Bugs in the Machine
Selecting the Internet Radio option on the menu brought up a list of nine categories such as Jazz, Pop, Country, etc. and inside each category was a short list of stations. But when I started trying out the stations, I was again brought to a puzzled halt. No matter which station I selected, I would be greeted by a "Connecting..." message on the screen followed by a descriptive message that appeared to come from the station itself. This would be followed by a music-related graphic image, but I would never hear any output.
The descriptive message indicated to me that I was connecting to the station, so the Internet connection was good, but why wasn't I getting any output? After checking my connections, I eventually noticed a volume control on the remote. When I tried it out, it indicated that the volume was set to zero, but turning it up didn't seem to make any difference as I flipped from station to station. Only when I finally stopped trying out the various stations, did I finally get music.
The problem was two-fold. First, it was taking a long time to start streaming music. Some stations didn't start for up to 30 seconds after being selected. This is a "feature" of the WMA100 itself, since the same station accessed via iTunes would start up within a couple of seconds. The delay itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of a status message such as "working" or "tuning" is poor user interface design.
The second problem was the volume. I found that the volume was always set to zero after powering on the unit. When playing with the unit, I frequently turned it on and off (more on that later) and was constantly thinking that something was wrong until I remembered that I need to turn the volume up. Again, this is a design choice, but a prominent volume indication on the WMA100 itself or its on-screen display would have saved me a lot of time.
As far as turning the unit on and off, I found another curious issue. The remote would turn the unit off fine, but would never turn it on! So I had to physically push the Power button on the WMA100's front panel to turn the unit on. I also found that in addition to forgetting the last volume setting upon power-down, the WMA100 wouldn't remember the last output setting either. So when turning the unit on, I had to remember to re-select the output and turn the volume back up from zero.
The power-on issue wasn't the only frustration I had with the remote. In general, navigation with the remote just didn't seem right. While moving through a list, I would frequently overshoot or undershoot my desired target and end up selecting the wrong item. And even when I had the right selection, navigation was awkward. For example, when playing a Radio station, the only way to get out was to hit the "Stop" button on the remote. None of the Back, Home, Music, Video, etc. buttons had any effect. I also found that the Pictures button just gave me a blank ViewSonic screen for a bit and then put me back into a non-functional top-level Radio list. I got used to the menu navigation after awhile, but the remote button behavior didn't seem to be well thought out.
In order to try out the remaining features, I borrowed a Windows XP laptop and copied a sample of my music, video and pictures into the Windows My Music, My Pictures and My Video folders. I then installed the included Media Manager software on the XP system, which went without a hitch. The Media Manager installs a local web-server running on port 8088 of the Windows box that is used for basic administration such as choosing folders to serve, assigning music tracks to picture collections, setting a password etc..
Figure 2: Media Manager main screen