ROCKBOX - Breathe a new lease of life into an old mp3 player

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It is hard to come by people owning or buying a standalone mp3 player like an ipod these days given that smartphones are the name of the game. Why would anybody want a device that can only play mp3's and a few videos when a smartphone enables you to make a call and browse the web also? The fact of the matter is, smartphones are relatively new age and 5 years ago, they were not the rage that they are today, and that was the time when I got my first mp3 player - the SanDisk Sansa Fuze, with 4GB of on-board memory and an expansion slot. If you happen to own one like me and the device is gathering dust in your drawer, then this article is for you.

In the time that I have owned it (about 5 years now), there have been very few official firmware updates if any. Moreover, the official Sansa Fuze firmware did not allow the low-end device to play aac files which I regularly find people generously uploading after ripping from itunes. There were also many audiobook formats that were not supported by the firmware, not to mention image and video files.

In the beginning I believed they were due to hardware limitation of my low-end device. But then, I came across this opensource project by the name ROCKBOX which allowed me to install an alternative firmware on my device. I immediately decided to give it a try especially since my Sansa Fuze had grown old and did not matter if anything went wrong !!!.

Rockbox allows you to install the new firmware by the side of the original firmware, thus allowing you to dual boot the device into any firmware you want. Your particular device can fall into one of 3 categories - Stable, unstable, unusable. You should probably ignore this firware if it is in the unusable category, but if your device has an unstable or a stable port, I strongly suggest you give it a try.

Unstable ports are not that bad actually. The firmware for my device was unstable for two years since I started using it. No problems at all. Only that a few features are not available like charging your device while you play music and so on. Nothing important. Only last year did I receive a stable firmware for my device. You can simply boot into your original firmware when you badly require those features which I think is quite rare. You can find a list of working and not-yet-working features for your device here.

Rockbox gave my device a faster boot time, supported various music, image, audiobook and image formats not supported on the original firmware, much improved battery life. It also added some really cool and advanced setting for display, playback, sound quality, etc.

Installing the firmware is very easy as well. All you have to do is download the Rockbox installer which is universal for all devices. The installer is available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Ofcourse, if you are feeling brave, you can do the installation manually which depends on your particular device, although I haven't tried it on mine.

Once you run the Rockbox installer (or Rockbox utility, as it is called), it will automatically detect your device (or choose from the list if it doesn't). It might also ask you to provide the path to the image file(.bin) of your original firmware. You can download this off your device manufacturer's website. Once done, you can choose to install the stable version(if available) or the latest(unstable version) for your device. I suggest you go with the Quick installation or complete installation options available. Rockbox will then download the appropriate firmware for your device and install it alongside the original firmware.

And then the true fun begins. Rockbox supports theming the interface with a huge collection of community developed themes that can be downloaded and installed right from the Rockbox utility itself under the themes tab. It also allows you to install various fonts. These themes and fonts can then be selected via the settings option on your device. What's more, it allows you to install games and apps !!!. Even upgrading your firmware can be done via the Rockbox utility. Also be sure to read the Rockbox user manual for your particular device on how to maximize battery life, improve sound quality, etc, that you may find useful.


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