Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flash Mp3 Players (64GB N800)


So my 120GB Zune broke. I admit it, I dropped it a lot. I went back to using my 80GB Archos 504, which has a few problems, but it served to remind me of all the ways it is better than the Zune. The only things I ever had against the Archos 504 were the large physical size and occasional freezes (freezes they've since fixed). The Zune requires Windows to transfer music, it requires it's own software which by default overwrites all your id3 tags and cover art (it seriously, seriously fucked up my collection and I will never forget it). I didn't like being forced to navigate music by id3 tag. I didn't like how big of a pain in the ass it was to put one album on my Zune--something I can do in half a minute from any PC (running any OS) with my 504. This 504, by the way, is the mp3 player I used to take with me to construction sites. It's been dropped a hundred more times than the Zune and is still going strong. Maybe that's because it uses a 2.5" laptop drive instead of whatever tiny custom drive the Zune has.

A few weeks ago I posted about 64GB flash players, wondering why there's only one on the US market and why it's an iPod. There are dozens of companies that only make flash mp3 players. Why has none of them released a 64GB model?

I started looking around at other players. I briefly considered buying an Archos 5, then I saw the Archos Android tablet, which wasn't released at the time but looks like it may be released now.

The highest amount of flash storage any Archos device has that I'm aware of is 32GB. I already have a functioning Archos HDD player, I was hoping to find something flash based. I started to wonder if I could find some cheapo mp3 player that had two full SD slots. I could get two 32GB cards for $70-100 each, so if I could find a cheap player that housed them that would satisfy my current desires.

Then I realized that my Nokia N800 has two full SD slots, both SDHC compliant. I did some research to make sure the device supports 32GB cards, it does, and I drove down to Micro Center to pick some up. Micro Center actually had 32GB SD cards cheaper than any online retailer I found. Class 6 even.

I couldn't find any info on the brand (IPSG cards re-branded as "Micro Center"), any benchmarks or anything, but I decided that as long as the cards worked without defect, no matter how slow they were they'd have to be fast enough to play mp3s. I had to tell the cashier they did in fact have 32GB SDHC cards. Then I had to tell the supervisor they did in fact have at least 2 in stock (web site said they had eight) but that's another story (the supervisor was kind of a dick about it). I asked the person who rang me up what their return policy was. He said the cards have lifetime guarantees, just bring the defective card in and they'll switch it out no questions asked. That actually confirms what I'd heard about them before.

I originally digressed here to talk about MicroCenter. I took so much space I decided instead to make it it's own post, which I'll throw online later.

I bench marked the cards, and they were tested at 9 MB/s write, 18 MB/s read, but that was on my eeePC 901, and I'm told processing power can affect benchmark results. On my uber-charged PC I actually got a consistent 11 MB/s write on these cards, physically copying 15 GB of large files, and it would even occasionally flutter up to 15 MB/s. If I have any major problems with these cards I'll be sure to post them online for the benefit of others, because Micro Center doesn't have an online rating system that I've seen. These cards were $70, BTW, and I think they were well worth it. I'm even thinking about buying another one and getting a USB enclosure to use it for all my personal files (making daily backups, of course).

Back to the N800. I updated the firmware, looked into a few media player apps, and started copying music over.

The program I've ended up using the most is Media Box. It's a little hard to get used to, but once you understand how it works it's pretty cool. You have to go to a folder in file browsing mode, open the menu, then add it to your library so you can navigate by id3 tag (you can choose to browse by file location or by id3 tag). You can choose whole directories or entire SD cards to be scanned and added to your library. The program is a little sluggish, but that's a problem with every single audio player app I've found for the n800. None of the programs I found could handle gapless mp3 playback.

My next choice would be the N800's built in media player. I didn't realize until using it for a few days that this program is constantly scanning your SD cards for media and adding it to it's library. I found 'Library Mode' under the View menu, and it actually listed all the music I had. This program doesn't show album art whether it's in the folder or embedded in the file (Media Box does), and it's a lot slower and less finger-friendly then Media Box, but it's still a good alternative. In fact, I would probably use Media Box while driving, and the built in Media Player while doing chores or playing video games.

The speakers on the N800 aren't super-great, but they are very nice. I hate that most video games don't let you integrate your own mp3 library so that you can easily listen to your own music while playing the game. Headphones are the most logical alternative, but what if it's a game where I need to hear notifications or gunfire before I'm killed? The N800 gives a great workaround. I can play the mp3s through the speakers, keep it next to me or in my shirt pocket, and not have to blast the game or the music over each other. I've said I would love a phone the size of the N800, with the screen covering the whole front of the device. However, I might be willing to sacrifice the larger screen size in favor of speakers this nice.

I was driving with my roommate Chris the other day, and I wanted to play him a Kinks song--he liked Lola, I wanted to play him some Village Green or Arthur so he could see how broad their styles were. His car's audio-in cable was broken and buggy, so I unplugged it and played the song through the speakers. I had to hold it closer to him than me so he could hear it well, but it's a nice option to have good speakers on a mp3 player--the 504 had a speaker on it, but not nearly as nice as the N800's. It does come in handy.

It was very satisfying to get myself a 64GB flash player, but ultimately the interface while navigating songs is a little to slow for me, and I do have that 80GB 504 available to me. I ended up taking out one of the 32GB cards and using it for my personal files instead of buying a new one. I will keep the other card in the N800 for music--to keep in my bag as a back-up player, and to constantly remind myself to show people the perfect size for a power user's smart phone.

I had another digression here about my N800 and how superior it's interface still is over anything else I've tried, but that got too long so it'll be it's own post. I'm wordy.

All in all, it was a fun experience, and it's totally workable if someone wants a 64GB flash player for much less money than a 64GB iPod Touch. Okay, the apps aren't as cool, but there are apps. And you can play games and read ebooks while listening to music on the same device. That's kind of cool. Isn't it?

Hey look, the end of the article. Could you imagine this post being any longer? If I hadn't re-purposed the other bits it would have been. Oh, I'm making it longer still. Oops.

Time to punch out,


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