Android Rants: Improving the music player experience.

I don’t think this reflects the majority of mobile users nowadays, but there are some of us who grew into their smartphones by way of  first using portable music players and then progressing onwards. In the old old days I actually carried an IPod and a phone around and I was completely thrilled when the first IPhone came out as it killed two birds with one stone, and the sound quality was good enough to make me happy.

Flash forward a couple of years and a few IPhones later and although I was still pretty happy with my phone I was becoming increasingly aware of how good FLAC files sound on my PC played through Fubar2000 and an Asus Xonar Essence card. It was certainly better than ITunes and  I was wanting to recreate the experience in my mobile devices as best I could. There were some other factors as well, I was becoming somewhat frustrated with IOs and the tiny size of the IPhone screens. So I took a chance and bought my first Android phone on a whim.

As compared to the Iphone the first thing you realize is that the Android world is much more complex and you really have to be aware of what you are buying. Each phone is a different grab bag of components, and each one has a different DAC chip and different sound characteristics.  In the Android world the best selling phone, or the phone with the best CPU or screen may or may not have the best sound. In fact the first phone I bought for personal use was the Galaxy S2, which although being the hot phone of the time, was maybe the worst sounding device I had ever used.

Now a year later the situation has improved quite a bit, and Samsung seems to recently have been making an attempt to improve music quality with the use of the Wolfson WM1811 audio chip in the Galaxy S3 and now the Galaxy Note 2.

But frustratingly some pretty bad inconsistancies remain with Android in relation to using it as a personal music player. In fact the biggest issue now is a new feature with Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean. It seems that Google have decided to reserve the long headphone button press to activate Google Voice search. The problem is this breaks all of the headphone control apps (Klipsch Control, Headset Droid, Jays Headset Control etc.) that everyone has been using to adjust their volume via headset buttons. So right now the only effective way to change volume on an Android 4.1.1 phone while listening to music is to take it out of your pocket and adjust it manually.

Little things like this make me wonder if the engineers who design these things really ever think about the end consumer at all. Have any of the guys at Google who work on Android ever tried to use these devices on a day to day basis in real life? Have any of them tried to make a playlist or listen to music at all on any of these phones? Disabling the headset long click control is a pretty fundamental change and I dare say it’s difficult to imagine something like this happening to change the IPhone user experience so abruptly.

To sum up although there are some outstanding Android devices with great sound quality nowadays, a lot could still be done to improve the end user experience.  And it often seems that the engineers designing these devices and software are their own worst enemies. A little effort in providing a top to bottom end user experience in Android is much needed and overdue.