Saturday, February 6, 2010

N900 as an Mp3 player

One of the reasons I bought an N900 was so I could put a 16GB microSD card in it and use it as an mp3 player. The N900 has 32GB of storage--about 26GB of that are available due to the N900 needing about 6GB for system files. Adding a 16GB SD card makes 40GB total available for files such as mp3s.

I don't even have 40GB of mp3s on this device, because I need to save space for downloaded files, photos, etc. Right now I have maybe 35GB of music on my N900, split between the internal storage and the microSD card. This, by the way, from someone who nearly ran out of space on a 120GB Zune. 110GB - all music, no videos (the Zune Pass subscription service was primarily to blame).

Right now the device has 8,465 songs on it, according to the N900's default media player.

So here's my situation: Until 64+ GB microSD cards become available, browsing by folder would be unwieldy. "Is this album on the SD card or the internal storage?" I thought about a setup with links to music folders, but even that would probably be more trouble than it's worth, if it's even possible on the N900.

So I need to browse by tag, not a big problem. Since I've owned two tag-based mp3 players in the past, a Creative Zen Touch and a Zune, most of my mp3s are properly tagged.

Now, there are three competent tag-based mp3 playing apps on the N900 that I'm aware of. Canola, MediaBox, and the N900's default media player.

Had I written this within the first few days of getting the N900, this post would be talking shit all up and down the N900's default media player. That would be mainly for one reason, that the default media player's "now playing" screen is kind of lame.

The N900 is a touch screen device. I have, from past experiences, decided how a touch-screen media player app should behave. The volume and track progress sliders should always be visible, one on the left or right side of the screen along the edge, one on the top or bottom of the screen along the edge. That way, without looking you can adjust the volume, restart a song, skip back a bit, etc.

The default media player has a progress bar in the middle of right half of the screen. Tapping on the album art (directly to the left of the progress bar) replaces the progress bar with a list of all the songs on the album/playlist so you can look ahead or easily switch tracks.

Ideally I'd like tapping the album art to pause the song. Someone calls, or you're driving and you hear a noise, you don't want to have to look away from the road for this little pause button. Perhaps this is something that could have been avoided if the N900 had a few more dedicated buttons around it's sides.

Let's get to the good: The N900's default media player is the only one in which you can search your database of music using the hardware keyboard. That's right, no scrolling. Just start typing in the name of a band and it will filter out all the bands that don't have those letters.

A few problems with this: Like most media players, you can browse all artists, all albums, or all tracks. If you browse by artist, once you've selected an artist you're shown all their albums, (or you can play all of an artist's tracks). If you browse by album, selecting an album brings you to a list of all the album's tracks. When browsing by song, all the songs are on one big list. I only browse by song if I want to shuffle all songs on the player.

There are some problems with this. You have to wait a few seconds for the list to populate itself before typing in a search or it won't find what you're looking for. Just a few seconds. Also, you can search while browsing by all artists or all songs, but now while browsing all albums. I don't know why, that's just how it is.

That said, none of the other media players on the N900 search via the keyboard at all, so it's not like I can be too picky about it.

On to Mediabox and Canola. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Both are a little odd. Both support album art, but you have to install a streaming plugin for Canola and then let it crawl your music folders for album art to get it to recognize everything properly.

Also, Canola won't let you browse to any folders and let you specify that as your music folder. It will scan all your folders for ones with music, and you can remove folders from that list, but you can't point out folders that it for some reason isn't aware of. Uninstalling Canola won't make it re-scan for media folders. I almost think it only does this once after it's first install, so if you create a new media folder it'll never see it. I copied my mp3s over after I installed Canola, so I had to go into the file system and delete all of Canola's files in order to get it to re-scan my system and actually find my mp3 folders.

Mediabox lets you choose what folders it does and doesn't look for music in. As most people have said, the Mediabox interface takes a bit of getting used to. I had to try to get it to scan certain music folders over and over again before it finally started finding my music. I was probably doing something wrong, but it wasn't terribly clear what I was supposed to be doing so I won't take too much of the blame.

Mediabox and Canola also have the odd problem of occasionally stuttering. Of course when I'm surfing with a lot of windows open it affects the smoothness of mp3 playing, but Mediabox and Canola stutter a little bit just before the screen turns off. The stock media player doesn't. I don't know if it's because the default media player has a higher priority or if it's just less resource intensive, but between letting me search for music by typing and it's much less frequent hiccups I've settled on it as my default mp3 playing app.

I know Mediabox is under constant development, I think Canola is, and there are a few other decent apps for older versions of Maemo that may end up being ported to Maemo 5 eventually.

As it is, the N900 is a great mp3 player. I was worried I'd be disappointed in a lackluster ability to handle a large amount of files, but it works fairly well. I can't wait until I can get my hands on a 32GB microSD card.


No comments:

Post a Comment