The GoGear Vibe is Philips' latest entry into a crowded market: budget MP3 players. Both the 4GB (£50) and 8GB (£70) models include a 38mm (1.5-inch), colour screen and a useful assortment of features, but the navigation pad's quirky design will send you into fits.
Like most Philips MP3 players (we'll make an exception for the GoGear Spark), the Vibe is a case study in non-descript design. It measures 38 by 64 by 6mm, and can easily fit in the palm of your hand or slip into your pocket.
On the Vibe's left-hand side, you'll find a power switch that doubles as a button hold, leaving the right-hand side with a menu option button and a volume rocker switch that's just big enough to be useful. The top of the Vibe is bare, but the bottom is riddled with openings for a mini-USB connection, 3.5mm headphone jack, and pinhole microphone for the voice recorder, as well as a lanyard loop (a lanyard's not included).
The face of the Vibe holds both its greatest strength and weakness. The top half of the player's front includes a feature found on few MP3 players in this price range -- a colour screen. At this price, you're lucky to get any screen at all, let alone a 38mm screen capable of displaying photos, videos and album artwork. The resolution is crud and you'll really need to crank up the Vibe's brightness to read it in broad daylight, but it's still a feature worth bragging about to anyone dangling their SanDisk Sansa Clip in front of you.
Now for the bad news. The Vibe's four-direction navigation pad is a travesty. Aside from the fact that you illogically need to press up to skip backwards and down to skip forwards, the biggest mistake Philips has made is with the centre button. Specifically, the problem is that there isn't a centre button, but rather an inviting, button-like indentation that serves only to make the user scream and cry.
Philips must have given its usability team the week off when they pushed through this design. Not only is the indentation pointless, but applying pressure to it causes one of the four surrounding buttons to trigger at random. We discovered this the hard way after turning the Vibe on for the first time and trying to select our language from a list of 22 options. A press of the indentation caused the selection to jump. Suddenly, we were trying to decipher Russian.
In spite of our complaints about the control pad, the Vibe's design is decent overall, and a little patience and practice will lessen the navigation woes. That said, if you can live without the Vibe's colour screen (and the photo and video features that come with it), the navigation controls on similarly priced players, such as the Samsung YP-U5 and Sansa Clip are far more intuitive.
Considering the Vibe's price, it's hard to find anything to complain about when it comes to features. The Vibe's music player supports the MP3, WMA and Audible formats, but it lacks support for the AAC music files used with Apple's iTunes music store. Audio can be enhanced with a handful of EQ presets or a custom five-band EQ. They do a decent job of squeezing some extra life out of the otherwise lacklustre earbuds that come bundled with the player.