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