Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Half-baked RealPlayer out of beta testing


Remember RealPlayer? That annoying media player from the days of Windows 98 that always tried to hijack all your music and movie file associations?

It's on Android too. Beta test versions have been floating around since ages, and now its makers think that Real is ready for commercial release. They're really, really wrong.

RealPlayer plays your music and movies, and it shows your pictures too. Too bad it doesn't do any of these jobs well.

First encounter

Among the permissions that Real wants is permission to autostart. Maybe there's a good reason for it, but the Real people didn't take the trouble to explain why.

When you run the app for the first time it scans your memory card for media files, and this takes quite some time. Android indexes your music, movies, and pictures in a database that any media player and gallery app can read, but RealPlayer rolls its own.

When it's done scanning you can look and listen. Most of the start screen organises your music, with two small buttons on the bottom for your movies and pictures.

The free version has ads. For some inexplicable reason RealPlayer decided to show me ads in japanese, even though it's obvious from my IP address that I'm from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. AdAway doesn't block these ads yet, but I'm sure an update will take care of that.

Most apps either show ads or leave some features out of the free version. RealPlayer does both. The free version shows an ugly ad banner and it's stripped of features.


RealPlayer lists your music by artist, album, song title, genre, and playlist. Including the genre tag is a good thing which many music players ignore. Android music players also tend to ignore the composer tag (even my ancient Nokia read the composer tag, so why don't Android players?), and RealPlayer is no exception. Not a big problem for your average R&B track, but composers are a big deal in classical music and DJ compilations. Organising your music in folders with composer names doesn't help, because RealPlayer ignores your folder structure too. This is where the app could have made a difference, but it doesn't.

It doesn't show your album art either. You may have your album covers stored in your MP3 tags, but RealPlayer ignores them. RealPlayer can show album art, but only if you fork out cash for the paid version.

The equalizer only works in the paid version too. If you want a music app with an equalizer for free, try TTPod.

There's a built-in music identification tool similar to Shazam and SoundHound. It taps into the Gracenote database, but this feature requires payment too. TrackID from Sony gets you into the same Gracenote music database for free.

You can scrobble your music to straight from RealPlayer, and it doesn't want any of your money for that.

Pictures and movies

The picture gallery in RealPlayer is as barebones as it can be. It shows all your pictures in a giant grid and that's the only view you get. You may have your pictures sorted out in folders like "ski trip with girlfriend," "beach party with beer and weed," and "embarrasing family dinner," but RealPlayer won't look at your folder organisation. When you open a picture there's only one way to zoom: with the on-screen buttons. Each and every Android gallery app I ever tried lets you zoom in and out by pinching the screen, but RealPlayer decided to leave out this standard touchscreen feature.

RealPlayer won't show any picture details like date, time, and resolution either.

The built-in movie library shows your videos by folders. Unfortunately it mixes up some thumbnails by displaying the thumbnail image of another video. It also tends to show movies in full screen mode even when it distorts the picture. You can repair the aspect ratio with a few taps on your screen, but RealPlayer has the annoying habit of forgetting your settings so you'll have to do it all over again next time you play the same video.

The verdict

If you can make the ugly ad banner go away RealPlayer looks really slick, but when you look through the eye candy you'll find that there's not much underneath. It may be sold as "ready," but the free version lacks so many standard features that there's no point buying the full version unless you like to pay to be a beta tester. The music player is no match for other music apps, and even the stock gallery that came with your phone is better than the spartan picture viewer and movie player of RealPlayer. The app may be out of beta testing, but it's nowhere near ready yet. Take it for a test drive if you like, but don't give them any money.


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