Design Gripes

Dear Akio Morita,

Onion News Network on Sony productsLately I have some small issues with a lot of design decisions being made by the company you founded a while ago. If you look at my irritations seperately they’re just small gripes of a grumpy old customer. But the increasing number of design mistakes have me worried about your user acceptance testing and quality assurance processes. Given the sheer size of your company, and the fact that the very same people who are sabotaging your overall product quality can silently delete my complaint, I thought I’d share it with you here, on my very private blog.  Nobody else will read this. Honest.

Let me start by saying that I love my Playstation 3. No wait, let me rephrase that. I love playing games on my playstation 3. Because the playstation 3 itself is absolutely not intuitive, logical or even pleasant to use. Both hardware and software wise.

I am very fortunate to have a loving wife who bought a PS3 for me. Because she did not expect to have to do in-depth research about the differences between the models, she bought the 80GB PS3 for me. It was the biggest drive in the store, so she thought that was the best.

I was/am really happy with the very nice present. Not having any PS3 games yet, I slapped in a PS2 game, fully expecting that it would play. Not so. As it turns out, only the 60GB model plays some of the PS2 games, and most of the time not even perfectly. What’s with that? Can this 3-Cell processor huge 80GB machine with metric craploads of memory not emulate the outdated PS2? Did nobody at Sony realize that they can capitalize on people upgrading from the PS2? Not even now that the 60GB models actually sell for more money than the 80GB model retail price?

Disapointedly leaving the PS2 compatibility issue, I got a DLNA server running on my Mac. When I want to view media on that server, I have to use your “X media bar” menu. For some reason, some designer came up with the brilliant idea to seperate music, photo’s and video’s in that menu. This means that before browsing my DLNA server, I have to decide what filetype I’m going to browse. If I have folders containing both video and photo’s of the same birthday party, I constantly have to back out of the photo viewing mode, get into the video mode, browse all the way back to the folder, and view the video. It’s like having to fill in a form to flip the channel on your TV.

And what’s with the forgetting of discovered DLNA servers? The PS3 takes ages to re-discover my DLNA server on the network each time I turn the PS3 on, or return to the menu from a game.

To make it even more cringeworthy, the PS3 scares the crap out of me each time I browse to a folder to see that “There are no files…”. The PS3 is lying ofcourse, what it means is that there are MPG’s and AVI’s there, but I’m in photo viewing mode. The whole X-media-bar design must have never been usability tested by random customers. It’s a very common practice nowadays which I can really recommend.

By now, I had scored some PS3 games (Moto GP and Tomb Raider: Underworld). After a nice evening of gaming,  I discover that the controller battery is running low. So I connect it to the PS3, and put the PS3 in standby mode, expecting my controller to be charged the next morning. To my huge disapointment, the controller does not charge when the PS3 is not fully on. That strikes me as really strange. To charge my wireless controller, I have to connect it during gaming. Now how did someone on your design team did not notice that?

We had a big old Phillips Matchline TV which worked fine, but was getting a bit dated. The thought of being able to play games in full HD 1080p resolution was very tempting, so I bought a new model Sony Bravia 40 inch TV, thinking that it would interface nicely with the PS3. To my absolute horror, the PS3 video signal looked horrible on this new TV. As it turned out, you are shipping this full HD 300+ dollar gaming machine with a crappy composite video cable. Oh boy. Now I know why people think the difference between a Wii and a PS3 is not that huge. Another obvious commercial win down the drain.

I googled around and I discovered that HDMI is the best way to go. I bought an HDMI cable and connected the PS3 to the TV with that. The TV manual said it could use some HDMI protocol to discover HDMI connected devices. Surely enough, my brandnew Sony Bravia does not recognize my Sony PS3. How nice is that? Luckaly, after some manual fiddling with the absolutely horrid X-media bar-like menu’s in the TV and the PS3, I got everything to play in full HD. Finally.

What strikes me as another design flaw is the size of the screen fonts. On my big TV everything looks nice, but I can imagine that the paperboy who emptied his piggybank to get a PS3, and connects it to his little TV in his room, can not read any of the menu items. I take it that the Sony testing department only has Full HD TV’s with HDMI cables, right?

And then there’s the whole casing design thing. Come on. Rounded top? I can not even place a controller on there, it slides off. The ventilation holes are on the side, which makes it imposible to put the PS3 with it’s right side against the cupboard. The USB ports are recessed in such a way that if you place the PS3 low to the ground (which happens most), you can not see the ports without having to lie down on the floor eyeballing them.

While you’re down there, you can als see the rediculously thick and sturdy mains cable. It can transport enough current to power my microwave. Does the PS3 really use that much current? Now be honest. You could have selected a thinner, more flexible mains lead, and maybe it would even have been cheaper. The current lead almost pushes the PS3 out from the wall. Good thing the PS3 is so heavy.

When waking the PS3 from it’s sleep mode, there is another interesting thing that strikes me as odd. There is a green and a blue led next to eachother on the top of the button pannel. Not only are those two colors looking horrible next to eachother, and the fact that I have come to loathe any product with a blue led, there is absolutely no way that colorblind people are going to notice the difference in color, which makes them pointless.

As I said, this is just a selection of the gripes I have with the design. For instance, the fact that game makers are allowed to play sounds and video as soon as a game is inserted, is just terrible. It scares the crap out of me each time I insert Race Driver:GRID, and there is no way I can turn it off.

Sony Bravia remote button misplacementThe nicest example of hardware design failure by Sony is the remote control of the Sony Bravia TV. The buttons you use most are in fact unreachable when holding the remote in your hand. The least used buttons are right there by your thumb. What was this designer thinking? Oh and never mind pressing the buttons, because this TV, which can interpolate frames of a 24fps source into 100fps fluid motion while dynamically adjusting sound and backlight, has a very hard time to display a menu or react to the remote. This is absolutely mind boggling to me. It’s like a race car which can go from 0 to 300mph in 2 seconds but takes 5 seconds to react to the brakes.

Yes, I bought all this Sony stuff. I know, I could have bought something else. But there are reasons for me to put up with all this crap. OTHER manufacturers make such great stuff for Sony devices. The games on the PS3 are absolutely beautiful and brilliant. Watching video on the PSP on an airplane is great. Looking at a bluray at 100Hz 1080p on the Bravia is eye-popping.

So, dear mr. Morita, please, please make the people at Sony aware of these details. They’re important. Solving them will set your product apart from the competition in a large way. People may not be able to tell why, but they will like your product better. This is what good designers do. Make a product have a good “feel”.

It will also rid you of online video’s describing your products as… well… you’ve already seen that video, right?

Thanks for reading this rant.
Rolf

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