The Philips GoGear SA6185 is an affordable, easy-to-use portable video player with a glossy, streamlined design and a modest set of features. With a retail price $159, the Philips GoGear SA6185's low price tag and larger-than-average screen are the only attributes that help this otherwise bland gadget stand out from the herd.
The Philips GoGear SA6185 bears the generic stamp of a product designed for the widest possible appeal. Its unremarkable form is neither too big, too small, too masculine, nor too feminine. A reflective, high-gloss finish covers the curved, black front of the device, leaving the remainder housed in a combination of metallic plastic and black aluminum. Measuring 3 inches by 5 inches by 0.5 inch, with a 3.5-inch standard ratio screen, the GoGear's dimensions fall somewhere between an iPod Classic and a Sony PSP.
The Philips GoGear SA6185 is controlled by a traditional four-way navigation pad located to the right of the screen with a Menu button just above it. At the center of the navigation pad is a play button that doubles as a power switch. The top right edge of the GoGear includes a slim rocker switch for adjusting volume, and the opposite edge conceals a button hold switch. A dedicated playlist button is located on the right edge of the device, offering a quick way to add music to a personal on-the-go playlist. Overall, the GoGear's tactile, plastic controls feel intuitive and familiar, although left-handed users will find them frustrating.
The Philips GoGear SA6185's onscreen interface looks like one big yawn. The main menu's light-blue background and easily understood menu icons offer the inoffensively clean and polished look of a product designed by a committee. To Philips' credit, however, the GoGear's interface is remarkably uncluttered, both aesthetically and functionally.
The Philips GoGear SA6185 includes all the features we'd expect from a portable video player, including music, video, and photo playback, as well as less common features such as an FM radio and a voice recorder. Unfortunately, the conservative execution of each one of the GoGear's features is disappointing. For instance, the video player only accepts WMV format videos with a 320x240 resolution--so be prepared to convert and sync all your existing video content using Windows Media Player or the included Philips conversion software. The GoGear's music player accepts a scant two types of audio formats: MP3 and WMA audio (including DRM-protected WMA). Philips even figured out a way to make something as mundane as the photo viewer feel stifling, requiring us to convert and sync photos through Windows Media Player instead of a simple drag-and-drop operation.
When it comes to audio, video, and photo support, we recommend the Archos 405 over the Philips GoGear SA6185, without hesitation. Unfortunately, the Archos 405 lacks the FM radio, integrated speakers, and voice-recording found on the GoGear, which some users may consider must-have features.
Unsurprisingly, the audio and video performance of the Philips GoGear SA6185 is as middle-of-the-road as its features and design. Its sound quality during music playback is clean and lively, and can be shaped by a simple built-in custom EQ. The quality of the Philips GoGear SA6185's video playback is admirable considering the limitations of its 320x240 screen resolution and the inherent video degradation caused by converting all content before syncing it to the device. For the money, however, we prefer the video and photo quality of the Creative Zen or Archos 405.
We found voice recordings made with the Philips GoGear SA6185 free from the background hum and mechanical noise common to most inexpensive voice recorders, however, the 8kHz mono WAV files created by the player are far from high quality. The GoGear's FM radio offers decent reception, and although the player requires a connected pair of headphones to act as an FM antenna, users do have the option to play the radio through the built-in speakers. This throwback feature to the days of transistor radios is fitting, since the quality of the Philips GoGear SA6185's internal speakers is about what you'd expect from your grandpa's old Philco.
Philips rates the battery life of the SA6185 at 20 hours of audio or 5 hours of video.