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Pocket Tunes 4.0: Even Better Music On Your Treo

Treo Pocket TunesAs I’ve stated many times in the past my iPod has gathered dust since I much prefer listening to music directly on my Treo –  an activity that is quite possibly one my most frequently used particularly as I now use multiple 4GB SD cards and will soon also receive my first two 8GB cards.

For this there is no doubt that I have to thank the fantastic Pocket Tunes application without which I very much doubt that I would have made the Treo my preferred portable music player nor so enjoyed listening to my music while on the go.

A few days ago the long anticipated new Pocket Tunes 4.0 was finally released and while it brings some much appreciated improvements and new functionalities it disappointingly and somewhat upsettingly falls very much short of the expectations that I had for this latest full release.  The six major changes in version 4.0 include:

1. Brand New User Interface
The developers of Pocket Tunes excitedly and with much fanfare promote the arrival of their “sleek new user interface” but this leaves _much_ to be desired.  Considering that the entire new UI consists of just ONE screen you would have thought that a smart usability designer could have achieved near perfection here but it’s simply not the case.


For starters there is the mindnumbingly annoying Pocket Tunes splash screen (above right) which appears for a few seconds_every time_ you start the application – I guess that someone might be suffering from logo depravation.  Next are details such as the fact that the clock at the top right of the screen is too small as well as the Repeat and Shuffle buttons and importantly the new Album Art – an entirely new feature in v4.0.  Additionally buttons that previously existed in the very good “High Fidelity” UI from version 3.0 such as Playlist and Equalizer are no longer available.


I wish that I had the capabilities to design my own Pocket Tunes skins as with just 10 minutes in Photoshop I was able to at least somewhat improve the standard “Sleek Blue” that it now includes.  Here above left I have increased the Album Art size by over 50%, increased the size of the clock, reduced the size of the volume bar so as to accomodate two more buttons on that line and finally simply marginally shrink the main Play bar at the bottom.  Given a little more time I am sure that I could come up with something even better which again begs me to ask why Pocket Tunes has not come up with a ‘great’ new UI to start with.

Moreover, I really have to ask why Pocket Tunes only has the ‘one’ screen when clearly there could be three or four at least.  The first would give you access to all the buttons, the second would display mostly all the song list for your album(s) while the third would provide you with a large Album Art view such as my draft version above right.  You should be able to easily cycle across all the screens with just one additional button – I’ll be waiting for someone to actually design some working skins…

Finally, whoever was responsible for Pocket Tunes’ new UI intervention has completely missed to make any changes to the Menu options with Prefs, Actions, Tools and Help unfortunately remaining virtually the same.  For example after using Pocket Tunes for nearly three years I have yet to figure out exactly what “Copy from PC Prefs…” is about (since they don’t include an “i” information button for every preference).  Other issues include the fact that the “Stop playing after … minutes” still resets to zero every time I disable it instead of remembering my previous selection (I typically leave PTunes playing for 20 minutes when going to sleep).  The fact is that Pocket Tunes’ entire menu screens are still a complete mess and need an urgent revamp.


As if all this wasn’t bad enough PTunes has also failed to make much needed small improvements to its “Choose Songs” screens above.  For starters the “All” selection still searches for music across your entire SD card (taking up to 15 seconds to do so) instead of just speeding the process by only looking for files in your Audio folder (above right).  The other thing is that if for example you have a specific ‘Classical’ folder which contains multiple albums and click “Select All” PTunes does not understand that you would like to play all the albums in that folder and instead does nothing – you can frustratingly only play one album folder at a time.  I could go on and on about small faults like this that still plague PTunes.

Having said all this there are some ‘minor’ improvements in this new UI that are better such as the easy large one button direct access to “Choose Songs” (bottom left of the screen) and “Internet Radio Catalog” (bottom right) as well as the new display of ‘time elapsed’ and ‘total song duration’.  I also like the fact that the previous separate Play + Pause + Stop buttons have now been cleverly combined into just one button – saving precious screen space in the process – and that they are still within easy thumb reach at the bottom of the screen.

Finally, as before Pocket Tunes provides extremely good one hand interface navigation using the 5-way control on your Treo – Up/Down to control volume, Click Left/Right to skip songs backwards or forwards and Press+Hold Left/Right to fast forward.

2. Album Art
When your music includes album art images, Pocket Tunes will now display them beside the song's title.  Tap on the album art to enlarge it to take up the whole screen (below left), or tap on the song title to see the album art along with information about that song (below right).  For maximum compatibility with your album art, Pocket Tunes displays JPEG album art that's embedded in the song file or included as a separate file in the same folder. 


3. Internet Radio Catalog
You can now choose from the hundreds of Internet radio stations pre-populated in the new catalog and easily accessible via the “Internet Radio” button at the bottom right of the screen.  Select from dozens of categories including Pop/Rock, Talk, Hip-Hop/Rap, Jazz, Classical, and many more.  Also included are high-fidelity aacPlus stations that sound wonderful on any wireless network.   


You can add your own stations manually (as I did above for Energy 92.7) or by browsing the web using your phone's built-in web browser.  You can even share your favorite stations with friends using Bluetooth, infrared, or email.  The radio catalog is updated often, so select the Get Updates menu item regularly to download the latest and greatest stations to your phone.  The new Internet Radio Catalog is without a doubt a very welcome addition to Pocket Tunes.

4. Improved Internet Radio Playback
Pocket Tunes already offered the best way to listen to Internet Radio on your Treo and in 4.0 you can enjoy many additional enhancements.  Pocket Tunes now collapses "cluster" stations into one entry on the screen.  If one of the servers for that station isn't working, simply expand the list and select another one.  In addition, 4.0 improves compatibility with software that makes your home music collection available on your phone.  PTunes has also added numerous other under-the-cover improvements such as improved detection of the streaming format, better synchronization when displaying the current song name from a radio station, improved buffering and skip prevention, and lots more.  However, here again the UI does not for example show you the kbps data for the stream…

5. Playback of AAC and aacPlus Files
Pocket Tunes now natively supports AAC and aacPlus formatted files and streaming audio.  AAC and aacPlus enable smaller files and better quality, allowing you to fit more music on your device.  If you've copied your music collection from your CDs using iTunes or WinAmp, you will appreciate the ability to play those files on your phone without converting them like other music players require.

6. Even Better Audio Quality
The audio quality on Pocket Tunes 3.0 was undoubtedly extremely good but this has now been further improved with drastic improvements to the volume boost feature with which you can now enjoy louder, virtually distortion-free playback in the loudest environments.  Also, with the new support for aacPlus you can enjoy crystal-clear CD-quality radio on your existing cell phone data connection.  Or use software like WinAmp to rip your CDs to aacPlus for maximum fidelity. 

Standard Pocket Tunes Features
Version 4.0 builds on an already packed set of features and functionalities that Pocket Tunes 3.0 offered including:

  • Access millions of songs and audio books from popular online music stores: Pocket Tunes Deluxe supports all music stores that use Microsoft's Janus technology such as Napster, Real Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music Engine with support for both subscription and purchased content.  (I will review this separately soon but you can read my previous post Yahoo! Music Unlimited On Your Treo for more information).
  • Listen to all your tunes on your phone: Easily play music stored on your device's storage card, internal memory, or hard disk.
  • Keep your music synchronized with what's on your PC: Pocket Tunes integrates with Windows Media Player, Real Rhapsody, and many other music players on your PC to allow you to quickly and easily copy music to your device.  Just plug it in, start Pocket Tunes, and you’re ready to go.
  • Find music quickly, auto-sorted by album, artist, and genre: Pocket Tunes sorts your music by album, artist, genre, and playlist to allow you to quickly find what you're in the mood for.
  • Broad range of supported music files: Pocket Tunes plays MP3, AAC, aacPlus, WMA*, WMDRM (Janus), PCM WAV, and Ogg Vorbis files.
  • Use your Palm device normally while music is playing: with “background playback” you're free to run any other application on your device while playing music or listening to Internet radio.
  • Integrated with your phone: Pause you rmusic or change the volume using the buttons on the side of your Treo.  When calls come in, Pocket Tunes automatically pauses the music until you hang up.
  • Control your music playback while using other phone functions: Access the popup console while using other applications or phone functions to play, pause, change tracks, adjust the volume, and more.
  • Mix, shuffle, then repeat: Quickly create playlists or pick songs one-by-one.  Turn on the shuffle and repeat options to combine your music in ways you had not expected.
  • Personalize Pocket Tunes: Choose from dozens of skins (many of them are free) at www.pocket-tunes.com/skins/ to make Pocket Tunes your own.
  • Fine tune your music: With features like crossfade, gapless playback, a high-fidelity equalizer, high quality volume boost, and many more, Pocket Tunes allows you unprecedented control over your music listening experience.
  • Listen to audio books: Pocket Tunes provides unique features (like bookmarks and auto-bookmarks) to make it a powerful companion when listening to books on the go.
  • Support for StyleTap on Treo 700: Owners of the StyleTap Platform can now run Pocket Tunes on their Palm Treo 700w smartphone (Requires StyleTap v0.9.126 or greater).
  • Tons of playback options: Not everyone uses their audio player in the same way.  Configure Pocket Tunes to start playing on startup, stop playing after a certain period of inactivity, stop playing on low battery, and more.
  • Ringtones, alarm clocks and more: Pocket Tunes integrates with dozens of third-part applications to enable great capabilities such as custom ringtones, alarm clocks (such as with my preferred great MobileClock) and much more.

The developers of Pocket Tunes claim that it is “the most feature-rich audio player for your Treo smartphone” and I am very happy to continue to support this since I have yet to find another player that comes close to its feature set.  I envisage Pocket Tunes 4.0 to remain my preferred Treo audio player for some time and I will likely encourage others to use it.

Having said this however I expected quite a bit more from this new full version 4.0.  I am rather disappointed and annoyed feeling that the people at Pocket Tunes have been somewhat resting on their laurels instead of truly further pushing the unique digital music boundaries that I believe that the Treo offers.  I honestly feel that they are slowly beginning to squander a golden opportunity and I will unfortunately now more readily look at competing offerings.

For example, I still cannot understand how no company has exploited the option to transform the Treo into what could likely become the single best “portable music discovery device” in the world.  With up to 8GB of SD storage, unlimited wireless data capabilities, full PC synchronisation and significant on-device processing capabilities there is no reason why I could not periodically download a couple of gigabytes of music (DRM protected even) and conveniently listen + rate (or even buy) them while on the go.  As far as I know nobody has even attempted to turn this into a standalone business or add-on service yet.

I hope that future Pocket Tunes updates in 2007 may bring some more meaningful improvements as this application may currently still be the best-of-breed on Planet Treonauts but it certainly has a way to go before it can achieve real success.  The day that people specifically express a preference to buy a Treo because Pocket Tunes is installed on it will be the day that its developer can pop the champagne.  In the meantime they should concentrate their efforts on ensuring that it delivers more than just ‘cosmetic’ improvements.

[Note: If you already listen to music on your Treo or are considering doing so you may also want to read my previous post about Music Listening Options Roundup.]

Treonauts always play to a different tune

Posted by Andrew on December 28, 2006 at 06:35 AM

Treo Software | Music

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by Kevin | Dec 28, 2006 7:26:13 AM

I don't know why you never give any love to mOcean on the blog, I assume it's because the Pocket Tunes folks are paying you. mOcean at least deserves a mention or two - it is far and away the most-often used program on my Treo. Anyone who owns an iPod will be blown away by how easy it is to use mOcean.

by John | Dec 28, 2006 9:36:13 AM

Is there anything like Pocket Tunes for the Windows Mobile users (Treo 700w)? Has anyone dished out the additional $50 for styletap to run Pocket Tunes on the 700w?

by James | Dec 28, 2006 9:41:32 AM

Unbelievable that Normsoft isn't upgrading people for free who've bought it in the past 12 months. A more modern looking GUI and Internet radio catalog is a major release of software? They're not getting my money.

by Deuce | Dec 28, 2006 9:49:02 AM

What about kinoma? It seems like that has way more options even playing video. Is there something that im missing?

by Mike Hardy | Dec 28, 2006 10:09:31 AM

Kevin - wow - that's cynical. In my experience Andrew is pretty fair with the reviews.

Instead of an ad hominem attack on Andrew, perhaps you could describe why mOcean is better than pocket tunes? It looks to me like it has the same functionality, with the addition of a click-wheel emulator and background support, and the subtraction of magicButton (a great app) integration

Since I use magicButton to control pocketTunes mostly, why should I change to mOcean?

I'm honestly curious, it looked interesting but I'm not sure why you think it's so great. I'm tempted to give it a try though

by Andrew | Dec 28, 2006 10:44:32 AM

Kevin - nobody has or will ever pay me to write any reviews. While I consider mOcean to be an interesting alternative I have not yet found it to offer a better solution than Pocket Tunes.

I have had discussions with mOcean's developers to let them know where I believe they could/should improve their offering and plan to review it soon.

As Mike points out I would also like to better understand exactly what features have made you personally prefer mOcean.

John - the main drawback that I have found with music playback on the Windows Mobile Treo is the lack of "background playback" (with the screen turned off) and I have not yet tested StyleTap but will do so very shortly.

Deuce - while Kinoma is an excellent streaming video player and good streaming audio player its music playback capabilities are far inferior to Pocket Tunes.

Mike - I totally agree with you that magicButton is an essential add-on for Pocket Tunes that I would actually very much have like to see integrated in v4.0. http://software.treonauts.com/product.asp?id=1336

Cheers, A.

by Alex | Dec 28, 2006 10:45:36 AM

The new Kinoma 4 player has received at least one very favorable review, and handles video as well as all those audio formats. Could you compare their performance (where applicable)? I'm trying to decide which to get for my 680. Thanks.

by Al Cajigas | Dec 28, 2006 10:48:01 AM

I agree with what has been said. The skin needs to be improved to show more options and enlarge some of the icons. The upgrade price for the 4.0 number is way to high for people that already bought this program in 2006. If they really wanted people to pay they needed to add more features. I know the 4.0 skin looks nice, but that just doesn't cut it. Pocket Tunes needs to be updated with better features in the 4.0 version to be worth the upgrade.


by Andrew | Dec 28, 2006 10:51:47 AM

Alex - please see my Kinoma 4EX review http://blog.treonauts.com/2006/11/new_kinoma_medi.html

As I mentioned before I would personally never select Kinoma to be my default music player since Pocket Tunes is much, much better.

Cheers, A.

by Justin | Dec 28, 2006 10:52:03 AM

I agree with Andrew in that PocketTunes has the best feature set for listening to music on the Treo. I've tried them all, and everything else comes up short in one way or another. Kinoma 4 is VERY good, but it doesn't include an equalizer of any sort, and MP3s sound TERRIBLE. Busker has album art, but I find it's interface to be terribly annoying (don't remember if it had an EQ). mOcean is cool, but it's equalizer doesn't work very well, and I don't think it displayed album art of any sort. And, the biggest factor of all (for me at least) is that Softick Audio Gateway only supports AVRCP through PocketTunes. So, that renders most of the debate moot for me anyway. Just thought I would share. Andrew has always been very fair with his reviews, and I agree with him a lot of the time. I like this new version of PocketTunes a little more than he does, and that may be in large part to the fact that this is the first time I've bought the deluxe version. Internet radio is still pretty new to me. Also, I don't have the problem with the splash screen he described (it NEVER starts up with the program on my Treo 650).

by dklane | Dec 28, 2006 11:16:17 AM

I participated in a focus group that was addressing the download music direct to cell phone issue. It was a REAL experience where we had a REAL phone and could listen to live streaming music like Bohemian RHAPSODY, download for listening later, radio stations, even share/transfer music to a PC. It was Windows only however and the interface was clunky. Also a bit buggy. Pocket Tunes however, fullfills all but the download straight to phone and I'd imagine it will come in time.

by James Good | Dec 28, 2006 11:22:20 AM

I've never seen the pTunes splash screen either. I do agree that it would be nice to see improvements to the 'Choose Songs' screens. A 'next album' button would be good too.


by Stephen | Dec 28, 2006 11:35:40 AM

John - Try GS Player for Windows Mobile. It works great. And it is free. http://hp.vector.co.jp/authors/VA032810/

by Andy Dunning | Dec 28, 2006 1:09:34 PM

I use my Treo constantly, but don't play music on it that much. It sounds like everyone here knows much more about audio on the Treo than I do, so here's a naive question: how is Pocket Tunes better than Real Player, which was installed on my Treo 650 when I bought it? I've never considered buying an iPod, as I can't think what I'd do with one and the Treo has music capability. Pocket Tunes looks cool, and the capability to play AAC files is enticing, as I use a Mac. As it is, though, I just put music on a 2GB memory card inserted into a card reader (after converting to MP3). So why Pocket Tunes instead of Real Player? Thanks for any insight you can provide.

by Peter | Dec 28, 2006 5:05:51 PM

I echo the dissatisfaction of having to pay for an upgrade after having purchased the product in the past several months. Are the use of 4 & 8 gig SD cards made possible with the upgrade or a result of a newer Treo? Thanks.

by Reinhard | Dec 28, 2006 5:30:19 PM

Because my antique 3G iPod doesn't support album art, I thought I'd treat my Treo 650 to an upgrade from pocketTunes 3/Basic to 4/Deluxe, just to find out that pTunes 4 does not support album art for Mac/iTunes7 users. The reason, as it seems, is that iTunes 7 stores album art in a separate database instead of inside the MP3 files, and so pTunes isn't able to find them (don't know whether it works for Windows/iTunes7 users). Anyway, I think Normsoft should make this issue clear to potential buyers of this - hmm - "upgrade".

I'm glad to report that at least the other feature why I invested in this upgrade is working properly: AAC support. Now I am waiting for pTunes 4.1 to support Audible Audio (AA/M4B), too.

by spud | Dec 28, 2006 6:57:54 PM

Just in case it was a real question. The PT4 interface was designed by GX-5 who turned into very popular UI designers these days (DialByPhone, mOcean3, mVoice5)

A question I have. I'm considering a 680. That comes with PT3, doesn't it? Is it provided on CD-rom and up to the user to install or not? I.e. making it easy to just install PT4 instead? Or is PT3 in the 680 ROM and how to "upgrade" to PT4 then???

by Jeff | Dec 28, 2006 7:17:20 PM

I too do not appreciate having to buy a $20 upgrade after a month of owning my 700. I bought Ptunes for my 650; why nickle and dime me to death? Lemme just transfer it over. Sheesh.
That said, I dig Ptunes, and use it all the time. Great audio quality and the new version doesn't dump everything when the phone rings (like the old version did, often). Your review, BTW, was the first time I was told about the 'volume boost' feature. I had been complaining for days about the low default volume. Thanks, Andrew.
A couple more things:
1. I think mOcean is interesting, but I don't own an iPod, don't want one and don't care about them. An iPod is what it is, and I feel that mOcean is a copy of something I'm not interested in. Bad grammar for an English teacher, there, eh?
2. Great bookmarking system, but I would like a way to delete all existing bookmarks at once. It's no fun deleting 4o bookmarks individually...
3. I love all the skins, but I WISH GX5 WOULD GET CRACKING ON SOME NEW ONES! Sheesh, it's been months. I keep seeing the same 'upcoming' skins. I need skins with big, easy-to-thumb 'jump' buttons to skip over commercials or ?, maybe with a photo background.
If any designers want to e-mail me, heck, I'll pay you to make one for me! Put 'Ptunes' in the subject line and remove the spamkiller in the email address first.

by G. | Dec 29, 2006 12:58:47 AM

Guys, Pocket Tunes and Kinoma pale in comparison to PocketStreamer for Windows Mobile (700wx), which allows you to watch live TV from all over the world, as well as internet radio and various streaming video. Just check out pocketmedialive.com
It would be good if Andrew could review this one...

by Andrew | Dec 29, 2006 6:52:21 AM

Peter - as standard the Treo 650 supports up to 2GB SD cards, the Treo 700p up to 4GB and the new Treo 680 up to 8GB. Having said this, a new 'hack' (which I will review shortly) promises to provide 8GB SD card support for _all_ Treo smartphones.

Spud - thanks for letting me know that GX5 were the designers. I certainly like their work but as I've mentioned before they are currently still better 'graphic' designers than 'UI' designers. I'll have a word with them to see what they can do about updating these latest PT4 skins.

Also, yes, you will have to purchase the upgrade to PT4 from the free PT3 that is installed on the Treo 680.

Jeff - I agree with you and also hope that someone will get cracking with some new PT4 skins quickly. At the same time though I hope that the PT developers will also address the other issues that I've outlined.

G - thanks for the tip. I'll give PocketStreamer a try on my Treo 750v.

Cheers, A.

by BenJoe | Dec 29, 2006 10:46:27 PM

Still Skips

by Shannon | Dec 30, 2006 3:48:22 AM

Firstly, no lossy audio format is "CD quality". Transparent maybe, sure, but if you want true "CD quality" you need lossless. So my question is, does this new version of pTunes play WMA lossless files correctly? 3.X always seems to choke on them. Most of my music is -q6 Vorbis or V2 LAME MP3, but I'd like to occasionally have a few albums in lossless to listen to.

Also, remember that any time you 'convert'(transcode) from one lossy format to another(AAC to MP3, for instance) you're even further lowering the quality from the original source. You're better off just re-ripping the CD.

by David | Dec 31, 2006 9:25:22 AM

Is there a bluetooth wireless heatset option that will work with the MP3 player on the Treo 650?

I have had the speaker die on 2 Treo 650's - I think because the adaptor jack thinks the plug is still installed.

I would rather not plug in the jack on anymore units...

by Kamarat McWashington | Jan 1, 2007 8:23:22 PM

It seems to me that know one has mentioned the MMplayer. Which also alows you to play movies, podcast, and shout cast. I have been using this for years and it works great. Also, in combination with Volume care the sound quality is excellent.


by Noseph | Jan 2, 2007 8:27:12 AM

I have been a AeroPlayer user for over two years, and am very happy with it's sound quality. I listen exclusively to Vorbis ogg q6 files. Have you ever reviewed AeroPlayer and/or done a comparison with Pocket Tunes? I was unable to find any references in the blog archives.

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