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MP3 players

Philips GoGear Connect 3 review

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The Philips GoGear Connect 3, like Samsung's Galaxy Players, is an Android-based competitor to Apple’s iPod Touch. But while the Samsung models are best described as Android phones minus the phone, the Philips GoGear feels more like an MP3 player with Android tacked on as an afterthought.

Design

Measuring 2.28 by 0.44 by 4.44 inches, the GoGear is smaller than either of the Galaxy Players. Though the GoGear has the same footprint as the fourth generation iPod Touch, it's nearly twice as thick. The GoGear is built primarily of plastic, which helps the player achieve its light 3.7-ounce weight but also makes the device feel cheap.

The overall design of the GoGear is simplistic: The volume and power buttons are located on the right edge of the device, and are coloured a vibrant orange that makes them stand out. The front face is dominated by the 3.2-inch 480x320 resolution HVGA display. Beneath the screen are three large Android navigation buttons, Back, Home and Menu, that feel excessively spongy and rather flimsy. The MicroUSB port and the 3.5mm headphone jack both sit at the bottom of the device.

Unlike the Galaxy Players, the GoGear lacks a removable battery. It also lacks a MicroSD card slot, so whatever capacity you buy is what you're stuck with for the duration.

Performance and specs

The GoGear runs on Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) and uses a custom launcher for its home screens and app drawer. While the device's software looks slightly different from stock Android, the custom launcher is not as pervasive as Samsung's TouchWiz is on the Galaxy Player.

Don’t expect to get killer performance out of the GoGear. Powered by an 800MHz single-core processor and just 400MB of RAM, the GoGear can barely run Angry Birds let alone more graphically intensive titles like Minecraft: Pocket Edition (that app wouldn't run at all in my tests). The meager memory also limits the player's ability to multitask. I found that running more than two or three apps at once caused the GoGear to slow down dramatically. Due to those limitations, chances are slim that the GoGear will ever be updated past Gingerbread, though the device may continue to receive firmware updates for better stability.

Much like the Samsung Galaxy Players, the GoGear is an Android-compatible device, something that is still a rarity among Android-based media players. The GoGear has Wi-Fi, so you can access the Android Market to download additional content. If you have a Bluetooth headset or headphones, you can connect using the built-in Bluetooth.

Philips rates the battery life at up to 25 hours for audio or four hours for video playback. Judging from my experience, those stated times are close to what you can expect if you use the player only offline and if you don’t use any other apps. With Wi-Fi on and with multiple applications running, you can expect about six hours of battery life depending on the types of apps that are active. In my tests, using the Browser didn’t drain the battery as much as running Angry Birds did.

Software and extras

As mentioned earlier, the GoGear is an Android-compatible device, so it can take advantage of Google-licensed apps such as the Android Market and Maps. Aside from a custom launcher, Philips has preloaded several music-centric apps onto the device. MOG and Rhapsody apps are present, along with a radio tuner. Both MOG and Rhapsody need an active connection, while the tuner requires that you have headphones plugged in. The 7digital music store and the Viewster video store are also available, should you wish to buy media from a source other than the Android Market.

The Android Market sells music, in addition to renting movies. But it lacks both TV shows and download-to-own options, as you get with Apple's iTunes. Also, you'll have to download Google Music to enjoy songs you buy at the Market.

On the GoGear, the stock Google Music app has been replaced by a Philips-branded Songbird application. If you have Songbird installed on your computer, you can use it to sync your music, videos and photos onto the GoGear in a manner similar to how iTunes syncs content to iOS devices. Using Songbird is entirely optional, and you can elect to just drag your media onto the GoGear’s internal memory instead. Songbird will not recognise any music you buy from the Android Market, but it will recognise music purchased from other stores like Amazon.

Unfortunately, I found that Android on the GoGear was often unstable. Apps would crash for no reason, scrolling would cause the screen to distort, and the basic action of putting the GoGear to sleep would cause the screen to fill with static briefly before shutting off. One quirk that I found particularly amusing was the remnant phone option to share “your device’s mobile data connection” through USB tethering (err, not quite).

Media

Since the GoGear has access to the full Android Market, you can download a wide variety of content, including apps, music, movies and books. In my experience, games were barely playable on the GoGear; but other less processor-heavy applications ran smoothly.

Should you choose to not purchase content through the Android Market, the 7digital music store carries most big name artists, though the selection is not as extensive as on iTunes, Amazon or even the Android Market. The Viewster app allows you to purchase or rent movies, but its library was extremely limited when I checked it. You’ll find mainly documentaries, horror B movies and public domain films. If you want more recent releases, you are better off renting movies from the Android Market.

If you choose to load your own content onto your device, the provided Songbird app for use with a PC or Mac can help make the process painless by providing synchronisation options not available through, say, drag-and-drop in Windows Explorer. The GoGear supports all the standard file formats that Android supports, like MP3, AAC and H.264, as well as extras such as WMV9 and WMA.

Compared with the TouchWiz music player on the Galaxy Players, the Songbird app on the GoGear is nowhere near as elegant. The drab gray and white interface features tiny thumbnails for album art. Once you select the song or album you wish to play, you can slide the tab at the bottom of the screen to reveal the Now Playing screen, there you see a larger version of the album art, as well as basic playback controls. Songbird includes a few intriguing social options, among them the ability to “Like” a song on Facebook and the option to "scrobble" songs to your Last.fm account automatically.

Also unlike the Galaxy Players, the EQ options in the Songbird app are extremely limited. You can either use the default Philips “Full Sound” (which overplays the bass to an obnoxious extent) or turn to the Sound Personalisation menu to do some extremely basic EQ adjustments. Of course, you can always download another music app should you be dissatisfied with the option in Songbird.

One strength of the GoGear is its sound quality, but I discovered that only after I disabled the Philips Full Sound setting. With Full Sound turned on, the bass completely overpowered the vocals in my 320kbps AAC track, and instruments such as trumpets sounded screechy. With Full Sound turned off, the audio playback quality was about on a par with what the fourth generation iPod Touch offers.

In spite of its low-resolution screen, the GoGear is capable of playing back 720p video. You can view video in either the Android Gallery app or the Songbird app; I recommend using the latter for video, since the Gallery is not great for managing and playing video. The Songbird video playback interface is only slightly better than the one in the Gallery, offering the ability to skip chapters. My test videos played without any issue on the 3.2-inch screen, but the small display is hardly an optimal environment in which to watch feature-length movies.

The GoGear is better at playing audio than either of the two Galaxy Players, but the Galaxy Players have the upper hand in video playback thanks to their larger screens. The iPod Touch and the GoGear are similar in audio quality, though the Songbird app that the GoGear uses by default is not nearly as slick as the Music app on the iPod Touch.



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