Updated: September 1, 2017
Is there a perfect media player? Of course not. All right, then how about a reasonable one, combining a pleasant and intuitive interface plus a wide rage of great features? That sounds like a nice, ambitious idea, but I have yet to find the software that ticks all the relevant boxes.
For the past decade and a half, I've mostly resorted to using whatever default program operating systems throw at me, slowly gravitating toward VideoLAN (VLC) as my app of choice, mostly because of its super-powerful codec backend. But then I've also played with many other software, with a sweet spot for Amarok. Now, I think I may have found my unicorn, and Clementine be its name. Onwards!
I've used and tested Clementine in the past. Nothing new here. This program is the fork of the old Amarok, and it still enjoys active development and enhancements. What I do like about it is the steady progress. I'm a strong believer in persistence and continuous improvement, but not in the slogany kind of way. The honest way. You stick with what you like and enjoy, and you slowly, gradually make it better. This is why I got drawn to Clementine again, and now we're testing, we we are testing.
It does a peal to me
I apologize for my puns in advance. Now, Kubuntu Zesty, my test platform, an altogether super enjoyable distro, and the one I've been playing with the most in the past few months. Really fun, and the more I'm dabbling, the more it gives me love and not pale shelter. Oh the pun. Clementine is indeed in the repos, hence the trivial setup procedure. Once I had the program installed, I spent a few minutes tweaking the interface. I'm not going to bore you with the details. They are not relevant, as taste is subjective and whatnot. What matters is the actual usage.
However, just to give you a brief overview of what I did - increased font size, removed decor around selected songs, added a background image with low opacity to the playlist area, either the cover art album or a random cool picture. I've also changed the size and position of the side pane, and exercised a few other visual tweaks.
Very quickly, I had things under control, and I was enjoying myself. With the use of smart playlists, it's quite easy to switch between different song collections, you can clean up any duplicates that crop up as a result of these games, and you can create playlists as well as save them as your favorites. Playlists feature as tabs in the main interface.
Meta tag completion & cover art
A really cool feature is the ability to replenish missing song information and cover images, which can happen if you've ripped files off old CDs or you have old music collections that do not necessarily have all the bits you expect. Best of all, Clementine can attempt to do this automatically, but this may not always work. Manually though, you will have guaranteed success.
This was an interesting one, and in a way, it does depend on the operating system. I was able to mount both my Windows Phone and Ubuntu Phone in Kubuntu. Both were detected automatically and presented using the MTP protocol. Clementine did not have them in the list of available devices, though. You can reach the relevant directories if you use the filesystem tree and navigate to /media, but that's not the idea.
I was able to right-click on files through Dolphin and open them in Clementine, and indeed, they showed up just fine in the playlist on the right. Some of the files had the metadata correctly shown, others did not, and some were missing the right info.
As a first step, I decided to complete the missing meta data. I was able to do this for some of the songs, but not for all of them, strangely. Clementine did find the right tags and artwork, but it just did not add them. Subsequently, these songs were grayed out in the playlist, which means unavailable. The weirdest part is that one of the title remained in the list, fully playable, even after I've ejected the phone.
Overall, I believe the support for external devices is a bit flaky, or rather, heavily dependent on what the system does. In this case, 100% of songs could be played, about 25% had meta data missing when they shouldn't have, 50% allowed me to add cover art and tags, the other 50% did not, and 50% were not consistently playable even when the phone was connected - I guess it has to do with screen lock and MTP settings.
Worked like a charm. Choose a song, select conversion format, let it run. Very neat.
Online streaming services
This one looks pretty cool, and the list is far more relevant and up-to-date than what you get in Amarok, plus there are no weird timeout errors. However, most of these services require that you setup an account and login before they'll do anything meaningful, and you also need a premium service for some of them. That's not bad, and I like the concept, but it does limit what you can test just out of the box. However, the few services do work for free, and they worked just fine.
The integrated search will look up song titles both in your local collection but also online, so this is another neat feature. You can turn off the online search if you feel overly privacy conscious. Nothing much more to say, I'm pleased.
Notifications & system tray integration
Dope notifications, thank both Clementine and Plasma for this. Wicked.
The one thing that bears improving is the system tray icon. It's pale, so it does not work well with a light theme. It can definitely be made prettier, plus Plasma already has its own media player integration - most distros and systems do - so this is not really needed, and indeed, it can be disabled.
Lots of cool stuff and options yonder.
Let's go back to the original set of questions. Perfect? No. Good? Yes, very much so, beyond my expectations. It's like anything open-source and Linux really. Hovers near the high-end of greatness percentage, but the compromise factor is always too great to give it the needed critical-mass credibility in the long run. Clementine shatters this barrier or near as it makes no difference. And it also works in Windows just fine!
Clementine offers a very pleasant and tweakable, intuitive interface, excellent art and tag completion functionality, decent smartphone support, great transcoding, solid online services, reasonable system integration, smart search, and tons of fun. Best and most importantly of all, whatever it advertises actually works! Lots of other media players come with a battery of goodies, but they only partially deliver. Clementine does most of what it has well. And so, if it comes to a personal endorsement and recommendation, I believe I will be giving Clementine a lot more focus in the coming months. Feels like a very robust piece of software, and it just might become my music box of choice. 9.5/10. Extremely pleased, I am. May the songs be with you.