Philips GoGear Vibe
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.
Considering the Vibe's price, it's hard to find anything to complain about when it comes to features. The Vibe's music player supports MP3, WMA, Audible, and subscription audio (a 30-day Rhapsody subscription trial is included), but it lacks support for the AAC music files used with Apple's iTunes music store. Audio can be enhanced with a handful of EQ presets or a custom five-band EQ, which do a decent job squeezing some extra life out of the otherwise lackluster earbuds that come bundled with the player.
Photos support is limited to JPEG and BMP formats, but we'd be lying to you if we said the postage stamp-size screen is something you'll want to spend a lot of time viewing photos on. Same goes for the Vibe's limited video format support. You'll need to jump through some hoops to transfer videos into a low-resolution SMV video format (software included) before getting them on the Vibe, but considering the player's price and its screen size, you should really just be grateful to be getting video support at all.
The Vibe's FM radio offers good reception with the included earbuds acting as the player's antenna. Users get up to 20 station presets, which can be assigned manually or automatically. Voice recordings offer minimal audio quality as 64Kbps MP3 files, but the feature is easy to use and the MP3 format is handy.
Last, but not least, we're happy to see that Philips includes a USB connection setting under the player's Option menu. The capability to switch between a Windows-optimized USB mode (MTP) and a Mac-friendly mode (MSC) is a bonus.
The Philips GoGear Vibe can hold its own when it comes to sound quality in this price range. Like most MP3 players on the market, the bundled headphones are the weakest link in the Vibe's sound quality. Heard over a pair of Ultrasone Zino headphones, there was little we could hear to distinguish the Vibe from our $300 Apple iPod Touch.
Philips rates the Vibe's battery life at 25 hours of audio or 4 hours of video, which is quite an achievement considering its closest competition--the Sansa Clip--lasts only 14 hours and lacks any kind of video playback. We'll update this review with battery tests from CNET Labs once results are complete.