Since the latest Apple iPod and Microsoft Zune announcements I have been trying to think of a way to take video and audio content with me on the go for viewing and listening to while commuting in the vanpool and traveling for business. I almost pulled the trigger on an 80GB iPod and then gave serious thought to the Zune and then yesterday almost went to my local Apple store to get the iPod. However, last night while recording the next MobileTechRoundup podcast Kevin and James asked why I would want to watch video on such a small screen and why not just use the Samsung Q1 UMPC for multimedia. I have actually been using the Q1 for video content on airplane trips and so their statements got me thinking about my desires and available resources just a bit more.
My first consideration is where and when do people plan on and actually view video on a device like an iPod or Zune? I personally commute in a vanpool or bus one hour each way to work so I have the opportunity to view video at that time. I also travel for business a few days a month and have some time on the plane to watch content. However, if I am home then I prefer to watch high definition TV in our rec room. Are there that many people using public transportation where they can watch video content? Are people watching videos while standing in lines, at their homes, or when hanging with their friends? How many hours a week or month do people watch videos on a small screen? Are these devices being used primarily for audio content like music and podcasts?
I think the answer to these questions helps determine how portable the device really has to be for video consumption. I have loaded lots of content on my mobile devices, but watching video is done more to show people what can be done rather than what I actually do on a regular basis. Before picking up the Samsung Q1 I was using my PSP for video content on the airplane because it had a larger display for a more enjoyable viewing experience. Is video content really that enjoyable on a 2 inch iPod display?
My next consideration was how could I obtain video content? There are programs that let you rip a DVD for personal viewing that work well and can be played back on lots of different devices. There are also download services like the new iTunes Movies, CinemaNow, Amazon Unboxing, etc. However, the service you use will dictate what type of device you can use, i.e. iTunes Movies only work on iPods. I have also used a Neuros Recorder 2 to get analog content on devices so there are plenty of options available that work on a number of devices.
Now that we see that video content is fairly easy to obtain, how can we collect audio content? You can rip your personal CDs, purchase music online from several online vendors, subscribe to an online service, and download podcasts for free. I only have a handful of CDs in my personal collection and as a result I am more interested in how to get audio content online. My wife uses iTunes to buy all her music for her Nano at 99 cents per song, but I wanted to try more than just a few songs and didn't want to shell out hundreds for music right now. I then decided to try the online subscription service and am using Virgin to start off with since they have one of the largest online collections and their US$14.99 monthly fee allows you to listen on a PC or a mobile device that supports Plays For Sure. I have to admit that after just a few hours of downloading and listening I can see how these subscription services are the way to go for people like me who want to try new things and want fresh content and think Apple is really missing something here by not having this functionality. I also think Microsoft is making a mistake by not having the Zune be a Plays For Sure device and shutting out all these companies that have been supporting these MP3 players. I am not sure how many people will embrace the Zune with it's own separate service and store.
So as you can see there are lots of ways to get video and audio content on a device. However, as you can also see the methods you choose can drive what device you can use. Is there a way to get it all without being limited? I thought about this a bit more and came up with what I think is the answer to my dilemma. Use a UMPC device! With my Samsung Q1 UMPC I have iTunes and Virgin's media application loaded up and have purchased TV shows on iTunes and subscription music on Virgin with podcasts coming in from iTunes (including video podcasts that sometimes have issues playing on some devices). Video is awesome with the larger 7 inch display, audio rocks with the stereo speakers or use of headphones, and I have something like 30GB of storage capacity. Another couple of benefits are that I can use stereo Bluetooth headphones for wireless enjoyment (where is Bluetooth on the iPod or Zune?), I can download content via WiFi, I can backup my content using a USB drive, and I can even do all my work on the go with a full Tablet PC and music playing in the background.
Now while the UMPC allows me to consume and enjoy video and audio content without any restrictions and with a more enjoyable viewing size, there are a couple of cons. The battery life of the current UMPC devices is rather short at about 2.5 to 3 hours of continuous play (I use a Battery Geek Portable Power Station when I travel), the device isn't as portable as an iPod or Zune, and the media button interface isn't there on a UMPC. However, for me personally I think the pros of unlimited content choices, larger display, and Bluetooth headset support outweigh these issues. I am actually now looking at a way to take along subscription audio content to the gym in a device that focuses on audio playback to act as a companion to my Q1. It looks like I'll be spending my money on videos and subscription services and skipping the iPod and Zune hardware for now.