Audio Players for Windows CE Review

Are you the type of person that always has a set of earphones on your head
listening to the latest tunes or audio books on your portable CD or cassette
player? Well, if you also have a WindowsCE Palm sized PC, you can leave that
heavy CD player and book at home!  There are now five pieces of software
that will allow you to listen to MP3, MOD files, and audio books on your PSPC
(there are also versions of some of these programs for the HPC).

Xaudio v1.3.4
ModPlayerCE v1.1
Hum v1.62
Pocket Player v1.21
AudiblePlayer v1.0
Windows Media Player v1.1

 

Xaudio

xaudio1.gif (5290 bytes) Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few
months, you probably already know what MP3’s are. If you don’t, here’s a
quickie overview. MPEG3’s are highly compressed music files that are
usually taken from regular music CD tracks. The key here is in the
compression. A typical 5 minute song recorded to a .WAV file for example
would require about 50mb of disk storage. That same file in MP3 format
would only need about 2mb of storage space and would still sound just as
good. As a result, the record companies are freaking out because people
are ‘ripping’ tracks from CDs, converting them to MP3’s and then making
them available for download over the Internet. Files can be found at
various sites like these:MP3.com
Lycos MP3 Search EngineXaudio is a MP3 player from a company called MpegTV.
Xaudio is available in Linux, Mac, BeOs, Unix, Windows and now Windows CE
flavors. I’ll be reviewing the PSPC version as used on a Casio E-11 with a
32meg compact flash card. The application requires 500 k and any .MP3
files that you load will of course take up additional memory.

.MP3 files are really large so I recommend buying a compact flash card if you
think you’ll be using Xaudio a lot.

The player has a nice interface that displays the song titles in your current
play list. You can create multiple lists and save them. So, if you have a bunch
of country tunes, or top40 tunes, you can separate them into different lists.
You can then tap on them one at a time to play them or you can shuffle them.

The onscreen controls let you Play, Stop, Pause, go to Next song, or go to
Previous song. You can also drag the progress bar to a different part of the
song (sort of like fast forward or rewind). There is also an on screen pull down
volume control switch. I had a slight problem with the volume control. While
playing a song, I popped up the regular system volume control app and set it to
the highest setting. When I did that, everything turned to a loud static sound.
It startled me since I had the earphones on. I had to stop the song and restart
it. It seemed fine then but I could repeat the problem.

The sound quality is great on the Casio E-11. Here’s a sample that I recorded
using the internal speaker on the Casio E-11. Remember, it will sound MUCH
better through headphones.

sample ~ 27secs / 297k

Xaudio now has a permanent place on my Casio E-11. I really enjoy listening
to a quick song whenever I wish. The only thing that it needs is hardware button
controls so that you can easily start and stop a song without having to get the
stylus and tap around on the screen. And maybe an option to start up with the
last play list loaded. You can use the up/down rocker button to adjust the
volume though. Other than that, it’s a nice program at an ok price.

Price: $19.95

Pros:
Easy to use.
Very good sound quality.

Cons:
MP3 music files are very large.
No hardware button control to skip to next track.

 

ModPlayerCE

modplayerppc.gif (5584 bytes) What are MOD files? Modules, or Mods, are digital music
files. They contain instrument (or even voice) samples (similar to WAV or
AU) and sequencing information that tell the player how to play the song,
when to play which sample on which track and at what pitch (similar to
MIDI), sometimes effects like panning are added. MOD files are a crossover
between MIDI and WAV, and has the best of both worlds.MOD files are interesting because they are mostly original compositions
and not just remakes of existing Top 40 tunes.ModPlayerCE by Jimmy is
a MOD player for the PSPC or HPC. This review will only focus on the PSPC
version as tested on a Casio E-11.

The program requires 220k of free space on your PDA. This doesn’t
include space for the actual MOD files. MOD files are typically quite a
bit smaller than MP3 files. Although some can be almost a meg in
size.  You can find many websites with MOD files for download. Here
are a few example sites:

The Mod Archive
Alpha64
Trax In Space

You have to be careful to just get files with a .MOD extension as there are
quite a few varieties of MOD files that ModPlayerCE isn’t yet compatible
with.  ModPlayerCE also can only play 4-8 channel MOD files.

The interface for ModPlayerCE is pretty simple to figure out. There are CD
player like controls for Play, Stop, Pause, Rew, FF, Next Track, Prev Track.
There are also little buttons that:

Scan a song -plays the first 15 sec
Shuffle -shuffles songs in the play list so they will play randomly
Repeat -allows you to play one song over and over
Time -toggles the display to show either time remaining in a song or time
elapsed while song is playing

You can select one song at a time from your storage memory or you can create
play lists. During the review, I put several songs on a Compact Flash card and
ModPlayerCE was able to access them easily. There is one setting you have to
change before you can play any MOD files. You have to turn off screen tap sounds
in the Volume app. I’m not sure if this is just specific to the Casio PSPC or to
all PSPCs though.

The songs sound good on the Casio with headphones. I don’t think you’d want
to try to listen to them through the regular speaker because it isn’t really
loud enough. Here’s a sample that I recorded using the built in speaker.
Keep in mind that it sounds much better through headphones (although it is not
stereo of course).

mod file sample
~30secs / 375k

I like ModPlayerCE a lot. But, wish it had a few extra features. I would
really like it if you could use the action/rocker button to start or stop a
song. It would also be nice if there was a hardware button that you could use to
go to the next or previous song. Having hardware buttons that can do these
functions would just make it easier for people that use the player while they
are driving or riding a bike for example. It would also be nice if there was an
easy way to change volume levels through the ModPlayerCE app.

Price: $24.00

Pros:
Easy to use player
MOD files are smaller than MP3 files

Cons:
All controls are on screen. No hardware button controls

 

Hum

Hum is an .MP3 player that was co-developed by Utopiasoft
and Xaudio. It actually uses the same Xaudio.dll engine as
the Xaudio player uses.

hum.jpg (10588 bytes) The interface on Hum has very large buttons so that you can
easily tap them with a stylus or even your fingers. There is also a nice
volume slider control.A status window at the top of the screen displays the song title and
the time count down of the currently playing song.The best thing about Hum is that it will actually play in stereo on the
Casio E-100. Another nice feature is that you can either use the action
rocker button or the joypad up/down button to turn the volume up or down.
Pressing the joypad left or right skips to the next song or goes back to
the previously played song.

You can customize the interface of HUM with free downloadable skins.
These skins make the interface really colorful and unique. A great place
to find skins is the PalmSizeMedia
site.

I think that the sound quality through Hum is a bit better than Xaudio. I
can’t be sure if it is my imagination though.

Hum has implemented what they call AdaptivePlay
technology, Hum constantly detects the multimedia capabilities of your
device while dynamically delivering the optimal audio reproduction regardless as
to what device (mono, stereo, color, black/white) you have.

I do like Hum a lot but I think the price is quite high considering that you
can use Xaudio for free. I’m hoping that Utopiasoft will add some extra features
to make this program more in line with the price they are charging.

Price: $19.95

Pros:
Plays in stereo on a Casio E-100.
Takes advantage of the joypad on the Casio E-100.
Sound quality seems better than Xaudio.
Customize the interface with skins.

Cons:
None that I can think of.

 

Pocket Player

palmplayer.jpg (9270 bytes) PocketPlayer is an .MP3 player by Conduits
Technologies Inc.
Like HUM,   this player can use ‘skins’.
Skins are graphic overlays that allow you to create your own custom user
interface for the program. A great place to find skins is the PalmSizeMedia
site.Pocket Player like HUM also uses the Xaudio MP3 engine. The program
excluding the skins will take up approximately 350k (total program size
with skins will be 400k-800k depending on the skin). Pocket Player can
play in high quality stereo on a Casio E-100/105 and it sounds great.
Pocket Player can be set to play in CD quality mode where HUM has only LOW
and MEDIUM quality modes.The Pocket Player interface comes with a cool iMac like default skin. A
Windows application is available that will allow you to create your own
new skins. Unlike WinAmp, you can totally configure how you want the
screen to look. It is up to you what the buttons look like and where they
are located in the screen. I think this will quickly set this MP3 player
apart from the others because of the ability to customize it.

The skins will take up from around 50k-500k of storage space on your device.

Other features that Pocket Player has are a nice play list editor and options
for mono PDAs to use either the left, right or both speakers. Pocket Player also
is the only player that will turn the display’s backlight off in order to save
battery life while you’re listening to music. When the backlight is off, the
alarm LED on the PSPC will glow red. You can also minimize Pocket Player. When
the app is minimized, you can tap the icon in the taskbar for a small menu of
options. These options let you pause, skip to next track, etc.   One
little annoyance that I kept running into had to do with the NEXT track
function. After you get to the end of your play list, pressing NEXT will not
cycle back to the first song. Instead it does nothing.

A couple other interesting features included are a preamp that will increase
the playback volume. This works pretty well but on some songs it made them sound
a bit like they were over driving the speakers. The other feature is a
visualization feature. You can choose between throb or scope visualization. It
just puts up a little window that changes with the beat of the music. This is
just a novelty… I doubt if you will use it more than once or twice.

Right now Pocket Player is my pick for best MP3 player due to price and sound
quality.

Price: $14.95

Pros:
Turns off display backlight for better power management.
Uses ‘skins’ for a more custom feel.
Nice play list editor.

Cons:
Has a small bug in the NEXT track feature.

 

AudiblePlayer

AudiblePlayer from Audible Inc. is not
a music player but an audio content player. What is the difference you might
ask? Well, audio content includes audio books, newspapers, magazines, and
recorded radio shows for example. The AudiblePlayer comes with a Windows desktop
program that allows you to transfer different content to your PSPC. The desktop
software will let you transfer blocks of audio (you can specify how large the
blocks are). For every 1 hour of audio, 2meg of storage space is needed.

audible2.jpg (24530 bytes)

You actually sync with this desktop program so that after you have listened
to a block or portion of the audio content on your PSPC, it will then refresh
your PDA with the next block of audio.  For example, I downloaded a book
called Anne of Green Gables. This is a classic children’s novel. The entire
audio book is about 12hrs long. I transfer about 45mins of content to my device
at time. This lets me listen to the book during my drive to and from work. Then
I sync with the desktop program so that I have fresh content for the next day.
The desktop program is easy to use and keeps track automatically with your PSPC
and what it needs to transfer next.

The desktop program will even allow you to listen to the content on your
PC.  I like the desktop program but sometimes it would seem a bit
flaky.  I had quite a bit of trouble with it during the time I helped beta
test for Audible. Since I have upgraded to their latest version, it seems a lot
better but I still have a few problems now and then.

audible1.jpg (17843 bytes) The AudiblePlayer on the PSPC is easy to use. The interface
looks like a typical player with stop, play, pause, rewind and fast
forward controls. A status tells you how long you’ve been playing the
content and how much content is left. You can use your up/down rocker
button to either fast forward or rewind 10 secs at a time. Pressing the
action button in will start and stop playback.You can even set bookmarks to mark specific places in the audio
content.The quality of the audio is just fine for listening to this type of
content. Being able to listen to books like this really nice. I found that
it made my short drives to and from work really enjoyable. I would use a
cassette adapter to round the audio through my vehicles stereo. These
adapters are cheap and can be bought through the Audible website or at
most dept. stores.

As far as the variety of content that you can download from the Audible
website, it is pretty large. You can find best selling books, classic
books and all types of other content. You use a shopping cart online to
purchase your titles. Prices range from around $5 – $12 or so depending on
the titles.

You can buy subscriptions to different business publications and radio shows
so that you will get the content automatically.

Price: FREE player. Pay for content.

Pros:
Easy to use player.
Great for long commutes to work.
Lots of content available through the Audible website.

Cons:
Desktop program can be a little flaky at times.

 

Windows Media Player

Windows
Media Player
is a free .MP3 and .WMA file player from Microsoft. .WMA
files are a special format that usually compresses even better than .MP3
files… making the files take up less storage space.This player although free, is pretty basic. It does have the typical
player features including play lists, and skins though.  Play lists
are implemented much better than the other players that are available.
Windows Media Player will automatically find the .MP3 and .WMA files on
your device or CF card without you having to put them in a separate
folder. You can also create different play lists and modify the order of
the songs very easily.Another nice feature is the ability to assign functions to the hardware
buttons. For example, you can assign Play to the Action button, or Next
track to the Up button etc. Being able to do this makes playing songs more
convenient because you don’t have to extract the stylus to tap the screen.

The .MP3 sound quality of the Windows Media Player is very good. It might
even be just a tiny bit better than Pocket Player. But, I think Pocket Player
has a bit better bass response. Either way, they are both VERY close. .WMA sound
quality is the same (at least to my ears) as the .MP3 quality. But, the great
thing about .WMA files is that they are quite a bit smaller than .MP3 files. I
took a 5meg song and converted it into a .WMA file that was only 1.3meg in size.
I listened to both of them and couldn’t hear a difference at all. A file
converter doesn’t come with the Windows Media Player, but you can download
shareware converters easily.

There are a few problems with the Windows Media Player which keeps me from
recommending it. It seems to be a bit flaky and will sometimes not shut down
properly. Another very annoying problem with it is that it will pause the
playback if you bring up a song’s info and then close that info screen. It will
pause playback for about 3 secs and then restart. It will also do this if you
bring up the About dialog screen. Besides those ‘bugs’, this player also lacks
screen blanking and the ability to minimize it to the task bar. Trying to run
other applications while playing a song also seems to slow the overall system.

If these problems could be fixed, I’d give this player a big thumbs up… but
as it is, I’ll stick with Pocket Player.

 

Price: FREE

Pros:
Free.
Good sound quality.
.WMA files take up less space than .MP3 files.
Ability to map hardware buttons to different functions.

Cons:
Pauses song when exiting info screen.
Does not blank out the screen.
Can’t minimize to taskbar.
Sometimes locks up on exiting.

 

 

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