The Philips GoGear Spark is a tiny MP3 player with an affordable price, well-rounded features and a unique design. If you're looking for a small MP3 player that won't break the bank, the Spark is hard to beat.
The Spark is available in a 2GB version for around £40, and a 4GB version for around £50.
Ever since Apple scored a hit with the tiny, clip-on iPod shuffle, competitors such as Samsung, SanDisk and iRiver have been busy making their own wearable MP3 player designs. Unfortunately, most of these small MP3 players offer only basic features and include either small monochromatic displays or no displays at all. The Spark is one of the first budget-friendly MP3 players to hit the market that offers the convenience of a lightweight, wearable design, while maintaining a relatively large 38mm (1.5-inch) OLED colour display.
For a device that measures 44mm square and 13mm thick, the presence of 38mm display doesn't leave much room for anything else. Some of the Spark's controls are located on the sides, such as the volume button, options button and power/hold switch, but mostly you control the player by squeezing it.
Taking a page from iRiver's Clix series of MP3 players, Philips designed the Spark with squeezable edges. Pinching the top or bottom edges of the Spark allows you to scroll through lists of music or FM radio frequencies, while squeezing the left or right edges allows you to skip through songs or rotate through each of the eight main menu icons (music, photos, radio, recording, folder, personalise, settings and now playing). In general, the Spark is easy to navigate and offers attractive, intuitive menus and responsive controls.
The Spark is designed to be worn. Unlike the iPod shuffle or Sansa Clip, the Spark doesn't have a built-in clip, but an included neck strap can be threaded through a hoop on the corner of the player. Of course, you can always store the Spark in your pocket, but be sure to engage the button-hold switch to prevent the pressure-sensitive screen from skipping tracks accidentally.
The Spark isn't ambitious when it comes to features, but it covers the basics. The music player built into the Spark supports MP3 and WMA formats (including DRM-protected subscriptions and purchases). The music menu is organised by artist, album, genre and playlist, and you can delete songs directly from the device or add them to on-the-go playlists.
The Spark's music playback screen is the best we've seen on a device in this price range. Song information is relatively large and legible, album artwork acts as a full-screen background image, and song duration and position information are clearly shown on the bottom third of the screen. By clicking the options button on the top edge of the Spark, you'll see a sub-menu for setting up shuffle and repeat modes, adjusting EQ, adding or removing a song from playlists, or deleting a song entirely.
The photo viewer on the Spark lets you browse your JPEG photos manually or see them in an automatic slideshow. By making a few tweaks in the 'personalise' menu, you can specify any photo in your collection to appear when the Spark starts up or shuts down, which is a good touch that we haven't seen before.
FM radio reception on the Spark is average, with 20 memory-preset slots and an auto-program feature that works quickly. The Spark's voice-recording feature is equally mediocre. Recordings are made as low bit-rate WAV files and are very sensitive to handling noise.
Philips doesn't chart any new territory when it comes to the Spark's audio quality, but the included earbuds, integrated FullSound audio-enhancement technology, and handful of EQ presets add up to a formidable combination when compared with the iPod shuffle. Paired with a higher grade of headphone, the FullSound audio enhancement is overwhelming on the low end, but it can be switched off in exchange for the more subtle-sounding five-band EQ.
Battery life is much better than the iPod shuffle's as well, offering a lifespan of 27 hours, compared with the shuffle's 12 hours.
For the price, the Philips GoGear Spark offers a winning combination of style, usability and features, giving the iPod shuffle and other budget MP3 players a run for their money.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet