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.