The SA230's black and red clamshell casing is appealing to the eyes, and a good change of pace from the mass of shiny silver cases commonly seen in portable players today. Despite these good looks, the model we got for testing felt plasticky -- like a toy -- when you hold it and it gives that feeling of fragility. This is a feeling a physically active user would not want to have especially when buying a digital audio player that supposedly targets the "people who need their music on the run."
First time users will not have a hard time figuring out which buttons to push since the SA230 only has a mode button (used for shifting between FM, digital audio and voice recording), the volume buttons, and the four way navigation key. But being tiny and all, people with big hands and long nails will find it a bit daunting.
Again, maybe it was just the unit we got to review, but the navigation key needs a bit of good pressing before it does what you want it to do. There is also that problem of skipping tracks when playing digial audio. You have to press the down key lightly if you want to skip tracks, and press it hard if you want to just skip through parts of the song. But be warned, it can be a bit tricky and frustrating because there were several times when even the pressing tricks mentioned didn't give the desired results.
The Philips SA230 comes with an arm band and a neck strap that makes it easy to carry around during exercise sessions, similar to Philips' Nike series. Aside from just plain old exercise routines, the SA230 comes in handy if you want your own music while doing house chores, studying, working and so on.
The player, of course, needs software to be installed in your PC. That can be a bit problematic if you are not used to Philips' user interface. Confusing is the word that comes to mind, chaotic is probably the next one. Eventually, however, you will figure things out (maybe after five or six reboots) and the music you get to play will sound sweeter simply because of the frustration of putting them in.
The features of the "Rush" include a digital audio player, a digital FM tuner with ten presets and eight hours of digital voice memo recordings in a 128MB memory. It supports both MP3 and windows media audio (WMA) files for music playback and .wav for voice memo playback.
The SA230 also supports MMC/SD memory cards and is capable of expanding up to 512MB. However, the unit we reviewed did not come with an SD card and so we were not able to test the player's expandable memory.
The tri-colour backlight display allows navigation at night and specifies which mode the player is in. For instance, digital audio has an orange backlight, green is for FM radio and red for voice recording.
In terms of performance, the player fulfilled its end. Our test MP3 songs worked well and sounded great with the earphones. We didn't quite have the same experience with the FM tuner -- for some reason the radio sound only came out from the left earphone. We didn't really test the maximum eight hours claim of Philips for SA230's voice recording but when we did test it, the recording was decent enough and can be used for voice memos and reminders to self.
The battery life lasts around three to four days depending on how you use it. It took us half a day to upload mp3 songs into the player and three days of listening for about two hours each day. Two AAA batteries for AU$5 will last you probably around two weeks.
The SA230 isn't a bad product even with its glitches and limited features. However, the ulitmate factor for the decision making process of potential buyers would be if the price is justifiable by the SA230's feature set and memory.
With a recommended retail price of AU$299.95, buyers might be tempted to look somewhere else -- after all, there's no shortage of MP3 players at all. Ultimately the SA230 doesn't really offer much that other brands don't already offer, making it a difficult product to recommend.