Company: Mediafour Corporation
Model: XPlay 1.0.3
Price: $29.95 (download), $39.95 (CD-ROM)
Note: Accompanying screenshots are available for this review.
Published: Monday, September 23, 2002
Category: Apps - PC / Mac
Pros: Seamless, intuitive, picture-perfect integration with Explorer. I can’t say it enough: it doesn’t get easier to use an iPod than this. Windows Media Player users will be overjoyed at the extra capability that XPlay adds to WMP. Even with the outstanding interface, I believe that XPlay’s strongest points are concise, comprehensive documentation, which can get you up and running in no time, and truly outstanding customer support: Mediafour’s tech support forums are closely monitored by support personnel, who work very hard to resolve any issues.
Cons: XPlay doesn’t support dragging-and-dropping M3U playlists. This was my #1 wish for 1.0.3, but it was regrettably not included. File transfer speed must improve for XPlay to remain a contender.
XPlay is unlike any other application you have used to interface with your iPod. You’ll never have to “open XPlay” to modify the music on your iPod. Instead, it runs as a system service, seamlessly integrating your iPod’s music database into Windows Explorer. XPlay allows you to use a Macintosh or Windows formatted iPod on your Windows ME, 98SE, 2000, or XP system.
What’s this for?
XPlay isn’t a “music management” tool. It’s not designed to be a replacement for your media player. It doesn’t rip CDs into MP3s; doesn’t tag your MP3s or help you organize them. It’s designed solely to interface your iPod with your system. It could be said that this puts XPlay at a disadvantage, making it less full-featured than other applications. However, I strongly disagree. Using XPlay allows the user the freedom to use his or her media player of choice. You don’t have to install a media player that you may or may not like just to use your new iPod - use what you want to use.
A Familiar Interface
The main XPlay interface is within Windows Explorer itself. It breaks down like this: Your iPod is a removable storage device. Your iPod’s music database is represented as a folder on that device; in this folder you’ll find subfolders that contain all of your playlists, artists, albums, and songs. The interface is so simple, so intuitive, that there is virtually nothing new to learn. Want to add music? Drag and drop. Want to remove music? Select and hit delete. Within the Explorer interface, you’ll find special context buttons appear on the toolbar, depending on what you’re browsing. These include “Eject”, “New Playlist,” “Add To Playlist,” “Delete,” and “Play.”
While browsing through the music on your iPod, you can also adjust your music’s properties. Just select what you want to edit, right-click, and hit properties. Among the things that can be edited are equalizer presets, playback volume, playback time, and every tag that can be displayed on an iPod - “Artist,” “Album,” “Track Number,” “Song Title,” and “Composer.”
All programs have limitations, and XPlay is no exception. One unfortunate limitation is that, in its current implementation, XPlay does not support dragging and dropping of M3U playlists. In order to put playlists on your iPod with XPlay, you must either create them manually within the Explorer interface or synchronize with them.
The most noticeable limitation, however, is speed: XPlay doesn’t seem to transfer files as fast as other applications can. In the (very unscientific) tests that I have performed, I averaged about 4.5 megabytes per second. A representative from Mediafour has assured me that improving XPlay’s transfer speed will definitely be included in the next major update, and that drag-and-drop support of M3U playlists is also (unofficially) in their crosshairs.
XPlay features an automatic music synchronization wizard that makes synchronizing your iPod’s contents with music collections on your hard drive a snap. The interface is extremely comfortable and very well documented.
Using the “Synchronize with files and folders on my computer” option, you can set your iPod to synch with folders on your hard drive which can contain music, M3U playlists, or even shortcuts to other files or folders. When you include M3U playlists in your synch folders, they become playlists on your iPod.
Alternatively, you can set XPlay to synch with any playlists that exist within Windows Media Player (WMP). As a matter of fact, you can do a few other things with WMP too.
XPlay features a plugin that adds full support for Windows Media Player, giving it capabilities similar to iTunes or MusicMatch Jukebox. Not only can you set XPlay to synchronize with your WMP playlists, you can use WMP’s “copy to CD or device” feature to send music to or delete music from your iPod.
This plugin, to be honest, isn’t the greatest selling point, since WMP is, in my opinion, one of the weakest in the genre. However, the WMP9 beta is out, and it’s looking GOOD. Although WMP9 is still in beta, and thus not officially supported, reports show XPlay working with the WMP9 beta as easily as it works with WMP8. This editor sees a great thing developing between these two applications, and you can bet that Mediafour has their eyes on WMP9’s progress.
An inside source (and a heck of a nice one at that) at Mediafour let me in on their plans for the future of XPlay.
In the immediate future, due to overwhelming popular demand, Mediafour plans on offering a downloadable trial version.
In the indeterminate future, there will be a “major release update.” This update will implement a significant speed update. Currently, it is unknown if this update will be a free update or not, however I feel that it will be unconscionable if the speed increase is not free. No matter how good the XPlay interface is, slow transfer speeds stick out like a giant sore thumb - especially if currently available freeware programs boast higher transfer speeds.
The other details of the “major release update” are, for the most part, still on the drawing board. Proposed (i.e., tentative) features include M3U drag-and-drop, Audible support, external calendar/contact synchronization, support for more media players, play count support, and more. It is obvious to me that Mediafour has their sights set very high for XPlay.