Hands-on with the Philips SA5285: New dog, same tricks

We've given the new Philips SA5285 the hands-on treatment, and given it something of a beating for being a bit dull, despite being very shiny

Apple's new MacBooks are all over the Web like flies around a Duffy album, and for us in the music world, our reluctance to talk about Apple has never been stronger. So we're going to talk about something admittedly less awe-inspiring, but no less on our minds: the new Philips GoGear MP3 player.

It's the SA5285 and we've been fondling it carefully and lovingly for the last few days. Past Philips players have always had to put up with average reviews from us -- they miss the mark in many ways, but they've always been perfectly acceptable middle-of-the-road devices.

This new model is looking like it's going to earn the same write-up. It's got 8GB of flash memory, a rugged, silver-trimmed design (which we like), support for MP3, WMA and AAC music, WMV and MPEG-4 SP video, JPEG photos, 30 hours of music playback and a respectable 6 hours for video. This is all enjoyed on a 71mm (2.8-inch) 320x240-pixel LCD display.

So what's actually new? We've been seeing these sorts of specs for a year or more. One of the most interesting features is its support for BBC iPlayer content, as highlighted in our round-up earlier this week. It's not a unique selling point, but it's currently a rare one.

There's also a stronger emphasis on sound quality than the average MP3 player, apparently, by means of Philips' 'FullSound' audio-enhancement technology and some fairly decent sound-isolating earphones in the box. We'll listen to these in more depth during our full review next week.

The SA5285 offers a pleasing sound quality, with no audible distortion in the low end and a clear, clean mid-range and treble. True, if you really wanted to offer great sound quality you'd support WAV or FLAC -- neither of which this player does -- rather than incorporating algorithms that try to compensate for crappy MP3s and even crappier headphones. But, whatever, we're used to this.

In our opinion there's no unique selling point here, but BBC iPlayer content looks fairly good, and the screen quality is above average. Menus are clear, too, though sometimes a tad sluggish, and nowhere near as smooth as some of the Sony and Apple competition. Its design will appeal for sure, and there's nothing outright wrong with the SA5285. It's just not that exciting -- absolutely nothing more than a mild evolution inside a rehashed idea.

At £99 for 8GB, it's not a bad buy, but we'd still opt for a 16GB Creative Zen at about £89, for its SD expandability and its richer, sharper screen. The full review will follow soon. -Nate Lanxon

 

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