Posts Tagged portable music
In evaluating whether music subscription service Rhapsody is right for you, are you a renter or a buyer? Would you rather have access to a million songs at any time, or own a small fraction of that because you’ve purchased each song or album?
As a guy with shelves and shelves of CDs in the living room and another hundred or two albums in digital form, it’s kind of hard for me to get my mind around Rhapsody. You don’t buy music from them, but if you pay $10 a month for one device, or $15 a month for three, you can download whatever the heck you want. Or stream it all day long without listening to any ads.
Call it the library model, or the borrowing model, but with no expiration date. As long as you keep paying, the music keeps playing. If you stop, it goes up in a puff of smoke. (It lives on the Rhapsody app, not in your actual MP3 collection.) Instead of buying that new album you really want for ten bucks, you just download it—and go find 15 more you want and get those too.
Rhapsody doesn’t claim they have everything, but with 16 million songs on tap, there’s a pretty good chance they have what you’re looking for. I’m 15 for 16 so far on albums (no Led Zeppelin on any of these services) and have found a whole slew of individual songs I wanted. My daughter found everything she was looking for too. Heck, with no prices to worry about, you can download a whole box set from the Rolling Stones or David Bowie if you want. Or get every song there is from Mumford & Sons.
I’ve been trying this out on three different devices: a laptop, an Android smart phone, and a Windows Mobile phone. For the laptop I just signed up online, for the other two I downloaded an app and then signed in. When I added something to my library on the PC, it showed up on all three devices, where I could listen to the songs whether connected or not. The Windows phone one didn’t allow downloads when I first started, but on a recent update they got it to that point. Naturally it works on Apple devices too and even Blackberry.
The interface is simple and intuitive, offering a search box that works well and browsing options by genre, what’s new, and artists. Unlike with many services you buy music from, here you can stream everything in full to decide which songs you want to add to your collection permanently. Then you can create playlists or just store whole albums as is.
It’s a hard task getting people to switch from what they’re used to, but to me the Rhapsody service is a big step up from spending the same amount of money buying songs from iTunes, Amazon, or eMusic. It’s also got a big advantage over Pandora or Spotify free versions in that you never listen to a single ad.
Spotify premium is the obvious comparison to Rhapsody, however, as it doesn’t have ads if you pay up. The services do many of the same things, though Rhapsody does have a slight edge on the number of songs in its library and a huge advantage in terms of usability. It also has more radio stations if you just want to stream ad-free music in a certain genre. Spotify is more socially oriented if you want to tell everyone on Facebook what you’re listening to and discover what your friends are listening to. Most of my friends have lousy taste in music though, so I don’t care about that feature in the slightest.
Overall, I’ve been happily surprised with the Rhapsody service and am getting a thrill out of reading about an album somewhere and immediately having access to it, or hearing a song on the radio I like and adding it to my library without paying 99 cents for it (or stealing it through a file sharing site.)
There seem to be fewer digital rights hassles with this service than you find with iTunes or eMusic abroad. If you’re in another country you can still stream music or listen to what’s been downloaded on your mobile device. You’ll run into the sticky international copyright hurdles though on your laptop (like you will with Pandora), so load up before you go unless you have a proxy server set up.
If you live through your phone or mostly listen to music on your computer, you can get a one-device plan for $10 a month (a tad less on the annual plan) or $15 for the 3-device plan. Considering even the latter will only get you 15 songs or maybe two on-sale albums from the purchasing services, it’s a good value. There are a variety of free trial deals and a half-price for three months deal running now to give Rhapsody a real spin. Get all the details here and then next time you go traveling, you can load up your player with anything and everything you want to hear.
This trendy-looking pair of headsets catches your eye immediately. Unlike other bulky headset pairs, this set is compact and features clever stitched patterns on the ear covers. It folds nicely into a mesh carrying bag that comes with it to stay together in a cluttered carry-on bag although be careful not to crush it if you overpack (ahem, like me sometimes).
The noise-reducing effect comes from the small microphones placed into each earpiece that pick up the ambient noise in the surrounding area creating a quieter effect. This is the case with all noise-canceling headphones, but this I-MEGO pair does an exceptional job minimizing the sound of loud conversations or gum popping often heard on planes, trains, and busses. Not even the most expensive pair of Bose headsets blocks out obnoxiously loud sounds. Most simply muffle or reduce noise to an acceptable level, and the Walker Juniors perform exceptionally well in that department.
Used independently, they are great, and when plugged into a device, the audio sound is not compromised. An excellent level of bass comes through without being too overbearing making it great for music and movies. The soft padding on the underside of the adjustable headband means that it sits comfortably on your head without moving too much or messing up your hair. It also performs well when sleeping on your side since the ear cups are also cushioned well although it does lift your head up a bit. Sometimes, if I fall asleep wearing headsets, I wake up because my ears hurt or they slip off entirely.
After traveling with these headsets on a whirlwind international trip that lasted three weeks, the battery continued to hold up well even after one flight when I forgot to turn the device off. And that was with the AAA battery that comes with your purchase.
They come in black giving them an edgy and hip appearance. I-Mego is known for its excellent audio quality and full line of high-end products. In this price range, there are few comparable, high-quality options. They are available at Amazon and the company’s website for $139.
In my carry-on bag, there is often little remaining space for bulky noise reduction headphones meaning I am left to rely on the cheap pairs provided by airlines or nothing at all. While many people eschew the idea of splurging on headphones that only soften the inevitable noise that not even Bose can quiet, Able Planet comes to the rescue yet again with more headphones like the SI350 and SI210 pairs that are both affordable and functional in squashing surrounding sound. Able Planet has crated an interesting video that shows how Able Planet can even soften sound in the same or better way than a pair of Bose headphones!
Able Planet features its own LINX Audio sound quality system that preserves the original harmonics of sound and music while blocking out excess exterior noise. The soft ear cover makes it comfortable to wear even when trying to rest on one’s side or use while jogging. Able Planet has its own ComfortFit sound isolation tips that keep out exterior noise, and there are three differing sizes meant to meet differing individual ear’s shapes.
They weigh very little, which is of extreme importance to frequent international travelers who have been forced to weigh even their carry-on bags at check-in and boarding gates. This is the primary reason why I avoid carrying larger pairs of headphones on international trips because they both take up space and weight allotment.
A multi-function controller with microphone and play and pause features allows travelers to use these as a telephone device as well as noise-reducing headphones with play and pause technology. They also work for runners who want to work up a sweat since the wraparound earpiece keeps the moisture from sticking to the hardware. The earphones are compatible with iPhones, iPods, and other similar devices.
While the headphones that come with the traditional iPhone are excellent for traveling, they lack the noise-blocking capability that you need when on a crowded plane or train. This pair of Phiaton’s PS 20 NC Earphones with “Noise Blocker” noise cancellation technology is the perfect combination of stylish headphones with sound integrity.
I typically do not prefer ear bud style headphones because they hurt the ear after a long period of use, but I found these to be more comfortable even if I were sleeping on my side in an airplane seat. There are no hard or sharp edges (often found on cheaper pairs), and the silicon tips fit snugly in the ear without falling out repeatedly.
Phiaton touts the sound quality of these headphones, which I found to be of very good quality whether listening to music or watching a movie. While they do not produce white noise like noise-cancellation headphones, they do an excellent job of muting the small sounds around you keeping you distraction-free.
In fact, I found them to be a better option to use on the plane because larger headsets are bulky and hard to sleep with in an airplane seat when leaning against the wall or sleeping on your side.
There are four different sizes of soft tips to keep them comfortable and in place no matter who is using them. It is also a great option for runners because the soft tip is less likely to fall out if you get sweaty. Style seekers will be happy to know they come in both black and white.
The EverPlay feature of these headphones keeps the sound capability functioning even if the battery runs out, which is ideal if on a long flight. It may not reduce the noise as much, but you can continue to use the headphones normally.
These headsets come in a stylish fabric case that you squeeze into a briefcase or travel bag easily. Compatible with everything from iPods and iPhones to personal DVD players and laptops, they make a great gift for road warriors. They are available at Phiaton’s website or on Amazon for $99-129.
This downright great new Windows phone can duke it out with Apple and Google and in some respects is better than the latest iPhone or Android alternative. At $50 (or sometimes less) with a 2-year contract from AT&T, the Samsung Focus 2 is also quite a bargain.
Microsoft often doesn’t get it right the first time, or even the 10th time, but their formidable war chest of cash allows them to keep at it long after most others would have to admit defeat. So while Palm faded away, Nokia went on the ropes, and RIM’s Blackberry started on its path to irrelevance, the Windows operating system for mobile kept getting better. This Samsung Focus 2 phone loaded with the latest Windows mobile operating system is slick and—a description you don’t hear very much for anything Microsoft—cool.
Windows Mobile Software
The old clunkiness and redundant menu commands the Windows OS had a reputation for are gone and only once did I have to consult a manual to figure out how to use something. (To shoot video, you need to hold down the camera button.) Everything was intuitive and relatively easy. The testers using this the past six weeks have been twofold: me the dad and my tween daughter. Both of us managed to set up what we needed and get things done without working at it. That alone is reason enough to recommend this Focus 2 with Windows: no hurdles or hoops to jump through.
So what does it do better? Besides the great features-to-dollars ratio, the main difference in the software is the tiled display on the home page. This is visually more pleasing than what you get with Android or Apple, with the idea being you put the ones you use the most there and then the rest on the second page you flick to. There’s one for Facebook, for weather, e-mail, search (yes, you can put Google on it, not just Bing), etc. One especially cool feature is the Daily Briefing tile, which contains home city weather—you can see the current temperature without opening it—news headlines, stocks, and currency exchange rates. There’s also a compass. Really!
Plus this Windows phone has two advantages over the iPhone: it displays Flash websites fine and it has Windows mobile built in. As in you can edit that Word doc, Powerpoint, or Excel spreadsheet without a bunch of 3rd-party workarounds. And see every website.
My review version came loaded with some travel apps to show how well this would work on the road: Yelp, GasBuddy, TripAdvisor, and TripIt. No blips with any of those.
If there’s a clear weak point with the Windows OS for mobile, this is it though. All the big apps are here, but there just aren’t as many choices as you’ll find with the operating systems that have a larger base. If this catches on, that could change, but for now there’s a clear limit. The exception to this is games. Because of the Xbox Live platform, there’s a wide game selection and you can try most of them out before buying. That has been a big hit with my daughter. She got some new games in Vietnam even over Wi-Fi and had some new ones to play on two long train rides.
It was easy to pull over my music collection and whatever videos and photos I wanted—easier than with my Motorola Atrix Android phone—but it required downloading the Zune software first. The Zune player never caught on, but the software lives. Apart from this taking up 100MB on my laptop though, no biggie. It works.
Samsung Focus 2 Design
So what about the phone itself? Putting the software aside, this smart phone is a good piece of machinery. Phone calls were crisp and noise-free, you can use a Bluetooth headset, the texting worked fine, and it feels nice in the hand. It’s got a 5mp camera that takes terrific daytime shots and video, fair low-light photos. There is a built-in flash though. I’d put the picture quality a tad below an iPhone or my Motorola Atrix for when the light’s not perfect, but better than some actual cameras I’ve used, including the Nikon L120 camera I ditched for a superior Fuji one. Here’s an example of what a typical photo looks like, unaltered, from a sunny day.
There is also a front-facing HD camera for video or chat and the quality of this was better than I expected. My daughter made about 20 videos of herself using this and they look better than what she does with an old Flip camera.
I was also surprised by the quality of the speaker. Sure, it’s still a tinny phone speaker, but this is the first time I’ve played music on a phone and haven’t wanted to shut it off 10 seconds later because the sound was so bad. You can actually hear some bass coming out of it and it didn’t get badly distorted. Sure, attach a travel speaker and it sounds a whole lot better, but listenable at least.
The biggest shortcoming of this Samsung Focus phone is something quite basic: storage. It only has 8GB of storage and as with the iPhone, there’s no slot for an SD card. This seems like an odd omission that wouldn’t have added much to the manufacturing cost, but hey, I guess they had to cut somewhere to be able to offer it for $50 with a contract.
The Bottom Line
Overall, this is a much better smartphone than I expected it to be and after reading bad reviews of Windows phones for so long, it was gratifying to see they’ve fixed most of the problems of the past. You know Samsung makes good phones, now you don’t have to take a big step down if it’s loaded with Windows. There are more features on here (like voice commands) I haven’t even tried yet. I’ve been very happy with how this Focus 2 performed in my tests and it’s a great phone for travel: you can take decent photos and videos and keep up with your social networks without having anything else along.
Now that I’m done with this review, my daughter wants the phone back so she can do all the fun things she’s been doing on it. If you are looking at a phone for your own kid, this is a solid AT&T choice that won’t cost you the hundreds you’ll pay for an iPhone. If you’re looking to re-up with AT&T and aren’t tied to Apple, this is a great one for both work and play. Price it out here as a new or renewing customer.