Philips is a brand that hasn’t gotten much attention on this site in the past, due to somewhat random product numbering, release schedules, retail outlets and generally a rather weird behavior for a MP3 manufacturer. They have some nice players however, especially some of the later models, so it’s time to take a closer look at a few of them. First off is the GoGear Spark, somewhat of a competitor to the Sansa Clip+.
- Quick Look
- Capacities: 2GB, 4GB
- Screen: 1,5″ 128×128 Color OLED
- Size: 43 x 43 x 14 mm
- Weight: 35g
- Supported Audio: MP3, WMA, WAV, Audible, Rhapsody
- Battery Life: 27 hours
- Transfer Modes: MTP
- Connection Type: Mini USB B
- User Interface: Tactile
- Sound enhancements: FullSound, Equalizer
- Other Features: FM Radio, sleep timer, personalization options, on-the-go playlists
In the box
The Spark comes in a nice plastic box that contains the player, lanyard, a short mini-USB cable, headphones and a software CD.
The GoGear Spark is a very small player. Compared to a Sansa Clip with the clip on (or a Clip+) it has about the same physical volume, just a different shape. It’s square with rounded corners, a flat back and a convex clear plastic front that essentially is a mirror when the screen is off. The concave front and the sloping sides that lead to a back that’s smaller than the front makes the device look sort of like an old CRT TV cut off in the back. The screen is a 1.5″ color OLED screen which really sets it apart from other small players. While it’s low resolution, OLED means it has a perfect viewing angle and since the pixels light up instead of the back of the screen it looks awesome when dimmed; half glowing instead of the normal dimmed colors you get with LCDs. The entire front plastic piece is a giant d-pad like the ones on some iriver players like the Clix and Clix 2. Pressing down, left/right and up/down on the screen makes it a 5-way d-pad which is the main method of controlling the player. On top you have the 3.5mm audio jack as well as the option button, which is used to bring up options menus and the likes. The right side has the dedicated volume buttons as well as the mic hole, and the left side houses the power on/hold switch as well as a USB port that is hidden underneath a flush rubber port cover. There is also a reset hole on the back and a lanyard hole in the upper left corner.
The device feels very solid and well built, the plastic parts fit well into one another and there is no squeaking or shifting of parts when you operate the player. On a device that uses the screen as a d-pad that is especially important since the thing is likely to be handled a bit rougher than a player where you have actual buttons to press. Most small players tend to target people that use them for exercise, meaning it either comes with a clip, armband etc or you can buy one anywhere. The Spark doesn’t do either of those, and it’s also such an irregular shape that it doesn’t fit in generic armbands such as those for generic stick players. If done correctly this could have been a very nice player for running because of the big d-pad, for example by having a few screw holes on the back that would screw into a plate on an armband to essentially attach the player directly to the armband itself. However, as it is now this player needs a pocket to rest in and that might make it a deal breaker for a lot of people who would otherwise considering this player for working out. The lanyard doesn’t help much either as it’s annoying to run with.
The Spark is an MTP only device, which means it will work with Windows computers by default and other OSes if you find something that adds MTP support. You can drag and drop files in explorer- including making playlists if you have a newer version of WMP installed- and you can also use any sort of MTP capable music organization software. Included in the
box is also a CD containing “device manager”- software to restore or upgrade the player, user manual and Rhapsody software. The current firmware is 6.39, but the software was unable to update the firmware, complaining about various things from simply “failed” to “incompatible allocation table”. I then tried to “repair” the device as I was told to do at one point (where the device was still working after yet another failed update), and after making some annoying PA-like sounds it politely informed me it was unable to repair my device- at which point it had actually updated the firmware, just not according to itself. I doubt you’ll ever find more useless software than what came with the Spark, in other words, but at least the player was still working and updated after 4-5 firmware update attempts and one “repair” attempt that “failed”.
When you first turn on the player you get some random animations that seem somewhat redundant, but I’m guessing they’re there to hide the boot time – and you can also change this to be your own picture in the settings. Once in the main menu you get a vertical list of icons including music, pictures, FM radio, recordings, folder view, personalize, settings and last played/now playing. Up/down will scroll through lists, while left/right is back/select.
The music menu gives you the basic metatags to browse by; all songs, artist, album, genre and playlists. Browsing through big lists is not a problem and doesn’t affect speed at all, and it’s also rather speedy when scrolling lists. It also has a nice feature where if you hold down the button to scroll, it will pop up a small box in the middle of the screen showing the letter of the alphabet that you’re scrolling in currently, so if you have a lot of songs and browse by “all songs” you would see it go A-B-C etc as it scrolls down the list. Very useful to see where you are.
Folder view might seem like a weird item to have by itself in the main menu instead of the music section, but I guess that’s due to the fact it browses both photos and music through that option. Many people are religious about file/folder browsing and it’s nice to see this feature implemented without the company in question having to be told to do so. You can see any file through this mode however, not only photos and music, and what’s even more peculiar is that it refuses to open playlists if you browse them in this fashion- it claims the file format isn’t supported. There also is no text reader or anything else, not that you would use it anyways, but it’s kind of weird to display all the files you can’t access anyways- especially since you can’t even delete those files from the player.
As for settings, the Spark has two menus that handles this; “personalize” and “settings”. Basically, “personalize” is a dedicated menu for visual settings such as color theme, wallpaper, startup screen, shutdown screen and screensaver. A lot of settings that utilizes the photo support in other words, a lot more so than other MP3 players- even full PMPs. Most the features only have default or a specific picture as the option, but the screensaver has several different modes; slideshow, analog and digital clock, song title, album art, graphic EQ and demo mode. Demo mode is a simple slideshow of various features on the player and I doubt anyone is going to use that as a screensaver, but the rest of the options are nice. My favorite is the album art screensaver, as the OLED screen dimmed down makes the player look like it has an actual sticker on top with the album art because of the perfect viewing angle. You can also set the delay for the screensaver, after which the screen will dim and the selected screensaver (if any) comes on. It uses battery of course, but it’s a nice feature.
The normal settings menu have the common settings you’d expect to find, such as reset, player info, language, date/time, display settings (backlight timer etc) as well as music settings for EQ, play mode and sleep timer. Play mode and music settings can be access from the “now playing” screen, but for some reason that doesn’t include the sleep timer.
The music playback screen on the Spark has a feature I’m very fond of- it uses the album art as the wallpaper. On a 1.5″ 128×128 screen it’s limited what you can do to utilize the color screen and I think this is a very nice way to do it. It can be a problem if you have album art that’s the same color as the color theme as it makes it hard to see the text, but it shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
The d-pad controls on the “now playing” screen are a bit backwards in my opinion, using up/down to switch tracks, left to go back to music list and right for play/pause. I’m used to the logic of left/right switching tracks, so I find myself pausing the player all the time. The fifth d-pad button, which is pressing the screen straight down, doesn’t do anything at all on the “now playing” screen. To me it would be logical to use that button for play/pause, instead of it doing nothing- or maybe map it to activate the screensaver. Pressing the option button on top during playback brings up another menu which lets you access music settings as well as deleting the file or adding/removing it from one of the Spark’s three built in on-the-go playlists.
As mentioned above, the player has three built in on-the-go playlists as well as support for regular playlists. This is yet another feature many people want on their player but that few players have. You add and remove playlists from the “now playing” screen itself, but I can’t find a way to empty an entire list at once, which might be an issue. Normal playlists are added while connected to a computer and it has no problems accepting standard playlists from MTP compatible syncing software such as WMP.
It seems that the age of bad radios in MP3 players is mostly over and the Phillips adds itself to the list of players I’ve tested lately that offers both good sound quality and decent reception for the radio feature. It still could be better, especially inside, but at least it’s usable. You can choose between manual or automatic tuning and add presets both automatically and manually. Those settings are accessed with the option button on top. No radio recording, which isn’t all that surprising on a player this small and cheap.
The voice recorder is a gimmick if you ever saw one as the quality is practically so bad you can’t use it for anything. Besides the fact the mic is small and located on the side instead of on the top (where it would in most likelihood point towards the sound source) it also picks up every single gust of air and every noise made by touching the player itself, amplified 50 times. The test recordings I made ended up sounding like talking on the phone with someone who’s driving in a tunnel with the window open.
Displaying photos is not normally something to get excited over, but on a player this small I think it is a nice feature. Of course the 128×128 screen is not detailed enough to really see much at all, but with all the visual features on the player utilizing photos it’s one of few players I’ve actually bothered to put photos on. The size of the player being about the same as those cheap keychain photo viewers also makes it a nice keychain player/photo viewer. I don’t really see anyone using this feature much if the Spark is their secondary player, however I do see the usefulness of photo support if the p
layer is given as a gift to parents or grandparents who aren’t all the tech savvy and still find it amazing that something that small can contain all the pics of their kids/grandkids- no matter if it’s in incredibly low resolutions.
The Spark is getting dangerously close to a certain well regarded tiny player and even surpasses it in many ways,
but one massive drawback of the Spark is the limited format support. MP3, WMA, WAV music formats as well as Rhapsody and Audible support - that’s it. No Ogg Vorbis , no FLAC, and no AAC support (though the Clip doesn’t have that either). This might be a deal breaker for some, while others couldn’t care less. It all depends on what format your music collection is in.
UPDATE: A commenter pointed out the latest update adds support for FLAC and APE. I tested it and this is indeed true. No support for Ogg Vorbis or AAC and no gapless, but FLAC in itself is nice- though the limited capacity is a problem.
After carefully testing the sound quality of the Spark up against other players I can’t for the life of me find anything bad to say about it. Comparing it to the Clip on flat EQ I wasn’t able to detect any differences in sound quality, at least not any worth mentioning. I’m sure that people with better trained ears than me would be able to find something to put their finger on, but I doubt anyone would have an issue with the sound quality of this thing.
As for additional sound enhancement features the Spark has an EQ as well as what Philips call “FullSound”. FullSound could easily be called SubSound as it’s essentially the same as strapping two supwoofers to your head and nothing else. It makes bass sound like airplanes passing over (or trying to land on) your house, and it makes drums sound like SWAT just blew out the wall behind you- that’s not a complement, if anyone was wondering.
A lot of people ignore Phillips because they have a very random way of releasing players; weird names, no real schedules, and different players operating not only in different parts of the world but also in different stores in the same country. Despite all this, the Spark is a very capable player- the only player of its class that I would ever consider recommending above the Sansa Clip+. The 2GB and 4GB capacities might be too little for some people, and poor format support might also scare off people, but all in all the Spark is a very good player. It gets extra points for allowing for both ID3 and file/folder browsing as well as having on-the-go playlists, as well as having awesome customization features including a way of using album art for wallpaper and screensaver that I must say I personally like, despite it not really being the most useful feature ever- the OLED screen really makes a difference eye candy wise. While the Clip+ will no doubt continue to be the player of choice for hardcore music fans and most of the active community on this site, the Spark is in many ways a much better choice. The Clip is often a secondary player for enthusiasts, while the Spark would be cheap primary player for mainstream users. It has more features, almost twice the battery life, but has less capacity and supports fewer audio formats. It also costs $15 more than the Clip+ and has no memory card slot, but that’s the price you pay for a color screen.
- Awesome color OLED screen and plenty of features to take advantage of it
- Good sound quality
- Good battery life
- On-the-go playlists
- ID3 and file/folder browsing
- Decent radio
- No real clip or armband for jogging
- Randomly useless firmware update/restore software
- No high capacity model or memory expansion
- MTP only
- FullSound is UseLess
Philips sell different players through different retailers in different parts of the world and you might have to search for the model number (instead of the name) to find one, but if you’re in the US Amazon is the easiest place to get one as always.