Well after my 5-year old mp3 player (a 60GB Creative nomad Zen Xtra ) started to show it’s age (I could only hear with both earphones by pulling the cable to one side, and the problem wasn’t the earphones) I decided it was time to replace it.
Initially I was looking for a music player, nothing more. I didn’t care at the beginning about other stuff like wifi, bliuetooth, games, etc, but at the end that was what convinced me to buy an ipod touch of 64GB. This is almost enough to store my music collection, which was of more than 70GB but as I was pretty sure I wasn’t hearing all of it, this was the perfect opportunity to do a job I was postponing for a long time: purge my music collection of stuff I never hear (or shuffle immediately when it’s played), fix all mp3 tags and download the missing album covers. After doing this purging I ended up with ~50GB of music that I regularly hear, but I think it can be cut off a little more. Then I started with the tag fixing and album cover downloading, which resulted to be more time consuming than I expected. In fact, it’s being a GIGANTIC task, working around two or three hours a day on that and since last weekend and I’m still at letter R, still missing almost half of my collection.
While on the task of downloading covers I found that amarok can’t embed covers in the mp3 files yet, currently it saves them on it’s configuration directory only, although there are scripts to copy them into the album directory but they’re aren’t really useful when you have a really big collection. Because of this I couldn’t use amarok to download the covers for my whole collection, and as it seems itunes doesn’t load covers found on the album directory neither, that puts me in an awkward position because if I download covers with amarok, I will see them when I play music with it on my computer but not on my ipod, or, if I save them on the mp3 file I will see them on my ipod but not on amarok. But as free software rules I can count with that missing feature on amarok being implemented before itunes will read covers from album directories, so I will go with embedding covers into mp3 files for now. I was using a program in windows called mp3tag to download the missing covers and embed them into the mp3 files because I couldn’t find one to do the same thing on linux. The closest one I found was a program called Album Art Downloader but it seems unmaintained as it still using Qt 3.x and python 2.3, so it currently doesn’t run on Mandriva 2009.1 or later. Other option was a CLI program called covertagger that it’s supposed to be able to read covers from album directories or amarok files and embed them into the mp3 files, but in my tests it couldn’t find all the covers from amarok, just the ones on the album directories. Now while writing this post I found a program called kid3 which seems to be what I’m needing to do the same task, I’ll give it a try this week.
While on the syncing process of my collection with my ipod using itunes I have found some nasty things about it that make it suck BIG TIME. First, the obvious stuff:
* It only works on Windows and Mac, so I’m forced to use a VirtualBox Windows VM to be able to sync it. I know, I could jail break it so I could sync it with amarok on linux using sshfs but unfortunately the new 3G models haven’t been jailbroken until now. So for now, I’m forced to the VM approach.
The annoying stuff about itunes:
* As I said before, if an album folder already have the album covers, itunes isn’t able of loading those images as many players do, like amarok. Even worse, if the mp3 files have the album cover embedded, itunes extracts them from the mp3 file and add them to it’s own database (the itunes library), making covers use twice the amount of space that they should.
* itunes is supposed to be able to auto-download music covers, but the problem is that it only searches on Apple’s music store database, which it seems to have a really small amount of music, or (what I think it’s more probable), a really big amount of commercial only music. For my 892 albums collection, it was able to find less than 20 covers, even if I do have some rare stuff in it, most of it are really known artists in the heavy metal scene that among metal heads like me are very common. For example, it couldn’t find covers for really known bands like Metallica or Iron Maiden !!
* If you update your collection, for example adding or removing songs, or modifying song tags with an external program, itunes won’t auto-update your collection, you will need to manually add the new folders even if they are sub-folders of the ones already added to your music collection. If you modify your current songs in your collection you will need to re-add your music folders or manually select the modified songs, and ctrl+I to force itunes to read the songs info again, that sucks.
But leaving aside all of those itunes problems, the device is pretty cool as most of Apple products are. It’s interface is amazing, the music player is easily navigable to find a particular song, I love the album cover view (like the cover switch effect in KDE 4) and how you can browse other songs from that same album or near by albums just with your finger when in that view.
What I have found most useful is the new remote voice control. I live around a 20 minutes bike ride from work, so I try to go in my bike as much as I can (if I don’t have to visit a client), and I have found this voice control to be very handy. My old player had the previous/next buttons on the outside so if if I wanted to skip a song I just had to get my hand into the pocket where the player was and press the next button. With an ipod touch the story is different as it doesn’t have those buttons, everything (until now) had to be done with the touch screen, that when you are riding a bike is very inconvenient as you can imagine, having to take the player out of your pocket to change a song. With the voice control you don’t need to do that, just press a button on the earphones cable and “tell” your player what you want it to do, for example you can tell to him to “shuffle” and it will randomly change the song, or tell him “play artist metallica” (to get a random song of helloween buts those are little details I need to work with my english pronunciation, not a problem with the voice control software 😛 ) to play songs of a particular artist, or even ask the player “what’s playing” to know the details of the song currently playing. Very cool huh ? but to make it even better, you can control it in other languages different from english, although it’s pretty funny hearing it say in spanish a song which it’s name is in english.
In conclusion, I’m very happy with my new player, hearing my music while I’m riding my bike or checking my email when I’m not near my computer, even without the jailbreak and having to use itunes to sync it (which is something I hope I won’t be doing very often after I finish organizing my collection).