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Article/Guide: The Ultimate MP3 Audiobook Player Guide

 Posted - 10/19/2009 8:55:18 PM  - Show Profile  Edit Message

PJPeter
Site Administrator
2020 Contributions
Article Title: The Ultimate MP3 Audiobook Player Guide
Item Resource Page: Conduits-PocketPlayer

Article:

This article applies to podcasts, recordered radio programs, lectures, etc... in addition to Audiobooks in particular - anything that has 5 minute or longer files, especially multiple ones and 45 minute + ones, become very difficult to listen to start to finish with a typical MP3 Player because of lack of or badly executed bookmark support and resume support. Very few MP3 players exist on the market today that do all these things well and still let you switch between Radio and Music and back to where you left off in your audiobook. I've spent 6+ years trying to find the best way to do this ever since I stopped using my Cassette Walkman to listen to Radio and 'Books-on-Tape' back in September 2003. This is the best solution by far that I've found over all that time .

Some of the other devices I've tried that failed the MP3 Audiobook Test include: The Omnitech 2GB Red MP3 Player, the YP-C1 and the TC1602 - all would either lose their spot easily, lacked good bookmarking support and instant resume, or only supported proprietary Book formats, or had badly planned features such as rewind not working beyond the start of a track and no stop on ffwding beyond the end of the track, which forced a user to hold the fastforward button for multiple minutes to get to the end of longer files and made it extremely easy to accidentally pass the point and have to start all over again and on and on - the list is endless. That also doesn't include about 5 other players I tried over the years with other faults, along with a ton of other faults with these players in particular. The closest I came to a true MP3 Audiobook player was the YP-55 - though even in that case you had to be careful to return to the Audiobook mode ('Music' mode) before shutting down and when the battery ran low your spot was almost always lost (even if you shut down properly).

I decided I wanted a new MP3 Audiobook Player with a touch display so that I could easily jump to different sections of a file without needing to search with the rewind/fast-forward controls for a long time, which happened frequently if I fell asleep with the player still running (especially if I had forgotten to enable Sleep Mode - which on the YP-55X I had to do every time I wanted to use it). Also, more memory would be nice - since I only had 512mb of memory on my YP-55X and it could be annoying having to update it daily depending on the bit-rate of my Audiobooks and how fast I listened to them - plus I could only keep a handful of songs to listen to when I wanted a break from the books.

I liked having an AAA player since I could swap out the rechargable battery or put in an emergency alkaline anywhere any time and it would be cheap to buy on the road - however the industry has moved in such a way that now only the cheapest players have this desirable feature - and the more expensive ones have non-replaceable or non-removable batteries only. I personally don't want to have to throw out the player just because the battery is old and I can't get a new one or have to spend extra time and effort pulling my precious apart because of this 'feature.' I'm also cheap so I don't want to have to send it away - I want to be able to be able to somehow keep listening despite the battery running out - be it through a spare, a pocket charger or something else all together.

I had a bunch such requirements and things I'd like to have - so I decided to make a list of them and here it is:

My requirements were:
- Must be able to play MP3 Audiobook files
- Must have user-replacable battery (so I can keep a spare incase I run out of power)
- Must be USB-chargable (with charger, or directly) and the player can play while charging
- Must have easy bookmarking function and auto-resume
- Must have buttons to allow glove control, and out of sight in pocket control
- Must be able to enter Audiobook mode without a lot of steps and preferably without a long startup delay
- Must have standard 3.5mm headphone jack for your own headphones

Bonus Audiobook Player Features were:
- If it can run off USB power that would be a bonus, so you can leave it plugged in at your desk or at night so it doesn't use up it's batteries when you're not moving.
- At least 1 GB of storage space so it can hold a number of high quality audiobooks without needing to re-encode them down
- Bluetooth would be nice, to use remote controls and wireless headphones mostly.
- Sleep Timer
- MicroSD/SD Slot so I can change book collections on the go - and also upgrade the Player Memory as time goes on and higher GB media becomes affordable

My other preferences, besides using it as an Audiobook Player, were:
- Must have FM Radio (preferably with FM recording) - to stay updated on the latest news and info + give me something to listen to if I run out of books
- Must have a mode to enable Music Playback, without losing its spot in the Audiobook

Finding all these options in a cheap deciated MP3 player these days is almost impossible - and the top of the line models don't do a lot of it as well. My YP-55X does more of these things than the latest most expensive iPod or Zune, for example.

I realized on writing all this down that my A696 Windows Mobile PDA actually fit all these requirements save 1 - no FM radio - so I decided I could write an app to use as my MP3 player, then get another PDA or perhaps a smartphone with a Radio. As a bonus this meant that the MP3 player software would be hardware independent - at least for all Windows Mobile PDAs and Smart phones, of which there are hundreds to choose from. I had tried to write an MP3 Audiobook player app for my old LG240 cell phone a few years back, but J2ME just wouldn't let me do everything I wanted on that phone and the load times were horrendous. Meanwhile every built in MP3 Player I've ever seen in a phone has just been a list of MP3 files with almost no options. But then I found Pocket Player - and everything I wanted was in there .

Just as an aside here I want to say I do not work for the company that makes Pocket Player or anyone associated with them - and there probably are free alternatives out there that do all of this almost as well (TCPMP for example) and others you pay for (such as Pocket Music) - but this player does it all very well and can leave you to use all those other apps to play videos and music concurrently with this. Windows Mobile though is the best platform right now that I know of for the sheer number of programs available out there in the 10 years that Windows Mobile has been around, not to say anything of its predessors. True Android and Apple Mobile (or whatever you call the iPhone/iPod OS) might allow you to install an App that lets you do this as well - and if so that's great too and do tell me about it. But from all I've tried in Windows Mobile - this is the one .

Any Smart Phone or PDA with Windows Mobile 5 or 6 can run Pocket Player - and the bonus that if you use your phone as your MP3/Audiobook Player that means you have one less device to carry around and that anyone can reach you while you are listening (if you want them to). Especially good if out walking, jogging, biking, etc.. in situations when you would otherwise might miss the alert about the call - with this setup you usually would definitely notice the call as the music/book would pause and you'd instantly have everything connected up to use handsfree (though I wouldn't recommend talking and biking/driving of course).

I tested the software out to make sure it did in fact do what I wanted and then I went out hunting for another unit which could run it and had an FM Radio.

First I found the ASUS P527 - for just $170 USD with shipping it was pretty cheap and had the bonus of having a GPS and being rather compact. It ran Pocket Player great - unfortunately it could not run my favourite GPS software and it didn't have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack - though I was able to use it for MP3 playback with an adapter and also through Bluetooth. So the search continued.

Finally I found the Xperia X1 - and it had everything I wanted and more. From a fast processor and lots of RAM to TMC GPS support, to more buttons than most new PDAs - it did all I wanted. Add in an $18 8GB MicroSD card and I can store hundreds of hours of audio at a time. It runs Pocket Player great . It has now entirely replaced my YP-55X as my MP3 Audiobook player. The only thing it doesn't do that my old player did was Line-In Encoding and FM Recording. I'm still looking for a fix for the FM Recording though - and it may be out there - right now the only way it can record is by setting the phone to play FM through speakers and then letting it record with some other application that way. So it does work - in an emergency if there is something you really, really want to record - but not nearly as conveniently as the Yepp 55X previously did. The X1 also doesn't work directly from AA/AAA batteries - though you can use a USB power supply with those types of batteries inside to power it - and I have a cheap $5 spare X1 battery in the mail as I write this . There are a bunch of advantages to the X1 over the 55X - and it does a ton of stuff.

With the Auto Resume on All Tracks Option enabled you can even add whatever music right in the same playlist and then just jump back to the book with ease. Or you can setup another playlist and set a bookmark, or use another application - whatever you like - the possibilities are endless .

On MP3 Audiobook playback though - everything I want is here. The only thing I can wish for beyond what I have in Pocket Player is rewinding/fast forwarding over multiple tracks - now that would be awesome .

Everything outside the advanced settings are Finger friendly - with large controls that you can use with a stylus or gloved finger without a problem on all the devices I tried it with .

Here are the settings I use in Pocket Player (aside from the defaults):
- Turn screen off after 60 seconds
- Turn device off after 30 minutes
- Crossfade: Gapless
- While using another program: Continue Playback
- Customized buttons to Fast-Forward/Rewind 10 seconds and Pause/Play while my X1 is in its case.
- Start playing at open
- Disable device autosleep and switching to home screen
- Pause during phonecalls and resume afterwards
- Fast Forward/Rewind set for 10 second increments
- Open Folder instead of Open File
- Disable Read song titles (I prefer to use the names of the MP3 files, more accurate that way since I often didn't set the tags when ripping or recording my Audiobooks)
- Double-tap to play (To prevent switching to a different track because of a stray tap)
- Don't query screen power status
- Allow screen power-off on AC power
- Trap all button events
- Lock screen along with buttons
- Allow playback buttons when Locked
- Toggle screen using power button
- Disabled: Unmap buttons in background (So that I can use buttons to control playback even when other apps are open, such as my GPS or web-browser)

Other Options Outside the Options Menu:
Playlist: Remember Position
Crossfade
Seek/Resume: Auto Resume All Tracks (Key to using as an Audiobook Player - it remembers your automatically spot, even if you go to some other file - Extremely Useful)

Devices/OSes I've tried it with:
- Windows Mobile 5 and 6/6.1/6.5
- Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
- ASUS A696
- ASUS P527
- HP iPaq rx1950/1955

All worked great

Other hardware:

You may have one of these already, depending on what headphones you use, but I also bought and use an in-line 3.5mm volume control, which makes it easier to control the volume without enabling the onscreen display and lets me use the volume buttons as my Rewind/Fast Forward buttons on the player itself. If you have enough buttons on your hardware play of choice, then you don't need this.

-

With all these things set up I'm very happy with my Audiobook player and with support for Windows Mobile still strong, not including the 3 devices I already have - if I want to upgrade I will be able to. There are many new devices on the drawing board of diferent types and designs that will use it and I think I will continue to be happy listening to my books with ease for many years to come .

PJPeter

Last Edited By - PJPeter on 10/22/2009 9:10:44 PM


 Posted - 10/19/2009 9:11:50 PM  - Show Profile  Edit Message

PJPeter
Site Administrator
2020 Contributions

Further Mods and Tricks:

Also - as a bonus there is another way to Rewind/Fast Forward in predefined chunks - just go to Menu-> Seek/Resume -> Rewind/Forward and select from 10/60 second and 5/15 minute Rewind/FF intervals - and you can stack these with a tap as many times you want to - just click Done when you are .

Also, if you use ActiveSync to transfer the files over to the Windows Mobile Device/MP3 player, then you can continue to play your songs/books even while loading it up with more - something you can't do with most MP3 players out there. With most devices you also have the option to set the device to 'Mass Storage USB Mode' in which case you can transfer files over faster and with no software suite on the computer itself - just note that this locks the SD/MicroSD memory in just about every case, and makes them Phone/PDA essentially into a Memory Card Reader - if using that mode then be sure to exit Pocket Player or other players first, as losing access to the files can sometimes confuse them and they may lose their place/playlist.

I'm thinking of making/searching around for another skin for Pocket Player to make the Playback Bar larger - when you are playing a 1 hour 20 minute file then taps on the small bar only have a resolution of about 2 minutes or so at best. The larger the bar though, the larger the area to work with and the more accurately you can navigate with it .

PJPeter

Last Edited By - PJPeter on 10/29/2009 12:07:13 AM

 Posted - 10/28/2009 9:14:50 PM  - Show Profile  Edit Message

PJPeter
Site Administrator
2020 Contributions

I found another option as well today - one that isn't as good as Pocket Player - but is free.

I found the Windows Media Player Resume-Plugin. It adds Resume Capability to the Windows Media Player for Windows Mobile that comes with almost every Windows Mobile Device.

New devices (such as the Xperia X1) are reported to have some issues with this app - but others seem to work with it fine. If the cost is a factor you should definitely give it a try - but beware that it doesn't like Pocket Player unfortunately and may cause problems/error popups in PP if you have both installed at the same time.

For me I'm still using PP on my X1 and loving it

PJPeter

 

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