A Path To Media Freedom, At Last?

November 19, 2012

Kindle Fire + iPod: The Grudging Marriage Born of Necessity

Most people who have a Kindle Fire use it for apps, video, email, web browsing and reading ebooks, but not many use it for music. Music sounds great on the new HD models, but the Fire is just a little too big to easily toss in a purse or pocket. Using it for music or audiobooks in the car means leaving it running on the seat next to you, instead of plugging it into your speaker system and tucking it into the glove box, dashboard mount, or center console cubby, like you’d do with an iPod. The Fire’s also not ideally sized to be taken along on a run or walk. So you’ve got both, and you use both: iPod for music and audiobook listening while on the road or exercising, Kindle Fire for everything else. But you’re probably not completely happy with this arrangement.

If you’re a PC user, and you’re like me, you view Apple as a necessary evil. You put up with the iTunes updates that seem to come at you every other week or so, you tolerate the inflated, because-it’s-Apple pricetag on the iPod or iPod Touch, you resign yourself to the inevitable iTunes hell that you know is coming when your computer dies and must be replaced (when you fire up iTunes on the new machine, about 20-25% of your content has vanished and about 30-35% of it has been duplicated, and you get to spend hour upon hour manually re-importing and deleting duplicates one at a time), and you do all of this because there just hasn’t been a good alternative. Until now, that is.

At Long Last, A Viable iPod Alternative!

This is the year I free myself from iPod indentured servitude, and I will be blogging about the experience right here so that the many, MANY folks out there who’ve been wanting to cut that white USB cord for years—but haven’t wanted to lose any convenience or functionality—can get a first-hand account that will show first if it can be done, and secondly, what it’s like.

I have ordered the Samsung Galaxy Player as my iPod replacement. I’ve been watching the price on this item very closely, hoping it would be discounted as part of a Black Friday sale, and today my wish came true! The 3.6″ screen model is priced at just $99.99 today (it was $139.99 yesterday), and the larger-screen models are all on sale, too. I’m fine with the smaller screen, because while this device can run apps, play movies, browse the web, take pictures, and do pretty much all the same things you can do with a Samsung Galaxy smart phone (except make calls) or Galaxy Tab, I’m really only intending to use it for music and audiobooks in the car, at the gym, and while walking.

Now that I buy all of my digital music from Amazon anyway—it’s generally cheaper than iTunes—I’ve been wishing I could just ditch iTunes altogether. It’s a scary proposition when you’ve been using iTunes for as long as I have, though.

What About My iTunes Music Library?

What iTunes is to iPod, Amazon Cloud Player can be to Galaxy Player (or any Windows 7 or higher computer with web connectivity, or any Android-based portable device), and since Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium service offers the same kind of functionality as iTunes Match, all the same content that’s currently in my iTunes music library will be available to me on the Galaxy Player.

I have amassed close to 70GB of media in my iTunes library, and there’s no way I’d be considering an iPod alternative that would require me to replace all that content. I think this is the main factor that keeps people chained to their iPods long after the bloom is off the digital rose: the fear of losing existing content. But as I’ve learned, it’s an unfounded fear.

iTunes Match vs. Amazon Cloud Player Premium

I recently did an experiment in which I signed up for both iTunes Match and Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium services, to do a compare and contrast. Both services are currently priced at $25 a year, and both are essentially the same, functionality wise: they allow you to upload your music library to Apple’s or Amazon’s respective Cloud drives, thereby providing a central storage respository for it that makes your content available to multiple devices simultaneously. These services also provide foolproof, off-site backup, and in addition, they “match” your music with files their respective stores already offer. In cases where the audio quality of their copy is higher, they upgrade your copy by replacing it with their own copy in your Cloud library; there’s no extra charge for this, it’s just part of the service. I figured it’s worth the $25 per year just to have a reliable backup of my huge, valuable music library, but have found I get a lot of use from the other features of these services.

I anticipated that none of my iTunes Store music purchases would upload or match with Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium, but to my surprise, they all did! Migrating from iTunes + iTunes Match to Amazon Cloud Player Premium didn’t result in any loss of music content!

Streaming: A Major Difference

One feature Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium offers that you can’t get from Apple is live music streaming anytime you’re within range of a wifi connection—and that includes public wifi hotspots. With iTunes Match/iCloud, you have access to view your library over a wifi connection, but you must actually download the content to your device before you can play it. You can’t just play it directly from the cloud over the wifi connection.

The reason why this matters is because memory space is limited on portable devices, and as anyone who’s shopped for an iPod or iPod Touch knows, the more memory capacity, the more expensive the device.

Memory – Samsung Wins

Apple has only just come out with an iPod Touch with large memory capacity (32GB) this year, and you’re going to be paying A LOT for the device (as of this writing, and at Black Friday week prices, it’s $236). The Galaxy Player only comes with 8GB on-board, but it can accept standard SD memory cards of up to 32GB capacity.

Those cards are cheap (they run about $20-25 for a 32GB card, less for smaller capacity cards), they’re standardized to work with virtually any computer or portable device, and you can easily download any of your music from Amazon’s Cloud onto such a card and pop it right into your Galaxy Player to make that content accessible when you’re away from a wifi hotspot. Another advantage of SD cards is that they make it easy to categorize your content, if you wish: one card to hold your workout music, another for custom road trip mixes, one for each of your kids for their favorites, et cetera.

Finally, and for people with huge music libraries, the most important memory factor is that once you’ve used up the iPod Touch’s available 32GB, the only way to get more or different content onto it is to delete some of what’s already there—or buy another iPod Touch with more memory, if one should become available at some point in the future.

What About The Less Expensive iPod Classic?

I’ve never owned an iPod Touch, because they’ve never had enough memory capacity to hold all my content and because they’re a LOT more expensive than the comparable iPod Classic. But I’m not totally happy with my iPod Classic, either.

I hate the iTunes nightmare that comes with migrating to a new computer. I hate the inevitable bugs that are introduced anytime I accept one of the countless iTunes upgrades. I hate how slow iTunes runs on my computer, and how it has the maddening tendency to lock up my other programs too when it starts hogging up system resources. I hate having to physically attach my iPod to my computer and manually transfer any new content in order to make it available on the iPod. I hate having to pay by the minute for tech support from Apple when I need it. And lastly, I hate having to pay the because-it’s-Apple price when my iPod eventually dies and must be replaced.

But because I use my iPod on a near-daily basis in the car and at the gym, I’ve been grudgingly hanging in there, waiting for something better to come along. Something that would eliminate the things I hate about my iTunes/iPod combo, and maybe even add some additional features. Enter, the Samsung Galaxy Player.

Setting the Baseline: Here’s My Current Setup

Here’s my current digital media setup, which will be good information to have when it comes time to decide if the Galaxy Player is really any kind of improvement.

Kindle Fire HD – used for ebooks, apps, audiobooks, email when away from home, watching videos (Amazon Instant Videos, online videos, non-DRM videos I own) in bed and when away from home, kids’ video player in the car

Apple iPad, first generation – used for email and quick web access at home when my computer’s turned off, watching videos (digital copies purchased/downloaded from the iTunes Store—these are mostly digital copies that came with DVDs and Blu-rays) in bed and when away from home, kids’ video player in the car. I used to also use some apps on it that weren’t available for Android, but there aren’t too many apps that aren’t available for Android anymore, and the few I have that are Apple-only don’t run reliably on my iPad following a given firmware upgrade anyway.

Apple iPod Classic, 160GB – used for music and audiobooks in the car, at the gym, and when walking

My Expectations – What Do I Hope to Accomplish?

My plan is to eliminate my iPod + iTunes/iTunes Match/iCloud dependency, at least where music is concerned, by replacing my iPod Classic with the Galaxy Player and switching to exclusive use of Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium for using and managing my music library.

I expect I will still have to use iTunes to use and manage my library of iTunes digital videos, but I’m gradually replacing them with Amazon Instant Video copies when I see a good sale price, at least for the movies I really want to keep available to my portable devices. I also have a pretty sizeable library of music videos, which I cannot upload to Amazon’s Cloud Player premium, but in practice I find I don’t play them all that often anyway. Most of them came bundled with DVD copies of the same content too, so I won’t be totally losing that content by migrating away from iTunes.

What’s It Going To Cost?

I got the Galaxy Player on sale today for $100. I will also get a 32GB SD card, but I’ll wait till I can find one on sale for $15 or so. The Amazon Cloud Player Premium service costs the same as what I already pay for the same iTunes Match service, so that’s a wash. My $115 investment is about half what I’d pay if I were to get a 32GB iPod Touch instead, and with the Galaxy Player + SD card I’m getting 8GB more memory, plus true streaming capability!

*Note that if you order the Galaxy Player from Amazon there’s a one device per customer limit, but if you buy from a different vendor (still on the Amazon site), there’s no item limit and you may even pay less in total for your order, regardless of not getting Amazon Prime free shipping, since other vendors may not be charging sales tax. 

Next Time: After I’ve received the Galaxy Player and got it set up, I’ll report back here on how it compares to my current iPod setup and use.



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4 Responses to A Path To Media Freedom, At Last?

  1. Stan on November 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Love your site!

    FYI -the price must have went up after you posted this…now lists at Price: $143.91 (11/19).

    Also a 32Gb iPod touch has been available since the 1st Gen and capacities up to 64Gb are now available.

    • The Editors on November 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      Looking at Amazon, I see the ones being sold direct from Amazon at the $99.99 price are all sold out, and so are the ones JR’s Computer World was offering for $99. Gotta grab those deals while they last, I guess! RE: the iPod Touch, when I was shopping for a replacement for my dying iPod Classic last year I needed 64GB at the minimum to accomodate my huge library, so a Touch was not an option for me then. I don’t feel it’s an option for me now, because they’re so darned expensive! — April L. Hamilton, KF on KND Editor in Chief

  2. Doug on November 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Did you consider the SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip?
    It is a simple, small, expandible and inexpensive
    mp3 player.

    • The Editors on November 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Not enough memory, and they can’t run apps. That’s key, whatever I get to replace my iPod has to be able to run the Amazon Cloud Player app for me to access my music library over a wifi connection. Going with a different brand of MP3 player that doesn’t run apps won’t eliminate the problem of having to manually transfer files over a cable connected to my computer anytime I add something new to my music library. — April L. Hamilton


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