Saturday, January 12, 2008

music: finally buying unprotected songs

I wrote about our multimedia phone:
The big downside so far is there's no way to play protected music files ... This is why DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is evil!
I've been jotting down a list of songs I like but not enough to buy the artist's "Greatest Hits" CD. iTunes announced iTunes Plus where you pay $0.30 more to get an unprotected track that plays anywhere; I've been meaning to put my money where my mouth is but the iTunes Store doesn't make it easy to search only for unprotected music.

But Amazon now sells MP3 downloads! Since that's all they sell, there's no will-it, won't-it work uncertainty. They're often cheaper ($0.89) than protected iTunes, let alone iTunes Plus. The quality may not be as good, but these are just pop songs. I'm going through my list:
  • Search Amazon's MP3 Downloads category for artist name
  • buy (Amazon Downloader puts it in iTunes library)
  • search google for lyrics artist name fragment of lyrics, select and copy the lyrics
    Tip: To avoid the ads all over lyric sites, Get Firefox (try FF 3 beta, it's even better!) and install Adblock Plus
  • while the MP3 downloads, search YouTube for the artist and title and watch the music video
  • in iTunes' "Recently Added" playlist, right-click on song, Get Info > Lyrics, paste in lyrics
  • back up your "My Music" folder (c'mon, you know you should)
I don't like having all my music ratings and lyrics tied up in Apple's proprietary iTunes software, so some day I'll switch to a different player than iTunes, maybe Amarok when KDE4 works on Windows.

Folks, your phone plays music files! (A friend got a Sanyo M-1 phone; she was stunned when I dragged a few songs onto it.) As I predicted, everything is a music player now. Digital photo frames, cars, phones, toys... if it's got speakers it'll probably play unprotected MP3 and AAC files.

Electronic downloads are instant gratification candy , but it doesn't feel right. I still have an archaic connection with the physical object of music—I was playing 12-inch 45RPM disco singles from my true library before transferring these 1s and 0s.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

electronics: Sanyo MM-9000 do-nearly-all music cellphone

My significant domestic other partner's cheap portable cassette player finally broke and SDOP still wanted to listen to music on the go. The default answer is of course an iPod, but remember SPage's law:
any small piece of electronics needs to have a phone in it so you can ring it when (not if!) you lose it
(our digital camera is still lost). So we go to the Sprint store, looking for a top-of-the-line phone. The Sanyo MM-9000 has a miniSD memory card slot, media player, QVGA screen, 1.3 Megapixel camera, and most other reasonable features. SDOP was using the previous top-of-the-line Sanyo SCP-5500 (aka Sprint VM-4500) so the USB cable, and so-so FutureDial Snap software I bought for it might work. The only missing checklist features are Bluetooth, and a 2 Mp camera with optical zoom. SprintUsers reviews say the camera quality is good. The Samsung A940 is a 2 Mp phone with Bluetooth but the screen is lower res and the camera has to twist around awkwardly.

Sprint was sold out of the phone, so we bought it at Radio Shack. The phone cost $380 plus tax but as the old phone was 22 months old we got a $75 rebate after committing to two more years of Sprint. Then off to Best Buy to buy a SanDisk 1GB miniSD card, SanDisk USB SD card reader, Monster iPod cassette adapter (it actually works with any audio device's 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, which shows you iPod's dominant mindshare), and a 2.5 phone -> 3.5mm headphone adapter cable. We can reuse the old Sanyo's car lighter charger; we still need to get a second battery and a cover. As usual the accessories cost nearly as much as the phone!

To put music on the phone:
  1. insert music CD into PC
  2. in iTunes, right-click on desired tracks and choose "Convert Selection to AAC"
  3. Remove miniSD card from phone, insert in SD adapter in SanDisk media reader
    just plug in the phone's USB cable and choose "Mass Storage" for the USB Connection
  4. in Windows Explorer, navigate to My Documents\iTunes\iTunes Music, find the track files named .m4a
    from iTunes Library view, just drag the tracks you want to the mini SD card's MEDIA folder in Windows Explorer.
Now your phone plays music almost as well as a dedicated 1GB digital audio player. The sound quality is reasonable even through the car adapter (I haven't played around with the audio settings in Edit > Preferences... Advanced > Importing). Every track has a different volume level.

I found out that with FutureDial's USB drivers the miniSD card appears as a drive letter in Windows, so I don't have to remove the miniSD card from the phone, so the SanDisk USB SD card reader was a waste of money. Just like the SanDisk USB Compact Flash card reader I bought for the digital camera I lost.

The big downside so far is there's no way to play protected music files that we legally own. I've refused to buy songs from the iTunes Music Store on principle, but even their free downloads are .m4p encrypted files that only work on iPods. jHymn and QTFairUse don't work with latest iTunes (donate $50 to DVD Jon to update his fine work!). This is why DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is evil!

So far, it seems like $500 well spent. Then I scanned some more SprintUser forum posts and found out the Sanyo MM-9000 phone is already obsolete and is going to be discontinued by Sprint!

For my own use I'm still holding out for a flip smartphone with PalmOS PDA functionality + 2Mp camera with optical zoom + MP3 + 4GB expansion card + Infrared + GPS + Bluetooth + WiFi. I held the Samsung sph-i550 in my hand at the Samsung store in NYC, but it's cancelled. "The best is the enemy of the good" (Voltaire :-)

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