Running Linux and only Linux posed a problem for me when it came to choosing a Digital Media Player. Firstly, the player had to be able to connect properly to my operating system and, secondly, the player had to be able to play Ogg Vorbis files instead of MP3 files.
I have been successfully able to do this with the iRiver T30. Nevertheless, I had to endure some problems before getting to where I am now. Hopefully this article may be of benefit to you.
The first problem is the Firmware, the software inside the T30 that allows you to connect to your computer and also to play your sound files. iRiver, for some reason, decided that they would go down the path of the Apple iPod and provide software for the user to install on his/her computer via a CD-ROM. By means of this installation software, things like firmware updates and organising your playlists was simplified for the average Windows XP user.
What this meant in practice was that the T30's firmware used MTP, a Microsoft friendly proprietary format, rather than the simpler UMS format that many other digital players and USB memory sticks have. This was problematic for my Linux system which, at the time, was Kubuntu 5.10. I did not have a dual installation with Windows XP, which meant that the software provided by iRiver was useless to me.
On the day I got my T30 (Christmas Day 2006), I connected it to my PC via the USB cable. The standard file manager in Kubuntu is Konqueror, and as soon as I plugged in, Konqueror automatically opened. After a bit of time (my PC is a Pentium 3-667 after all), I was able to view the insides of the T30's file structure.
My CD collection was turned into .ogg files about 18 months ago for me to listen on my computer. With a couple of hundred CDs, the prospect of converting them to MP3 files was not an option. I had purchased the T30 on the express understanding that it was able to play .ogg files (which it clearly indicates it does). Besides, .ogg files are better sound quality than MP3. I copied and pasted some music files from my music folder to the T30. It took about 3 minutes for the 7-8 files to be copied. I pulled out the USB connection, plugged in the headphones and hit the play button, and heard sweet, sweet music.
But that's not the end of the story. Even though Konqueror was able to connect and send files to the T30, the process was awfully slow.. and I mean slow. My T30 has 1gb of memory (I prefer to have no moving parts, hence the use of flash memory rather than a hard drive) and it was taking upwards of an hour to upload the music into it. Far too slow, even for a venerable cpu like the one in my PC.
There were three other problems as well. Firstly, as time went by the memory had shrunk from 1gb to 894mb. I knew that the T30 was slightly smaller than 1gb, but I felt that some memory had disappeared somewhere. The second problem was that, no matter how hard I tried, the T30 would not put the songs in alphabetical order. In Konqueror they were lined up that way, but as soon as the T30 took them they would not be in order. The third problem was that, even after the computer had finished uploading to the T30, the T30 would still say "transmitting data" for up to 10 minutes afterwards. If I pulled the USB plug out before it was ready (when it says "USB connect" it is ready), then some of the music files would be cut short, or even not be there.
Obviously things needed to change. The problems I was having were a direct result of MTP. But I was able to change all these problems by the installation of new firmware.
iRiver obviously made a mistake in not giving the T30 a UMS format. However, there are a number of firmware upgrades provided by iRiver that can be made which change the format from MTP to UMS.
Here is a step by step guide to this process, good if you are using Kubuntu (I now use 6.10):
1) If there are files on your T30 that you want to keep, upload them back onto your PC.
2) To check your firmware, go to Settings --> Advanced --> System Info. If you purchased the T30 new, the firmware should be v. 1.0.
3) Go to Settings --> Advanced --> Format. Click on "Yes". Your T30 will now be re-formatted and all of the files on it will have been erased.
4) Download the firmware onto your computer and place it in an appropriate folder. The best place I have found so far is a Japanese website dedicated to iRiver firmware, which you can find by clicking here. There's a lot of files to choose from so be careful you pick the right one. If you pick the wrong firmware for the wrong player, don't worry since it won't affect it. I chose the firmware file called T30_PURE_ENG_UM_NO.ZIP. (note: "PURE" means a player without a radio. "ENG" means English. "UM" means UMS. I have no idea what "NO" is for.)
5) Unzip the file. This can be done by right-clicking the file in Konqueror and using the "Extract here" feature (using Ark).
6) A number of files appear. The important one should end with "HEX". In my case, the file is named T30_PURE.HEX.
7) Connect the T30 to the computer via the USB cable.
8) Copy the .HEX file and paste it into the T30 file system. The file I used was 1.3mb in size.
9) After the file has been successfully pasted, make sure that the T30 is displaying "USB Connect" rather than "transmitting data". If it says "USB Connect", then disconnect the USB cable.
10) The T30 will then start up and immediately recognise the firmware upgrade and will reformat the T30.
11) Once it is ready again (it will tell you), go into Settings --> Advanced --> System Info again. This should now indicate the new firmware upgrade. In my case, the firmware was upgraded to 1.71P.
You should now begin to use the T30 normally again.
After this firmware upgrade, the problems I had encountered had disappeared. The uploading of music files still takes time, but ten minutes is okay by me. The T30's memory remains the same (just under 1gb) and once the files have been uploaded and the T30 is ready, the files are all in alphabetical order. UMS obviously works well.
Now, just a few words about the T30 generally, if you're thinking of buying one.
Unlike more advanced players, the T30 is fairly sparse. You don't have a "popular song" feature for starters. The T30 also has the option of speeding up or slowing down the playing speed, but this feature doesn't work for .ogg files. I don't know what the player is like to record voice with yet but you have the option of using a built-in microphone or plugging in a proper one.
The T30 is unique in digital music players because it is the first one to use a single AAA (LR03) battery. To be honest this is not all that great since a AA battery would result in longer playing times. Nevertheless, I find the battery life acceptable. I use two rechargeable AAAs, with one recharging while the other is being used. You need to tell the T30 you are using a rechargeable battery by going into Settings --> Display --> Battery Select. A small battery symbol on the front display will tell you how flat the battery is. When it goes too far, the player just stops. When you replace the battery and press play, the player will begin immediately where you left off.
You can also choose to use the Settings --> Display --> Tag info. As you are probably aware, .ogg and .MP3 files can contain information about the track you are listening to. You can choose to either have the player display this tag info, or you can choose the player to display the filename (I choose the latter). The T30 has trouble reading the "slash" ( / ) symbol. This means that my file marked "Joy Division / Atmosphere.ogg" comes up as "Joy Division %2f Atmosphere" on the display. Slightly annoying.
Another annoying thing is the "scan speed" (Settings --> Advanced --> Scan Speed). The fastest speed you can go is "6x". My music files tend to be entire albums rather than songs, so if I have to find my way back into the middle of an album, I have to wait for a minute while I fast forward to that point.
I find the earpieces to be okay. I haven't had a portable music player since my tape-driven walkman died about 12 years ago, so I am unaware of how good/bad these earpieces are. My 2 year old daughter ripped off the foam coverings but that hasn't seemed to bother me or the earpieces (yet).
The controls take some getting used to, but after a while it comes naturally.
The worst feature of the T30 is the battery cover. It is too easy to come off. Sometimes I have walked from one place in the house to another and discovered that, at some point, the battery cover had come off. I'm careful whenever I move around with it now, but I am seriously considering getting a rubber band to keep the cover on.
The entire T30 easily fits into the palm of your hand. I much prefer flash memory than the larger players with tiny hard drives simply because I know that moving parts are more likely to fail, while the T30 has no moving parts at all. I chose the 1gb because it was the largest at the time, but I have since seen a 2gb for sale. Maybe in 5 years a 40gb flash memory Digital music player will come out that can fit my entire CD collection on.
Overall, I am enjoying my T30. It is not perfect, but I can handle its imperfections. It is easy to use and, once the firmware has been upgraded, it is easy to connect with a Linux system. It is one of the only players around that can play .ogg files. It is light and easy to carry. One hopes that iRiver can learn from their mistakes and develop more Linux and .ogg friendly players.
© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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