Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Using an MP3 player

After I had my MP3 player for a week, my alter ego Devon talked to me about my thoughts and experiences.

Devon: Dave, I see you carrying your Creative Nano Plus MP3 player everywhere. I assume you are pleased with it?

Dave: I love my MP3 player! It' so nice to have music everywhere.

Devon: Are there any usability issues resulting from your daily use?

Dave: Specific to this player: the lowest volume setting could be a little quieter. 512Mb is definitely too small for me. I wish the display can also show the Artist information, or be able to switch between showing song info and song filename.

In general, how do people carry their MP3 players? There isn't always a pocket to put it in. The belt clip case is very useful in this case. However, the earphone cord dangles too much. I guess this is why I see people with cords coming out of their shirts and collars. I'm going to try that to see if it works better when I'm wearing shirts with pockets.

Devon: Are you finding owning an MP3 player is like joining another social circle, like computer users?

Dave: I wouldn't call it a social circle, but there is definitely a new mindset. Its analogous to cell phones allowing long distance communication away from home. Some people embrace the idea and treat it as normal as a conversation. Others still think it is something techno new, so using it in a group or library is still a bad but talking face to face is ok. Personal audio give you possibilities like private background mood music that other's don't have to be subjected. And your soundtrack of life can have lasting impressions too. When I was first read the Hobbit in my teens, I was also listening to music from the movie "Laura: Les Ombres d'Ete". It is soft, beautiful music, but it still makes me think of Middle Earth.

And I agree with becoming a new class of users, like computer users. There are things we do that non-users wouldn't think about, like buying skins and planning the next upgrade and selecting music for upcoming activities.

Devon: Will you turn into one of those people who accessorize their accessories?

Having a different mindset certainly entail some economic empowerment. Now I understand why personal audio accessories are sold everywhere. External speakers solves the problem of no being able to wear headphones due to circumstance, or when you want to have others share in the music too. An FM transmitter the car would also be good. I only have a basic CD player in the car, so this will make being stuck in traffic that much more tolerable. An a skin is like putting little shirts on your pet -- it's your inner child playing dress up disguised as a style statement.

Devon: Its wonderful to see that joining the earbud generation didn't distract from your oblique observations.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Buying an MP3 Player

Yesterday, I finally join the audio-tech revolution and bought my first MP3 player. Here is a summary of the thought processes I went through during this purchase, as well as some of the initial experiences, presented as a dialogue between me and my alter ego Devon.

Devon: So Dave, with 50 gigs of mp3 files and hundreds of unripped CD's, which of the colossal hard drive models what did you buy?

Dave: Actually, I went with a 512Mb Creative Zen Nano Plus, which was on sale for $50 plus an additional $25 rebate.

Devon: Isn't that a bit small in term of storage, compared to the amount of media you have?

Dave: A few hours after playing around with the Nano I realized something at least 2Gb or more will better suit me needs. But this was my first player, and so I don't quite know what I'll need in terms of managing and organizing files, and how greedy I would be in wanting tons of music available.

Devon: In a nutshell, what are the strengths, weaknessess, and overall recommendation for your choice?

Dave: Strengths are: Light weight, can display song titles that has Chinese text, easy to use, good mp3 and FM sound quality, drag and drop copy without additional software.

Weaknesses: flimsy scroll button and battery cover, no playlist or ID3 sorting.

Overall: This is an excellent player if you are just listening to audio. It is easy to use, full featured, and easy to carry.

Devon: Did you consider an iPod?

Dave: I definitely consider not getting an iPod for several reasons. First, it's my protest against Apple. Somehow the media lets them get away with their proprietary, monopolistic policies but blasts Microsoft for their every move. Second, I can get more value and features from non-Apple products.

Devon: What kind of features and requirements did you have?

Dave: I wanted something small, uses regular batteries, has a reasonable long battery life (e.g. 12-16 hours), has an FM tuner, uses Windows Explorer drag and drop to transfer files, has a display, and has some way to group and navigate files. Capacity has to be at least 512Mb (although now I would change that to 1-2Gb), and price has to be around $50 Cnd.

The plug-and-play drag-and-drop file managment was very important for me. This was the showstopper that I didn't get the Zen V Plus.

Devon: Wouldn't a player with built-in rechargable batteries be better for the environment?

Dave: Built-in batteries have two disadvantage. The first is that they will eventually wear out, just like laptop batteries. When that happens, it will be impossible or costly to replace, so you're throwing out a player to get another. The second is that when the battery needs recharging you must have computer access, which is difficult on long trips. With regular batteries, at least you can carry spares or quickly buy a spare. I can get a compromise by using rechargable AAA batteries.

Devon: You mentioned it has no playlist or ID3 sorting. So without the ability to view by artist/album/genre, etc, how does that Nano Plus organize files?

Dave: It uses directories and filenames to organize your files. The playing order is based on the sorted directories, and then within that the filenames. This is an advantage for me because my song filenames are in artist-album-00-song format. I can also manually organize files by copying the directories over. The key is that files in a directory are already sorted in playing order.

But if your are only in song or 00-song format, then the alphabetical order of playing may not be to your liking.

Devon: What are some of the suprprises?

Dave: 1. Some of my music has Chinese in the Title info, and that showed up perfectly fine. 2. Although the player doesn't support ID3 sorting, it will display the Title info when it is playing the song. If the Title isn't available, it displays the filename. The display can also be flipped upside down to suit left/right handed use. After a power-off, the player resumes playing exactly where it left off. That's an advantage if you are listening to spoken text or in the midst of a long piece.

Devon: Any particular gripes?

Dave: The menu organization isn't optimal for my use. Some of menu items that I tend to use frequently are not grouped together. So for example switching between Music and FM takes a bit of extra navigation. After completing a menu item, you are returned to the play mode instead of the previous menu, which creates extra work when configuring several options. Fortunately, the previous menu selections are the ones that are selected by default.

Also, the USB transfer speed is just USB 1.1 full-speed (1.5Mb/s), not USB 2.0's hi-speed (30-60Mb/s).

Devon: In closing, would you buy this again?

Dave: I would definitely recommend this to other if the features fit them. For my own needs, the features are right, but next time I'll get a bigger capacity model.