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MP3 Players

Packard Bell Vibe 360: It's one Packard hell of a player

Why did Packard Bell quietly muster an MP3 player that trounces almost everything else out there, and then forget to shout about it?

While attending a Packard Bell event last night, a curious object was pressed into our hand as a leaving gift: a small, metallic MP3 player called the Packard Bell Vibe 360. Information on this device is scarce, but what puzzles us most is that, despite the lack of fanfare, this player has the best interface of any non-iPod player we've looked at.

While companies like SanDisk squander thousands on elaborate marketing campaigns and desperately try to emulate the iPod's Click Wheel, Packard Bell has stumbled on a simple solution. The Vibe 360 uses a basic directional pad to navigate tracks, and a clear, intuitive menu system. This is how it should be done -- how odd that it took an apparent lack of ambition to achieve it.

Perhaps when you're cowering in a boardroom of desperate managers who are throwing sushi at each other and yelling about killing the iPod, you lose track of the basics of interface design. The Vibe 360 seems to have been a quiet, unassuming and largely unremarkable design project, yet it works. It's as if Packard Bell turned up to a pie-eating contest where the competitors all felt the need to do backflips and cartwheels while scoffing the pies, but then old Packard Bell just sat diligently in the corner, eating pies with dignity, and won.

Perhaps the greatest shame is that this player has had almost zero publicity. Despite its clear superiority over all the iPod rivals we've tested so far, we expect it to drift sadly away downstream on the boat of broken dreams.

The Vibe 360 has 15 hours of running time per charge and it supports MP3, WMA and WAV files using a drag-and-drop transfer method. It's available in a 1GB version for €119 (£82) and a 2GB version for €150 (£104). We currently have no information on UK stockists but you can get these via mail-order from Europe. -CS