Adventures in using my pa1mOne Treo 600 as a portable audio player

I thought it would be pretty easy to play MP3 format audio files on my Treo 600. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case, and especially not without spending some money.

I purchased a 512 MegaByte (MB) Secure Digital (SD) from someone on eBay, and it just came in the mail today. It may be worth mentioning that I got my card for approximately the retail price of a 256 MB SD card; eBay is great for good deals on tech.hardware. So, now that my Treo has plenty of memory installed, it's time to use it for something I really love: Listening to music.

The first challenge I tried to solve was getting the music files onto my Treo. Most of my music collection that is on my computer is in MP3 format, which is the most common and wide-spread format these days, especially with current consumer electronics now able to play it. I made a search or two on Google, looking for instructions or directions. I found a couple sets, nearly identical, recommending that I use an SD card reader/writer. I thought that suggestion was a bit of a drag, since it would involve buying more hardware. Then I realized that I had an SD card slot in my laptop, which I have never used (I've had the laptop for about a year and a half now), since I have not had any devices that used SD memory. Copying the files turned out to be pretty easy. I spent the day beating up the SD card; throughout the tinkering I was copying and deleting music in various formats. At one point, when the SD card was in my [Windows XP] laptop, I deleted a file, and it disappeared from the list. However, the file was not actually gone - it was still there, just 0 bytes in size - and a refresh or something similar would turn it up. I formatted the card to a FAT32 file-system. My Treo did not like this format, and asked to format the card itself, which I let it do. Aside from that issue, I did not have any problems copying/moving files around. I guess the required format is FAT, but I'm not really sure - whatever it is, Windows XP was able to manipulate it.

Once I got some MP3s onto the SD card, I popped the card back into my Treo 600, only to find that there was no software to play the audio files. I figured I could find some free MP3 player somewhere on the web. I was wrong again! To make a long story short, I could only find 2 items of PalmOS-compatible software:

1) RealPlayer
I have not used RealPlayer ever since I found out they were sneaking spyware into their desktop software. I don't know if they still do such a sneaky thing, but I will no longer use any of their unethically developed software, thus avoiding the issue entirely. I did read that if you install the RealPlayer .prc file, it forces installation of some other ones. Sounds to me like they are still the same old assholes.
2) AeroPlayer from Aerodrome Software
AeroPlayer is free. However, one must pay in order to use the MP3 plug-in. HOWEVER, it plays audio in Ogg Vorbis format for free.

I decided that of the only two options I found, I would only try the one that didn't attempt to infest my property with junk. Plus, I read that Ogg Vorbis is often preferred over MP3 by audiophiles, so I thought it was worth exploring. I don't mind having to convert some files when I want to make them portable.

I went to Ogg Vorbis' web-site and downloaded their own official command-line tools, which allow you to encode (oggenc.exe), decode, and do some other things with .OGG files. I spent a good amount of time encoding some full-quality .WAV files. At this point I ran into another problem. Now that I had an audio player, and audio files in a format the player would play for a long time to come (i.e. no 'shareware' trial expiries interrupting my pleasure), I found that when my Treo's screen turned off, the audio would start skipping. I'm not really sure why. I have two guesses:

  1. When the screen is off, the Treo goes into a mode that consumes less energy, and subsequently has less processing power available in this power-saving mode.
  2. The data-rate required to read the audio data from the SD card exceeds that of my Treo.

Either way, I find it completely unacceptable to have my music blanking/gapping out or skipping. My first encodes were done in almost the highest quality; I used level 9 (parameter to oggenc: -q 9), out of a maximum of 10. A couple encodes later, I was playing .OGG files encoded at a quality level of 6. I still experienced some interruptions in the output, but at least they were less frequent. I ran out of play-time, so that is the best result I could produce today. I will try encoding at quality level 5, and hope that I don't have to go any lower.

I am almost ready for the final challenge in this adventure: Putting speakers to my ears and hearing the music in stereo! My Sony Ericsson P800 came with a pair of ear-buds that also had a microphone attached (a 'hands-free headset'), so I thought that the Treo 600 would come with something equivalent, and make this last requirement a snap. Strike 3; I'm definitely 'out'. For crying out loud, the Treo 600 came with a one-budded (or single-budded?) hands-free headset! What a disappointment :-( I am out of time and energy to continue on. I conclude this adventure with my findings [so far] of hardware that will allow me to listen to audio/music in stereo on my Treo 600:

Handspring Treo 600 PDA 2 in 1 Handsfree Headset and MP3 Headphones:
Looks to be the same thing as what my Sony Ericsson P800 came with, and exactly what I was hoping my Treo 600 included. Seems to be the most expensive option...
Headset for Treo 600:
Earbuds... No microphone. No good; I want to be able to take calls 'hands-free'!
Treo Stereo Headphone Adapter:
The cheapest option, allowing me to use any headphones with the normal 1/8" (one-eighth of an inch, or 3.5 millimeters (mm)) plug, but still no microphone for taking calls 'hands-free' on this option either!

Before I buy anything, I will try my Sony Ericsson hands-free earbuds headset thingy. The jack on it is the same size as with the Treo 600...


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