Windows Phone 7 Media Handling – Podcasts, Music, Video

A couple of weeks ago I finally took the plunge. My main SIM card went into the developer prototype Windows Phone 7 device, and the iPhone 3GS security blanket was passed to my wife. Previously I was using the WP7 device off-and-on for application testing, and using the 3GS for Twitter, music, and podcasts.

I’ve found the Twitter mobile website is an adequate workaround until the WP7 Marketplace opens and I can install a native Twitter application. But what of my media needs?

Syncing

The Zune client is the only supported sync “parent” for Windows Phone 7 devices. It’s a lovely piece of software, and a lot better than iTunes, especially on 64bit Windows. It’s better looking, a lot less crashy, and has equivalent or better podcatching. Syncing is as simple as dragging items to the phone icon in Zune, then plugging your device in.

It’s also worth noting that all WP7 devices will sync over WiFi. This is really simple to set up: with the device plugged in and also connected to your home WiFi network, just hit the WiFi sync option and you’re done. From that point forward, if your phone is in your home WiFi network, and its “parent” computer is powered on, you’ll be able to sync all of your media without plugging in. I’m not positive, but I believe this happens manually when you want, or automatically if your phone is plugged in to charge.

Podcasts

I do listen to a ton of podcasts, so was a bit apprehensive about swapping my workflow from iTunes/iPhone to Zune/WP7. I needn’t have worried.

Zune Podcast SettingsOverall, or for any given podcast, I can adjust how many episodes to retain, and also whether to sort them by newest first (good for news and updates) or oldest first (good for regular series). Then, on each individual podcast I can adjust what I want to sync to the device: everything not yet played; all episodes; first unplayed episode; or nothing at all.

The playback on WP7 lacks a scrub-handle, but scrubbing speed is excellent. Holding down the fast forward button will scrub through a 1 hour episode in less than 20 seconds, while low-speed scrubbing remains very accurate.

Your last playback point is retained even if you play other music or podcasts, sync your device, or reboot. That playback point is also synced to the PC, so if you listen to the same podcast on your computer, it will start from where you left off on the device.

Music

Music handling is great too. The Zune desktop client is very functional, with all the bits you’d expect: artists, albums, songs, genres, playlists. Drag-n-drop playlist creation is easy, and auto-playlists are there too, if a little less functional than iTunes (it seems limited to just ID3 tag content, not additional attributes like file names or locations).

On-device, music playback is simple and functional. Playlist creation on Windows Phone 7 is limited to just a “now playing” list, but everything else works well. You can do anything else on the device while a song or podcast is playing in the background, and tapping a volume key will get you access to play/pause/ffw/rwd controls in the system tray area.

Video

I haven’t delved deep into video playback, but have synced a few wmv-format video podcasts and they work well. Keith pointed me to a list of supported video formats, which video geeks will note includes MPEG-4 Part 2 – which as far as I’m aware is the format underlying most DivX and Xvid type videos. Whether the device will actually support the AVI and MKV containers is another question entirely. [Thanks Rob!]

Closing

So overall, I’m really happy with the WP7 experience for my day-to-day needs. I find the media download and sync extremely easy to use and a lot less frustrating than iTunes – the Zune client even starts in the background when you plug in your phone – not interfering with any work you are doing.

The device playback is fine. If I have one niggle it is that I’d prefer a scrub handle on the progress bar as well as the ffd/rwd buttons, but it’s not a show-stopper. Any questions? Just ask below.

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6 Comments

  1. “It’s a lovely piece of software, and a lot better than iTunes” except if your on a Mac in which case no phone syncing for you?

  2. I like my WP7. But I can’t agree with you that zune is better than iTunes. Yes it’s prettier and faster. But I don’t like the way it handles my music. I’m really into electronic music so my music comes in as singles and boot legs. As such they don’t belong to albums.

    Not belonging to an album does not make zune very happy, so it adds it to the media as “Unknown – [timestamp]” and when you’re as paranoid about music tags as I am, that’s unacceptable. Group my songs as singles, not effing albums.

    Also, and this is more of a rant on the WP7 music player, how do you make a custom freaking playlist? No I don’t want to use an existing playlist and tack songs to the end of it, I want to create a playlist on the fly that I can recall at any time.

    What’s even more frustrating though, is there is no music scrub! When I listen to 2 hour mixes. I don’t want to hold the FF button for 30 seconds just so I can get to the last part of it.

    Otherwise, I’ll admit it’s a good first iteration of the OS.

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