OK… here we go!

Well, after receiving a nice WP7 phone to do some XNA development on, and my iPhone 4 nearing the end of its contract, and looking for a new mobile provider, and generally feeling uncomfortable with “how well” Apple devices have slotted into, and shaped my existence, I’ve decided to see if I *can* transfer all the services and conveniences that iTunes and three generations of iPhone have given me, to alternative platforms. First off, it is the Nokia Lumex 800, so the front facing camera I’m used to (occasionally) using has gone; if you had the new 900 this would be fixed, but this was a freebie, so I can’t complain.

The Nokia headphones provided are TERRIBLE, not fitting my ears at all (HTC ones are no better, sadly). Having said that, the Apple default ones are awful too and I generally buy Sony “in ear” headphones, as they help with my hearing impairment – too much head banging in my YOOFF – but the lack of on mic volume buttons means the Nokia ones HAVE TO GO! So, one change I won’t accept, but one I’d effectively already made anyway. In fact, I think over the years I have spent about a whole phone’s worth of money buying replacement headphones; this is not an exaggeration, as I’ve kept all of the various broken headphones for some art piece I may eventually get round to. So far, either an earpiece starts buzzing, or makes no sound, or is wrenched off, or the mic breaks or the plug cable wears out. I am a HEAVY podcast listener, clocking in at over 20 hours a week, so it is understandable that I will get through them at an alarming rate, but it is frustrating how expensive headphones are, when bought separately. So, the Sony MDR-EX38iP are recommended as they tend to last a few weeks longer than most, especially because the phone jack is a right angle type, rather than sticking annoyingly out to get caught and bent and broken in trouser pockets.

iTunes Withdrawal
Which leads me to the first and most major hurdle with letting go of my iPhone 4! As I said, I have a rather voracious podcast habit – mostly science, games, technology and occasional audio books – and while many slate iTunes, it is a damned convenient way to subscribe and manage podcasts, and is cross-platform; I have macs at home and a mix of windows and macs at work, but we have a few iPhones, as well as various iPods in use daily, so currently the home iMac is the default location of my audio. The first major stage then, apart from unlocking the iPhone 4 so it can go to my wife when (if?) I manage to wean myself off it, is getting my podcasts either from iTunes to the Nokia, or reproducing my subscriptions in Zune Marketplace, which many podcasts feed into. The latter is difficult as it involves me setting up a PC as my hub for the phone, but the former is a kludge, even with the new, greatly improved Mac Connector software:


So, let’s take the apparently easier path of using Mac Connector with my existing iTunes files. Mac Connector makes this relatively simple, but already I’ve got a problem. My iPhone 4 is 32GB, but the Nokia is 16GB… Time to selectively choose what podcasts I can have on the phone. Firstly, the interface for choosing what podcasts to sync to the phone is not that dissimilar to what you’d get in iTunes. However, a live feed of file size estimation is missing, until after the sync is complete. So, it’s trial and error as to whether you have picked too much content to fit onto the limited memory. Syncing also still seems MUCH slower, as the files used to be uploaded each time, rather than intelligently recognised as already being there. However, it appears that this has been fixed in the new version; doesn’t explain why it’s still slow though. And, unlike the iPhone 4, you cannot access audio while the phone is syncing, but have to unplug it from the computer. However, even quitting the Mac Connector software doesn’t release the phone functionality, which is problematic if you are trying to charge the phone at the same time! 🙁

I already have a problem, I suspect, because I’m not entirely sure if listening on the Nokia will flag to iTunes that the file has been “played”, but syncing is set to all unplayed files; I’ve already had to cut down by at least 50% what I am putting on the phone already. If Mac Connector doesn’t “set” played files for iTunes, then that is another manual task that may need completing… Let’s see, shall we…!

Talking of syncing, anyone who knows me has probably heard my rather distinctive ring tone, which I have carried since I first had a Sony Ericsson P900: It merely states in a female voice, ” is anybody there? “, which always raises a smile. However, Mac Connect has an odd idea of what is a compatible ring tone. So, I need to change hello.m4r to hello.m4a in Quicktime player, then reimport to iTunes and create an mp3 version. THEN get it onto the phone… we’ll have to wait until the podcast syncing has finished to try that.

While we’re waiting, I am looking forward to the MS Office app on the phone, as I get stupid amounts of word attachments on my work email, and being able to see stuff the way colleagues do will be an advantage. And the lack of games (sic) means it will be harder to distract me 🙂 Mind you, I HAVE to have Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook to be truly diverted. So, it’s a good thing that these are there, even if the first is rather different to what I am used to.

Right, it’s all synced and backed up now. So,let’s listen to a short podcast, in this case the BBC World Service “60 Second Idea to Change the World”, which is understandably a rather brief programme. The first thing to notice is a big “subscribe” button. Hey, maybe I can go iTunes FREE! We’ll have to see. However, the big problem I am immediately aware of is the lack of 2x play speed. Now, if you haven’t clicked yet, I listen to A LOT of podcasts, and one of the ways I do this is by using the double speed playback that iPhones allow. This does take some getting used to, but after your brain speeds up to the rapid flow of speech – rather like visiting Italy and learning Italian! – it is PAINFUL to listen at 1x playback speed as everyone seems to be speaking S O S L O W L Y! General impressions of the podcast playback, apart from the lack of double speed, is that fast forward doesn’t allow sped up audio, like the Apple playback, and on the Nokia at least, FF makes files fly past in a way that is much too quick to be really useful. Not a major thing, but this leads to my first KILLER APP idea for WP7: a decent player that can access the podcasts on the phone, but able to play at variable speeds, such as 1.5x or 2x as well as allowing FF and Rewind review of the audio. I am amazed that there is no decent podcast playback app in the marketplace.

OK, after listening, then syncing again, something sort of works in flagging files as played in iTunes, but the last played date/time is not set; not a major problem although it does make it slightly harder to see what files have been listened to, with the only indication being the far left blue ball icon. In that respect, this is also a great improvement on the first generation of Mac Connect.

Headphones functionality 6/10 (no on mic volume control; a clearly slower response to pressing the button; no option to shuffle based on double click.)

iTunes functionality 7/10 (this score based on Mac Connect, which has notably improved since I first checked it last year)

Podcast functionality 5/10 (mostly because of playback speed; no audio review option; inability to change order of podcasts in interface)

Next time
Getting my Social Apps ON!

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