Over the last few days, one ways that I have been using my eo has been as an audio player while at work. The large storage capacity, network connectivity, and ubiquitious compatibility with file formats makes it a pretty much ideal portable digital audio player for use on an office desktop or other location where you don’t really need a pocket-sized device.
One of the biggest problems plaguing most portable digital music players is the fact that the industry has yet to standardize the file formats or, particularly, digital rights management schemes being used. Music purchased from online stores generally will only work on certain brands of portable players. For example, without additional conversion (usually involving loss of quality) an iPod can only play music purchased from iTunes, which itself won’t generally play on other brands of players.
Out of pure business necessity, every format and DRM scheme is compatible with Windows XP. That makes a UMPC into a universal portable music player. All you have to do is download and install the software that is required for playing whatever music you want to play. It is a bit of an irritant having to install a bunch of different music players on the device in order to get the widest compatibility, but it is certainly preferable to not being able to play some types of music at all.
The first music player that I installed on my eo (other than Windows Media Player, which comes with it) was Apple’s iTunes. Its online store has the best selection and it also has an exceptionally good podcast manager. Most importantly, since I have a Creative Labs portable player instead of an iPod, music purchased from iTunes wasn’t previously available to me on the go.
I used Microsoft’s free SyncToy folder synchronization tool to set up a network synchronization pairing between the folder on my desktop PC with all of my existing downloaded music and a new \music\download folder on the eo. It then only took a few minutes to authorize my iTunes account on the eo and then begin to play back some previously downloaded albums that weren’t available to me on my non-iPod portable player.
For podcasts, I went into iTunes and set up subscriptions for all of the podcasts that I had previously been downloading to my Palm PDA using QuickNews. Admittedly, iTunes isn’t really any more automated than the PDA software, but it makes it vastly easier to find new podcasts and to manage the subscriptions. With a 100GB hard drive, I also have much more space for them.
Since I have also purchased music from Musicmatch, Napster, and Yahoo, and since all the music I have ripped from CDs is in the wma format, iTunes can’t play back everything that I have. In addition, I simply don’t much like the overall user interface for iTunes, which is way too focused on playlists for my needs. I typically listen to albums straight through and iTunes makes it way too hard to find and select music that way. Because of this, it isn’t my choice as my primary player.
On my desktop computer, I use Real Player as my primary music player and I have now downloaded it to my eo as well. I like the overall user interface of Real Player, as it provides a lot of flexibility for finding and selecting music to play. It also has the enormous advantage of being the only current XP-based music player that is able to organize and play music from nearly all the major online stores, including iTunes. It does require that the native software for those music stores be installed and authorized on the computer, but it currently is really my only choice for consolidating my whole library into a single player. Real Player has gotten a deserved reputation for loading a lot of intrusive promotional material onto your computer by default as well as for activating too many intrusive pop-up messages and other similar nonsense, but it isn’t too difficult to remove/disable all that and the end result is a rather nice piece of software.
Thanks to the built in wireless features, the eo also works well for playing Internet Radio. I particularly like the stations on Yahoo’s Launchcast service and installed their software for it. It works well. Although you need to make sure you have a strong signal and an unlimited data plan. I haven’t tried it yet, but the eo should be able to play XM (or Sirius) satellite radio via their online services as well.
For audio playback in general, I have found that the sound quality out of the headphone jack is quite good. I have been listening with a pretty decent pair of Sennheiser headphones and haven’t actually tried the included earbuds. The sound has been very clear with good bass and no noticeable noise. I have found that the sound levels are rather high, which means that I have had to keep it at pretty close to the bottom of the volume settings. It might be worthwhile to get an external volume control that connects between the headphone jack and the headphones to provide a bit more fine control.
One other weird problem that I encountered when playing music back was that periodically the sound would suddenly become garbled and stuttering. I suspect that something in the background is causing music players to lose focus and it doesn’t seem to be able to recover easily. In these cases, the problem could consistently be cleared simply by pausing and un-pausing the playback.
While a UMPC probably isn’t a great choice for music playback while jogging, exercising, or other activities where a smaller device is preferable, it definitely is an excellent choice for listening to music at work, on an airplane, during a commute, or many other places where you need portability but not pocketability. I see this as one of the key selling points for these devices. I already love this feature of my eo.