What I want from a portable audio device

It’s kind of annoying when the market comes close but doesn’t quite give you what you want.

I want an MP3 player that I can listen to podcasts on. Poking around in forums and reviews for suggestions on what might be suitable, it seems that the typical response is “Podcasts are just MP3s aren’t they? Anything can play those!” Which is true, but kind of unhelpful.

MP3 players on the market present a user experience for people who want to listen to music. Listening to music is a subtly different thing. You organize by artist and album, for one. You want really good sound quality and features like gapless playback. You make playlists so you can listen to different types of music for different types of activities or moods. All these things that are great for music are either useless for listening to podcasts or they actively get in the way.

I want

  • to be able to find podcasts easily so I can pick what I’m listening to.
  • my player to keep track of whether I’ve listened to something.

The biggest problem for me, I think, is that the iPod actually does a very good job of both those things. Aside from maybe the Zune (I haven’t tried), it seems to be the only player out there that does. My problem is I want all of that, but I don’t particularly want all the other nonsense that comes along with using an iPod. Namely iTunes.

There’s extra stuff that iPods don’t give me. I also want

  • to be able to play Ogg/Vorbis files.
  • to have an expansion slot for more storage.
  • to be able to swap out the battery.
  • a player that syncs up podcasts over WiFi. Or maybe bluetooth.
  • my player to similarly handle other audio files that are kind of like podcasts but didn’t originate from RSS feeds.
  • a non-proprietary USB cable.
  • my player to work nicely on Ubuntu.

So I’m pretty much screwed. Some things come close. iPods come close, sadly. I never had a chance to try syncing mine up on Linux to see how that worked (there are tools to do it). I’d lose Ogg, the battery, the expansion and syncing over wifi (the iPod touch has wifi, but you can’t download podcasts that way. And it’s obscenely expensive). But I’m going to have to make some sort of compromise anyway.

The Zune does wifi podcast downloads. Maybe it has a decent interface for them. It will never, ever be able to get it to work on Linux. And I’m not buying the damn thing if it means giving money to Universal Music Group. That’s a deal breaker. I’m never going to use this thing for music. Especially Universal’s music. They can just fuck off.

Other players look good, but compromise the basic podcast stuff. The iRiver clix2, the Creative Zen, the Cowon D2… If I can find a player that actually runs rockbox, while the interface isn’t so great, it’s open source. So maybe I can make what I want.

In the interest of science, I think I might pick up a few different players to try them. I’ve decided that this is actually important enough for me that I don’t mind wasting investing some extra money in it.

2 thoughts on “What I want from a portable audio device

  1. tinkerer

    My head hurts just reading through that list, never mind trying to figure out what it all means…

    Er, good luck Squirrel! May your sojourn in portable device-land be fruitful.

    Me, I’m going to tackle something much more simple: I am about to try and build (from scratch) a female hockey program for my city. We haven’t got one and it’s pissing me off! (And if I succeed, maybe I’ll publish a podcast detailing the experience. Just for you. Heh)

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