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Personal Data Assistants
A PDA as your portable music player?

John Woody is a net working communications consultant specializing in small office, home office networks, training setup, and internet connectivity.

Michael Espinoza is owner of Technology Coaching, a training and consulting firm that specializes in the PDA market. He co-chairs the PDA SIG with John Woody.

The topic of digital music, music swapping and downloading songs from the Internet has been a very controversial topic lately. I will not debate this topic in this article but I will discuss how you can use many of the PDA’s (Palm OS devices and Pocket PC’s) to play your favorite music once it is in a digital format for computers. This article will discuss the playing of digital music on your PDA much like you would on your desktop. The process of converting music to be played on a handheld will be left for another article. There are many good articles on the Internet to explain digital music and the legal issues that surround this topic. With the popularity of digital music players and music being played on desktop computers there are now services that allow you to buy music in a digital format to play on your computer and PDA. Use your favorite search engine to find some sites. 

Popular digital music formats
We will limit the digital file formats that are discussed in this article to the two most popular, MP3 and WMA. These are the formats that are supported by the small digital music player on the market. The first of these players was the Rio, which came out in the late 90’s. Since then, there are many manufactures of these devices as well as car stereos and DVD players that can play these file formats. For a more detailed explanation of these two formats go to Microsoft.

To get music into one of these formats from a standard music CD you must have a CD drive in your computer (does not have to be a CD-R). With the many software programs out on the market, some are even free, you can take the music from the audio CD and pull it (Rip is the term used) into your computer and can be saved in ether the MP3 or WMA (Microsoft’s) format.

MP3- this is by far the most popular music format that is available. Many devices are referred to as MP3 players, in reference to that music format. Many consider this the standard format for music on the Internet and on PC’s. The important thing to remember is if you want to play MP3 files your device must support this format.

WMA- this is the format that Microsoft is pushing. They make claims that they can store more music in a small file then MP3’s can and the quality of the music is just as good. This file format claims the same sound quality as an MP3 file at half the size. The smaller the size the more music you can transfer to a portable device. WMA is popular but not nearly as popular as the MP3 format. 

There are a lot of details involved in digital music.  For more details see an online book chapter 3. it gives you a great amount of details about digital music.

To review, it is easy to get confused with the terms being thrown around when it comes to small handheld computers, so let’s talk definitions. Handheld refers to a device that you hold in the palm of your hand — since it has no keyboard, a stylus is required for writing onto the screen. Devices that fall into this category include, among others, the Palm Pilot, Handspring as well as the Sony products that run the Palm OS. We also include in the PDA group those devices known as “Pocket PCs” from Compaq/HP, Casio, and others that run the Pocket PC 3.0 Pocket PC 2002 operating system.

The Palm OS and music

Palm Pilot Handhelds
The Palm operating system was not designed with music in mind when it was created. Depending on the model you own there are third party solutions and some hardware manufactures that will allow you to play digital music files on some Palm OS devices. The Palm Pilot line of handhelds has the Portéson Pro as a solution for it owners. The Portéson Pro is an add-on MP3 player for the m100/105 and V series of Palm handheld devices. This solution should be coming soon for the rest of the Palm handheld line. This device uses it own file format, but all you have to do is drag your MP3 files over and the software will convert the music to the format for the Portéson. This device is more than just an MP3 player, it is also a file storage device to move data files from one computer to another.

Here are some of the features of the device: 

  • Plays standalone or attached to the handheld units
  • Usable as a 'Zip' disk for PC and Palm 
  • Powerful 100 MIPS TI DSP 
  • High Speed USB interface to PC. (12Mbps)  
  • SD/MMC card slot with standard DOS file system 
  • Complete Multimedia adaptor 
  • High quality analog stereo audio output 
  • Long battery life through low power consumption  
These devices start at $149. To find more information about this add-on, go to  Audio Storage Technologies .

Handspring handhelds
One of the main selling points of the Handspring units running the Palm OS was that it had a proprietary expansion slot. This opened up a 3rd party market for add-on devices; these devices were called Springboard Modules. One of these devices allows you to play MP3 files, the MiniJam MP3 Player.

The MiniJam MP3 Player module is manufactured by InnoGear's and includes the following:

  • 64 MB Multi Media Card 
  • Earphones with protective wind-up case 
  • Hip pocket with belt clip 
  • Software CD (including MusicMatch, SKINS!, eBooks reader, Album to Go) 
This module retails for $89 but the company has other units with more memory. If you would like more information go to  InnoGear .

Sony Clie handhelds
Sony has a few solutions for those that want music on their handheld. The first is an add-on for the existing PEG-T Series of handheld from Sony. This adds the ability to play MP3 music files on PEG-T units as well as those MP3 music files stored on the Memory Stick media Sony uses on its handhelds and computers. This add-on includes stereo headphones and  bundled software: RealJukebox 2 Basic for Sony, Audio Player for Adapter v. 1.0.1 and Adobe Acrobat™ Reader.

The second solution is the Clie units that have the ability to play MP3 files as part of the unit itself, no add-ons need to be purchased. These models include:

  • NR70V Color CLIÉ™ w/ MP3 Audio Playback and Digital Camera 
  • PEG-T665C Color CLIÉ Handheld with MP3 Player 
To learn more you can go to the Sony Web site.

The Palm OS was not designed for the ability to play music but innovative solutions have been brought to market by 3rd party companies to solve this for music fans. If you feel the need to turn your Palm OS device into a music player then look at these different solutions. If you are trying to decide what Palm OS device to buy and music is a consideration, look at the Sony handhelds.

The Pocket PC and music

When you look at the Pocket PC handheld for music you are looking at a device that had the intention of being a multimedia handheld computer. All Pocket PC’s have the ability to play MP3’s and WMA music files. This is done by the application Windows Media play for the Pocket PC. This player is based on the same player most people have on their Windows desktop computer. The desktop version comes free on Windows based machines and is included in the Pocket PC handhelds. All you have to do is copy the music files to the unit or a memory expansion card and the Pocket PC Media Play will find the music and you can start playing immediately. You can create your own play lists and listen to the music as you work on your handheld.

If you are looking for a handheld computer that is stronger in the music area, then the Pocket PC units are something you should consider. Here is how Microsoft defines Windows Media Player,

Windows Media Player lets you playback WMA files and MP3 files. The accompanying desktop software even lets you convert MP3 files to the much smaller — but equally high-quality — Windows Media Audio format. It also plays in the background so that you can listen to music while using other features on your Pocket PC.

To find out more information about Windows Media player go to Microsoft .

This link is a step by step tutorial on how to get music from your PC to your Pocket PC.

Both operating systems, the Pocket PC and Palm, have solutions for playing music. The Pocket PC has the stronger solution but Palm has a new operating system that they promise will be coming out in the near future. The support for music is sure to be in this new version. This will offer a better music solution for Palm owners and I am sure Microsoft is not going to stop with their current music player offering.

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