The Nokia N93 has three major groups of features:Â phone, photography, and music.Â I’ve written about the phone, and photography features previously.Â Now for music.Â
Nokia providesÂ a simple music manager application on the PC to synchronize tracks with the phoneÂ and media player capabilities on the handset.Â Think of it as a simplified Windows Media Player or iTunes.Â It allows you to group tracks,Â create playlists, and download them to the device.Â While downloading it is alsoÂ capable of converting musicÂ files from the storage format to Nokia’s mobile-optimized eAAC.
Once on the device,Â you can then open the media player,Â import the files to the media player library, and play your music.Â The headphones provided are decent quality, and it sounds pretty good.
And that’s eventually where I ended up last night.Â It wasÂ a painful experience getting there.
My music is stored on an AudioRequest ARQ1 media server in a server closet, and delivered to various devices around my house either via wireless networking, ethernet, or good old fashioned RCA cables.Â The files on the ARQ1 are stored as MP3s, and can be access either from its console, or via the SAMBA network interface (it mounts on the network as a standard Windows file server).Â The PCs I used were running Windows XP SP2, and Windows Vista.Â
The first problem I encountered was simply that the Nokia the music manager application doesn’t know about networked devices.Â It cannot take a fully qualified pathname (such as \\arq1\mp3s) as an input, which means that all files must be on the local PC.Â The problem was solved by opening a command line window, and mapping the server share to aÂ local drive (net use x: \\arq1\mp3s).Â After that, you can simply use the scan PC commandÂ in the Nokia software to search the X drive to find all the media files. Â Nokia could have avoided the whole problem by using the standard Windows file open dialog rather than writing custom Nokia boxes.Â Writing a custom dialog is a great example of Not Invented Here syndrome,Â delivering no tangible benefit to the user.
Once the files are loaded you can then select a few, add them to your “collection”, and have the software compress them, download them, and send them to the device.Â First, however, you must connect the device to the PC, so that this synchronization can take place.Â Â MyÂ second bigÂ problem cropped up here.
Connectivity on the N93 is a step backward from the N91.Â The N91 finally implemented a USB connector for file transfer.Â With the N93, we’re back to the proprietary Nokia “pop-top” cable.Â And, of course, at this point the driversÂ for this cable in Windows Vista are broken.Â Yes, they load, but Nokia’s PC Suite software doesn’t recognize the devices.Â On Windows XP they work fine, but not on Vista.Â Eventually, I made a connection to the N93 using the standard Bluetooth driver included with Windows Vista, which worked fine, but was quite slow.Â However, if Nokia had used a standard USB connector and driver, the situation might have been different.Â Note: As I was struggling to get the music onto my N93 using Windows Vista, I was listening to music on my new Blackberry Pearl, which interfaces via a standard USB cable.Â The Blackberry had no trouble being recognized by Windows Vista.Â
Transferring the files turned out to be an exercise in frustration also.Â A bug in the music manager software caused it to crash each time I started a transfer.Â Eventually, through trial and error, it became clear that it was Nokia’s MP3 to eAAC compression algorithm that was the culprit.Â Turning off the compression allowed the transfer to continue.Â However, turning off the compression also meant I was downloading 320kbps MP3 files (6 to 8 megabytes per song) to the device rather than the skinny minny eAAC files I had been hoping for.Â Bob Dylan’s fabulous Blonde on Blonde was the only CD I downloaded as a result.Â It took 45 minutes uncompressed, via Bluetooth.
Et Voila, music.Â Phew!
I wondered if there was a better way.Â A little research on the internet revealed an agreement betweeen Nokia and Microsoft to integrate the N Series devices into Windows Media Player, which looked very promising.Â If integrated, I would be able to use all my standard playlists, and management tools.
Windows Media player, initially, did not recognize the N93.Â Plugging the N93 in via USB, however, will cause the N93 to present a menu of “modes”, one of which is media player mode.Â Once selected, the PC treats the N93 like any other Windows Media player device.Â Cool!Â
Or… not so cool.Â
I plugged the cable in, Windows dutifully went to fetch the driver, and announced that the .INF file for the driver had an error in it.Â A problem on Windows Vista, I thought?Â Maybe a driver format change from one OS to the next?Â Nope.Â Also broken on Windows XP.Â
There you have it.Â A Windows Vista driver for a proprietary cable missing, and two pieces of broken software conspired to turn what would have been a 20 minute exercise on an iPod into 4 hours of agony.
Nokia isn’t a software company.Â Their hardware is beautiful and works well, but the lack of software smarts kills them everytime.Â Unfortunately, this application — synching music from a PC to a handheld device — demands software expertise.Â These music features aren’t close to ready for prime time, and will be agony for all but the most dedicated of users.Â I certainly won’t use them again until they’re more thoroughly debugged by Nokia.