Rockbox Rocks

More than a month ago I tried out Rockbox, an open source mp3 player firmware.  I’ve been very happy with it. 

More than a month ago I became the lucky owner of a Sandisk Sansa C240 mp3 player.  It’s a relatively small flash based mp3 player with a color screen.  My previous mp3 player, a Creative Zen Nano Plus, started acting funny after I went running in the rain with it one too many times.

Both the Zen and the Sansa fit my needs relatively well.  I use my mp3 player when running and when at working out at the gym.  I’m a Linux user and require that I can interface with the player via Linux.  They both met those needs.  The Zen uses AAA batteries which is nice because I can change out batteries when they aren’t fresh (I use rechargables, nimh).  The Sansa on the other hand has an internal lithium-ion battery.  The Sansa charges over USB.  With the Sansa if the charge is low I’m out of luck until I recharge.  In practice this has led to me plugging it in to charge frequently.

The best part about the Sansa is that it is supported by Rockbox.  Rockbox is a firmware for a relatively large number of mp3 players.  It’s open source and feature rich.  I had heard about Rockbox a long time ago but never owned a supported player.

I’ll skip all of the details about Rockbox that you can read about at the their website and mention the two features that really matter.  The thing that makes Rockbox a necessity for me is that I can operate it completely without looking at the device.  This is make possible by audible cues.  When I’m on a menu Rockbox reads aloud the menu options!  When I skip songs I get an audible cue.  As a runner I can tell you that there it is terribly frustrating to stop and fumble with your mp3 player.  Things are even worse on sunny days when it’s hard to read the display.  Rockbox eliminates that problem.  Oh and remember the dilemna about batteries?  Rockbox announces battery level audibly so I always know when my battery is getting low and needs a charge.

The other killer feature is that Rockbox has fantastic support for playlists.  It’s easy to create playlists on the fly, save them for later, and even edit them.  I’ve not seen many mp3 player but the few that I have seen had poor support for playlists and the ones that did support them were a joke.  There’s no way I’m going to use “Media Player 10” just to add a playlist.

Some other nice (but not as nice as audible cues and playlist support) features are:

  • Dual boots into the old firmware if I want it
  • Super easy installation by way of a graphical installer
  • Many apps including Doom and a stopwatch with a lap counter
  • Thorough documentation that is device specific

The next time I get an mp3 player I will only consider devices supported by Rockbox.

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