Philips GoGear Aria SA1ARA00K/17 Review

philips aria main Philips GoGear Aria SA1ARA00K/17 Review

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
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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.

Design

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.

Software

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.

Features

Video

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.

Photos

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.

Text viewer

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.

Radio

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.

Voice recording

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.

Sound quality

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.”

Conclusion

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.




20 Comments

Mike on December 26, 2009 11:59 AM

Such a shame. Philips keeps on coming out with what seem to be promising players, and then there is the let-down once they actually are looked at. Doesn’t it make sense for Philips to follow through?

ashiiya on December 26, 2009 12:11 PM

I just think that Philips’ players are just those budget players you see in pharmacies for people who don’t wanna really go out and find something more awesome.The Spark was really one of their better players, but the others just don’t cut it and you wonder why they made it in the first place. This Aria especially, it sounds so frustrating to work with.

Jack4L on December 26, 2009 12:17 PM

Thanks for the reviews. Plenty of Philips players in Finland and I’ve always wondered what they were like. They just aren’t covered by anyone and its nice to see such an in depth review, even of a bad product :)

ultrauber on December 26, 2009 11:13 PM

No hate against Phillips, but I think this sort of thing is really an embarrasment to the non-iPod crowd. When people talk about how “iPods are the best and everything else sucks” it’s because all they see is these things. I mean, the goal (partially) of ABi is to promote the premium player other than iPods and negate these bad “stereotypes,” but players like this are always kind of like, “Apple fanboys do have a point…”

sammy on December 27, 2009 2:34 AM

@ultrauberI agree. iPods aren’t nearly the best thing on the market (really nothing is the ‘best,’ if you think about it…) but when they see stuff like this it really does make it seem like it.

Andy on December 27, 2009 6:56 AM

A budget product for budget people for those that quality is not a priority. Hey look at the ipod.

SansaRulez83 on December 27, 2009 12:47 PM

Poor Andreas. The new management isn’t making you review crappy players are they? If they want more reviews they should send you all the random Sony players.

Nicko on December 27, 2009 1:35 PM

Oh! I see a Zen XFi2 in pic no.15. When do we get to see the review of that player?!

RobertNL on December 27, 2009 11:18 PM

If I were the product manager of this player, I would be embarassed. How can anyone be proud of creating such a thing? And I don’t understand why Philips would attach their name to it, it doesn’t do their image any good.In any case, thanks for the review because otherwise I might have thought the product was any good because it was a Philips. Now I will think twice when I see their name (and I’m Dutch even).

Dreamnine on December 28, 2009 2:15 PM

I get confused with all these different Philips players.On one site in the UK I’ve seen the Vibe, the Raga, the Ariaz and the Opus with no sign of the spark anywhere – the only really decent Philips from your (or anyone else’s) reviews.If I were budget minded a Creative or the cheaper Sonys look like a better choice.

AA on January 4, 2010 7:31 AM

I think Philips has a nice range of players-all with the similar sound quality (hoped each one would have had a unique sound quality).

Michael on January 10, 2010 1:36 PM

I bought one of these after my Zune 80′s hard drive failed as a cheap, quick fix.Zune is no longer sold in Canada.Just wanted to say that after using the Zune, most MP3 players leave me feeling like I’m missing a lot in my audio experience. This player is cheap and cluttered. Hard to organize music properly. There’s hardly a reason to put album art on your MP3s because it’s so small on the Aria.I learned my lesson, and a Zune HD is in the mail from Ebay.

Pranav on January 11, 2010 7:06 AM

god!!i thought sony players had complex name..but philips just beat it hands down!!btw the build quality on these ones is really poor.just had my hands on and feels easy to break!!

Robert Schultz on January 12, 2010 12:32 PM

This MP3 player is horrible. A week after I bought it I noticed that it sometimes turned itself off when I increased the volume. I sent an email to the support folks. They sent an email back telling me I should push the reset button and then go to the website and download the latest firmware. I shouldn’t worry about my music because it would only reset the firmware. It deleted EVERYTHING. Fortunately I have it all on my PC and just resynced it all.After doing that it still would shut itself off some times when I increased the volume. I sent another email. They had me call the 800 number.I called the told the tech what I had already done. He said that is what he would have walked me through and that they would send me a replacement player. I waited two weeks. It was Christmas and I thought everything might be slower. I finally called back and they said the tech should have walked me through everything again and so they hadn’t sent me one. That tech then walked me through the reset process again. After that I copied a couple songs over to the player and tested it. It worked fine, but I told the tech it didn’t always do that.After another week it was shutting itself off again. I called again and the lady said she’d send me a new one. Then she called back and said she couldn’t authorize that, I had to talk to someone in a different department. That lady wanted my credit card number. I didn’t feel I should give her my credit card number I already did that with another company and it took three months to get the charges off of my credit card.I sent the player to my brother and told him he could have it and warned him about the problem with the player shutting itself off and the trouble with the company. He said he would see if he could use it and maybe call the company and ask to talk to a supervisor. He called me back and told me they said the warranty was up and they couldn’t do anything about it.Beware – I will never buy anything from this company again.

Abby on March 16, 2010 6:30 PM

I got a MP3 player for Chrisymas and it really works. My Mp3 was the Aria GoGear model, I highly recommend this model for prospective buyers.

Matt on March 19, 2010 6:26 PM

I’ve got one of these players and I’m surprised by the negativity here. I use the Aria and my wife has a sansa clip+. We use Rhapsody and she always has license issues and I haven’t had a problem with mine.

Winifred on April 4, 2010 5:57 PM

I’m looking for a new MP3 player as I’ve had it with my iPod. They’re overpriced, not exactly easy to use and iTunes is about the worst software I’ve ever had the misfortune to use. I was hoping Philips with Songbird was a better experience. Maybe I’ll have to look at other models.

Nal on April 14, 2010 5:11 AM

After more then three years, my Creative Zen gave up so I went looking for an alternative. Being European and all, I decided to try a Philips (NL) once. The expert reviews were positive about the Gogear Aria and the specs told me that it wouldn’t be very different from the Zen.But it was far from the same. The interface and menu look old-fashioned. There is no synchronisation software so you have to drag ‘n drop, or deal with WMP or Songbird (which I use). Creating playlists is almost impossible, and you can’t play the music per genre. So you kinda have to play the songs one album at a time, or shuffle all the songs.More negatives: video quality is less than minimal. Don’t even think about it to watch a vid on this mp3. The same counts for watching images. The mp3 player fell one time out of my hands (on the carpet!) and a piece of plastic broke off.Well to be honest, there are two positive aspects on the mp3 player. There is the folder navigation, and radio quality is excellent. (Which I don’t use)Philips is a good company, but don’t buy this MP3 player. You will be dissapointed.

julius on May 19, 2010 12:44 PM

I have listened and observed thoroughly both my sister’s Apple Ipod Nano and my Philips GoGear Aria and plugged them on my Creative 2.1 sound system and listen to them carefully. My verdict is Philips has better sound quality using the Fullsound feature than the Ipod. Better bass reflex even using Apple Ipod Nano’s earphone.Afterall, I’m a medical transcriptionist and I also have the psychoacoustic ability listening to sound almost perfectly. Hands down!

gladwin on November 30, 2010 8:53 AM

this player has a problem when i try to increase the volume. it just shuts itself off, basically resetting everything. there’s possibly no way for me to increase the volume now. i have to hear it a its default output. this player is horrible. Also u won’t get any tech support for it unless you’re in the Americas or Europe.

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