Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Audiophilia, Part II

My love affair with music has manifested itself materially through the evolution of my media players. As aforementioned, my earliest 'device' was a boombox hanging by wire from the heater vent of my '78 Buick Century. It was awesome not only because it played cassette tapes and the radio, but because I could take it in and out of the car. (I'll be the first to admit my standards were low back then.) Ever since, I've had lots of things that play music that I've been inordinately attached to because I must--must--be able to play certain songs at certain moments, or be ready to listen to this artist or that album whenever a particular mood strikes.

As far as real music players go, I've owned three so far:

1. Motorola m500 
This little thing thrilled me. It was compact, cute, and tough. It was easy to use and smart: this MP3 player was probably the very first reason I ever had to appreciate USB, and at the time 5 megabytes was more than enough to hold every ripped, downloaded, and generated song/sound file I had. I used it for more than two years, even well after all my friends started buying iPods for large multiples of what I paid. I mourned its loss when it finally quit like a tired mule, and I'll always consider it one of the best purchases I've ever made.

2. Zune 8, (Microsoft, third generation)
After the demise of my m500, I was at a loss. I had no desire to buy an iPod, mostly because I had no desire to let iTunes hijack my computer or my music collection. Plus, what I was seeing is that my friends who bought the cool new iPods were mostly being abandoned by Apple as the cooler, newer iPods were released. I didn't want in on that, so I turned to my next best untrusted option: The Evil Empire, Microsoft.

I know I should have considered alternatives, but I was a bit taken with the sleek look of the Zune, and considering my budget, I knew I couldn't afford to make a bad choice for a good reason. Everything about the Zune was sexy. After I finally spent months saving like a teenager, I bought one: red--sexy, I told you!

It took me a couple weeks to get the hang of. It was nowhere near as easy as the m500, and I bought it at the height of the DRM movement, so not only did it not like the only two songs I'd ever bought online, it questioned my authority to load and play songs I'd ripped years ago from CDs I'd owned even longer. It also wanted me to become part of some social network I'd eventually have to pay for monthly access to. The final straws were that it wouldn't let me use part of its 8MB capacity for mass storage and the proprietary software it wanted to use to transfer music files.

Frankly, it pissed me off, but by this time I'd spent my money and was going to make the best of it. After all, rated strictly as a music player, it worked well, and the sexiness of it wasn't lost in the menus and the touchpad control. So long as all I had to do was charge it, I didn't have to mess around with the software much, and that was enough. Sadly, very shortly after the warranty ended, the screen backlight went out. I could still use it if I held it directly in bright sunlight, but really that was it. My already bruised sense of value purchased was shot to hell.

2.5 Cell Phones
Storing and playing music on basic cell phones is easy and... basic. The only one of these worth mentioning is the LG Cosmos Touch. Though marketed to teens, it's a cool little phone and was ideal for use both as a phone and (basic) music player. But I lost it, and had to go back to my Env3, which doesn't even have a standard-sized headphone jack. Boo.

3. Galaxy Player 5.0 (Samsung YP-G70)
This is my most recent acquisition and my real cherry-popping entry into the world of digital devices. In the years since I bought my old m500, the Western world has exploded with Android and iPhone, 3G/4G networks, and data packages that amount to the payments I'll end up making on my teenage son's braces. The term "MP3 player" has almost become obsolete, and considering everything current media players can do, it's absurd to refer to modern, even low-end, devices with the term.

I decided I needed a new music player months before I actually put down the payola. When I started the shopping process, I looked online of course, and got in my head that I could spend a third what I'd paid for previous devices and get more than twice the music player. When I actually walked into a store to try and play with the myriad of products available, I got even more confused. But I also fell in love.

First let me say I was shocked at the price range: I went shopping for a simple touch-screen MP3 player, some of which are out there for as little as $30 or $40. I was expecting something not much more complicated than my three year old GPS. Then I learned about touch screens and started messing around with the fancier devices. Considering these things are just smart phones that don't make calls, the higher price makes sense, and considering Android devices are direct competition for iPhones and high-end tablets (which are even beginning to include souped-up e-readers like the Kindle Fire), the drive to maximize functionality also makes sense.

When I started messing around with the Galaxy Players in the store, I was fairly amazed. (I realize that makes me a bona fide tech noob, but after a certain accumulation of ignorance, it becomes quaint, and therefore excusable...or so I tell myself.) So I decided to get one, eventually, not only because I'd gone way too long without being able to carry my music around with me (basic cell phone music playing in the interim notwithstanding), but because it was a perfect excuse to enjoy all the cool stuff my friends were doing with their phones without paying through the nose for data.

To insure myself against another Zune debacle, I didn't use my own money, so it took me a while to get to walking into a store to buy anything. I spent this time reading reviews and going into more stores to touch and play. During this time, I learned the Galaxy Player 4.2 was coming out, and considered it instead, especially given its size. In the end, however, when I had my VISA gift cards in-hand, and spotted a package deal that included a case and charger, I took the shot and made the buy.

A note on the purchase: I had many options when buying. Unlike Apple's devices, Samsung's prices aren't fixed at every store and website. I chose to buy locally rather than online, and I chose to buy from a store that actually put their products out for customers to try out. Some of the players I looked at online were front runners, even more than the Samsung, but there was no way I was paying money for something until I could touch it and mess around with the menus.

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