I’m a huge music fan. I pretty much have music playing all the time, in some form. As such, I like my MP3 player. Like many music lovers, I became enamored with the concept of having my entire music library at my fingertips at any time, so the MP3 player as a concept really appealed to me when they began to appear with larger capacities several years ago.
However, as a Linux user, there are some hurdles in choosing a portable digital music device, which limits one’s options, and then there is the simple fact that manufacturers have radically cut down on the products offered, which limits one’s options even more.
This is my discussion of that plight.
My current MP3 player, its inevitable death, and my requirements for a new one
I have a great MP3 player I bought a few years ago. It’s an ARCHOS Gmini XS202s. I only have two issues with it. First of all, it only has a 20 GB hard drive, and since I like to carry my whole music library with me, that’s a big limiting factor.
Secondly, it’s beginning to get up there in age. I use it a lot, and since it’s hard drive based (and therefore has moving parts), that means I’m swiftly moving into a band of time that almost certainly designates its eventual demise as a useful device. It’s only a matter of time before the thing goes belly-up, and I’ll need to replace it.
So as a result, I’ve been looking around for a suitable replacement, and I haven’t been having much luck.
ARCHOS no longer makes this particular model, and worse yet, they don’t make anything even remotely like it. Why don’t I just buy something else from ARCHOS then, you ask? They don’t make anything that meets my requirements.
See, I don’t really consider myself that picky about MP3 players, but it’s getting damned hard — if not impossible — to find one that doesn’t suck in some unacceptable way. You wouldn’t think this to be that difficult a task, but there it is. My requirements are pretty straightforward.
1. It MUST be platform agnostic.
This is the most important one, and, one would think, easy to accomplish. All an MP3 player is, after all, is just a portable storage device that has the capacity to play music in one or more formats (MP3, WMA, AAC, et cetera). Portable storage devices are just that… either flash based or hard drive based, usually USB, and as such have no need to be specific to any one platform, be it Windows, Linux, Mac, or whatever.
However, this rules out the most ubiquitous device. I’m speaking, of course, of Apple’s iPod (and the variations Apple makes). Apple has designed into the iPod a set of massive defects that I find intolerable. It’s a portable hard drive, in essence, but you can’t load music onto it without the use of a proprietary application, or in the very least, without going through a process of hacks and workarounds that really seems excessive to me.
I find iPods, therefore, to be offensive to my sensibilities, and I refuse to purchase a product that is that maliciously platform bigoted. I don’t feel that I should have to boot into Windows just to load music on the damned thing — particularly since my current MP3 player can simply be plugged in, mounted automatically as a USB hard drive, and have music dragged-and-dropped onto it, even while running Slackware. Apple went out of their way to prevent people from doing this, and has therefore ruled themselves out as an option for me.
A corollary to this requirement is the simple fact that DRM cannot be integrated into the device in any way. Doing so, like the iPod not being platform agnostic, is simply an intentional defect, and I have qualms about paying money for a device that’s intentionally defective in any way, particularly in a way that is that offensive. Obviously, this rules out Microsoft’s Zune, but you guys already knew I wasn’t considering buying a Zune, right? Seriously.
Built-in DRM plus the fact that it only works on Windows also rules out Sony’s Walkman as well, but, like the Zune, I never seriously considered a Sony product for this purpose anyway, so that point is moot.
2. It must have a native storage capacity of 40 GB or more
I don’t consider this to be unreasonable. A quick Google search turns up tons of results for portable digital music devices that can hold more than 40 GB of music on them. Heck, even the garden variety iPod is a whopping 120 GB. So I know it’s possible. Note that in this requirement I say native storage capacity. I know that many devices out there can do the SD or MicroSD card thing, which is all well and good. But I don’t want to have to juggle around cards to load the music I want. I want it all to be on the device all the time, all at once. Expansion via MicroSD cards is fine, but it has to be 40 GB without it before I’ll consider it an option.
This requirement rules out most (if not all) flash memory based devices, however, leaving only hard drive based devices as options for me. I don’t have a problem with this, conceptually. After all, my current MP3 player is hard drive based, and it works great. It just needs a larger capacity. But when you look at what’s available for hard drive based players that AREN’T iPods, you start running afoul of my third requirement.
3. It must have a battery life of 10 hours or more
My current MP3 player is four years old, and gets what I would classify as “heavy” use. Despite this, and the fact that it’s hard drive based, it still gets around 12 hours of battery life out of a single charge. I am continually amazed at how long I can carry this thing around and listen to my favorite music on it without having to worry about it dropping dead on me. I only charge it every couple of days or so, and even then, a lot of times it still has some battery life left when I plug it in.
So to me, a viable replacement should be able to handle a minimum of 10 hours of life on a single charge.
Note that I don’t care about video in a portable device, so I couldn’t care less about a big, full-color, power-hungry display. In fact, the smaller and more basic, the better in my opinion. My current device has a pretty no-frills display, and that’s fine by me… I’m not using it to look at photos or watch movies or anything. Just listen to music.
This is good for the battery requirement, because when you take the biggest power drain away from a device (a big, backlit, full-color display), battery life increases dramatically, even on hard drive based players.