Philips has come a long way since the Philips Nike PSA Play 64. The company has not only divorced its newest line of fitness-friendly MP3 players from the Nike brand but has also packed the sporty players with features any gym rat would love. The players are now part of Philips's Sports line and include the 6GB microdrive-based PSA615 (£180) and the flash-based PSA235, which offers 512MB of storage for around £95. While this is on the pricey side -- you can pick up a 512MB iPod Shuffle for just £69 -- active users might not mind paying a premium for the features offered by the PSA235.
The Philips PSA235 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with its round, discuslike design. Of course, with a weight of just 75g and a 64mm diameter, this MP3 player is much smaller and lighter than a discus. It's actually much more comfortable in the hand than the larger 6GB PSA615. With its shiny front, chromelike accents, and grippy red-rubber back, the PSA235 walks a fine line between style and sportiness. Aesthetically, this player won't appeal to everyone, but it's not ugly. In fact, we're rather taken by the rocking faceplate that serves to navigate menus, fast-forward through tracks and adjust volume -- it's really easy to use when the player is attached to your arm via the included armband. Other controls include the play/pause/power button, the menu and the lock keys, and the stopwatch-function rocker.
Along with the armband, the talking stopwatch is the PSA235's most useful fitness-oriented feature. The aforementioned rocker serves two functions. One side starts and stops the stopwatch, while the other side has a 'voice bubble' graphic and activates a female computer voice that tells you how much time has elapsed -- very neat. The PSA235 also automatically stores all your recorded times from the stopwatch. You can browse the times by date in the Sport History menu. Unfortunately, this player doesn't include a pedometer (like the Philips-Nike MP3Run) or a heart-rate monitor (like the Samsung YEPP Sport YP-60), so it doesn't track calories burned.
Other noteworthy features you'll find in the Philips PSA235 include shuffle and repeat playback modes, a bass-boost option, and five equaliser presets: Classical, Hip-Hop, Jazz, R&B and Rock. If you get tired of your digital tunes, you can switch over to the FM radio, which has an autotuner and ten preset slots. Supposedly, the autotuner will program the ten strongest stations, but we found that it just picked the first ten with any reception. This is no big problem, though, because it's very easy to manually reset individual slots to your preferred stations. Reception was great with the included headphones, but be forewarned that while the over-the-ear 'buds are convenient for working out, they're not adjustable, so they won't fit all ears.
A miniSD slot for memory expansion finishes off the Philips PSA235's feature set. These cards are available up to 1GB, costing about £50. The slot can be accessed by twisting off the back cover of the device. The battery and, unfortunately, the mini USB port also live there. While the cover isn't difficult to get on and off, we'd prefer not to have to do this every time we want to sync with our PC. The PSA235 uses Windows Media Player (WMP) for music transfers -- MP3 and protected WMA (Janus included) are supported -- and the package includes an install disc with the appropriate drivers for the program. Tunes transferred to the player without a hitch (at 1.7MB per second), and the WMP playlists showed up as such on the device; tracks are usefully arranged by playlist, artist and album. You should note that to avoid any issues between WMP and a miniSD card, you'll need to format the card when it's initially installed in the player and continue to use it with just the player.
In our tests, the Philips PSA235's sound quality impressed us overall. Even through the included 'buds, sound was decent, though it was slightly too bright and tinny for our taste. Also, bass was lacking. However, when we swapped them for a pair of Westone's UM2 ear monitors, we were shocked by the robust bass response -- this little player can really bump it. In fact, turning on the bass-enhance feature was excessive. Philips's rated battery life of 15 hours for the PSA235 is only so-so for a flash player.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Nick Hide