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Palm OS Audio Player Review: RealOne, AeroPlayer, Pocket Tunes Deluxe
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posted Dec. 2003 by Tanker Bob

Pocket Tunes Deluxe 2.1.1 by NormSoft

NormSoft has established themselves as a purveyor of quality Palm OS software since 1999. I’ve used their CryptInfo for some years now to keep my passwords and other sensitive information safe. Consequently, I expected Pocket Tunes to be a quality product and was not disappointed.

Pocket Tunes supports skins, so its appearance varies widely. I pictured the default skin, which supports the T3 at 320x480 in the main screen, but interestingly not in the file list screen which would benefit most from the extra screen. Although I’m sure other skins also support the DIA, I didn’t spend much time looking for them. The typical controls hold prominent positions on the display, along with the current tune’s name, playing time, and encoding parameters. The middle area can have data on the song playing as shown above, or the list of songs in the current play list. Like AeroPlayer, Pocket Tunes supports balance control.

Configuration options abound in Pocket Tunes. The menus hold such goodies as time delay before turning off the screen and LED blinking thereafter, volume boost, background play, how to bring up the console, bookmarks (deluxe version), skin selection, how to handle low battery conditions, and crossface settings (deluxe only). Pocket Tunes Deluxe uniquely offers crossfade between songs, and lets you tailor the transition time. Crossfade takes a bit of extra memory--about 192K per second of fade.

The Pocket Tunes console can pop up at any time to advance/retreat in the song list, pause play, or change the volume. You may also launch Pocket Tunes from the console. This handy feature provides access to key music controls, and launches either through dragging between silk screen buttons or using hard buttons. This isn’t quite as handy on a T3 as using the command stroke because the most users hide the T3 silk screen and other apps/functions already occupy the hard buttons.

In the end, audio players must provide great sound. Pocket Tunes sounds good without boost, about the same as the other players as one might expect. The bass boost implementation comes through a 10-band equalizer, but uses the MP3 decoding trick discussed in the AeroPlayer review. That means two things: 1) only MP3s can be boosted; and 2) distortion becomes an issue. How much of an issue? That seems to vary with the encoding bit rate. At 96 kbps, distortion became very distracting at around +3dB or so during loud passages or at the frequency extremes at high volume levels. At 128 kbps, you can get another dB or so out of the equalizer before distortion becomes distracting. That performance didn’t impress me at all. Encoding at higher bit rates eats up room on the card, so I didn’t carry my testing any further. Ogg Vorbis files cannot be equalized/boosted, although they sound a tiny bit cleaner than unboosted MP3s in Pocket Tunes. If you consider good bass boost important, Pocket Tunes will probably disappoint you.

In addition to bookmarks, crossfade, and gapless playback, the deluxe version adds the ability to play streaming audio from ShoutCast. This requires an Internet-capable Palm OS PDA and a good mobile Internet connection. Not having such a device, I couldn’t test this capability directly. ShoutCast consists of a free network of servers broadcasting streaming MP3s at various bit rates using Nullsoft’s free Winamp software. The network looks pretty extensive and sounded great on my home system over a cable modem at 128 kbps. Of course, mobile users will have to pay their mobile network charges to access the service. Very neat capability, though--like a radio in your PDA.

At $12.95 for the basic version (available as shareware) or $24.95 for the deluxe version, Pocket Tunes provides a quality audio player as long as you don’t need audio augmentation/bass boost. The Shoutcast audio streaming support provides a nifty capability for wireless Internet connected devices if you can afford the air time.

Pros:
Some Palm DIA support
Nice pop-up console
Plays MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WAV files
Crossfade and Shoutcast streaming audio support in the deluxe version

Cons:
Excessive distortion above minimal equalizer boost levels
Equalizer augmentation limited to MP3s

 

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Conclusion

While configurability and extensibility bring valuable characteristics to the table, audio players ultimately have to be about sound quality. AeroPlayer’s plug-in codec implementation provides a unique extensibility in this pack, but its outstanding equalizer and bass boost set a high bar for its competition.

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