Kinoma vs. PocketTunes Streaming ComparisonBy: Kris Keilhack
January 14, 2006
While many aspects of the Palm OS market have seen a drastic cooling off over the past year, one area that is seeing increased activity is add-on multimedia software. 2006 was a transitional period for this segment of the Palm OS software sector. As proof I offer just a few of the past year’s media software highlights:
- Palm completed the transition from the lackluster RealPlayer to a bundled version of PocketTunes in all of their devices (other than the Z22 and E2).
- Normsoft released a major update to Pocket Tunes bringing it into its 4th generation.
- The versatile TCMP freebie app was reborn as a commercial release under the banner of Core Player.
- Last but not least, Kinoma reemerged from out of nowhere with a significant overhaul of their Kinoma Player, christening the new version Kinoma Player 4 EX.
Can Kinoma’s jack-of-all-trades effort usurp PocketTunes’ laser-sharp focus on music only? Read on for a head to head contest between the live audio-only streaming capabilities of both applications.
2006 witnessed the arrival of the first “real” 3g-enabled Treo from Palm, the 700p. Coinciding with the arrival of the 700p was a surge in interest for quality streaming media solutions under our favorite mobile OS. While the playback quality and breadth of content enjoyed by Handmark’s MobiTV software has already been reviewed and praised here previously, the latest versions of PocketTunes (4.0.1) and Kinoma Player 4.01 EX truly raise the Palm OS streaming media bar to a new level.
While both apps have reached new heights of excellence with their fourth version updates, Internet streaming media functionality is not exactly new to either app.
NormSoft introduced rudimentary Internet Radio functionality in Pocket Tunes 3.0 and, even earlier, ShoutCast support way back in version 2.1 in 2003. However, only with the launch of 2006’s 4.0 version has NormSoft begun aggressively pushing and maintaining a list of Internet Radio stations available and updatable from within the Pocket Tunes app itself.
?Palm’s Treo 700p, launched in May of 2006, featured an embedded version of Kinoma’s Media player within the overhauled Blazer 4.5 web browser. While Blazer 4.5’s main claim to fame was much-improved page rendering speed and reliability, it also made real-time streaming realistically possible for the first time on a Palm OS device. This was achieved by quietly yet robustly integrating Blazer with the Kinoma plug-in. However, the Kinoma “player” could only be evoked via a direct URL from within Blazer. Even after the Kinoma mini-player appeared, it had no user-configurable options or an actual UI as such available to the user.
Test Setup and Methodology
I tested both apps in quiet indoor environments on my Verizon Treo 700p. The 700p runs the stock Palm OS launcher with no system alterations or hacks present. I used Palm’s Treo Stereo Headphone adapter and a pair of Shure E2C earphones. The 700p was used in a strong EVDO area and usually had full signal strength indicated.
Feature Set & Supported Formats
Many times, especially when dealing with the limited capabilities of mobile devices, less is indeed more. Kinoma’s EX player attempts to be the Swiss Army Knife of Palm media playback software, covering an entire range of both streaming and pre-recorded formats. In addition, the program makes for a passable jpeg photo viewer, though I didn’t use this portion of the app much, preferring my tried and tested SplashPhoto. A thorough list of all of the formats Kinoma is capable of playing back is available on their site.
Simply put, PocketTunes is the superior MP3/WMA player/iPod replacement but its excellence begins and ends with audio-only content. In fact, the only visual capabilities of the app are the new version 4.x capability of displaying album cover art thumbnails.
Of interest to certain users, the PIC-famous “Bloomberg Radio” streaming test (thanks, Gekko) failed under both programs. Hopefully at some point in 2007 we will see a Palm OS program able to successfully stream this particular bit of content.
While the main focus of this shootout is on the audio capabilities of both apps, I simply found more sites and overall content online that could be played with Kinoma than in PocketTunes. One particularly slow workday I got a hankering for a couple of slightly obscure ‘80s pop tunes. I fired up Blazer on my 700p, headed over to the mobile-optimized HYPERLINK "http://www.mobetube.com/home.php" mTube site, and had all of the 80s synthpop and post-punk videos (even though I just listened to the audio) I could handle!
Ease of Use (including channel guides and navigation)
NormSoft has grafted an absolutely fantastic front end on the newest Pocket Tunes. The dark, rich blue hues and nice gradients make for nice aesthetics while remaining legible on the relatively cramped confines of a Treo screen.
Equally important for the fat-fingered and snub-thumbed amongst us is the fact that Pocket Tunes is easier to navigate with a mere finger jab. Yay! Five-way navigator and keyboard interaction is also more straightforward on the text-heavy Pocket Tunes UI than the overwhelmingly iconic Kinoma UI. Of course, I’ve been using PocketTunes for several years now, whereas I just recently returned to the Kinoma fold, so I am admittedly a bit more familiar with the ins and outs of Pocket Tunes vs. Kinoma’s drastically overhauled UI.
Speaking of overhauled UIs, while the sparse, monochromatic interface of Kinoma is refreshingly devoid of “fluff”, I found it to be just a bit too drab in appearance. Also aggravating was the many layers of depth required to get to certain stations. While Kinoma’s sheer volume of content (both video and audio-more on this later) cannot be overlooked, I still found it easier and faster in Pocket Tunes to pull up a random station when the mood for, say, Christian Hip-Hop strikes (well, maybe not).
Kinoma’s content navigation scheme (whether online or local) is denoted by small icons representing mp3s, jpegs, playlists, the Kinoma Media Guide etc. Since I listen to MP3s more often than Internet radio stations, I prefer Pocket Tunes’ MP3 player-centric interface with a straightforward “Internet Radio” menu option in addition to the antenna icon on its lower right corner.
Aggravatingly, Kinoma launches upon startup an excruciating startup search of all forms of supported media on the user’s device. On a full 4gb SD card (and, possibly 8gb+ SDHC cards in future devices) or a 4gb LifeDrive hard drive, this wait can be quite painful. Kinoma has promised a fix in the next version of the player (1.02) but as of this writing (January 14th 2007) the startup delay persists. Pocket Tunes is fast, fast, fast…just the way I like it.
Advantage: Pocket Tunes
Listening to a variety of URLs and streaming content under both apps turned in some interesting results. Pocket Tunes just seemed more likely to stutter with some higher-bitrate music stations, especially with some esoteric foreign stations (the kinds that play really good techno, for example!). So Kinoma gets the nod for moderately more reliable playback results, especially in areas of only moderate Treo signal strength.
Just to be certain that the sound quality difference was not a fluke, for good measure I played back several high-quality MP3 and WAV files in both apps. For both local and streaming content, I found Pocket Tunes to produce a slightly richer, fuller sound under my informal listening tests. NormSoft has really done their homework in this regard, given the general grumblings about audio playback quality and Palm’s typical penny-pinching in the audio subsystems of their devices (amp power, headphone jack quality etc).
This particular field is just too close to call. Since I spend most of my time in areas of strong EVDO reception I’m partial to Pocket Tunes’ high quality playback. However, I can imagine that users in areas of marginal reception, or with 1xRTT or GPRS devices (Treo 680, 650) would appreciate Kinoma’s relative strength in maintaining playback consistency.
Channel Guide Reliability, Variety, and Content
This is the biggie. Kinoma packs into its multi-layered Media Guide more links—most of them fully functional—than I ever thought imaginable on a Palm OS device just a few months ago. While much of the programming is of dubious benefit/quality (Indian soap operas, anyone?), Kinoma must be lauded mightily for the amount of work put into filling their channel guide with relevant, working content. As a self-confessed News Junkie, I was delighted to find a good bit of “name” content in Kinoma’s Media Guide, including ABC News, the BBC, CNN Radio, the Economist, NPR, NBC, and others. While most of the audio news content is canned daily/weekly review news bits, for someone who doesn’t need MobiTV’s $10/month live 24/7 streaming, Kinoma’s free programming links should suffice nicely.
Categories such as international Top 40/Techno music are scattered throughout Kinoma Media Guide’s “Music” “Radio Stations” and “ Non-English Entertainment” categories. Video and audio streams are intermingled within the Guide with no specific iconic indication what sort of content awaits the user until the link has been opened. Adding to this is a handful of high bit-rate video and audio streams that are too much for even the EVDO radio on the 700p to handle. It’d be handy if there were someway to filter links by audio or video-only, and exclude certain high-bandwidth streams. Still, I’d rather have a lot of scattered (free!) content than a handful of neatly organized but boring channels
Kinoma’s Media Guide has a nifty “loading” animation that resembles and old film reel. The guide is dynamically updated each time it is launched so that, hopefully, the user never finds more than a handful of dead links within the guide. I did encounter some DOA content in Kinoma but nowhere near as many dead links as in PocketTunes. PocketTunes does have an updatable station guide but the user must manually evoke the program’s updater—I’d like to see this automated in a future release from Normsoft.
The Internet Radio functionality in Pocket Tunes, while certainly useful and handy to have for purchasers of the program, just seems grafted on half-heartedly. In addition, its Internet Radio guide seems tacked onto the MP3-player side of the app and not the centerpiece of the program as the Media Guide is for Kinoma. There is no “i” information icon in Pocket Tunes like there is in Kinoma to give a summary of each channel. Also annoying was the sheer number of dead links and/or non-broadcasting stations found in the PTunes guide. For the rather steep upgrade price of this app and its relative dearth of features compared to Kinoma, I was really expecting more.
Of course, Pocket Tunes’ channels do place a much greater emphasis on music, with much more eclectic programming and “real” songs being streamed in the channels found in PocketTunes’ guide. If you want to get your Beyonce or Timberlake groove on, then you’re more likely to find it in a PocketTunes-provided station.
So the recommendation ends up being Pocket Tunes for pop music fans but Kinoma for news/talk/foreign junkies.
My Treo 700p is currently chock full of Palm OS media apps: PTunes Deluxe, Kinoma 4 EX, MobiTV, and Core Player. Since the average user is unlikely to purchase all four apps, I’ll make a realistic recommendation from the point of a mobile music aficionado.
Palm offers a bundled version of Pocket Tunes with most new Palm devices that should suffice for most basic MP3 needs. As of this writing, TCPMP in its free beta iteration is still available and makes a serviceable video player despite its age. The embedded version of Kinoma is present and accounted for already on some new Treos but it’s too limited to be of any real use. Simply put, there’s more intrinsic value to be had by purchasing Kinoma Player 4 EX than there is from upgrading to Pocket Tunes (from bundled or Basic) Deluxe.
This recommendation is due primarily to Kinoma’s stellar Channel Guide with its wealth of audio and video content. Had Kinoma been available earlier in 2006, I probably would not have begun subscribing to MobiTV! Kinoma’s strong codec support and sheer jack-of-all-trades versatility makes up for its few minor UI and audio quality shortcomings. I still love PocketTunes and use it daily to listen to mp3s/WMA music files but it’s still not really as a major streaming solution just yet.
Kinoma EX’s robust video capabilities will only enhance its appeal to mobile media mavens—that is, if having the best streaming audio solution for the Palm OS somehow isn’t appealing enough.
Kinoma Player EX: 4.5 / 5
NormSoft PocketTunes Deluxe: 3.5 / 5
Kinoma Player 4.01 EX is available now directly from Kinoma for $24.99.
Pocket Tunes 4.01 Deluxe is available now for $37.95.