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Philips GoGear Spark SA2940
Call me fickle or easily bored, but I'm looking forward to the day when I'm asked to recommend a cheap, no-nonsense, miniscule MP3 player and I can't instantly recommend the Sansa Clip. Frankly, I'm tired of saying it. Why can't someone - even Sandisk - come along and kick it off its bargain-basement pedestal? Sadly, with no new models in Creative's range of late and only the odd damp squib from Sony and Samsung, I'm beginning to despair of such a thing happening.
Of course, we now have Apple's latest and most controversial Shuffle (to be reviewed as soon as Apple gets us one), but my brightest new hope is the Philips GoGear SA2940, cheerfully dubbed the 'Spark'. This is the successor to the GoGear SA2840, which at the time we believed was a fine alternative to the Clip if you wanted more capacity. These days, of course, you can just get a Clip with more flash memory, but luckily Philips hasn't been caught sitting with its thumb up its collective posterior; the SA2940 addresses some of the complaints we had about its predecessor, and adds a handful of new features to boot.
Physically, the unit is much the same; a simple, compact, square box approximately 4.5cm on either side and around 1cm thick, with a plastic but reasonably robust feel. The whole design is dominated by a 1.5in, 128x128 pixel OLED screen, and this cleverly doubles as a display and control pad, tilting and clicking in four directions to handle all the major navigation controls. As a rule, clicking up and down cycles through the available items or options, clicking right selects, plays or pauses and clicking left takes you back a step.
Combined with a no-frills, no-fuss, text-based interface, it makes the GoGear Spark one of the easiest small players to handle, and the only physical buttons are for volume and power/hold. Memory-key sized players like the Samsung YP-U4 or Sony NWZ-B133 might be smaller, but the Spark wins on usability, and it's great to see that many of the little features you wish were supported by other players - on-the-fly playlist additions, the ability to change sound settings from within a song - are present and correct.