Some time ago I came across Rockbox. It’s an operating system (firmware replacement) for (old) portable media players The nice thing about it is that it’s generic: it works on different models, from different manufacturers. And that including devices widely offered on the second-hand market, such as old IPod’s. What makes it even better is that it’s Free Software. It has seen contributions from a lot of people. It contains lots of features and has lots of configuration options. For a third-party firmware it is quite stable.
This is great. I’ve been thinking about getting a media player for a while. I refuse to carry a smartphone for day-to-day usage (because of privacy and freedom issues), so that was out of the question. Once I learned about Rockbox, I found an old IPod Nano second generation for 15 euros. It’s an 8 gigabyte version, but because Rockbox supports Ogg Opus, which allows for a higher quality per filesize ratio than what the IPod natively supports (mp3), the limit of 8GB is not a big deal.
It’s been used happily ever after. Most dedicated portable media players are much more portable than smartphones these days anyway. The only downside of Rockbox on this device is that it gives me a crash/panic once in a while, and that it’s sometimes a bit slow with reading from storage, but that is not such a big deal.
Rockbox supports features you could only dream of on your media players’ proprietary firmware, or even your Android device. One I’ve already mentioned; the great support for newer, and unpatented, audio codecs. Other ones I like are:
- Crossfeed sound, which simulates speakers while using headphones. It does this by giving both ears a bit of sound from the other one, but with a tiny delay. It’s a bit more complicated than that because algorithms and stuff. It (supposedly) makes for a less annoying experience when listening for a long time in a row.
- Crossfade, to smooth the ending of a song into the start of the next.
- Great database support for finding songs by the tags (Artist, Genre, etc).
- Theme’s support, with a wide range of themes to install, with a few installed by default.
- Plugins support! Create plugins in C or download plugins from others. A lot of plugins are shipping by default, including a version of the game Doom! Other plugins include quick calculators (such as for resistor colour codes) and other games.
Rockbox’s wiki contains a page with a quick overview of features.
Note that manufactorers don’t provide support for installing third-party firmwares, so Rockbox is a clever hack that often required lots of effort to port to devices. But once ported, the installation is simple for users. It even has a graphical interface for installation. It is on your risk though, but (if chosen in the installer) Rockbox keep the original firmware on the device.
You can download the Rockbox graphical installer on rockbox.org. The list of supported devices are on the device status page. The extensive manual for each supported device is found on manuals.