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Last of a breed - Advantages: Light, neat, pert, nimble PC, Great screen, A laptop that will work - Disadvantages: Crap sound system, Buggy 802.11, Needs lots and lots of post delivery reconfiguration
THE P-80 It's a stage-oriented electronic piano. In English, that means its almost as wide as a grand, as deep as twice the length of the keys (think dimensions of chewing gum), weighs as much as a holiday suitcase, and if you need to carry it, you can. No, I don't want to carry it, but if I needed to, I could. The P-80 concentrates on things that people want from a piano: good sound, good action. It does not concentrate on things people want from a good synth - for example: it hasn't got a huge bank of preset sounds but the limited palette it offers is well chosen and almost okay. The pedal will do sustain. To me, that's not enough. A new version of the pedal does 4 levels of damping and some more stuff beyond that. This is a Good Idea(tm). If you are a piano anorak, ensure that the pedal is a variable something wotsit, rather than the on-off switch provided as standard. If you want a master keyboard for MIDI, and you didn't learn piano as a sprog, stop right now. The P-80 is not a synth keyboard. You will develop tendonitis, Thingy-Carpal-Syndrome and whatever. You WILL hate it, so stop right now. Hit the back button. Right. BACKGROUND: I was in the market for a piano. I'm set to inherit a Bechstein, but gave up lessons as a teen because I hated playing scales out loud on it. That's the problem with learning the piano: everyone gets to hear just how bad you are. Here's the wonderful thing about electronic pianos: HEADPHONES! There are plenty of pseudo-pianos available that purport to sound and feel like a proper Grand. I wanted something that I could throw a cover over and forget, switch on in an instant should the mood take, and get the feel of a proper piano (remember I was raised with a Bechstein). Feel is subjective, but keyboard and organ players are often surprised at how heavy a piano keyboard is. Well, they're often surprised at how heavy an electron
ic keyboard is when it's trying to be a piano. That's why you MUST try one in the flesh. The market is wide. There's Yamaha out front, but there are specialists - Kurzweil is virtually unheard of outside this market but proclaim their sound is best. Korg and Roland fight a reputation for stunning electronic sounds, albeit IMHO behind plastic keyboards. The list goes on, and if you are a diligent shopper, look them up. I did, I played a lot of them. Not very well, mind you, but their ivories were well tinkled. Tip: bring your own headphones. I BOUGHT A P-80 Following a series of visits Chez Skunk, my father, who could have followed his father into being a professional pianist, has also decided to purchase a P-80 because of the subtlty of touch and (very important for someone going deaf) loud headphone output. He also rates the harpsichord and suddenly has come all-over white on black. I don't like the harpsichord sounds so much, because the touch and the sound mate like Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. He's right, she's right, just not under the same duvet, please. THE REST I tried a great many keyboards. Only Yamaha and Korg really had a chance at my price point (under £800). Some interesting stuff: Korg was really heavy in action. There wasn't as much subtlty in the action. The sound, though, was tremendous - so long as you judge it by one note played over and over again. A few great samples, lots of lousy implementation, keyboard weighted for Conan the Barbarian. Roland was close, but the keyboard was just a little fluffy. The sounds weren't quite right. It was the next best thing to a P-80, but it didn't whisper 'buy me'. Any other Yamaha other than the P-80 was a bit tarty or a bit too expensive. There were some absoloutely great Yamahas that had touch and sound to die for, all wrapped up in a Liberace wet dream with a bit of Close Encounters th
rown in. But who wants to pay for so much MDF with a bit of fancy lacquer and a Radio Shack display? Okay, so I tell a lie. There are Yamahas higher up the food chain that sound better. But if you can tell the difference, you'd be wearing an Anorak with a keyboad motif on it. I won't tell if you won't. The rest had either floppy or stiff action, poor sound, or stupid price and styling. THE DETAIL Look up the specs. It does everything you need a practice keyboard to do. It also does everything a baby grand is expected to do except look pretty and amplify its self. The keyboard feel is bang-on for any mid-range piano. Not too stiff, not too floppy. The samples are decent for a piano: - Two Grand pianos: one bright, one a little fruitier - Two Upright pianos: one very very good, one probably a baby grand - Two Jazz pianos: one very dry, one with a subtle soundboard defect - Rock piano: first= ELO Mr Blue Sky, second is a little too Elton John - EP Fender Rhodes pastiches, don't play the Taxi theme tune Puhleez - Only consider Harpsichord 1. No Lurch impressions. Keyboard WAY TOO HEAVY for proper harpsichord stuff - try a trill. It's like tapdancing with wellies. - Strings remind me of Soylent Green. I can't go there. - Pipe organ is great for pretending to play carols and amusing 6-year olds, but it isn't church... Well, it is about as church as the p-80 gets... - Church organ - all I can say is that I am glad I don't go to that church - Jazz organ - I can't do this justice as I am not a fan of this instrument (all I hear is porn film). It doesn't strip paint at 100 paces like a wurlitzer, it doesn't have that wheezy breath of a proper valve amped organ, it's just a transplant. - Bass has a great chiff of a cymbal as a variation. Used sparingly, it's a lovely cheesy topping to your rendition THE BA
D STUFF: Yes, the P-80 has some real stinkers. - The pedal sucks! Get the new version with variable pedal action. Sustain is just a Keyboard thing. The Loud pedal on a grand is not a sustain pedal, it is a glove of cashimir that can caress the strings with subtlty. The P-80 pedal is either on or off. The new pedal has about 8 different states, and is the one to get. - Some of the presets contain bum notes. If you have perfect pitch or think you can tune a P-80, please spend lots of time with it AND the competitors before you buy one. A couple of notes are real zonkers for us piano anoraks. Yes, I still bought one, but I wince with some scales. No, 99.99% of audience will not notice. - Unlike the Roland, you can't vary temperament. Okay, so you may not need to, but anoraks like tempered organs, 'kay? - Oh yes, the P-80 offers measely check-box features like a 2 track recorder et al, but you won't use them. If you need a recorder, quantisiation, score transcription et al, get Cubase or similar. - You will need a stand for the P-80 and a connection to your hi-fi. Big deal. The stand is a bit of a downer and could be replaced by an ironing board if you enjoy a touch of the Dada. The hi-fi connection is cured by a length of phono-phono connectors and a compliant amplifier. CONCLUSION: For the money, your best bet for piano nirvana for less than a clapped out upright. If you had more money, there are others, some of which may be better, but you can write that review. My P-80 is a very welcome addition to our family.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Saabs do have a sort of "middle aged ex-debutant" feel about them which is hard to feel irritated or offended by. Its distinct panavision windscreen and long snout gives it enough pose to sit next to a Citroen DS and not blush. The 3-door with spoiler is a classic shape. The 5-door tends to carry a size 12-14 feel - Alison Moyet rather than Marilyn Munroe. Inside, it's very narrow! Changing gear can lead to unintended knee gropes. It is VERY long - longer than a Volvo estate, so watch out in car parks. The boot is legendary. I have carried all sorts of stuff - beds, a garden, a tandem bike (well, a LWB recumbent), an oversized aquarium... it all gets swallowed up in this huge portable black hole. There is a really annoying lip, though - none of the Volvoeque "slide it in", you have to hump it over the bump. Comfort is superb. Everyone comments on how comfortable it is, how solid it feels, how there are no rattles and squeaks - though they are there. It?s a weird perception thing. Honestly, if you haven't done a long drive in a Saab 900 (old), you won't appreciate the depth of the comfort achieved. Well, unless you have a Volvo perhaps. :-) Bodywork has lasted well, but its not impervious to rust. Mud flaps have helped in this respect, despite grinding on every road bump you find. Performance is NOT great in the 'i' model. It will NOT burn rubber or perform magic feats of acceleration. But it does reward smooth and brisk driving combined with good choice of gear and throttle by giving predictable handling and a lot of feedback. It's nice to drive a car that gives you warning when things approach its limits, and it's an ego boost to drive better than the car. If you want sheer competence, get an Impreza or something - you will never know how good it is. Auntie Saab will go to the edge and say "I doubt if I can do th
is better". Well, it keeps you out of hedges. Saabs are now reaching the age and category exemplified by the 1970s sports car: You'd better be good at repairs or have plenty of money and a DEEP distrust of dealers. Get yourself a bloke in a shed lined up before you own one. Saab 900s ARE reliable if they are looked after and if you are aware that after 100k, bits will wear out and require more than the gestalt value to replace. Talk to vintage Porsche owners - do you see their point of view? Remember that every time you authorise a £1k bill, you are in effect buying a brand new used Saab that will last you 24 months. If you owned a new car of the same ilk, you'd spend 4 times that in depreciation each year (maybe), plus you paid half your salary for it in the first place. On the other hand, the newer Saabs do not excite me one iota. I've heard 9000s are good - very good, in fact. After 14 years with Saabs, I wanted a change. But there was a stone in my heart when I handed over the keys. WHAT WENT WRONG? - Petrol pump replaced (was full of dirt from previous owner - a farmer with his own pump) - Fuel Injection problems traced to dealer setting idle jet too low. - Rear hatch would come loose if carrying anything heavy or bulky that would rub against the rear door - may be due to a nasty nearside rear shunt the car had when young. Nearside rear door needed a teeny bit more elbow to shut properly. - On-going electrical problems - things cutting out, indicators dim etc - not the alternator as dealer said, but bad earth, which "bloke in shed" found. Solved by welding earth to body. - A regular habit of flooding when starting engine cured by above bloke in shed, but if it happens: pop the hood, remove the petrol pump fuse, start the car, stop the car, replace fuse, start car. Works every time. - Running really hot - got worse over time. Alm
ost lead to overheating (put heater on full, fans on full, open windows and experience the Saab Sauna). Dealer tried thermostat, tried flushing system, tried skimming heads (very very expensive), but still overheating - as I did too. Bloke in shed tried putting a new radiator in - it never overheated again. - Fan-belt went at 120k. Carry a spare. In fact, carry spare fuses too, and bulbs, belts, fluids, fuel, tools and know how to use them or who to call if necessary. This is a Classic Car, not a Mondeo. - Central locking went after an attempted break-in. They got in, then got out again. At least they didn't break a window. Oh yes. Windows. - Electric window switches (front) died at 130k - swapped wiring with rear switches, which worked well. Saved loadsamoney. - Tyres lasted 8k at the front, and I needed new front pads rather more often than necessary, but I do enjoy driving a great deal. IN CONCLUSION: The Saab 900 is, on the face of it, pure sensibleness. Sensible, yes - but that needn't discount fun or pleasure. It's cheap Classic Motoring, it's one of the last affordable cars with true charisma, and it's still a great anti-statement for those who can't quite face life with a BMW or Merc.
Heard the expression 'neither fish nor fowl'? The P800 is too big for a phone, too slow for a PDA, not really a camera, but this is as close as you can get for an all-in-one device. It has its faults, but it isn't bad! Get a BlueTooth headset to go with it, though. As a phone, it works. Sound quality is good, reception is good (better than quite a lot of Nokias). Battery life is good if you don't use BlueTooth for headset; if you do (and you should), it's a couple of days per charge. It's a little bulky but (and here's the punch line) if you use a headset, the brick bit lives in your case/pocket/dashboard. No problem. As a PDA it's very average until you install and pay for some extra software (HandyDay should have been installed from scratch). The P800 will crash sometimes, and worse still, a crash can keep the phone on and drain the battery until you hit the reset button. I've charged my phone ready for a big day, only to find a crash in the morning has drained the battery by midday. I now carry an extra charged battery though I like the sound of the SideWinder. [BTW, have heard that P800 crashability is nothing compared to MS SmartPhone, a platform as solid and stable as a blancmange on acid] The camera is no better than the old fold-out 110 cameras of old (and should be considered as such by anyone trying to use it creatively - hang on, does anyone remember them?), but it is integrated well and I've used it a lot for email. Overall, I am happy with it, the phone has delivered its value to me, and I can survive for a year or three with its features. It's better than the MS SmartPhone, the Nokia 7650 and its other siblings, and deserves its higher price if you need a PDA/Phone. I just wish Nokia and Palm could do something. :-) FURTHER DETAIL: - Things that work really well - Good Points - Bad Points - Where I started from T
HINGS THAT WORK REALLY WELL: - Silly, but actually very effective, use of WAV files for ring tones. Polyphonic can go spin - gimme farmyard noises any time. Wait until the day your phone accidentally rings in a meeting by crowing or mooing. No hard feelings. :-) - Little stylus thing that slips out easily but doesn't fall out unintentionally, and the fact that you can use a gentle fingernail for most menu work (you need to, thanks to the interface). Not everyone likes it, but I do because it works (and I have lots of spares) - Camera is a visual notebook and so quick to use in a hurry. Emailing pix is a breeze. It's not for art, you'll never publish the pix, it doesn't replace a digital camera or even the embarassing DV camcorder stills you could get. But it's there. 'That's what it looks like' should be on your mind when you press the button - Included headphones are pretty good (wot, use your own? It's a Sony! Of course you can't use your own!). An iPod this is not, but with a 128 Mb card it's a reasonable teenaged MP3 player. Transistor radio sound if MP3 played back on phone in hands-free mode. Hey, it's a phone! And it plays back as loud as an AM transistor radio! GOOD POINTS: - It actually works, it does what it says on the tin - you really can carry a copy of your Outlook data, get your email, view well-designed web pages, and (once you've learned JOT) can be used for short notes. - The P800 is a better *phone* than other Ericssons I've had. They have a long way to go to match Nokia ergonomics, but I think they'll have an easier ride with a tap-screen interface. Just don't blow it, chaps (see below). BAD POINTS: - Ericsson ergonomics still lurk behind the screen like a bad smell. Every time your call connects, a full volume beep tries to puncture your ear drum (not on the Sony headset though!). Every command requires a couple of m
enu choices. On-screen items that should be clickable require OBSTINATE ADHERANCE to number interface in Virtual Flip mode. I threw away the real flip as it is not a nice thing to use. Ericsson ergonomics could induce angina in an athelete, it could stress out a trappist monk, and if it weren't for Motorola, it would be the worst interface in the world. - Sony fetish for requiring addons and accessories is irritating. For $89, some enterprising soul has made a back cover that takes a full memory stick rather than the silly half-stick (MemoryTwig?!), but of course Sony has instead invented a new SonyStandard. I don't want to carry an extra adaptor with my phone. - Sony fetish for making things uncompatible with its own product range - Got a BlueTooth Sony Camcorder? Nope, doesn't work with Sony BlueTooth phone. You need a special Sony BlueTooth gizmo. Grrrr. - Some third party software (and - by the sounds of it - recent phone updates) can reduce your P800 to a gibbering wreck. Backup early, backup often. If it works Out Of the Box, don't f- mess with it. The Nokia 7110 suffered in a similar fashion where successive updates patched the patched patches (hey, sounds like a Macintosh!) until it ran on an Operating Bedspread rather than an Operating System... Don't update the OS until you hear everyone raving about the new version. - The JOT implementation is sub-standard. You'll end up cursing it, as Grafitti - whilst being cryptic to start - was a good system that understood the limitations of the medium. JOT tries so hard to be like real handwriting, but you have to slow down so that the double stroke system has time to register. Sony, in their INFINATE WISDOM have not included the JOT trainer that can help raise JOT to Grafitti standards. Neither can you write the GBP or EURO symbols, ligatures, advanced punctuations and accurate single-glyphs for certain challenging characters (T rather than L-space for exa
mple). - A satisfactory - nay, witnessable - vibrate alert seems strangely elusive. Nokias, in comparison, could be registered on the Richter scale. A dormouse with a mild case of the giggles could do better than the P800. - a 128 Mb card should have been included from the start. WHERE I STARTED I replaced a Nokia 8210 and Palm VX, and on top of this feature set I required proper internet email and web access with the ability to take photos and email them. I've had Palms and Psions for too long to be without Outlook sync to notes and contacts. I've got rather more than that for less than a Clie or PocketPC. Phones want to be small, fast and simple. PDAs want to be (relatively) full featured, ergonomic and powerful. It's as if we were comparing motorcycles and cars. So, what is the P800? Smart car? No. Goldwing.