This iPhoneless Life #6 – Playing musical music players

April 11, 2009

iPod Following on from my voyage of discovery, I had settled into using Mobile WMP for playing podcasts on my HTC Windows Mobile phone, and AudiblePlayer for playback of audiobooks. All was fine and working well.

Then my kids, bless them, took my hints and bought me a set of Sennheiser MM200 bluetooth stereo earphones for my birthday. Fantastic bit of kit.  No fiddling with wires.  No tangles. Great quality audio. Only one teensy drawback.  AudiblePlayer didn’t appear to support A2DP properly so that my audiobooks played out of the left ear only.  The books are mono so I wasn’t missing anything, but it’s very disconcerting to have the narrator’s voice just coming out of one channel.

In the search for a solution I found myself trying a sequence of alternative Windows Mobile audio playback applications, looking for the magic bullet that would play audiobooks on both channels and, while about it, meet my podcast and music playback needs too.

PocketMind’s Pocket Music

I found Pocket Music by Googling for WM music players that could play audiobooks.  There don’t seem to be many of those, and the ones that do aren’t free. WM players seem to come in three categories: free, around $20 and around $40.  The free ones presumably pay no licence fees so have the most limited coverage of music file formats.  Pocket Music is $19.95 and claims to play audible books.  It looks like you have to pay an extra $9.95 for AAC support, which affects me because at least one podcast I listen to is in that format.

At first I thought I’d found a real winner. It did, as billed, play audiobooks in .aa format. And out of both ears over bluetooth. Not only that, it had some other features that were a positive boon to audiobook/podcast playback.  For example, you can program hardware buttons to carry out actions chosen from a wide range, such as 30 second skip forward or back. The former is perfect for going past adverts in podcasts, Tivo style, or short boring bits. The skip back is great if you didn’t quite catch something and want to hear it again without risk of zooming way past it.  I also like the excellent support for bookmarking of both audiobooks and podcasts, and the ability to remember the place in a podcast even after the player was closed and relaunched.  These two features alone put the podcast experience on my WM6 phone way ahead of an iPod, and that is saying a lot.

I thought I had it, my all in one solution, and was quite ready to pay the $19.95 at the end of the 15 day free trial. Alas, it was not to be. Sadly, Pocket Music does not like long files. After a while it starts to struggle with playback.  It stops in mid sentence, pauses and goes back a couple of seconds then restarts.  It is then fine for a few minutes, then does it again.  After a while, on a long podcast, it starts to become very, very irritating. No amount of fiddling with the ample options for thread priorities and buffer sizes could cure the problem.

It was definitely the fault of the player.  This never happened with any of the others I tried, even in combination with the bluetooth earhones, and I tried a fair few.

Pocket Music was also a bit buggy. There was a facility for re-ordering playlist items but it was clunky to use and never seemed to work. Worst of all was the tendency, after making settings changes, to lose the application-specific options in the lower menu bar.  The standard Today screen options of Calendar and Contacts would appear instead of Playlist and Menu as in the picture above.  The only way out was to close and relaunch the player.

I decided to move on.

Pocket Tunes

Pocket Tunes has been around for years in the Palm OS world, but only fairly recently became available for Windows Mobile.  It is a premium product at a premium price: $37.95.

It is very slick in use and playback is exemplary; definitely no skips or jumps. It is supposed to support audiobooks, but not the free trial version.  Still, I gave it a fair try-out listening to podcasts.  It was excellent at locating my podcast playlist and sorting my podcasts into correct order of date/time created.  Better at it than any other player, including WMP, but didn’t allow manual override of playback order.

Pocket Tunes is well specced, but lacks the excellent forward/back skip feature of Pocket Music.  It does though have good bookmarking capabilities.

One particularly cute feature is the ability to sync directly with iTunes, but this does require various bits of extra software installation to set up.

Pocket Tunes does seem more promising than Pocket Music, but it is expensive and does not quite seem to tick all the boxes.

Might keep playing musical music players for a bit longer.

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