RockBox

I was looking into information about plugin development, and happened across a reference to both the Sansa e280 MP3 player and something called RockBox. I have a Sansa e280, so I had to have a look into what the RockBox thing might be.

RockBox is an alternative, free, open source firmware for several different brands and models of MP3 players. The models that seem to be best supported are made by Archos, but the Sansa versions were listed as “Usable”, so that sounded like something to check out.

Working from the RockBox for Sansa user manual, I eventually got an installation going. I had tried initially to do that on the Mac laptop, but for some reason the Mac refused to recognize the Sansa more than once. I shifted over to the Windows laptop, and was able to get the installation completed and a run of “sansapatcher” to update the boot system on the MP3 player. I also selected a number of themes, including some featuring large type.

Well, it works, all right. I’m still getting used to its navigation scheme and its focus on playlists, but I figure that will come with some experience. Some things that I find better immediately are that the buttons and slide wheel are recognized instantly. The Sansa firmware apparently requires a slide or button press event to “wake up”, which can make things ambiguous. I’ve also installed a “talk” file, which means that RockBox “speaks” the current menu selection as I navigate menus. This means that I should not have to pay attention to small type on the little screen if I need to change something while doing other tasks.

I’ve also checked, and I can get right back to the Sansa firmware by holding down the “left” button while powering the unit on. Nice.

I’m using the DockPod Aqua Large theme currently, which gives me large type. I also set the foreground color to something very close to black. Full black is flagged as an invalid color for some reason.

There are a number of features that I hope to test soon. Rockbox provides support for displaying JPEG images and MPEG video. I may set up essentially a small portfolio and snapshot set. The video option might be good for air travel. It also comes with a number of games, including ports of classic arcade games like Asteroids and Qix, as well as chess and solitaire. It even provides several applications like “Clock” and “Calculator”.

If you like getting more out of your MP3 player, I think RockBox may be worth trying.

Update: There are two problems that I’ve noticed so far. First, the USB connection doesn’t happen under Rockbox; I have to reboot into the Sansa firmware to be able to transfer files. This is a known issue, and folks at the RockBox site are working on getting USB functionality going. Second, and far less important, is that my installation doesn’t seem to handle the Doom port. I’d like to have that working just for the nerd factor.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.