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Friday, July 20, 2012

Philips GoGear Connect Wi-Fi MP3 Player 8GB Review

Some of the Smart, None of the Phone

Largely in response to Apple's many successful offerings, the use of the Android operating system for smartphones and tablets seems to be booming, with many more products yet to come. The ubiquitous Apple iPod--particularly the iPod touch--remains on many people's shortlist of gotta-have-it gadgets, and so it seems only logical that a portable media device like the Philips GoGear Connect Wi-Fi MP3 Player arrive on the scene to expand the use of Android even further.

The black handheld device offers an extremely familiar form factor, with a 3.2-inch capacitive LCD touchscreen and just a few hard buttons here and there. But under the hood is it running the Android version 2.3.3 ("Gingerbread") operating system, leading some to refer to it as the "Android touch" although this is not a nickname that Philips is using, certainly.

The support for Android Market plus the Amazon Appstore allows the GoGear Connect to download content from among thousands of assorted apps and games, accessed via 802.11g Wi-Fi. It's also a web-browser, with easy access to Gmail, Facebook and a world of other popular work/fun tasks. Adobe Flash Player is supported, an absolute must for anyone who surfs web video, and no doubt welcome relief to anyone who has ever received that frustrating blank space on an Apple device. As an extra perk, that internet access can also be configured to tether to a laptop via USB.

Touchy Feely

Setting up the device for the first time is quick and easy, guided by friendly how-to screens: entering our personal data, locating a go-to Wi-Fi hotspot, etc. The main problem I had here was the touchscreen keyboard with its tiny virtual buttons and my big, oafish man-fingers, which do not make for a good fit. To be fair, I'm just about at the end of my rope with the soft keyboard on my iPhone 4. But this is worse.

The Philips GoGear Connect 3

Despite the similar footprint and functionality to the iPod touch (albeit with straight edges more akin to an iPhone 4 or 4S) the GoGear Connect 3 is thicker, and yet it lacks that same heft: Whereas Apple's devices are largely constructed of metal and/or glass, Philips' player is housed predominately in plastic. I suspect that there is also a fair amount of air inside this thing, but this might be why the built-in speaker, which runs almost the entire length of a wide side, sounds as good as it does. The player offers proprietary FullSound to enhance the quality of music, and a SurroundSound effect on video, which are both fine but not game-changing. The included earbuds perform well and fit comfortably.

Philips touts the player's "HD" video playback, compatible with 720p content which must be scaled on-the-fly to play at the native 480x320-pixel resolution (HVGA with 262,000 colors). When plugged into the host PC, the player appears as a new drive, conveniently preformatted with a bunch of clearly marked folders into which we can drag-and-drop our non-DRM-protected media files to the either eight or 16 gigabytes of embedded flash memory. (A microSD card slot would be welcome to expand local storage, but sadly one is not provided.) A few audio, video and photo samples arrive preloaded. Compatible formats--a full listing can be found below--include high-end FLAC audio and MP4 video, and all of the videos that I loaded from my laptop played without issue, including some 720p home movies made on my flip camera.

The nifty music interface atop the home screen

There are also quite a lot of major Hollywood films available to rent via the Android Marketplace. Meanwhile, the optional Viewster service is new to me, making available (to subscribers) a variety of public domain and, shall we say, "lesser-known" films. So there is a surprising lot of premium and not-so-premium content available to watch, albeit in a different business model from the "buy once, watch whenever" approach that many iTunes users like myself have grown fond of.

This Little Player Went to Market

There are of course thousands of compatible apps in the Android Market to choose from as well. I didn't see anything on the magnitude of Halo for Android and that's probably best: The 800MHz processor seems to be working extremely hard on simpler fare. Angry Birds loads more slowly here than on any device I've tried, whereas photos open almost immediately but then require several seconds to properly sharpen. The hardware itself also grows noticeably hot with serious use of more than a few minutes.

Innovative layout of virtual buttons across the different screens allow quick access to common duties such as Google searches and adjusting the settings, including one simple (soft) button to turn Bluetooth on and off.  The Music Player keeps a handy bar on the home screen with basic controls, a tiny cover art thumbnail and song data. In addition to our own music files, the Philips GoGear Connect 3 plays wonderfully with Cloud-based music storage such as Amazon Cloud Player, and works with free/paid services such as Rhapsody (with a complimentary trial offer), Aupeo! Personal Radio, 7digital music store, MOG and Audible right out of the box, plus we can add similar features such as Pandora. A standard FM radio tuner--always welcome--is also built in.

The player arrives bundled with respectable-quality earphones, with multiple soft eartips for a comfy fit

Philips Songbird is the brand's all-in-one solution to manage and build our music collection. It does a fine job but is not revolutionary in any way. Of greater curiosity was the Android software version which seems slapped on, as the device continually refers to itself as a "phone."

  • Strangely familiar form factor with nimble touchscreen
  • Android operating system with Android Market
  • FM tuner and, oh yeah: Flash support!!!
  • No card slot despite limited onboard storage
  • No camera
  • Slightly sluggish operation
Final Thoughts

Putting the increasingly popular Android OS--complete with Android Market--inside neither a phone nor a tablet but rather a simple, affordable portable player takes the multimedia experience in an exciting new direction. The implementation here is a bit bumpy however, as unrefined customization of the software, an overloaded processor, and dubious physical quality combine to make Philips' GoGear Connect 3 less than it could have been.

Available in 8GB and 16GB options:
Manufacturer's Specifications (8GB version)
  • MSRP: $179.99
  • Dimensions: 4.45" H x 2.28" W x 0.44" D
  • Weight: 3.7 ounces
  • Screen: 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen LCD
  • Resolution: HVGA (480x320, 262,000 colors)
  • Output/Input: 3.5mm Stereo Headphone Mini-jack, micro USB, Built-in Microphone, Integrated Speaker
  • Wireless Connectivity: 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • FM Radio with 20 station presets
  • Compatible File Formats: MP3, FLAC, WMA, AAC (unprotected), Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MIDI, 3GPP, JPG, BMP, PNG, GIF, MPEG-4 (.avi, .mp4), WMV, H.264, H.263 Sorenson (.flv), H.263 (.3gpp)
  • Compatible Services (pre-installed): Android Market, AudibleReady, Viewster, Rhapsody, MOG, 7digital, Aupeo!
  • Storage capacity: 8 gigabytes; Also available in 16GB model
  • Battery: Built-in rechargeable 1100mAh lithium polymer, rated for 4 hours video or 25 hours music
  • Available finish: Black
  • Warranty: 1 Year, Limited
What in the Box?
  • Philips GoGear Connect 8GB (SA3CNT08K/37)
  • In-ear Headphones (AY3840)
  • USB Cable
  • Quick-Start Guide
Manufacturer's Contact Information
Philips Electronics North America Corporation
P.O. Box 10313
Stamford, CT  06904
ph: (888) PHILIPS
on the web:

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