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View Full Version : For the $2000 Transporter, are Slim Devices serious about the user interface?



clarkc
2007-02-24, 03:27
Apologies if this subject has been chewed over in the past. I have looked around in the forums here but see mostly micro detail rather than the big picture.

I am looking to move to PC-based audio and have been researching how best to do this. The Slim Devices Transporter seems to be a great product in many ways. For example, the absolute level of audio quality is important for me and the Transporter has reviewed very well in this respect. The device also offers great connectivity along with fine aesthetics which, compared to some of the other PC-based audio products around, is a real plus for those who care about their living room environment.

But now to my question: For a $2000 device, are Slim Devices serious about the user interface?

I have spent time downloading Slim Server software and have tried it out briefly with SoftSqueeze to see how it works. IMHO it seems more like something produced by an enthusiastic hobbyist rather than a leading exponent of cutting edge audiophile technology. To me, it is extremely clunky, slow and visually challenged to say the least. The fact that so many Slim fans have invested such amazing energy into developing plugins/addons/skins, etc, to address this deficit is testimony to this.

I have also looked at the Sonos approach along with other media s/w offerings (e.g. iTunes, JRiver) and I am simply amazed at the differences. Having put such thought into the look and feel of the hardware and endowed the Transporter with so many outstanding features, it seems a real shame that the product is let down by such a primitive UI. This has unfortunately put my purchase decision in doubt.

Does this ring a bell with anybody else? Perhaps I am missing something?

peter
2007-02-24, 03:47
clarkc wrote:
> Apologies if this subject has been chewed over in the past. I have
> looked around in the forums here but see mostly micro detail rather
> than the big picture.
>
> I am looking to move to PC-based audio and have been researching how
> best to do this. The Slim Devices Transporter seems to be a great
> product in many ways. For example, the absolute level of audio quality
> is important for me and the Transporter has reviewed very well in this
> respect. The device also offers great connectivity along with fine
> aesthetics which, compared to some of the other PC-based audio products
> around, is a real plus for those who care about their living room
> environment.
>
> But now to my question: For a $2000 device, are Slim Devices serious
> about the user interface?
>
> I have spent time downloading Slim Server software and have tried it
> out briefly with SoftSqueeze to see how it works. IMHO it seems more
> like something produced by an enthusiastic hobbyist rather than a
> leading exponent of cutting edge audiophile technology. To me, it is
> extremely clunky, slow and visually challenged to say the least. The
> fact that so many Slim fans have invested such amazing energy into
> developing plugins/addons/skins, etc, to address this deficit is
> testimony to this.
>

That's a very superficial analysis, but I agree that SD should work on a
better stand alone front end app to satisfy people who want their
software to look as good as their hardware.
> I have also looked at the Sonos approach along with other media s/w
> offerings (e.g. iTunes, JRiver) and I am simply amazed at the
> differences. Having put such thought into the look and feel of the
> hardware and endowed the Transporter with so many outstanding features,
> it seems a real shame that the product is let down by such a primitive
> UI. This has unfortunately put my purchase decision in doubt.
>

Well, buy a Sonos then...
The Sonos remote is nice, but the system is closed and inflexible and
this probably won't improve any time soon. A matter of design philosophy.
You make the choice...

> Does this ring a bell with anybody else? Perhaps I am missing
> something?
>

Read the forum and you'll notice this theme popping up like clockwork.

My bet is that SD will come out with a smooth frontend app in the near
future thanks to Logi-money, the SD design philosophy *does* have lots
of room for improvement. Perhaps we'll even see an intelligent two-way
remote that (of course) works with the existing stuff.

Regards,
Peter

danco
2007-02-24, 04:07
Are you using the Web interface or the remote control? Softsqueeze does have an on-screen version of the remote.

I agree that the interface isn't wonderful in either version, but I suspect you are using the Web browser, which is really best used only for initial settings. Skins are only relevant to this. Plugins primarily provide extra functionality that will interest some people, they mostly don't alter the interface.

ModelCitizen
2007-02-24, 04:26
If you're serious enough about your audio quality to buy a Transporter it's unlikely you'll have a PC in your listening room, so you'll use the remote (especially considering the Transporter's dual screens). The remote and dual LCD screens are superb.

The default web skin is really embarrasing and lets the Squeezebox down badly. Change it for Fishbone Tan or the brand new Flash based and extremely promising SlimFX (search forum).

I am certain that Logica will be currently addressing the default web interface issue. It's so obviously the weakest point of the whole thing it would be very odd if they weren't. Maybe the will take on/have taken on the SlimFX developer.

MC

amcluesent
2007-02-24, 05:05
Perhaps Slimdevices could upgrade the SB3/Transporter firmware to include UPnP MediaServer ControlPoint/Renderer capability to give users a choice of which MediaServer to use?

clarkc
2007-02-24, 05:34
Many thanks for the comments.

"That's a very superficial analysis, but I agree that SD should work on a better stand alone front end app to satisfy people who want their software to look as good as their hardware."

Perhaps my analysis is superficial but I stand by my main conclusion. It seems also that nobody else is really disagreeing with my basic point about the UI.

"Well, buy a Sonos then...
The Sonos remote is nice, but the system is closed and inflexible and this probably won't improve any time soon. A matter of design philosophy.
You make the choice..."

Do I detect a note of indignation? :) I appreciate that I am amongst the converted here :) Peter, yes, I fully agree that the Sonos approach is closed and much less flexible. But still, providing flexibility is no excuse IMHO for such a poor interface, particularly at this price level.

"Are you using the Web interface or the remote control? Softsqueeze does have an on-screen version of the remote."

Yes, I have been focussing on the web interface but have tried the s/w remote briefly. The display on the Transporter itself is definitely well-thought out and looks good. This, no doubt, ensures good usability with the remote.

"The remote and dual LCD screens are superb."

This is the proof, very encouraged to hear this ! It appears that the feedback on use of the remote is very positive.

"I am certain that Logica will be currently addressing the default web interface issue. It's so obviously the weakest point of the whole thing it would be very odd if they weren't."

"My bet is that SD will come out with a smooth frontend app in the near future thanks to Logi-money, the SD design philosophy *does* have lots of room for improvement. Perhaps we'll even see an intelligent two-way remote that (of course) works with the existing stuff"

Now, that is exactly what we need ! Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long….

Fifer
2007-02-24, 05:43
My view is that the main UI is very intuitive and very well thought out and implemented. It doesn't use the web front end though, it uses the remote.

Dave2
2007-02-24, 07:58
As to the web browser interface, of course clarkc is right.

As to the main SB interface, it is intuitive and handy, but of course clarkc is right that the Sonos is much more polished. (And of course he's right that the "well, then buy a Sonos" attitude is a typical response on this board.)

Interesting to see this job posting:
http://jobs.37signals.com/jobs/1073

"User Interface Designer at Logitech, Streaming Media Systems
Location: Mtn View, CA
URL: http://www.logitech.com

Description
Streaming Media Systems, formerly Slim Devices is seeking an outstanding User Interface Designer • Develop a compelling overall vision for each product • Design • Work with technical leaders and product managers to determine requirements • Design interaction flows and individual features • Create working prototypes of key UI elements • Expand on the basic requirements to add innovative UI elements that make for a breakthrough user experience • Partner with software engineers to deliver a great finished product • Directly design the final look and/or coordinate with a visual designer to do so • Learn from customer feedback to improve future versions . . . ."

We don't know which product they're focusing on.

Dave2

qirex
2007-02-24, 10:07
UI design is a tricky thing, especially when you're trying to create a flexible solution for different kinds of users. Fortunately SlimServer is a pretty flexible product.

I don't see a native Windows/Mac/*NIX front end being that useful honestly, you can get most of the functionality and "live" interaction feel out of a web browser nowadays without having to deal with all of the technical hurdles. I can see a lot of ways to make pretty big improvements without compromising the experience for existing users.

Too bad that job posting wasn't there 6 months ago.

Nostromo
2007-02-24, 10:09
The Transporter's main UI, the remote, is superb. Once you get the hang of it, you'll see how good it is. Don't forget that you can customize the menus and you can download plugins like Lazy search and song scanner.

Now I never tried the SONOS's remote, but I wouldn't say its more polished. Its certainly slicker, flashier more aesthecially pleasing. One thing I like about it, though, is that you can see the album art while browsing your music collection. We are visual animals, after all. But I'm not sure its a better remote overall, though. I'm willing to bet that I can find a track faster with my Squeezebox's remote than with a SONOS remote.

Nostromo
2007-02-24, 10:15
As to the web browser interface, of course clarkc is right.

As to the main SB interface, it is intuitive and handy, but of course clarkc is right that the Sonos is much more polished. (And of course he's right that the "well, then buy a Sonos" attitude is a typical response on this board.)

Interesting to see this job posting:
http://jobs.37signals.com/jobs/1073

"User Interface Designer at Logitech, Streaming Media Systems
Location: Mtn View, CA
URL: http://www.logitech.com

Description
Streaming Media Systems, formerly Slim Devices is seeking an outstanding User Interface Designer • Develop a compelling overall vision for each product • Design • Work with technical leaders and product managers to determine requirements • Design interaction flows and individual features • Create working prototypes of key UI elements • Expand on the basic requirements to add innovative UI elements that make for a breakthrough user experience • Partner with software engineers to deliver a great finished product • Directly design the final look and/or coordinate with a visual designer to do so • Learn from customer feedback to improve future versions . . . ."

We don't know which product they're focusing on.

Dave2

Mmmm, I see that things are brewing...

Nostromo
2007-02-24, 10:18
UI design is a tricky thing, especially when you're trying to create a flexible solution for different kinds of users. Fortunately SlimServer is a pretty flexible product.

That's why we need a pro.


I don't see a native Windows/Mac/*NIX front end being that useful honestly, you can get most of the functionality and "live" interaction feel out of a web browser nowadays without having to deal with all of the technical hurdles. I can see a lot of ways to make pretty big improvements without compromising the experience for existing users.

Too bad that job posting wasn't there 6 months ago.

They should go the slimfx route.

Kyle
2007-02-24, 10:29
To the OP, I say, "Hear, hear!" The web UI is not what it should be, and I trust Slim Devices or Streaming Media or whomever is making improvements. My situation is a little different than most. My SB3 is in the den with my stereo, where I do my serious listening, but it also feeds my whole-house audio system, so I do most of my listening away from the SB3 and thus use the web UI a great deal. It leaves a lot to be desired. SlimFX and Moose are on the right track in separating the control functions from the setup functions. I'd love a Sonos or Bose style remote that I could take anywhere in the house and have control over my system. Logitich, I hope, is working on that. The SB3 is a great little device, but there is definitely room for improvement in the UI.

Skunk
2007-02-24, 10:55
That's why we need a pro.

They should go the slimfx route.

Sorry to disagree but flash isn't the be all end all you're suggesting, and I'm generally a big proponent of it. IMO its biggest asset is as a browser equalizer. I.e. if people can't see the movie, they have to upgrade flash/browser- so no more least common denominator. That's not usually considered best practice in web design, but this isn't really web design I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, SlimFX looks great- but so does nokia and touch, and fishbone and default for that matter. I prefer things designed to standards, so feel the ideal default web interface would scale to devices without manually having to switch skins- and of course while running very quickly (which flex seems adept at, but so does ajax in a more standards compliant way- I'd imagine). It seems like a more solid foundation for the front end, or the default version anyway.

Web interfacing will continue to be useful and is continually advancing around here without help from 'pros'. It would seem like contracting some programmers to write a windows and mac app would be more cost effective than an in-house web designer who may or may not be at odds ideologically with people who write skins. I'm sure I'm assuming way to much about how things work around there, so sorry if way off base.

That posting sure makes me wish I finished my new media degree, but who would want to live in california?

mherger
2007-02-24, 11:20
> I can see a lot of ways to make pretty big
> improvements without compromising the experience for existing users.

Please tell us. If it's getting technical you might want to open a new
thread in the developpers forum.

> Too bad that job posting wasn't there 6 months ago.

Volunteers are always welcome ;-). I think they've been looking for a UI
person for quite a while.

--

Michael

-----------------------------------------------------------------
http://www.herger.net/SlimCD - your SlimServer on a CD
http://www.herger.net/slim - AlbumReview, Biography, MusicInfoSCR

peterw
2007-02-24, 11:24
But now to my question: For a $2000 device, are Slim Devices serious about the user interface?

I have spent time downloading Slim Server software and have tried it out briefly with SoftSqueeze to see how it works. IMHO it seems more like something produced by an enthusiastic hobbyist rather than a leading exponent of cutting edge audiophile technology. To me, it is extremely clunky, slow and visually challenged to say the least. The fact that so many Slim fans have invested such amazing energy into developing plugins/addons/skins, etc, to address this deficit is testimony to this.

I have also looked at the Sonos approach along with other media s/w offerings (e.g. iTunes, JRiver) and I am simply amazed at the differences. Having put such thought into the look and feel of the hardware and endowed the Transporter with so many outstanding features, it seems a real shame that the product is let down by such a primitive UI.

First, I'm a little amused at the thought that you expect an "audiophile" component to have a UI that's not "clunky". It's been a long time since I read audiophile publications, but my impression has always been that the more highly regarded, and more expensive, audiophile gear tends to be very simple, minimalist even. If anything, to me the Transporter looks too fancy to be a "real" piece of audio gear!

Second, I'm taken aback that you're putting so much weight on the UI of an audiophile product. If you're going to play 128k MP3 files, the Transporter is probably overkill, and you don't need audiophile gear. But if you want a quality digital transport that will bring out the best of your carefully ripped lossless tracks, there's no substitute for seeing how the actual gear *sounds* in your audio rack.

Third, you should note that SoftSqueeze is a good piece of software for getting a general feel for how players work, and a wonderful app for those of us developing plugins for Slimserver, but it is much more clunky that the real hardware. The visualizer and display is somewhat jumpy, the app takes wads of CPU resources, etc. You should expect more smooth performance out of real Slim hardware.

Fourth, I don't see the availability of plugins as evidence of flaws in Slim's offerings. I see this as a strength of Slim's business model. They provide first rate mid-range (Squeezebox) and high-end (Transporter) audio gear and, rather than lock users in to their preconceived UI notions like an ill-designed DVD, they leave the controlling software open to modification and extension by users. This means we customers can better make the gear work the way we like.

I also find it amusing to see all the UI arguments in this forum -- people who want remotes with displays ala Sonos; people who want slick Ajax web GUIs; people who think the IR remote control is fine. One of the beauties of Slim's system is that all these ways of controlling the system are available (if only from third parties), so you cna use what you like. Get a Windows tablet/UMPC and run Moose if you want, or buy a PepperPad3 and use SlimFX, or use SailingClicker on your Windows Mobile PDA, or integrate with a whole-house Creston control system, or use the IR remote, or build (or convince someone to build) something better. (You'll find examples on these forums of customers asking for software and others providing that software -- for free.)

Fifth, the server-based Slim architecture allows for easily upgrading the system capability. Not only that, but Slim has consistently released new versions of software that support *all their hardware*, back to the original SliMP3 players. Their business model is based on growth -- getting new customers and convincing existing customers to buy more gear -- rather than a planned obsolescence model.

-Peter

mherger
2007-02-24, 11:28
> Don't get me wrong, SlimFX looks great- but so does nokia and touch,
> and fishbone

But they're far from the least common denominator: Fishbone needs a large
screen, and all of them use a lot of JavaScript - which requires a very
recent browser.

I think that as well as these skins a Flash based "skin" is very
reasonable as an _alternative_ to the main UI. And I do like SlimFX a lot.

> (which flex seems adept at, but so does ajax in a
> more standards compliant way- I'd imagine).

I see the main difference in the more open nature of AJAX, whereas Flash
needs a certain plugin by a certain supplier.

> That posting sure makes me wish I finished my new media degree, but who
> would want to live in california?

Is this a requirement? Richard is in the UK, and other SD employees aren't
in California neither. (oh, it seems to be:
http://www.slimdevices.com/au_jobs.html - bad luck for you (and us? :-))))

--

Michael

-----------------------------------------------------------------
http://www.herger.net/SlimCD - your SlimServer on a CD
http://www.herger.net/slim - AlbumReview, Biography, MusicInfoSCR

Nostromo
2007-02-24, 11:58
Don't get me wrong, SlimFX looks great- but so does nokia and touch, and fishbone and default for that matter. I prefer things designed to standards, so feel the ideal default web interface would scale to devices without manually having to switch skins- and of course while running very quickly (which flex seems adept at, but so does ajax in a more standards compliant way- I'd imagine). It seems like a more solid foundation for the front end, or the default version anyway.

Flash or AJAX, I don't care what technology they use, as long as they make the web UI as responsive as Slimfx. OTOH, AJAX seems like very hard work. But with flash, we already have it. Its there before our eyes. And it already features drag & drop. But I wasn't aware that there could be compatibility issues with a flash-based skin. Does it mean that someone couldn't use it on a Nokia tablet? Maybe it couldn't be the default skin.


Web interfacing will continue to be useful and is continually advancing around here without help from 'pros'. It would seem like contracting some programmers to write a windows and mac app would be more cost effective than an in-house web designer who may or may not be at odds ideologically with people who write skins. I'm sure I'm assuming way to much about how things work around there, so sorry if way off base.

BTW, I didn't mean to denigrate the work of the fine folk who designed the skins. They did a great job. But someone who studied in interface design could help pinpoint the UI flaws. I'm sure some UI "flaws" will be due to ideological differences, but there are also objective UI flaws.

kbang
2007-02-24, 12:02
Hi,

I have been using the default Slimserver webinterface as only way of control for some time now. I am running an Ubuntu 1000MHZ VIA EPIA server and I feel that the web UI is wery responsive both when playing FLAC and streaming audio. There are some bugs but I still consider it stable. I don't agree that it's an awful interface but there are places for improvement in everything of course :-)

My wife didn't really understand the default web interface so she is using the Nokia770 skin and I think she is pretty happy with it. We are both running Firefox by the way..

/Kristian

konut
2007-02-24, 12:38
Its a catch 22. If you want something thats easy then the design has to be simple enough for even those that don't understand how everything works to use it. Thats why the WaveRadio sells well. The problem is that a lot of people, who want superior performance, will not take the time to understand what it takes to achieve. Its like any subject. The more you find out about it, the more you realize there IS to find out about it. As clunky as it is, SlimServer gives you the flexibility to achieve superior results. If you don't want to take the time to find out, that represents laziness on your part. No one said it was going to be easy. If they did, they were lying.

Skunk
2007-02-24, 12:45
> Don't get me wrong, SlimFX looks great- but so does nokia and touch,
> and fishbone

But they're far from the least common denominator: Fishbone needs a large
screen, and all of them use a lot of JavaScript - which requires a very
recent browser.

I think that as well as these skins a Flash based "skin" is very
reasonable as an _alternative_ to the main UI. And I do like SlimFX a lot.

Sorry, I meant flash can be used to display something coherent acrosss platforms, and it will be all or none (given screen real estate). Screen size will be a limitation for any default browser though, which made me wonder if there is some kind of sniffer module built in to ss.



I see the main difference in the more open nature of AJAX, whereas Flash
needs a certain plugin by a certain supplier.

> That posting sure makes me wish I finished my new media degree, but who
> would want to live in california?
Thanks, I meant to point that out as well. _forcing_ someone to install flash is very bad form, but sniffing for it is good form- IMHO.

Smiley Dan
2007-02-24, 13:36
I've been bleating on about this for a while now. I agree with the OP. One thing I've always been surprised about is that the Slim approach is to be open; yet around the interface it's taken that the limited remote control and monochrome display is all one will want.

I've built set top boxes which would be great integrating to Slim in a kiosk style with a lovely large screen TV.

I'm not surprised, after all the Squeezebox/Transporter is probably how they make their money. Why provide a better UI for people so they can avoid buying their products?