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PocketPC MP3 Player Roundup: A Close Competition
Posted January 2004 by Christopher “JuryDuty” Maselli

In this month's Pocket PC roundup, we've put four MP3 players to the test against Windows Media Player to see who—if anyone—can stand against the built-in standard. We'll be comparing:

•  Microsoft Windows Media Player

•  Cardinal Info Tech withMP3

•  Conduits Pocket Player

•  PocketMind PocketMusic Bundle

•  TodayPlayer

•  WinamPAQ

For the tests, we're using an HP iPAQ 1935, loaded with both MP3 and WMA songs, heard through Sony earbuds. Though, ironically, sound is not the real test. All of these top-quality programs deliver great quality sound, with one getting virtually no edge over the next. And as you'll see, most of them have ways you can tweak the sound to your ear's content. The real test is in terms of special features, ease of use and overall value.

Microsoft Windows Media Player

What about Microsoft Windows Media Player—the one application with no footprint at all, because it comes pre-installed in the ROM of every Pocket PC? By itself, WMP performs well and has the added benefit of also playing video. It allows you to create basic playlists and play songs in order or on shuffle. It supports WMA and MP3 files and because it's the standard, it has an extensive amount of skins that have been created for it. Many users feel these features are all they need. Plus, since it only performs basic tasks, WMP is super-easy to use. There's no added cost, so the value is great.

But for other users, this is just where music begins. They want something more extensive. They want more customization. They want bells and whistles. You won't get that with WMP. But several software creators have stepped up to the plate with their own creations. And once you see what's available, you probably won't want to go back to plain old WMP.

Cardinal Info Tech withMP3 www.citsoft.net

Cardinal Info Tech's withMP3 is a good player that's a few bucks less than their main competitors (not to mention about half the installation size). The most compelling factor about withMP3 is that it has a detailed display screen that's easy to understand without jumping to the help menu. Stacked like a home stereo system, the player sits on top, the equalizer is in the middle and the playlist is at the bottom.

The player has all the standard features you'd expect, though not much more. The display looks great, but it can't be skinned, so what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

The equalizer, the only hideable screen element, has the added benefit of a dual spectrum analyzer. Other MP3 players in our round-up only have a single spectrum analyzer. You can choose from one of 17 equalizer presets, or create your own. You can even alter the default presets to your liking.

The playlist allows for ascending or descending play. Ironically, shuffle play and auto-repeat are nowhere to be found—not easy anyway. You'll have to search the pop-up menus before you find those options.

Other options include an adjustable cache buffer, the ability to minimize, and the ability to toggle the screen off—all common features of the players in this roundup.

Overall, CIT's withMP3 is a decent MP3 player, but compared to the other players in this roundup, the couple bucks you save aren't worth the features you lose.

withMP3 Player

$15.75

 

 

Conduits Pocket Player www.conduits.com

Conduits hits the competition with a feature-packed MP3 player that has more bells and whistles than you'd first suspect. The interface itself looks simple at first glance. It looks like a handheld MP3 player, or a jukebox, with a reverse layout from withMP3. Here, the playlist is at the top, the equalizer in the center and the player on the bottom. But Pocket Player is skinnable, so the layout can change with your imagination (they also offer VGA skins for the Toshiba e805). With a little bit of use and you'll quickly discover that the “simple” interface isn't so simple at all—it's hard to tell what all the buttons do without playing around with it for a while.

The player is complete with standard features, not much to write home about.

Though not marked, the equalizer has a pre-amp bar as well as a single spectrum analyzer. It comes with 12 equalizer presets—the least of the players with presets in this roundup. But no matter—you can create your own with a few clicks. Via the equalizer menu, you can also set bookmarks, a nice feature when you're listening to that long book.

Perhaps the most intriguing equalizer function is that the spectrum analyzer that can go full-screen. This turns it into the visualization of your choosing, and that's a nice feature for showing off your PPC. No other player in the roundup can do that.

The playlist is fairly easy to use. The most powerful aspect is that it was able to read playlists created by several apps, meaning you can port those Windows Media Player playlists over seamlessly. For some reason, it read my MP3 files twice, making it appear as though I had twice as many as I did. Not a big deal, but something that left me scratching my head.

Options include screen toggle, minimize, gapless play, adjustable cache buffer and a sleep timer—a sweet addition if you want to listen as you go to sleep. Pocket Player was the only player we tested with crossfading technology. This allows you to “merge” two tracks at the end of one and the beginning of another to create an effect like listening to music on the radio. Pretty cool.

Also cool is the music notify icon it places on your title bar. Even when Pocket Player isn't visible, the music notify icon is there. Just click it and up pops a small menu that lets you play, pause, stop and go forward or back a song.

In the end, Conduits Pocket Player gets big points for features and crossfading, but loses points for difficulty of use. Still, not a bad buy any way you look at it.

 

 

Pocket Player

$19.95

 

PocketMind Pocket Music www.pocketmind.com

PocketMind's Pocket Music is considered the biggest competition for Conduits Pocket Player, and for good reason. It includes almost all the same features, plus it is hands-down the easiest player to use from the get-go. PocketMind has a scaled-down free version of this player available; we're reviewing the bundled full-featured version. Pocket Music is the largest of the players in the roundup, with an installation of nearly three megabytes. But before you let that turn you off, take a moment to see what this huge program has to offer.

Like withMP3, Pocket Music is set up in home stereo component sections. At the top is the player, in the center is the equalizer and at the bottom is the playlist. As a special bonus, Pocket Music is skinnable with WinAMP 2.x skins—of which there are thousands—so configurations are plentiful. The interface is clearly marked from top to bottom and easy-to-use. Each component is collapsible, too.

The player, like withMP3 and Pocket Player, is pretty standard, but if you click anywhere on it, you get a bunch of options that allow you greater control.

The equalizer has a fully-labeled pre-amp bar and equalizer. You get to choose from 18 factory presets—the most of all the players in the roundup—or create your own. The spectrum analyzer sits just above the equalizer bars.

The playlist organizer is the best of the bunch, allowing you to easily view files in any way you want—by artist, genre, folder, you pick it. The design here is very intuitive; the other software makers should take note.

Options include screen toggle, minimize, bass boost and the ability to edit ID3 tags. It also has a landscape mode for the player and an automatic plug-in that lets you control music from your Today screen. Another great option is the ability to regularly scan folders for supported media and automatically add them to your playlist. Good stuff. Missing is gapless play, crossfading and a sleep timer.

Though it's bigger than Pocket Player in file size and lacks a couple of its features, Pocket Music has a few exclusive features of its own that make up the difference between the two players. Add to that the fact that Pocket Music is immediately easy to use and takes WinAMP skins, and you've got yourself the player to be beat.

 

 

Pocket Music

$19.95

 

 

Today Player www.todayplayer.com

Ironically enough, the player that will beat the heavy competition for many users isn't a player at all, but a brand new, free Today screen plug-in with an installation footprint of only 289k. Today Player fits most the features of the other players in a half-inch high space on the Today screen.

Like the competition, the player has the basic playing functions readily-available. Play/Pause, Stop and Next Track are on the left side of the screen.

The peak meters, similar to other players' spectrum analyzers, are on the right side of the screen. The colors are configurable. Time and bitrate info display when you tap the peak meters. The equalizer is accessible via a pop-up menu, though it lacks a pre-amp slider. There are no presets.

The playlist is also accessible via a pop-up menu. It's not the easiest of the bunch to use, but it works very similar to the Windows Media Player playlist.

Options include bookmarks, gapless play, bass boost and a sleep timer. Missing are crossfading and a cache buffer. There are other options missing too, such as skins, but given the nature of Today Player, such options aren't really applicable.

Today Player isn't the monster music application that the competition delivers, but it's very close—and for the value, it beats them all. Before you buy from the competition, definitely check this one out…and you may not be buying anything at all.

 

Today Player

Above, what you'll see on the Today Screen. Below, the options window.

Today Player options

 

 

WinamPAQ winampaq.com/en/main.html

After writing this review, we realized there was another popular MP3 player worth adding to our round-up: WinamPAQ, a freeware MP3 player from Korea. At first glance, it looks like a good runner to our top picks—and the price is certainly right. It even installs smaller than most the other players on our list, though there is no actual “installer.” You just place it in a directory on your PPC and tap the file to start. But how does it perform?

Like withMP3 and Pocket Music, WinamPAQ has the home stereo component-look going. At the top is the player, in the center is the equalizer (which is hide-able) and at the bottom is the playlist. Like Pocket Music, WinamPAQ has the unique feature of being skinnable with WinAMP skins. This is especially nice when you want a custom look. Because of this, everything is pretty easy to figure out and use. And that's good, because there isn't much documentation for this player.

The player, like other players we tested, is pretty standard.

The equalizer has a fully-labeled pre-amp bar and equalizer, like Pocket Music, which is nice, with 17 factory presets. Unfortunately, you cannot save your own. There's also no spectrum analyzer.

The playlist organizer is easy to use, and WinamPAQ gets big points for this. Unfortuntely, WMA support is missing.

Ironically, WinamPAQ has a couple options none of our other players have. You can actually set how much volume increases with each slide of the volume button. And—best of all—WinamPAQ has rewind and fast forward control, so for instance, you can set it to rewind a song five seconds. But hold on there—before you rush to get this player, you need to know what it's missing too. No screen toggle, no minimize, no bass boost, no bookmarks, sleep timer or other goodies.

In the end, WinamPAQ's biggest asset is that it's a decent player and since it's free, what have you got to lose? But in this case, you get what you pay for—and it just can't compete with the other big players on our list. Not yet, anyway.

 

 

 

WinamPAQ screen

Conclusion

Compared to the competition, Windows Media Player is just too scaled-down. Still, many PPC users are minimalists—they don't want to have something installed unless they're really going to use it. For those users, the choice is clear: Today Player—the one program with the smallest footprint and the smallest price (Free!)—is the way to go. It contains most of the fuctions of the “big boys” without the space concerns.

For users, however, who desire as many music options and gadgets as possible, PocketMind's PocketMusic Bundle nudges ahead of Conduits Pocket Player. Pocket Player gets points for its smaller size and crossfading option, but in the end, PocketMusic is simply easier to use.

(A tip of the hat also to VITO Sound Explorer, not reviewed in this article, simply because its focus isn't playback, but recording—a nice addition if you want to capture sound in MP3 format on the road. www.vitotechnology.com)

Comparison Table:

 

CIT
withMP3

Conduits Pocket Player

PocketMind PocketMusic
Bundle

Today
Player

VITO Sound
Explorer

WinamPAQ

Windows Media Player

Price

$15.75

$19.95

$19.95

FREE

$19.95

FREE

FREE

Installation Size

510k

1179k

2798k

289k

1178k

684k

0k

Basic Functions (Play, Stop, Next, etc)

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Keymap hardware buttons

X

X

X

 

X

 

X

Screen Off Timer/Toggle

X

X

X

X

X

 

 

Playlists

X

X

X

X

 

X

X

Equalizer

X

X

X

X

 

X

 

Preamp

X

X

X

 

 

X

 

Presets

17

12

18

 

 

17

 

Savable Presets

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Spectrum Analyzer

X

X

X

X

 

 

 

Spectrum Analyzer Update Speed

X

X

 

X

 

 

 

Minimize

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Adjustable cache buffer

X

X

X

 

 

 

 

Bookmarks

 

X

X

X

 

 

 

Gapless

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

Landscape Mode

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Today Screen Control

 

X
(via Notify)

X

X
(only)

 

 

 

Bass Boost

 

 

X

X

 

 

 

Sleep Timer

 

X

 

X

 

 

 

Skins

 

X

X

 

 

X

X

Crossfading

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

Edit ID3 Tags

 

 

X

 

X

 

 

WMA Support

 

X

X

 

 

 

X

Shoutcast Support

 

X

 

X
(beta)

 

 

 

OGG Support

 

X

X

X

 

X

 

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