2007.03.16

...it's a feature.

08.04.37 - Mark

After weeks of research and shopping, my Mom and brother upgraded from a long line of dead or dying low end Motorola cell phones to a couple of Sony Ericssons (
w300 and w810i respectively). If I wasn't perfectly happy with the (unlocked and unbranded) Motorola L6 RAZR I bought a few months ago I'd be tempted to get the W810i for myself, because seems to be a well balanced multitasker. The phone quality is good, the OS is fast, responsive, and more or less organized, its got a 2MP camera that actually acts like a camera (to an extent) rather than a camera phone (the phone's form factor reflects this, too), it even supports up to 4GB memory sticks. Except...

...the thing reeks of DRM. Everything that this phone is designed to do, and do well, is locked up in a bastard combination of Sony and Cingular DRM. I'm not big on ringtones, neither is my brother, but the included ringtones almost explained why the ringtone industry is worth $3 billion a year. Being that the 810i is an MP3 phone we loaded a couple of songs off his computer and tried selecting them as ringtones. Didn't work. Turns out Cingular, in all its money grubbing anti-consumer glory disabled the feature. There are four ways of getting around the block.

1) You can buy the ringtone from Cingular - which won't work because the MP3s in question are all small indy artists (plus, even if he would want "My Humps" he'd have to pay for it)

2) You can chop out a clip that's less than ~1MB and use that. This one just seems stupid, its an MP3 phone, it would play full unencumbered MP3s as music, alarms, and ringtones. It also requires being a little technical and wasting a shitload of space on the phone (one version for a ringtone, one version for listening to)

3) The third option is to hack the phone's firmware and unbrand the device. Carrier's add a bunch of extra "features" like Cingular's MediaNet, Mail, and a handful of other things (including disabling full MP3 ringtones and themes options). This has the possible side effects of killing the phone and voiding the warranty. Not something I want to do because cell phones are commonly junk and need fixing or replacing every few months

4) We can throw DRM at it. Sony has a free program available (Mac and Windows, but they also mention Linux in the developer notes) that takes perfectly good, unencumbered MP3s and wraps them in good old fashioned DRM. Let's just take a moment to recognize just how ass-backwards this is.

They want you, the a perfectly legitimate user, to take your own non-DRMed MP3s and they want you to add a bunch of DRM to it, just so you can use those files on a device which doesn't actually need any special formats, DRM, or add ons to play the files in a way you the consumer wants to be able to use those files.

Last time I checked, DRM was a tool for Content publishers and owners to control their media and by extension crack down on piracy. I don't recall it being a tool for consumers.

I don't think Sony is actually to blame here, the fact that they're making the DRM Packager available to everyone and the fact that the unbranded unlocked phones don't have the bullshit limitations should prove that the carriers are to blame (if you actually need proof that the phone companies hate you the consumer).

There are a couple other things that I've read in reviews and haven't had a chance to look at yet, like disabling the "shutter" sound when taking pictures, and I personally like standard connections on my phones (standard mini-USB for docking/charging is great) but the Cingular imposed DRM bullshit makes me want to avoid dealing with locked and branded devices. I'd rather pay retail than have a crippled tool.

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