Philips' SA9345 is a new member of the Streamium family of audio products from the Netherlands-based company. It emerges into an incredibly competitive market dominated by Apple's iPod. With prices hovering around the £129 mark, the same as a brand new video iPod nano, we're hoping for a solid competitor.
While the face of the lightweight SA9345 is finished in a glossy black, the rest of the silver-trimmed body has a stylish brushed charcoal look. The player's touch-sensitive controls live underneath the player's screen and glow with an attractive blue when touched -- certain functions light up only when they can be used within a given menu.
The downside to the glossy allure of the SA9345 is that it'll memorise your fingerprints in new and exciting detail. This is an issue most touch-sensitive or touchscreen handhelds suffer from and Philips' new model is no exception.
A très-handy menu button brings up context menus for each of the player's various modes. There's no button to return to the main menu though -- you need to cycle backwards through each menu to return home. Power and volume controls come in the form of physical buttons, each sitting on the left and right of the player respectively.
The 46mm (1.8-inch) colour LCD display has a resolution of 220x176 pixels -- lower than the iPod nano's sharp 51mm (2-inch) 320x240-pixel screen. The use of mostly blue on black backgrounds doesn't give the screen a wholly bright appearance, but it's easy to read and serves its purpose well.
You'll be pleased to know this audio player plays MP3 and WMA files, protected and unprotected, but perhaps less pleased to know format support ends here -- no AAC, no WAV and no OGG or FLAC either. Videos in WMV format will play back quite happily as long as resolutions don't exceed the 220x176-pixel resolution and 376Kbps limitation. Supplied software handles file conversion for you. For photos, simple JPEG files are supported.
Music is sorted in the typical artist>album>song structure or you can browse by album art, the latter sorted in 3x3 grids of 8x8mm colour thumbnails. Playlists can be made on-the-fly from the context menu available in the 'now playing' screen. A 'Superscroll' function allows you to brush your finger down the vertical scroll strip, letting you fly down a list of hundreds of artists or songs in seconds. Very neat.
Finally, there's a simple built-in FM radio capable of storing 20 presets and a photo gallery, complete with thumbnail browsing and slideshow options.
Overall, sound quality is pretty decent. There's little we could complain about on the whole. The SA9345's tone is similar to that of the new iPod classic -- it's not quite got the bass oomph of, say, a Sony player, but only hardcore critics will find reason to complain. Aphex Twin's psychedelic Windowlicker sounded excellent through our Denon AH-C700 earphones. The song's critical bright highs sounded as they should.
Green Day's Whatshername exploded with the same power and studio-increased gain that the iPod has. Bass is clear and mids are well reproduced. A set of preset EQ options are available and make a noticeable and effective difference on sound quality, though personal preference will take over here. The SRS WOW option throws up the volume of the bass well, but added severe distortion to the track in question, and took away a vast amount of audio definition.
One interesting point to note is that the player's maximum volume is quite low. This isn't to say it's quiet -- it's simply lower than that of many other players. This is good news for parents concerned about the potential damage to their kids' ears.
Battery life is rated at 20 hours for audio or two hours for video. Our tests will determine whether this is accurate so check back soon for our results.
There's no question that the Philips SA9345 is a well-designed player with nicely implemented features. The problem is that for £129, there aren't enough of them. With competing players like the iPod with beautiful artwork and video integration, or Cowon's iAudio D2 with its SD card, touchscreen and vast audio codec support, the SA9345 just doesn't bring anything strikingly new to the market.
Still, if you anti-iPoders just want a simple, attractive and good-sounding audio player and can afford a premium, don't overlook this new offering from Philips.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday