I first started using Rockbox Rockbox years ago because I had an Archos Jukebox Recorder, which was an early, 2.5″ hard-drive based MP3 player/recorder, which was only hampered by its anemic software.
When I later migrated to an iPod Nano, I loved the hardware but was not happy with the Apple software. Having used the Archos, I was used to just being able to drag audio files on and off the device, mounting it via USB as an external drive, with a normal file system. This meant I could synch the files I was listening to between my home PC running Linux, my work PC running Windows (their choice, not mine), or (later) my Mac OS X laptop, all without having to worry about DRM.
Rockbox still operates in this same core fashion, though over the years it has improved in a few key respects:
- Voice navigation: Rockbox can use audio clips to “voice” the navigation options. It’s not quite voice driven in the sense of hearing your voice and reacting, but it enables you to navigate easily without being able to see the screen. Handy for the visually impaired as well as for hands-free operation, as when driving.
- Tag database: Although Rockbox allows you to navigate through the directories on the device to find the music you’re looking for, it can also auto-generate a database of tags from the audio files, letting you navigate by artist / genre / album regardless of how the files are organized on the file system.
- Themes, Fonts, Plugins: Rockbox is fully themable and supports a robust plugin architecture, giving you more control over not just the look and feel but also the functionality of the player. There are even the expected games (yes, you can run Doom on your iPod).
- Other formats: This is the biggest change in 3.0. Previous versions of Rockbox used hardware on the device to decode mp3, which meant they were limited to the MP3 format. Other formats, like Ogg Vorbis, MP2, AAC, WAV, FLAC – had to be converted to MP3 to be played on a Rockbox player. (See the list of codecs in the Rockbox wiki for more details on specific formats).
The only real limitation of Rockbox (or feature, depending on how you feel about DRM) is that it can’t play DRM encoded files. If you don’t buy DRM encoded files, that isn’t so much a problem. ;)
Rockbox also offers a utility (in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux versions) for installation, and can be installed without disturbing the existing iPod firmware – so you can go back to vanilla if you need to.
Check out version 3.0 for various models and give it a try.