Monday, November 30, 2009

Rockbox Shrinks!

Rockbox Blackjack on the Clip

I've been in transit a lot recently and therefore listening to even more MP3s than usual. I mainly rely on a Sansa E260 running Rockbox. However, I've given the Sansa Clip to friends who like audiobooks, podcasts, and music and they uniformly love that player. It's tiny but has a screen (though a simple one) great sound, a good FM radio, long battery life, and is reliable. Unfortunately the typical inflexibility of MP3 player software that drove me to run Rockbox on my other players has kept me from using the Clip very much.

The Rockbox team has accomplished something nifty: they've ported a usable version of Rockbox to the Clip. Considering the tiny size and the tricky innards of this player, giving the full feature set of Rockbox to this player is quite a feat.

(For those who don't know, Rockbox is free open source audio player software, and it's darned near infinitely configurable and offers many features that are unavailable with most players' original firmware. Even if you have a brand other than Sansa --including many Apples-- they probably have a version that works on it. )

It isn't totally complete on the Clip yet:
  • You must install manually; the installation utility doesn't work currently.
  • You must use a daily build, as Clip isn't included in the stable release 3.4
  • Recording isn't enabled yet
  • The USB stack isn't fully implemented, which can make it a bit fiddly.
So very close to fully implemented. I'm not sure I'll switch when the Clip is totally Rockboxed--It's awfully small for many of the features I like--but I'll have to consider it.

If you have a Clip, are comfortable doing techie things, and want to try Rockbox, make sure to understand it only works on the so-called "Version 1" of the clip. Go to Settings > System Info and look for "Version" which denotes the firmware version. If it begins V01, then Rockbox will work; If it doesn't, then you'll have to wait. Everyone I know who's so far gotten recertified or refurbished Clips dirt cheap at, Woot! and elsewhere has gotten Version 1 players.

Here are some screenshots from my quick test of the firmware on a Clp I have around:

Now Playing screen

Settings screen

Main Menu

If you're running an old-fashioned browser on a desktop, laptop, and probably netbook computer, those will probably appear larger than true size. Amazing!

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