Though a small device from the front at 41 x 41mm, the SA2840 feels chunkier in the hand than its rivals; SanDisk’s Sansa Clip, Creative’s Zen Stone Plus or Apple’s iPod Shuffle (especially when you remove the Sansa’s clip attachment). There’s also no built-in clip attachment for using while exercising, though you do get a neck strap thrown in. And though it looks as if it stretches right out to the edges, the screen actually occupies a very small space in the middle of the player’s square frontage – it’s just four lines long – a similar size in terms of screen real estate to the Clip’s. Its monochrome colour scheme isn’t as legible as the Clip’s either.
Elsewhere it’s a similar story. The Philips supports the bare minimum of file formats – just MP3, WMA, protected WMA and WAV – the Clip supports these plus Audible too. It doesn’t have an FM tuner either, though there are other models in the range that do. It looks quite nice, though – with its rounded front and corners making it look a bit like a tiny, shiny pinchushion. Battery life isn’t bad either, at a claimed 20 hours compared to the Clip’s 15, and it has a built-in microphone for voice recordings.
Sound quality, more importantly, isn’t bad at all. I hooked up my reference Grado SR325 cans to it and, on a first brief listen, there appeared to be nothing at all wrong. I loved the Clip because it offered decent quality for packed lunch pocket money, and it looked as if this player was going to be just as good.
A longer listening session confirmed these initial impressions. Firing up Depeche Mode’s brilliant ”Violator” album and playing ”It’s No Good” results in a finely detailed sound with a solid, if not astonishing bassline. It’s clear without being tiring and the top end never got too splashy or scratchy.