I’ve reviewed a fair bit of music software in the past, but mostly music organizing software for “normal” PCs. Back in the Viliv S5 review I mentioned how there isn’t really any optimized software for playing back music on a Windows run tablet PC/UMPC, and that in most cases you should keep a stylus nearby. The alternatives I did find were resource intensive and were in term unusable.
Turns out I hadn’t looked hard enough, and I recently came across a link to thepot player. I thought it was a joke at first considering the name, but it turns out it’s everything but a joke and a very well hidden piece of software for UMPCs and tablets. I can’t really explain the choice of names, but the company is Korean so it might be that they meant to call it “teapot” or something like that. Either way, here’s a review of a completely drug free media player for tablets with Windows.
Purchase and installation
There is a demo version available of thepot player, which unfortunately is too limited to really give you a good feel of the program. The demo is limited to 60 uses which is fine, but for some extremely weird reason they’ve also limited the audio output to 60 seconds, which means the demo version is useless and you won’t be able to actually test the program much before buying. I get the point of such restrictions, but in this case they’ve gone too far.
There are a couple of version of the software as well, where some are “special editions” which are made specifically for certain UMPCs. The normal version will run you $40 and is the one most people are likely to need. You have to download the program all over again to “upgrade” from the demo to retail which is a pain, but once you have the installation is fast and so is validating the software license.
Thepot player isn’t just a media player, it’s basically a interface made for use in a car more than anything else. Everything is optimized for touch control and you won’t ever need a stylus when operating the software, which is nice. The main menu shows clear signs that this is a competitor to StreetDeck as a car PC software suite and has icons for handsfree and navigation, as well as media and a browser. You can also add your own shortcuts to a secondary screen which makes it sort of like a desktop replacement as well. Both the browser, navigation and the shortcuts are external apps though and aren’t part of thepot player itself, so they will run externally from the app. When the app is minimized during such use or just minimized for other things there’s a P symbol on the screen that brings up playback controls. This is meant as a way to quickly bring up media playback controls without actually moving away from external apps. This is very useful for using a tablet as a music player, but I wish they had chosen a different approach to the “button” that brings up these controls as the animated P on top of every other app you run gets very annoying, when a tray icon or status bar button would have been a much better solution.
The program uses tabs to show where you are in relation to the main menu, which makes it easy to navigate back to previous screens. There’s also a “power” button that lets you close the program, minimize it, or shut off the computer. There are also indicators on top for battery state, WiFi and Bluetooth and a clock. On the main menu you also have an info button that displays a windows with info on battery, hard drive capacity and current WiFi network.
The thing that stands out about thepot player is how fast it is. Running on a Viliv S5 with a very weak 1.33Ghz Atom Z520 CPU it has no lag or any issues whatsoever, which is usually a given with any graphical program on the thing. Compared to other solutions like the Microsoft Origami media player or J. River Media Center 14 are unusable on devices this weak, but thepot player handles all of that without any slow down. That’s what makes it such a great piece of software for UMPCs and tablets with weak CPUs, combined with the touch friendly interface.
The music player is basic, yet very streamlined and easy to use. It has more in common with the music player on something like the Zune HD or iPod touch rather than a computer, which is what it should be on a device like this. It should frankly have had an equalizer and playlists, but aside from that it has everything you need. Playlists can also be substituted with folders, but it would have been nice to have the ability to read playlist files even if it would only be able to read them and not write them.
You can find files by artist, album or folder as well as read audio CDs- if the device has a CD rom of course, which few devices has as a standard but if used in a car might have as a USB accessory. Single songs and artists are displayed in a list while the album browser shows larger album art. There is no fancy 3D browser or long list of album art only which would certainly only clog the system anyways. It also appears to cache album art which means there’s no lag in scrolling lists and album art appear immediately. Such a simple feature, yet it lacks in many other programs, so it’s great to see someone getting it right.
The playback screen is simple, with the album art displayed in the middle along with ID3 information and what song is up next. Along the bottom you have the same playback controls that appear everywhere in the interface; volume/mute buttons, next/previous tracks, play/pause, shuffle/repeat and screen brightness. There’s also a button that switches into the album art of the song playing that acts as a shortcut back to the music playback screen if you’re in other parts of the program or access the playback controls from other programs/Windows.
For some reason the program seems to mostly like MP3 files, and wasn’t able to read tag data from M4A files (AAC) even though it still played them. this should be fixed to allow for full compatibility with common formats.
the video player lists files with a small thumbnail and you can also browse by folder. It uses the same playback controls as the music player, and these controls are available while playing a video by touching the screen- like you’d see on any touch based MP3 player, but not on many PC based media players. There is some lagg in playing the video when the controls are visible, possibly due to a pop up information window in the middle of the screen that shows file name and timer. Other than that video plays nicely, however that isn’t the case with HD video. In the case of the S5 and many other tablets and UMPCs with the same chipset, the CPU is too weak to play HD video but the graphics card can do it via something called DXVA. This is supported by more and more applications and using any of those I can play back HD video in h264 format just fine. I don’t know how often thepot player is updated, but going by the fact they haven’t even updated the copyright information on the website to include 2010 I have to draw the conclusion that it’s not often. With the release of Windows 7 DXVA is becoming mainstream so I hope they can add support for it soon. As it stands today, you can forget about playing back HD video on a tablet running the Poulsbo chipset or anything else that’s too weak t
o do it “by itself”:
Another issue with the video player, and a somewhat serious one, is the fact you can’t skip to various points in the file, or even fast forward/rewind. You are stuck with playing a file from the beginning, which can be a real pain in the ass. This is somewhat set aside due to the fact it remembers the last played position no matter what you do. It’s too easy to start a file from the beginning though, especially since swiping the screen works as next/prev buttons, so this feature needs to be added.
There is also a photo viewer, but on the S5 this was unusable. It doesn’t seem to be very resource effective and hung while trying to cache thumbs from my main picture folder, which frankly didn’t have that many photos. They were all 8 mega pixels though, so that’s probably the reason, so if you want to use the photo viewer you should optimize the pictures for the screen to save yourself from some hang ups- especially because it’s very hard to force shut the program as it “suppresses” commands to open programs through shortcuts so you have to bring up the task manager by searching for taskmgr in the Windows 7 search bar to get to the option to force close the program. When you do get photos showing, they display full screen and you can set certain slideshow settings in the settings menu- basically like the photo viewer on an MP3 player, in other words.
As I mentioned there’s also a navigation option in the main menu, but this doesn’t do anything without third party software. The same goes for the webbrowser, which in my case just opens FireFox. There’s also a DMB option, which requires special hardware that you might find in UMPCs in Asia but not in the rest of the world.
The main menu also has an iPod option, which I couldn’t get to work. Even with my iPhone visible in iTunes it refused to see any iPod connected, so I don’t know what the deal is- but considering the name of this site it’s not worth going into anyways. Lastly you have the handsfree option, which doesn’t require third part software and does in fact work very well. It lets you connect a phone via Bluetooth and both make and receive calls from the device- it even has a numpad for dialing. This is of course included because it’s made to be a car computer program, but it can definitely be useful if you use a tablet as a media player as well, as you might not be able to hear the phone otherwise.
As for settings, you only have the most basic ones available such as the location of music, video and photo libraries, whether to start with Windows and so on plus settings for the individual applications. I wish there was an option to remove unused icons from the main menu, as for example I won’t ever have a use for the DMB or navigation option.
Obviously this isn’t a media player in the same line as Windows Media Player or MediaMonkey, it’s basically a interface for making a tablet or UMPC more like a “dumb” MP3 player. That isn’t a bad thing though because that means it’s actually usable on such a device, whereas using other software with tons of tiny buttons on a small touchscreen is the next best thing to impossible unless you have a stylus or very pointy fingertips. It definitely has its limitations and certainly isn’t for everyone, but between the user friendliness and the extremely good performance even on very slow hardware it’s definitely worth a try. I just hope they can fix some of the issues mentioned here to make it even better.