Yet another Philips player is up for review, this time the Aria. Being bigger than the two previousely reviewed Philips players it goes up against players like the Sony E340 and Sansa Fuze. Read on for the review.
- Quick Look
- Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB
- Screen: 2″ 220×176 Color LCD
- Size: 84 x 47 x 10.7 mm
- Weight: 47g
- Supported Audio: MP3, WMA, Audible, Rhapsody
- Battery Life: 30 hours audio, 6 hours video
- Transfer Modes: MTP/MSC user-selectable
- Connection Type: Mini USB B
- User Interface: Tactile
- Sound enhancements: Equalizer, FullSound
- Other Features:FM Radio, sleep timer, on-the-go playlists, video, photos, text reader, voice recorder
In the box
The Aria comes with a very short USB cable as well as earphones. The earphones are actually IEMs not earbuds, which is nice- you’d still benefit greatly from upgrading to even something like the CX300, but IEMs on a player this cheap does score a few points. At least people who use stock earbuds can listen to the bad sound quality in peace when the stock earphones are IEMs.
The Aria is something in between an Insignia Pilot and a Meizu M6, design wise. It’s a landscape-only player meaning the screen is 220×176 pixels not 176×220, with the controls on the right not the bottom. The 2” screen covers part of the front along with a 7-way d-pad. There aren’t many players with 7-way d-pads on the market and most of them have a scroll wheel for volume in those 7 controls (iPod nano/classic, Sansa Fuze/e200/view etc) but the Aria actually has a fully tactile 7-way d-pad as well as regular volume buttons on top. The middle of the d-pad is play/pause, surrounded by a metal imitation up/down pad with a final 4-way pad on the outside with left/right, options and back controls. It takes a while to get used to the controls as they aren’t that intelligent but at least there’s enough separation between the keys so that you don’t end up with a Sony style “that wasn’t the button I wanted”-situation.
The bottom has the audio jack, USB port (standard mini B port), reset button and the worst on/off+hold switch I have ever come across. You can’t operate the switch at all with just your fingertips (at least not on the one I got); you need to use a nail and get a good grip to manage to slide it far enough and hard enough for it to react and turn on/off.
The device is made of plastic and nothing else and generally feels about right for the price. Definitely not the best build quality out there and the player also has some bad fits here and there which makes it squeak at times. Especially around the d-pad this is a problem, but also the player as a whole. You can’t really expect better from a player this price, but still it’s disappointing when the player makes noises other than the music it’s playing.
Size-wise the player is about the same as the Sansa Fuze, Sony E340 and similar sized players. 220×176 is the same resolution as the Sansa Fuze while the Sony mentioned has a 240×320 resolution. At 2”, 320×240 would have been very possible and a lot better, not to mention the fact the player could fit a bigger screen without being physically bigger. Again it’s probably to make the player cheaper.
Menus and interface
Philips normally has more or less the same menus on all of their devices and there ar
e definite similarities to the menus of the Vibe and Spark. The main menu has “music”, “videos”, “pictures”, “FM radio”, “recordings”, “folder view”, “text reader”, “settings” and “now playing”. The main menu lists 5 options at a time with the icon on the right of the text instead of the Spark/Vibe system with three at a time with the icon above the text.
The music menu has the same limited amount of meta data options to browse by as the other Philips players; all songs, artists, albums, playlists and audiobooks. No genre, year etc. Audiobooks is for Audible only like on other Philips players. Scrolling lists brings up an adapted version of the pop-up box used on the Spark and Vibe showing the letter of the alphabet you’re currently scrolling through. The Aria version is a box on the left of the list, pushing everything to the right. I like this feature a lot on Philips players and it’s a nice way of adapting it to a bigger resolution. Unfortunately, the mirroring of menu systems between the players means that it also has the same basic issues, including the lack of ability to access an options menu from the music list. On the playback screen there’s a menu which contains among other things the “add to playlist”, “remove from playlist” and “delete” options and those would be more logical to have accessible from the music list so you wouldn’t have to start playing back a track to manage it.
The settings menu is about the same as the one on the Vibe as well. No dedicated layout settings menu on the Aria either (something found on the Spark, allowing you to customize startup and shutdown pics etc) but it has the basic themes and screensaver options that the Vibe does. Song title, album art, analog clock, digital clock and demo mode are the screensaver options and “dark”, “red” and “light” are the themes available. On the Vibe the themes were a bit random and not the most accurately named, but while the red theme on the Aria is more purple/pink the light and dark themes are actually what they say. Other settings include the usual; play mode, sound settings, sleep timer, date/time, slideshow settings, language and PC connection type as well as player info and a “factory settings” option. As with the Vibe the only way to access the sleep timer is from the main settings menu and not the playback screen, which is an extra annoyance.
As for the playback screen, the main difference from the two smaller Philips players is that it doesn’t use the album art as wallpaper. Instead it displays it more traditionally, which I guess is due to the screen aspect ratio. Date/time, battery life, song info, album art and a progress bar are all present on the playback screen as well as icons indicating play status and play mode. Another difference from the Vibe and Spark is that when the Aria’s screen saver activates in album art mode, it doesn’t display the album art full screen or even as large as possible while maintaining the ratio. Instead it shows it as a tiny picture that pops around the screen like a default screensaver on a computer. A pity as I always liked the album art screensaver.
With MSC/MTP user selectable transfer modes, you can use the Aria on any OS you want. If you’re on Windows, you can use a variety of music software to manage your music, create playlists etc. Philips also offers the same two software tools as on the Vibe; video converter and firmware updater. The firmware updated without problems on my device, but the Philips firmware updater has a history of being less reliable than one would like.
As I’ve said before, I don’t really consider any player with less than a 320×240 as a video player. 220×176 on the Aria might not sound that much lower than 320×240, but if you calculate the number of pixels you get 38720 and 76800 respectively- almost double the number of pixels on 320×240, in other words. Besides the resolution issue, players that have screens this small aren’t really meant for video anyways, so they tend to use stupid, proprietary video codecs- SMV in this case, which is a container for MJPEG, possibly worst video format ever. As such I don’t really encourage anyone to use the video feature on the Aria; it’s simply too much work for a bad result when you can get a better video player for the same price. The screen is also bad in that the viewing angle is rather poor and to get the best picture you have to tilt the right end of the player towards you and hold it at that angle, otherwise the contrast get messed up. To add insult to injure, the video feature is also extremely bugged; sometimes it just says “No videos” found and then when you try again they are there, sometimes it doesn’t list all the videos, sometimes it lists MP3 files as video, sometimes it claims ”unsupported file type” and sometimes it plays the wrong video when selected. Bottom line, the video feature is useless.
The same issues with screen resolution and viewing angle that makes video playback close to useless makes photo viewing less usable as well. You can of course use it for viewing a few pics here and there, but it’s a novelty more than anything else and it won’t be your main reason for buying the player.
The text reader will display .txt files, and that’s it. The usefulness of that feature I’ll leave for others to decide, but it certainly is no eBook reader. It also scrolls one line at a time instead of one screen at a time, which makes it a bit hard to follow.
The radio is practically identical to that on the Vibe. That means a very simple radio feature that will let you either auto-tune or manually tune to FM stations and listen to them. Nothing more. The reception is average, just as 90% of radios on MP3 players.
The voice recorder is also more or less identical to that of the Vibe. It records to MP3; 8 kHz, 32 kbps. The mic is sub-par and it’s a novelty as everything else on the player and is useless for any real use. Still, it’s there if you ever really need to record something.
I’m starting to think I’m rewriting the Vibe review here as the Aria is really not that much different- and that goes for the sound quality as well. It’s “ok” to the degree that anyone who would choose this player over all the others on the market, wouldn’t need any better anyways. It’s the MP3 player equivalent of not having optical audio out on a $20 kitchen radio; those that buy such a product wouldn’t have a use for it, so it’s borderline irrelevant. I’m willing to bet that the only time a Philips Aria has ever been connected to headphones that cost more than $20 was during this review, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. As for sound enhancements, the Aria has an equalizer as well as Philips’ FullSound technology. FullSound is basically as useless as the player itself, at least for people who are used to the sound enhancement on players such as Cowon and Sony. If you pair FullSound with any headphones that sound even moderately decent, it will sound like someone drugged you and installed a
subwoofer from a $20 2.1 PC speaker system directly in your ear and threw out the actual speakers. It’s somewhat useful on the sort of headphones that anyone who buys this player would have (stock earbuds in 99% of the cases, I’d imagine) as bass is often the thing lacking from such headphones. I think skip252 made my point pretty well in the comment section of the Spark review, so I’ll quote his description of the FullSound technology: “I tried FullSound in a noisy area with the stock earbuds and it gave them some color and fullness. Like a 2 year old coloring with a crayon but something. The same settings with just a pair of Senn CX300 was a very loud, boomy mess.”
The Aria is basically just a slightly bigger Vibe, without much improvement. The screen still has a resolution too low to properly display video and photos, and the video format shows that video support is nothing more than a gimmick. Voice recording, radio, text reader etc are all features that are so average that “radio: yes” would frankly be enough of a description. Priced at $99 (MSRP, currently $80 on Amazon) for 16GB it’s definitely a low end player; one you’d buy for a kid, parents or if money is tight. However, there is no longer any room for player’s this “meh” even at lower price ranges due to the fact that there are decent players out there that cost the same but are a lot better. The 16GB Sony E340 is the same price, and a Sansa Fuze with a microSDHC card is even cheaper. The Sony for sure is a much better choice for video since it supports more sane formats and has that magic 240×320 resolution that doubles the number of pixels for both video and photos. I don’t like saying one player is better than another because objectively speaking no player is the same and there might be people who prefer one over the other for reasons I can’t know, but I very much doubt the Aria will be on a lot of people’s Christmas list this year. It simply doesn’t stand out in any way whatsoever, and that isn’t a good thing in a competitive market. Philips was ignored by us on ABi for years due to the fact they have way too many models on the market, don’t have clear distribution channels or support and generally don’t make anything worth talking about. The Spark was a positive surprise, but after having reviewed the Vibe and Aria I’m tempted to go back to thinking Philips simply isn’t in the same league as the other brands we review.