In Search Of An Android MP3 Player

I had first generation iPod Touch. A few months ago I decided it had come to the end of its useful life and the annoyances I had with it were outweighing the value I was getting from it.

When I was thinking about as replacement I wanted to leave Apple behind – iTunes is a massive pile of junk and I reckoned that other services – Spotify, Google Music, Rdio, A.N. Other would easily replace and surpass Apple’s bloated service as a music manager.

My requirements for this new device amountedf to a relatively short list:

  • A music player
  • A podcast client & player

With two nice-to-haves:

  • scrobbling
  • The Runkeeper app (which requires GPS)

Unfortunately, the options for an Android-powered alternative to the iPod Touch were slim pickin’s.

Creative offer an MP3 player that runs on Android: The Zen Touch 2. It looks like a very limited version of the OS.

Sony offered the NWZ Walkman. It’s pretty pricey, reviews are generally positive, if a little lukewarm, but nobody tells you it’s a bargain.

So I went with the Samsung Galaxy S 8Gb MP3 Player. It was cheap – around £90 IIRC – it ran Google Music, scrobbled and I could podcast, first using the BeyondPod app then moving to PodKicker.

On the downside the GPS capabilities of the device and/or limitations with the Runkeeper app meant that was a fruitless experience. The GPS took an age to connect in central London, I’d be be finishing my first kilometre in before Runkeeper burst into life with some (incorrect) info.

The OS felt a little sluggish – certainly not as sharp as the iPod I’d ditched but not so sluggish that it annoyed me. It was running the Ice Cream Sandwich release of Android, was seemingly unable to upgrade and I suspected that the sluggish response times would really begin to show on Jellybean. Then… after a few months, it died. The screen went blank and all the device would do was vibrate until it ran out of juice or I removed the battery. Luckily, I got a refund. And the search started all over again.

At this point you might reasonably wonder why I didn’t just buy a smartphone and be done with it. Yeah, I wondered that too. Getting a phone and locking into a contract seemed the expensive thing to do. Buying a phone outright also seemed expensive. But, with a little research, it seemed like a cheap PAYG phone might meet my requirements. I bought a Huawei Ascend Y300 from Carphone Warehouse for £79 + a SIM card with £10 credit. It runs Jellybean and has 8Gb internal memory so already a step-up from the Samsung.

So… did it work out? Well. Yes. After some wrangling.

It’s not quite a vanilla version of Jellybean, you have to beat the Huawei-ness out of it which isn’t a simple process. And of that 8Gb internal storage about 800Mb is available when you first boot it up. I could squeeze maybe 4 of my own albums that I’d uploaded to Google Music on there. If I was downloading albums I didn’t own using my subscription, well, I could download 8 or 9 songs before the app refused to playback citing lack-of-space issues.

There’s an SD card slot though, so all was not lost. I rooted the phone and was able to trick Google Music into storing its audio files on the SD card using the ROM Manager app to create a symlink.

And so far, so good.

I also switched the O2 PAYG sim card for the Vodaphone one from my company phone and that works fine too – the SIM toolkit app doesn’t like it, but *shrug* so what?

I can’t believe it was quite that difficult, and I can’t believe no one’s filled that gap in the market with an iPod competitor – it doesn’t feel like a niche so small that it’s not worth bothering about.

But anyway, if you landed here with a google search because you too a looking for a simple MP3 player, I hope this post is helpful. Good luck!

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