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REVIEW: LobsterTunes for Windows Mobile Pocket PC and Smartphone
Posted by Editorial - on Tuesday, 16.10.07 - 14:19:55 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 14549x
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(By Helio Diamant) Around 2 months ago, I received from Electric Pocket a reviewer's license of LobsterTunes. Electric Pocket is a veteran, a well known Pocket PC and PalmOS developer, and has brought some very successful titles in the past like Bugme!, Ringo and Busker.
LobsterTunes is said to be a music player that allows you to listen to music on your Windows Mobile phone or PDA that are stored and streamed from many different locations. Bursting with features, it supports the playing of MP3, WMA and WAV audio files. In addition to simply listening to these files, however, LobsterTunes also lets you take advantage of your WiFi or WWAN connection to browse and play music wirelessly from any UPnP music servers that exist on your Local Area Network.

The greatest feature of LobsterTunes is that it gives you full access to your home computer's entire DRM-free music collection wherever you take your Windows Mobile device. Never again will you be restricted by the amount of storage memory on your mobile device or tethered to your home network when you want to listen to your music.

At the moment I got it, I was with a full table of products to review and my first reaction was "another media player, this can wait for a while until the pressure is over". Today, after a couple of weeks that I have been using it and testing it, I am sorry that I haven't begun using it and reviewed it immediately when it was sent to me, since I would turn faster into another satisfied customer.

The picture bellow shows the main interface of the software. Quite standard for a media player, it doesn't miss anything you may want. But the simple interface of LobsterTunes hides quite supernatural powers:

So, let's begin by Clark Kent in order to arrive later to Superman. In the next screenshot you can see the ability to get music from the device's storage card. Like in any player, I can navigate to any library on the card or on the device's memory and build playlist out of the files there:

Files are shown with their full names, according to the libraries order and surely pressing Play Now on a file will play the file, pressing it on a library will automatically play all the files in the library:

On the picture above, we see the player playing a song for the first time.

One of the first advanced options is to find the album art. Based on the data from the file, the software can go to the Internet and download the album cover, just as we are used to see on our PCs and Media Centers.
In the case of the song above, it didn't succeed to me; the file did not include the album information in order to get to the right album. So I tried again with another song, Twilight from E.L.O. And this time, after around 3 seconds, I had the album art:

Another nice feature is Biography. While listening to the song we choose Biography in the Menu:

The software calls the Internet Explorer Mobile and sends data to a website maintained by Electric Pocket. The server returns a link to the Biography of ELO. Bingo! Here is the whole biography of ELO. Great for reading during train rides while enjoying the music:

Let's go back to the Menu and choose My Music, to go back to the library. A nice surprise is waiting:

What are those two items at the top? Hey, those are two computers in my home network on which I store media and on which I installed the LobsterTunes Service module. The first is my Windows Media Center which holds more than 1,200 CDs that I have, and the second is my workstation.

I need to explain one thing here: People with quick eyes probably have already noticed that there is a WiFi icon in the top of the screen. Well, I need WiFi to make screenshots via Pocket Controller in an effective way. However, believe me, I don't need it for LobsterTunes. If you have a good 3G plan, you will be even able to take your music with you everywhere. And WiFi will also get you there from other places in the world in which data roaming would be too expensive.

So how do they do it? Easy: At installation, some association data between my device and my computer was saved on their server. In this way, when my device enters the network, it finds the servers associated to it and presents them on the list:

I went into my Media Center and will choose Playlists. I got the list of my Playlists from the Media Center. Now I will choose something to play:

Since this is being written for an Israeli public, let's choose something they know. Kaveret has been a very popular rock group in Israel in the late seventies, and most of their songs and members have turned into legends and are popular until these days. I chose Play Now at the name of the group, and all the songs in the playlist began playing.

Here you can see it playing. Hebrew users, your language is supported.
We are seeing now the first song in the playlist playing. Let's open item 3 in the menu, "Playlist", and take a look into our playlist:

I haven't come here for no reason. One of the most problematic issues in streaming is network speed and caching. Now, if you look above, you will see that while the first song is playing, songs two and three have already been downloaded to cache and song four is on its way with 5% completed. Well, this will not be so fast in UMTS, but the pace is also acceptable there.

What about Internet Radio? Well, we can see a limited directory in the software's library. Let's go for the US and we get some stations for the United States:

And now we are hearing CNN:

The list in the library for US is not impressing.

So are the lists for the other countries. So where do I find the music I like?

Oh, the option above sounds promising:

The directory at LobsterTunes is not that strong either. We can also use the io2go stations service, which has a lot of options in different kinds of music. But this is not what I wanted, I wanted to find the radio stations I like:

Well, after some conversation with Technical Support at Electric pocket, they directed me to a Knowledge Base article. I have tried their method with one of the Israeli radio stations, and can testify it works perfectly.

Anyway, let's take a look at Lobster's Radio directory:

As I said, there are more options, but not many. But just to try, let's go for a TV station, Sky News. This is what I've got. I answered Yes and the file was downloaded to my device, already to the right place:

From that moment on, my list of stations looked like this and I'm able to watch Sky News:

Wow, this means that LobsterTunes knows how to play video as well. I believe it is just a question of one or two versions until I will be streaming video from my Media Center !

Final Conclusion

Media Players are common. Media players that are able to do place-shift from our Media Centers to our phones or PDAs, wherever we may be, are surely a rare thing at this point of time. LobsterTunes jumps in without falling from the quality of any competitor in its other features and qualities.

I like the streaming from my computer, the biography option and the ability to add Radio Stations by myself. On the other hand, I believe that a full featured radio catalog from around the world would be interesting. I am aware of the work and costs required to maintain such a catalog updated, so I will not criticize them for not having done it yet. But it surely could improve the experience, since I have not found what I wanted on io2go.

The software is available for both Windows Media platforms, Pocket PC (with touchscreen) and Smartphone (without touchscreen) and costs US$ 19.95, and in my opinion is worth every cent of the inversion. From this day on, it will be one of the first software packages I install every time I change my device.

Helio Diamant is a Microsoft MVP for Windows Mobile and the founder and Editor in Chief of "Pocket PC Freak - Your Pocket PC Hebrew Site"

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