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Philips HDD100 Review

Pros

  • Blazingly fast
  • Excellent value
  • Class-leading battery life
  • Extensive connectivity

Cons

  • Not the most attractive
  • Build quality sometimes suspect

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £299.00

If there was ever a product that showcased the new Philips design ethos, this is it. The HDD100 is a stunning looking device, that will turn heads whenever you take it out of its carrying pouch. In fact almost every time I took the HDD100 out of my pocket on a train or a plane, someone would ask me what it was and where I got it from.


Put simply the HDD100 is a hard disk based Walkman in much the same mould as the Apple iPod. In fact it’s pretty obvious that Philips is going after the Apple iPod market with the HDD100.


One of the best things about the iPod is how cool it looks. Apple has always strived to create products for the style conscious user, and the iPod epitomised this. The latest version of the iPod does look great and this alone has won it many fans. However, it has to be said that the HDD100 looks even better.


The HDD100’s casing is constructed from magnesium, making it strong, yet very light at only 167g. The centre of the body is finished in a pearlescent black, while the edges are polished sliver. The overall effect is excellent and makes the all-white iPod look a little bland by comparison.


One thing that makes the HDD100 more attractive than the iPod to PC users is the USB 2.0 interface. The iPod uses FireWire, which although common on Macs isn’t quite so common on PCs. Also, the iPod doesn’t have a standard FireWire connection on the device itself, so you’ll have to use a proprietary Apple cable to connect it. The HDD100 on the other hand has a standard USB 2.0 port integrated into body that will work with a standard USB 2.0 cable, as well as the one that Philips supplies in the box.


Using the HDD100 is pretty simple. Running the supplied CD will install the drivers for the device and load the Digital Media Manager software. Digital Media Manager or DMM is an application for managing all the digital music that’s stored on your PC and your HDD100. Transferring data between the host PC and the HDD100 is simple, and you can also do useful things like edit ID tags or create playlists.


In an effort to protect digital copyrights, you can only transfer music to the HDD100 via the DMM software. If music is transferred via Windows Explorer for example, it will not be recognised as music and will not play back.


I know I’ve said it many times already, but the HDD100 really looks great, and once you power it on, it looks even better. The screen has a resolution of 160 x 128 pixels and features a white backlight and four levels of grey scale. The result is an incredibly clear display that’s easy to read in any environment.


At the heart of the device is a low profile hard disk with a capacity of 15GB. This is a pretty amazing amount of storage considering it wasn’t that long ago that desktop PCs didn’t have disks that big. This means you should be able to store thousands of tracks on the HDD100. Although the actual amount is dependant on bit rate, length of track, and of course the compression method.


Talking of compression methods, the HDD100 will playback both MP3 (including variable bit rate) and WMA files, which again gives it a major advantage over the iPod for PC users. There was a time when most people wouldn’t touch WMA due to the appalling sound quality, but the format has come a long way recently and it is possible to get reasonable audio quality while using a relatively small amount of disk space.

There are five buttons on the front of the HDD100. The power button also doubles as the play/pause button. This needs to be pressed and held for two seconds to activate the device, and to switch it off the same procedure must be performed. The four round buttons are arranged in a star shape and are primarily used to navigate the menu system, although the top and bottom buttons are also used to skip forward and backward through the tracks if music is playing.


What’s particularly impressive about the top and bottom round buttons is their two stage activation. Pressing one of these buttons halfway down will illicit a different result from pressing it all the way in. This may sound awkward but in use it’s amazingly simple. So, scrolling through hundreds of tracks for example can be done two ways. Pressing the down button half way and holding it will result in a medium-speed scroll, while pressing it all the way in results in a super-fast scroll with an indicator telling you what alphabetical letter you’ve reached in the list.


Navigating the menus is very easy and you can sort through your music by playlist, artist, album, genre or even just scroll through every track on the HDD100 in alphabetical order.


Pressing the Menu button located on the right of the chassis will bring up a new array of options for creating playlists, erasing tracks, shuffling playback and setting the language. You can also set the standby timer so that the device will switch itself off if left idle for a certain amount of time. More impressive however, is the sleep timer where you can set the HDD100 to switch off after a set number of minutes in case you fancy going to sleep while listening to your music.


Sound quality is, of course, very dependant on the quality at which your music was recorded. If you copy very low bit rate MP3 tracks to the HDD100 they’re not going to sound particularly great. That said, the playback of good quality digital files is first rate. What impressed me even more was the quality of the supplied headphones. I have to say that the first thing I usually do with any Walkman is dump the supplied headphones and use some better quality ones, but I happily stuck with the in-ear Philips headphones that came in the box.


Creating playlists gives you the ability to put together those killer compilations that you used to spend hours in front of your tape deck doing. For those too young to remember tape, believe me when I say, you’re lucky.


The HDD100 doesn’t appear to have any problems with shock resistance. I carried the device around in my pocket while walking and jogging and at no point did the playback skip or halt.


There were some initial issues with the HDD100 crashing though and needing a reset in order to get things going again. However, Philips flashed a new firmware version and this ceased to be a problem. Philips has informed me that all future production versions of the HDD100 will have the new firmware so this should not be an issue. If however you managed to pick up a very early version that does suffer from crashing, Philips will happily upgrade the firmware at no cost. Information regarding the firmware upgrade can be found on the Philips website.


Another great feature that the HDD100 has over the Apple iPod is an optical digital input. This means that you don’t even need a PC to copy music to the device. If you’ve got a CD player that has an optical digital output you can record music straight to the HDD100. In fact, the input will accept both digital and analogue plugs, so even if you haven’t got a digital output on your CD player, you can still record analogue content without the need for PC intervention.


You can even use the HDD100 as a dictation device. There’s a built-in microphone located next to the volume buttons, that allows you to record voice, or in fact anything in your vicinity directly to the hard disk.


As if all that doesn’t make the HDD100 versatile enough, you can also use it as an external hard disk. Connect the HDD100 to your PC via the USB 2.0 (it’s also compatible with USB 1.1) cable and you can drag and drop files to it just like any other hard disk.


In the box you get the HDD100, a charger which can also be used as an AC adapter, a padded carrying pouch, the software CD, a USB 2.0 cable, a set of in-ear headphones and a remote control. The remote control features a play/pause button (which will also switch the device on), volume buttons and forward/backward skip buttons. The remote has a standard mini-jack connector so you can plug any headphones into it and maintain the functionality.


What’s so amazing about this new breed of hard disk based devices like the HDD100 is that you can pretty much carry your whole music collection around with you everywhere you go. In fact portable mass storage devices probably represent the most important development in music distribution since the Compact Disc.


The Philips HDD100 is a truly stunning device, but it’s not quite perfect. The one major issue that I have with it is the integrated battery pack. Now Philips claims a playback time of around 10 hours with a fully charged battery, and having used the HDD100 for the past few weeks I’d say that it’s a pretty accurate estimate. But, with the battery built into the device, when it does finally run down you’re stuck unless you’re somewhere with a plug socket, and you have the charger with you.


A removable battery may have given you slightly less playback time, and may even have made the device slightly bigger, but it would have given you the option of having a spare battery with you for say, a long haul flight.


However, the integrated battery can’t really do enough to take the shine off what is, an excellent product. Philips has shown that it’s design and technical teams can get together and produce something that looks great and is stuffed full of functionality.


I’ve been an advocate of MiniDisc for many years and have masses of discs and quite a few players and recorders. The Philips HDD100 is the product that’s convinced me to leave MiniDisc behind. It may not be quite as small as my MiniDisc Walkman, but the ability to carry all of my music in my pocket all of the time is too compelling to ignore.


Verdict


The HDD100 is a superb product. The design is beautiful and it’s more versatile than a Swiss Army Knife. In fact I’m so impressed with the HDD100 that I’ll be buying one for myself, and you can’t get a better recommendation than that.

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