The 2GB Philips GoGear SA4020 and its 1GB brother, the SA4010, don't deliver the most enviable list of features for flash-based MP3 players in their price category, but they do boast a solid, well-designed build that's easy on the eyes and pleasant to hold.
But that's where the buck stops. The GoGear SA4000 series is no cheaper than competitors such as the Creative Zen Nano Plus, the mobiBlu DAH-1500i, and the SanDisk Sansa c250, but it still sacrifices useful features such as an FM tuner.
The SA4020's curved construction shows that someone at Philips put some serious thought into designing a player that would be comfortable to grip while jogging. While the body is entirely plastic, its rounded design makes it feel solid compared to thinner and more delicate players such as the iPod nano. We dropped the GoGear on the ground a few times to test its resilience, and it handled abuse just fine.
Controls are tactile, rounded and easy to remember. We'd prefer a different colour on the record button to visually distinguish it from the others, but its placement closer to the back of the player is far enough out of the way to not be engaged accidentally. The buttons are raised from the body but have a low enough profile that they won't snag on clothes or irritate your hand when holding the player for extended periods.
Controls for play, pause and scan are largest and live on the front of the player. The Volume, Menu/Hold and Record buttons line the side of the player, exactly where right-handed people would naturally rest their thumbs -- sorry, lefties. This placement felt natural, except that when held this way (vertically), the volume buttons are the reverse of what you would expect -- the bottom button will raise the volume and the top button will lower it.
The back of the device has a loophole for a lanyard and a removable battery cover concealing the single AAA battery inside. The battery cover comes off a little too easily and could really use a screw or lock feature to hold it in place, but we appreciate the easy-to-find battery type. There's something to be said for the instant gratification of popping in a fresh battery when you run out of juice. On the downside, you're also contributing to landfills full of spent batteries. Using a rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AAA battery would be a good compromise, but you'll have to shell out for this yourself.
At the top of the player, you'll find a headphone jack and a built-in microphone. The USB 2.0 port is on the bottom of the device, covered by a remarkably sturdy rubber gasket that naturally stays in place and is securely tethered to the body.
The GoGear's single design flaw is its very small, 32 by 6mm screen. During playback, the GoGear displays text in two tiny rows against a colourful but dimly backlit screen. As a result, you'll suffer some eyestrain to read the text, but few players in this price range do much better. We also wish Philips had blessed lefties with the ability to reorient the text.
Speaking of missing features, the GoGear SA4000 series has a few. Philips may have left out a few extras -- such as the ability to sort tracks by genre or define recording quality modes -- to streamline the user experience.
But there's no excuse for leaving out an FM tuner, a key feature many competitors in its price range include. For a budget player geared towards a workout-centric audience, the absence of an FM tuner is a deal-breaker. The GoGear's close competitor in price and size, the Creative Zen Nano Plus, not only includes FM and station presets, but also lets you record FM.