While the Philips Spark is more of a premium priced player considering the size and capacity, Philips usually price their players more competitively. One of the players that fall into the “cheap” category is the GoGear Vibe, but at what cost? Read on to find out.
- Quick Look
- Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB
- Screen: 1,5″ 128×128 Color LCD
- Size: 66 x 42 x 11.6 mm
- Weight: 34g
- Supported Audio: MP3, WMA, Audible, Rhapsody
- Battery Life: 25 hours audio, 4 hours video
- Transfer Modes: MTP/MSC user-selectable
- Connection Type: Mini USB B
- User Interface: Tactile
- Sound enhancements: Equalizer
- Other Features: RDS FM Radio, sleep timer, on-the-go playlists
In the box
The Vibe comes with the basic; headphones and USB cable. No cases or anything like that. The USB cable is rather nice though, being very short and very nice to carry with you. There are bundles sold that include an armband, however I’m unsure if you can buy those accessories separately. Philips isn’t the easiest brand to get a hold of and finding accessories is even harder.
The Vibe is probably the cutest player I have eve seen. There’s just something about the size and shape of the thing that looks so adorable. It might be the fact that between the general shape, screen/control pad placement and the recessed bump in the middle it frankly looks like a baby-ZVM. The front has a 4-way d-pad, the right side has the volume control and options button and the left side has the hold/power switch. The 3.5mm jack, lanyard hole, mic and USB port is on the bottom.
The build quality is solid, with glossy black plastic on the front and back and matte plastic on the sides. There are no bad molds or squeaking in the plastic and it overall feels solid albeit not bullet proof. These days you can’t expect anything but plastic, but at least it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart first chance it gets.
The buttons are a tad annoying, in particular the layout of the d-pad. It has a recessed area in the middle which on any other player would be a “select” button or something like that (5-way d-pad), but on the Vibe it does nothing (except pressing all four buttons at once if you actually do try to use it as if it was a button itself). With no select button, you have to use the right button on the d-pad to select menu items etc, which doesn’t feel all that natural. The Vibe would have been awesome had they made it a 5-way d-pad, particularly if it had been like the ones you find on the Sansa Clip+ or Sony A820; squared (or rectangular in this case) d-pad with a raised 4-button outer ring and a noticeable fifth button in the middle. I like to be able to feel the buttons and know exactly where I am, and while the recessed bump in the middle of the Vibe’s d-pad does held with blind navigation quite well it’s not worth the compromise in losing the benefits of a good 5-way d-pad in my opinion.
As I said the design is very nice and to me it feels like the perfect size for a small player. A player like the Sansa Clip is too small to have a decent screen, and the Vibe is just enough bigger to fit a 1.5” LCD screen in there without becoming too big to be classified “tiny”. The extra size also makes room for a 25 hour battery. There aren’t many players this size however, the Zen Mozaic being the closest in size and features. The screen is a pitiful 128×128 pixels, which is enough for basic navigation but surely won’t win any award, and it makes the video function a joke. Then again, players like the Sony E340 and Sansa Fuze aren’t that much bigger and you get a much better screen (at least with the Sony).
Menus and interface
The main menu is more or less identical to those of the Philips Spark. You have music, videos, pictures, FM radio, recordings, folder view, settings and now playing/last
played. It lacks the personalization menu of the Spark which let you change things like startup picture, shutdown picture etc- but it does have some of those features in the main settings menu, namely themes and screensaver settings. The screensaver is similar to the one on the Spark, allowing you to show either song title, album art, analog or digital clock or demo mode. It lacks both the “graphic EQ” and “personal slideshow” options of the Spark however. Since the screen is LCD not OLED like the Spark, the viewing angle isn’t as good and the screen in general lacks that OLED feel to it. The viewing angle is however the biggest difference; with perfect visibility from any angle on the Spark, the screen looked half like a sticker and not a screen, giving it a very nice touch when using the screensaver. No-one would ever mistake the screen on the Vibe for being anything but exactly that, however.
The settings also include the standard set of options (play mode, equalizer, display settings, date/time etc) but also has two that aren’t that common; sleep timer and connection mode. Sleep timer is as you would imagine a setting that turns the player off after a set interval (15, 30 or 60 minutes). As with the Spark this can’t be accessed from the options menu on the playback screen, which is a rather peculiar arrangement, but at least it’s there if you don’t mind digging through the menus. “PC connection mode” lets you choose between MTP and MSC, a nice feature that way too few players have these days. This simple little option means that the player is compatible with any OS including Linux, instead of just Windows and other platforms “if you know how” like with MTP.
Music browsing is done either by tag data or file/folder mode. The latter is located as a separate menu in the main menu as it also works for videos and photos (most players have file/folder browsing as a sub-menu to music). The music menu lets you browse by all songs, artist, album and playlist; no genres or anything that fancy. It also has an option for audiobooks, which in this case means Audible. The player supports also supports Rhapsody, though that doesn’t have its own menu obviously, since it’s music.
It’s fairly quick at scrolling large lists and it has the same pop-up letter indicating where you are in the alphabet, but it’s not THAT fast and certainly could be faster. The menus overall are generally rather snappy- not that I had expected (or tolerated) otherwise.
You can also change the color scheme, or “theme” as the player calls it. There are three available themes; light, dark and red and they’re frankly a bit random. The dark theme isn’t as much dark as it is “light grey”, the light theme is simply yellow with bad contrast text colors and the red theme is more purple and pink. I do like being able to change the theme, but there should have been more than three different themes to choose from and they should have been a bit more true to their name (at least when there’s so few).
The forward/backwards navigation works decently however I still prefer a dedicated fifth d-pad button for selecting menu items. It would also have been nice if you could add to the playlist from the music list itself by pressing the option button, instead of having to start playing the song and then adding it to a playlist. That way you would have had the option to use it as a queue for what to play next instead of spending 15 minutes getting it organized first.
As for video and photo they are pretty straight forward what browsing is concerned. Photos go directly into viewing mode and videos give you a list of videos to play. You can actually resume videos, which is nice if you ever were going to use the video feature at all.
The Vibe uses the album art as wallpaper just like the Spark, a feature I quite like. It’s annoying when the album art has the same color as the text of course, but otherwise it looks very fancy. 128×128 is a poor resolution for video and photo viewing, but for something simple like displaying album art it’s ok. The playback screen also shows you song title, artist name and album title, song number and battery indicator as well as a progress bar and icons showing the play mode and EQ in use. The extra lines of text you can put on a display even as small as 128×128 compared to that of players like the Sansa Clip, Samsung U5 or Sony B140 is one of the reasons that this size of players makes more sense for very small players. Album art and tag data might not be crucial to use the player, but it sure is nice to have a player that supports it without having to buy a larger device.
During playback the right button works as the play/pause button and the left button brings you back to the music list. Up/down changes tracks, which is rather backwards in my opinion and you’ll press the wrong buttons a few times before you learn the layout. The option button brings up a menu where you can directly access play mode and sound settings, add the song to an on-the-go playlist, remove it from a playlist or delete the file. As I said earlier, I’d like to have had the sleep timer in this menu and also not have the playlist option limited to this menu alone.
As for audiobooks, that feature is somewhat limited as there are no options whatsoever for those files; no variable playback speed, no chapter mode on/off, no delete. It does remember the position (as it does with music as well) when you turn it off, but that’s about it. It also lacks the feature the Spark has where it asks you if you really want to skip tracks if you press the up/down buttons, although it does pause the track instead of skipping the tracks. You can then press the up arrow again to restart the current file, but you can’t skip to the next file at all apparently- very peculiar method of doing it.
With the Vibe I almost forgot to add a section about the sound quality because it’s such an underwhelming player in every way that I almost forgot it could play music. Frankly, the sound quality doesn’t matter. As I see it, there isn’t a single reason why anyone would buy this player given the options available out there. Anyone who would probably couldn’t tell the difference between Koss Sparkplugs and UE11’s anyways. However, for the sake of being politically correct and assuming someone would buy this thing, the sound quality is decent but surely not top of the line. Think Creative, and you might know what I mean. On top of that it doesn’t have the “FullSound” EQ option that the Spark has, which is frankly an improvement as it’s utterly useless in any case. Either way, the bottom line is that with all the flaws and peculiarities of this player, lack of perfect sound quality shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
The Vibe does support video, but only in a proprietary SMV format at 128×128 pixels (the screen resolution). Seeing no videos are even that aspect ratio, the usable resolution will be even less. A 16:9 video would display as 128×72 pixels, or put in other terms- 2.56% the resolution of a 16:9 video on an Archos 5 or Cowon A3. At such a ridiculously low resolution, it’s as close to useless as you can get without assistance from Samsung’s touchpad department. Vide on this thing is a gimmick to the degree that if the video
conversion software Philips offers happened to not work, I doubt anyone would find out as I can’t imagine anyone watching any video on such a small, low resolution screen. If so, it’s to shock people that a player that small has video support at all. Video on anything below QVGA (320×240) is in my opinion useless in 2009 as devices that has this resolution isn’t all that much more expensive. My point is, you don’t buy the Vibe to watch videos. Ever.
As with videos, 128×128 is really too little to do anything useful with. You might put some quick photos on the player just for the fun of it- after all it takes a lot less space and a lot less time than doing the same for video- but again the fact is 128×128 is very little. I mentioned in the Spark review that one possible use for photos on such a screen would be if the player was a gift to parents or otherwise technologically unequipped people who wouldn’t know a 1080p screen if it fell on their head and that is true for the Vibe as well; put some pictures of grandchildren on there or something like that. The bottom line is still the same; you don’t but this player to use it for viewing photos any more than you do for viewing video.
Even iPods come with FM radios these days, and so does the Vibe. It’s supposed to be an RDS enabled receiver- capable of receiving and displaying station name etc- but this didn’t work for me in Norway. I’m unsure if the technologies are different or if the stations here support the technology at all (FM is old compared to DAB so they might not care about old technologies as much), but I doubt there’s a problem with the player itself- unless they removed the RDS feature in a firmware update like Samsung did years ago with the Samsung U3. The radio feature is otherwise as generic as can get; auto-tune or manual tune, presets, and mediocre but usable reception. It would be interesting to see how many people actually use the radio on a device as on many players- the Vibe included- it’s more of a thrown in feature “because we can” than anything else. Hard-core radio fans tend to go with players with more extensive radio features anyways (Zune HD for HD radio, Cowon D2 for DAB) so I guess it makes sense that cheap players like the Vibe don’t focus too much on the radio features.
The Vibe’s voice recorder is what you would expect from any such player: bad. It records to MP3, which is good, but 8kHz 32kbps is not. Again a feature I wouldn’t expect anyone to use frequently.
One positive thing about Philips players (at least the three I have) is that they all have both normal playlists and on-the-go playlists. On-the-go playlists are added on the player, of course, and normal playlists are added like you would with any MTP player; using software or simply doing it directly in Windows Explorer.
The Vibe is as I said above MTP/MSC user selectable. That means full support with any OS and no need for proprietary software. Philips does offer a firmware updater which actually worked (compared to that of the Spark) and a video convertor (would really want to know the download statistics of that software…). Of course, with MTP you have a choice of a range of organizing software if you want to go that route.
There’s something about the size and shape of the Vibe I really like. Unfortunately, the rest doesn’t quite match up. If this player had a decent d-pad, micro-SD slot and more focus on the usability of the UI instead of useless features like video, it would be a very nice device. There aren’t many players this size after all. Then again, at $50 for 4GB and $60 for 8GB you aren’t that far off a Sansa Fuze or Sony E340 which are better in almost every way and physically aren’t that much bigger, speaking in volume. These days there isn’t much room for players that only have the price going for them, and the Vibe is such a player. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that there are better players out there for the same price or close. You might save 10 bucks, but it isn’t worth it in my opinion.