The GoGear Vibe is Philips' latest entry into the crowded market of budget-priced MP3 players. Both the 4GB ($49) and 8GB ($59) models include a 1.5-inch color screen and a useful assortment of features, but the navigation pad's quirky design will send you into fits.
Like most Philips MP3 players (we'll make an exception for the Spark), the Vibe is a case study in nondescript design. It's about as thick as an Oreo cookie (0.25 inch), with a 1.5-inch width and 2.5-inch height, and it can easily be palmed in your hand or slipped in your pocket.
On the Vibe's left side, you'll find a power switch that doubles as a button hold, leaving the right side with a menu option button and a volume rocker switch that's just big enough to be useful. The top of the Vibe is bare, but the bottom is riddled with openings for a Mini-USB connection, 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, lanyard loop (lanyard not included), and a pinhole microphone for the voice recorder.
The face of the Vibe holds its greatest strength and weakness. The top half of the player's front includes a feature found on few MP3 players in this price range--a color screen. For about $50, you're lucky to get any screen at all, much less a 1.5-inch screen capable of photos, videos, and album artwork. Sure the resolution is crud, and you'll really need to crank up the Vibe's brightness to read it in broad daylight, but it's still a feature worth bragging about to anyone dangling their Sansa Clip in front of you.
Now for the bad news--the Vibe's four-direction navigation pad is a travesty. Aside from the fact that one needs to illogically press up to skip backward and down to skip ahead, the biggest mistake Philips made with its navigation pad is the center button. Specifically, the problem is that there isn't a center button, but rather, an inviting, button-like indentation that functions only for making users scream and cry. Philips must have given their usability team the week off when they pushed through this design. Not only is the indentation pointless, but also applying pressure to it causes one of the four surrounding buttons to trigger at random. We discovered this the hard way after turning the Vibe on for the first time and trying to select our language from a list of 22 options. A press on the indentation caused the selection to jump, and suddenly, we were trying to decipher Russian.
In spite of our complaints over the control pad, the GoGear Vibe's design is decent overall, and a little patience and practice will lessen the navigation woes. That said, if you can live without the Vibe's color screen (and the photo and video features that come with it), that navigation controls on $50 players such as the Samsung U5 and SanDisk Sansa Clip are far more intuitive.