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Put the TrekStor Vibez in the ring with the 8GB iPod Nano, and it'll win at least a few rounds. For starters, it costs less--a lot less if you shop online. TrekStor sells 8GB, 12GB, and 15GB versions of the Vibez for $219.99, $239.99, and $259.99 each. However, we found the 8GB model at online stores for around $170--a pretty substantial savings over the $250 8GB Nano. The 12GB model had an even lower street price: $200. (The 15GB model isn't shipping yet.) The Vibez also supports music-subscription services such as Napster and Urge. It offers both voice and line-in recording. It even sports an oversize scroll wheel that's much more comfortable than the Nano's cramped miniwheel. Plus, you can add an optional FM tuner, though we're puzzled as to why TrekStor didn't make this a standard feature. So, does the Vibez manage a knockout punch? Not quite, but it definitely scores a knockdown.
The hard drive-based Vibez boasts the elegant styling of a German sports car (TrekStor is based in Germany), with a rounded, oblong body, a black front, and a shiny chrome back. The latter smudges easily, but that doesn't stop the Vibez from drawing lusty stares: she's a beaut.
Though physically larger than the Nano, the slim, smooth Vibez is still plenty pocketable at 4.1x1.9x0.7 inches and 3.2 ounces. It's also quite comfortable to hold and operate one-handed, thanks in no small part to its large, black scroll wheel. Unlike the iPod's wheel, this one's tactile and actually spins. It also doubles as a five-way control pad and handles nearly all aspects of the player's operation. Spin it to scroll through menus and adjust volume; press it up, down, left, or right to control playback or access the interface. You also can press the wheel in the center to select a highlighted option. However, it's hard to hit the exact center, so you often wind up double-pressing one of the other controls. Fortunately, in most menus you can select the highlighted option by right-pressing instead of center-pressing, so you can usually bypass this design glitch.
The wheel is also noteworthy for its subtle, staggered "stops" you can feel beneath your finger: they make menu and song selections a bit easier to land on than with the iPod's motionless pad. It also sports a nifty orange LED that pulses as you spin the wheel, though this serves no real purpose other than to look cool. As an added bonus, the Vibez includes a dedicated volume rocker so you can change the volume level even when the wheel is otherwise occupied. Absent, however, is a hold switch: to lock or unlock the player, you must push the power button and the center of the wheel simultaneously. That beats wading into menus as with some other players, but we'd still prefer a dedicated switch.
As an audio player, the Vibez covers almost all the bases: it supports everything from MP3 and WMA to OGG and FLAC formats, and it's compatible with DRM-protected purchases and subscription downloads. It has a line-in jack for recording from external devices and a microphone for recording your voice. All input gets saved in uncompressed WAV format.
As noted earlier, FM radio is optional. TrekStor offers an internal tuner ($15) that slips in beneath the battery. While that's a better option than the bulky external tuners available for iPods, we can't help wishing for a built-in tuner rather than one that costs extra. Plus, in order to install the card, you'll need to pry off the backplate of the player, a rather tricky process. TrekStor also plans to offer a combination FM/video card in 2007, but at press time pricing and details weren't available. At least that option makes a bit more sense, as watching video on such a small screen definitely isn't for everyone.
Right out of the box, the Vibez can display photos, though there's nothing in the manual explaining how to load them on the device, nor is there software included to resize them to better fit the Vibez' 1.5-inch, 176x132-pixel color screen. Thankfully, we had no trouble viewing the samples we copied to the unit's Media folder. Interestingly, the Vibez can access photos' EXIF data and display it based on camera make, camera model, photo description, or photo date. We know of no other MP3 player that offers similar capabilities, which could prove valuable to serious photographers.
The Vibez is also unusually advanced in the music department. In addition to the usual artist, album, and track library options, it lets you sort your tunes by folder, genre, year, and even composer. Even better, it offers a robust auto-DJ feature that can queue up songs based on nine options. Choose "Forgotten Gems," for instance, to hear songs that haven't played for anywhere from one day to one year. Choose "New Music" for tracks that were recently transferred to the Vibez and so on. The player also offers a variety of background choices, everything from solid colors to album art to animated visualizations. Only the album art disappoints: it makes the onscreen text almost unreadable.
TrekStor scores points for its excellent library-navigation system, which relies on alphabetical searching: queue up your songs, albums, artists, or whatever, and the Vibez presents an A-to-Z list controlled by the scroll wheel. As you move from one letter to the next, the library instantly jumps to the corresponding entries. Once you've hit the desired letter, press the right arrow to shift the focus, then scroll to exactly the selection you want. This makes for exceptionally fast and easy searching, and it beats the iPod's A-to-Z search because it appears by default; you don't have to select search from a menu.
The Vibez comes with a set of Sennheiser earbuds. We thought they sounded fine overall, though perhaps a bit light on the bass response, and not great at maximum volume. But the Vibez itself is beyond reproach: we switched to our baseline pair of Shure E3c earbuds and enjoyed absolutely stellar audio. No complaints whatsoever. The Vibez's rated 20-hour battery life is also respectable, though a bit shy of the Nano's 24 hours. CNET Labs tests proved that the player can actually last a bit longer, for 22.5 hours. As for file-transfer performance, we stopwatch-tested a copy of 4GBs worth of MP3s; the process took about 30 minutes or a respectable 2.2MB per second.
In short, there are very few reasons not to choose a TrekStor Vibez over the iPod Nano. It's less expensive, equally stylish (if not more so), and more capable as a music player. Plus, it offers recording capabilities and optional FM, two features still AWOL on Apple's fruit. The Vibez isn't perfect, but it's a great player for the money.