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In the past, Philips MP3 players have been functional, attractive, easy to use and decent performers. But what's let them down has often been a lack of features.
Its newest player, the SA2820, takes on the iPod shuffle, SanDisk Sansa Clip and Creative Zen Stone Plus. With a 2GB capacity and a price of roughly £30, can this entry-level MP3 player stand up to the beating the competitive marketplace gives all new players?
With its tiny dot matrix OLED screen switched off, the SA2820's highly reflective, glossy face gives off enough light to check your hairstyle quite easily. Each edge of this square-shaped face acts as a navigational button à la iRiver Clix -- a questionable move, since the player picks up fingerprints like a forensics expert.
Moving around the edges we see more conventional buttonage, including a dedicated button for the voice recorder, an internal microphone for said recorder, a standard mini-USB socket for easy charging and of course, a 3.5mm headphone jack.
When we review music mobiles such as the Sony Ericsson W350i, we often lament the poor audio format support, claiming phones won't be a challenge to dedicated MP3 players until they match MP3 players' proficiency at supported lots of audio formats.
Sadly, this is one of the few MP3 players a music phone could challenge, as it supports only MP3, WAV and WMA -- and only unprotected WMA at that. Your subscriptions or purchases from the likes of Napster will not play on this player.
You can, however, record your own voice with the built-in voice recorder that records to a single channel WAV file. Not surprisingly, it's not possible to plug in an external microphone.
Finally, on this, the least expensive of the tiny new Philips players, there's no FM radio. In contrast, Creative's 2GB Zen Stone Plus, available for roughly the same price, has support for FM radio and both protected WMA music and Audible audiobooks.
Philips has certainly given the SA2820 a much more pleasant screen than Creative gave its Zen Stone Plus. Despite being monochrome and not all that bright, it's reasonably crisp for its size.
It's a nice enough player to use, too. It's not the single most intuitive interface in all of history, but it's a long way from being the worst. The provided neck strap -- as opposed to built-in belt clip or similar -- won't make it idea for joggers, mind.
But closest to our hearts is sound quality. In this price bracket, the SA2820's performance is fine and very few people will complain, particularly if you don't use decent earphones. Overall, it's a very bass-heavy player, with a slightly warmer sound than that from SanDisk's Sansa Clip.
The Clip, however, produces a cleaner overall sound and we prefer it. Listening first to the Freemasons' remix of Shakira and Beyonce's Beautiful Liar, we heard a huge emphasis on the bass line and kick drum through the SA2820, yet a cleaner reproduction of the Spanish guitars through the Clip.
Moving on to Dashboard Confessional's Fever Dreams, we again heard that unbalanced emphasis on the low end, but the mids and highs were still decent and helped to deliver an enjoyable overall experience for such an affordable player.
A nice enough player, the Philips SA2820 looks like a strong competitor against the Apple iPod shuffle. But pitch it against the competition from Creative's Zen Stone Plus and SanDisk's Sansa Clip and its negative aspects seem so much more apparent.
If you love dance music, you'll certainly like the bass-heavy tendencies of this player. Those looking for a gym-friendly player and fans of a cleaner overall sound may want to look elsewhere, though.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday