacturing issues. The laptop doesn’t sit flat on a desk (it wobbles) and is exacerbated by the 9 cell extended battery. Additionally, the beautiful brushed aluminum palm rest is starting to separate from the chassis base at the bottom right corner. These problems turn what is an amazing laptop into one necessitating an exchange. Dell has already set up a replacement system to be built and sent to me while I use the existing one.

Intended to be used in every day classes at university and bringing to work on co-op, if necessary, I wanted something light but also with enough battery life that I wouldn’t be afraid of running out of power. I had also considered the ASUS W7S and the Lenovo Thinkpad T61, but the relatively short battery life was a major reason for crossing them off my list. I’m glad I went with the M1330. I am absolutely floored by the battery life of this laptop. Power consumption is ridiculously low for something this powerful. As I’ve stated in the full review, at 6/8 on the brightness levels and idle, this laptop only consumes around 12.5W. Over 3.5 hours is easily achieved with the 6 cell battery. The 9 cell pushes that to 5.5 hours.

What can I say, the XPS M1330 is a fantastic looking laptop and once I get a replacement without the fit and finish problems, I’ll be damn happy, especially for the price I paid.

I’ve also posted the photos here, but on the second page so that it doesn’t completely eat my bandwidth.