Maria Montero

The new Palm is almost the MP3 player I want.

The iPod Classic is even bigger as my favorite gadget of all time. Sure, many have lapped the device in terms of technology, while any lingering concerns about not owning the music I listen to has been dashed by Spotify’s ubiquity, but the iPod lives in the perfect place for my own musical obsessions.

Of course, that device finally abandoned the ghost, as all devices finally do. After about three or more, I finally threw in the towel. Apple had discontinued the line a long time ago, and buying them secondhand was getting too expensive. So I went to streaming, my MP3s collected dust inside an external hard drive.

We recently wrote the latest version of Mighty, a device I spent a bit of time with on a recent trip to Asia, before handing it over to a colleague who was a fan of the whole iPod shuffle for the Spotify model.

However, before flying to Africa last week, it occurred to me that it might be time to give the Palm another shot. We weren’t particularly kind to the device, and the rest of the tech community agreed with that assessment. But it would be a shame to write the product in full. Sure, it has a lot of problems, and it’s aimed at a slice of the smartphone market in general, but perhaps there is some redemption in the product.

The hardware build is certainly solid for what largely amounts to a scaled-down version of the iPhone. Maybe there is something for this whole secondary device, after all. In the last days of my dependence on my iPod, I rarely left home without the Classic in one pocket and a smartphone in another. It could have killed for a touch interface MP3 player with a form factor as thin as the Palm.

It’s an ideal size for the task, really. Small enough to slip into a change pocket, with a large screen for navigating through a music library. Looking at a couple of 10+ hour flights and a couple of days of questionable internet connectivity, I dusted off the Palm and loaded it up with songs downloaded from Spotify.

That was the first issue. This one has nothing to do with Palm, but man, the way Spotify offers songs offline is a real headache. Instead of just showing them when the app is offline, you have to jump through the hoops to make them appear. The easiest way to scroll through the playlists, swipe down to bring up the search bar, then click “Filter” to show only offline songs.

One has to employ a similar method to get around one of Palm’s main shortcomings as a music player: the lack of volume buttons. Here you have to wait until a song is playing, then swipe down to bring up the volume slider. If no music is playing, on the other hand, you have to navigate the settings. Even Apple, for all its animosity towards all buttons, has kept the volume buttons on board.

Battery is another big concern. Of course, keeping the device in airplane mode helps a bit, although even then it probably won’t guide you on a full international flight. It’s enough for a trip to the gym though, and the form factor is small enough to fit in a pocket when going for a run.

At the end of the day, the experiment was ultimately more trouble than it was worth. The fact is, most of the tech world has moved on from the notion of a devoted music player. Still, I can’t help feeling that, with a bit of hardware (is it too late to add a headphone jack?) And software tweaks (and a lower price, out of contract), Palm could help rekindle that fire for some.

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