Archive for November, 2009

In Search of a New Portable Media Solution

November 26, 2009

I’m looking for a new portable media player. I’ve been using a Sansa e280 with a 16G memory card running Rockbox. I’ve been very happy with Rockbox, and the Sansa in general, but I’m on my second Sansa e200 this year, and I thought they’d both developed the same problem. The headphone jack developed a short and the stereo cuts in and out. I looked this up on the web, and apparently this isn’t an unusual problem with the Sansa e200 series of portable media players. As it turns out, there wasn’t a problem with my second Sansa. the problem ended up being with my ear buds instead. This still got me thinking about getting a new portable media player though.

In looking to get a new portable media player, I want to consider all of my options. Right now, I think I have four options:

  • get another Rockbox capable portable media player,
  • get one of the accessible iPods,
  • get a portable media player made especially for the blind or
  • press my E71X cell phone into service as my portable media player.

I’ll way the pros and cons of each option below, and share what I’ve uncovered so far, but I’m looking for any opinions, advice or pointers to anything or any information I’ve missed.

Rockbox Capable Portable Media Players

In addition to my Sansa e280, I also have an iRiver H20 running Rockbox. As much as I like this player, I’d really like to get a memory card based player instead of one with a hard drive. I like the smaller size and convenience of the memory based players. Plus, with the 16G card, by Sansa e280 has more capacity (24G) than my hard drive based iRiver H20 (20G).

When I cross reference the list of supported players on the home page for Rockbox with the Rockbox Buyer’s Guide, I see that the Sansa e200 series is the only memory card based portable media player capable of running Rockbox. As I said above, I’m looking for another option, so I can avoid the potential problem with the headphone jack. I’m also not a fan of the wheel interface used on the Sansa e200 series of media players.

I know the Sansa e200 is going to be one of the less expensive options, so maybe I should just buy a couple of them and take my chances on the headphone jack. I got my most recent Sansa e280 from eBay for around $40. The only problem is that you need to make sure you find a V1 version of the Sansa e200 series, since the V2 version isn’t supported yet. This can be tricky since the only reliable way it to check if you’re talking about a V1 or a V2 player is to check the firmware. I had good luck just asking the sellers on eBay what version of the Sansa they were selling, but it’s still an inconvenience.

Another option is to get a Sansa e200 series player from Accessible Electronics!, which will be a refurbished V1 model and will come with rockbox installed. It isn’t hard installing Rockbox, but it would be nice knowing you’re getting a V1 model and knowing that it’s in good enough shape to run Rockbox. Of course, you’re going to end up paying a little bit more than you would on eBay.

Accessible iPods

I know the newest iPod Shuffles and iPod Nanos let you use iTunes to enable voice clips to turn your iPod into a talking media player, not unlike rockbox. The iPod Touch can also run VoiceOver. When I compare the different iPods it looks like only the 32G or 64G iPod Touches will give me the capacity and accessibility I’m looking for. This would mean I’d be spending $300 to $400 for my new portable media player. A 16G version of the 5th generation iPod Nano, which I could get for around $180, might also work. I also found 8G 4th generation iPod Nanos at Accessible Electronics! for $95. I’d like more capacity, but I do like this price.

It also seems that with the iPod Touch I’m getting an awful lot of machine to play my music and podcasts. I may come to love all of the features of the iPod Touch, but there seems to be some overlap in functionality between my cell phone and the iPod Touch, so I’m not sure how much I’d use all of those features on the iPod Touch.

I kind of feel the same way about iTunes. On one hand, I like the idea of having a single application where I can manage my music library, my podcasts and my portable media players. I’m pretty much currently doing this now with Winamp. Again, my concern is with the size of iTunes though. I guess I’m also a bit anxious about the closed nature of the iPods. I like the fact that I can play almost any media format on my Sansa running Rockbox, and if I want to, I can just access it with Windows Explorer. If I’m going to start using iTunes, I’d also like to be able to use it to manage my non-Apple media players.

Portable Media Players Made Specifically for the Blind

I’ve done a bit of research on the portable media players made specifically for the blind, and although I like the idea of using commercial products, there are some aspects of these media players that really intrigue me. After consulting GW Micro’s comparison chart, I think I’ve ranked the players in the following order:

  1. BookSense
  2. Victor Reader Stream
  3. Plextalk Pocket

I also found the following podcasts useful:

What intrigues me about these portable media players is that I can use one device for basically everything I want to listen to, e.g. Music, podcasts, Talking Books and NFB Newsline periodicals. The price put me off originally, but they’re in the same ball park with the iPod Touches. Of course, they don’t come with any memory, but I already have a 16G memory card that I got for $30 a month or so ago.

Using my E71X as a Portable Media Player

I like this option because that means I could carry around one electronic device instead of two. Running Talks and an assortment of built in and 3rd party applications would let me access most audio content. I think I’d be out of luck with Talking Books and some DAISY formats.

I guess I see a dedicated portable media player as a bit simpler. When I’m reading a book at night before I go to sleep or when I’m doing something else, I like to be able to just press a button or to and start listening where I left off. I don’t want to always have to load an application and then look for a book or a bookmark. The battery drain also worries me. Cell phones have so much to do already and they go through their battery charge so quickly that I’d hate to be without my cell phone because I fell asleep listening to a book one night and missed a key overnight recharge.