I’ve been fascinated by the RockBox project for a while now. It is an alternative firmware (i.e. OS lite) for music players with a bunch of extra features. It is being ported to a range of different devices and it is becoming the Linux of sorts of MP3 players. (Soon to be replaced by actual Linux, one presumes…)
The first device for which I had a RockBox port was an old iPod, the ones we would call “classic” these days. I loved it, since it have me the freedom to play games, read OGG Vorbis files, and play with the interface – all things that the original iPod stubbornly refused to do. The installation process was painful, but it was worth it. It was a tinkerer’s dream.
I installed it on a bunch of different players after the fact, but I never quite bothered following through on any of them. There was the Nano that disappeared in a motorcycle mishap (the zipper of the backpack flew open). There was the e280r that refused to play nice because of DRM.
Now it’s time for the Sansa Clip. In case you don’t know, the Clip is AnythingButIpod’s best music player of the year, and I have to admit, it’s pretty sweet. The sound is amazing, the resilience outstanding, the cost ridiculously low, it connects to standard mini-USB, and best of all it plays OGG files.
Now, you are probably turning your head sideways when I mention OGG, but there are big advantages to OGG files, mostly that, since the reference implementation is open, it reads all sorts of files well. On the other hand, most of my players have problems with at least some MP3 files. They’ll read the metadata fine, but then die on playing. Or they will read for a while, but then die at a particular file location. Or they don’t like a particular bitrate/sample rate/whatever combination. It’s all very frustrating.
So I decided to give Rockbox a try on the Clip. The first thing you notice: it’s just like on the big iPod, minus the fact you can’t play videos. (Well, it would have been a little weird if that had worked, like getting a banjo to play a Beethoven symphony.) There are some strange key mappings (so far, OFF seems to be the equivalent of Back; huh?) but all in all the functionality is great. Best thing: you can switch between original and new firmware by simply rebooting!