Philips's gymworthy hard drive player
The durable $200 Philips Active PSA612 MP3 player has fitness written all over it, though many will be surprised to find that the MP3/WMA player's 4GB of storage is hard drive based, not flash based like the 4GB iPod Nano's, as well as that of the upcoming 4GB and 6GB SanDisk e200. Although the stylish discus of a player includes an FM radio, a talking stopwatch, and compatibility with subscription services, along with a unique and protective ShockLock feature that disengages the hard drive, the PSA612 has a couple of shortcomings that make it less desirable than, say, its smaller 512MB sibling, the PSA232 (which has its own problem: weak battery life).
The Philips PSA612 has striking good looks with shiny chrome metal encircling the display, which also serves as the primary controller. The four sides of the screen act as rocker buttons, and you simply press them to navigate through the menus. There are silver buttons along the outer rim of the MP3 player (see below), as well as an industrial "lock" on the rear of this 2.75-inch-diameter discus, which opens up the PSA612's backside. This back cover is made of a grippable, hard blue rubber. It's not difficult to get the back cover off with a coin or in a twisting motion, and in fact, ours is a tad loose now, but it's a requirement for connecting the device via USB and for recharging. Thus, you end up with this cover that hangs around while you rejuice or transfer files. In addition, the loosened cover will not protect against high quantities of moisture.
We also noticed that the silver buttons are incredibly difficult to push down and activate. However, the buttons--play/pause/power, Stopwatch, Talking Stopwatch, Hold, and View--are few and far between. It takes a good few minutes to make sense out of everything, though the Menu interface is intuitive with only Music (Playlists, All Songs, Artists, Genres, and Albums), Radio, Sport, and Settings as options. In player mode, the display includes artist and song info, as well as elapsed time. Volume is controlled using the up and down rocker buttons. The View button toggles between the menu and whatever mode you're in, and the rocker buttons on the display add to the unit's on-the-go appeal. Conveniently, there is a Shuffle All option within All Tracks.
The Philips PSA612's blue-backlit display (96x64 pixels) is small but usable, though we do have complaints about the backlight brightness, which makes the display difficult to view in daylight. Even after cranking the display to the highest contrast, you just can't read it outdoors. Maybe that's why the player comes with a talking stopwatch. The stopwatch is standard, and you can record multiple sessions or times. A built-in female voice announces times, though you can push the Talking Stopwatch button to hear her at will; you can opt to turn off the voice, but she will always speak when you press the Talking Stopwatch button. Even though the feature doesn't seem all that useful, the stopwatch is good for those who run long distance. The included armband is stylish and useful, and it makes the PSA612 even more appealing as an exercise MP3 player.