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I've heard it said more than once that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case then the engineers at Apple must be feeling pretty smug with the number of copycats attempting to outdo the iPod clickwheel navigation system. They also must be feeling pleased with themselves that no player has managed to improve on it. Could the TrekStor vibez be about to change all that?
It certainly looks the part. With its curved profile, smoothly sculpted chrome back and luxurious rubberised front panel it's a joy to pick up and hold, and rivals any of the iPod range for style – not something you can say about many players. It's also pretty compact, though that slightly bulbous profile (the player measures 105 x 50 x 18mm) means it isn't as thin as the latest full-sized iPods or as small as the newer nano.
The vibez also attempts to rival the iPod navigation system with its own homage to the clickwheel system. Below the 1.5in, 176 x 132 colour TFT screen protrudes a large, rubberised wheel – not touch-sensitive like Apple's, but mechanical. It works in pretty much the same way, too. Spin it clockwise or anti-clockwise and you can whiz through the various menus, track and album lists, and change volume with ease. The wheel is clickable so you can navigate through the menus without lifting your thumb and, because it runs on a magnetic track, it offers a kind of loose-feeling indexed feedback, clicking for each item you click past.
I couldn't say, hand on heart, that the mechanical approach is 'better' than Apple's clickwheel system, or that it'll prove more reliable – the gaps around the edges of the wheel suggest it wouldn't survive a trip to the beach too well – but it works just as well and there are things about the rest of the player that help it to gain an edge.
For example, the vibez has dual volume controls. The slightly weird-looking triangular brushed aluminium button that sits between the circular screen surround and the wheel turns the player on and off, but also allows you to change the volume when the player is locked and while you're browsing music.
The menu system and navigation is, if anything, slightly more intuitive than Apple's too. There's far less moving the thumb over to the middle of the wheel to select things. Selecting albums, tracks and so on is a two-stage affair - you first navigate to the initial letter, then to the item you're after. This sounds laborious but if you have hundreds of albums to browse through it speeds things up massively, and there's much less wheel-spinning to do.
In fact the only irritation with the vibez controls is that there's no dedicated hold control and with the wheel so light and sensitive it’s something you want easy access to. Instead, to lock the player you have to click and hold the centre of the wheel and power switch together, something you need both hands free to do and which can be fiddly.