The Philips tradition of making useful, affordable, and wholly unremarkable MP3 players marches forward with the GoGear Aria. This solid little player isn't going to impress you with fancy features, but it is competitively priced at $79 (8GB) and $99 (16GB).
Nearly all of Philips MP3 players over the past four years have shared the same design attributes: curved bodies, glossy coatings, and an unflinching attachment to black and gray plastic. The only rogue element thrown onto the Aria is a unique navigation control design that nests a play button within a metallic scroll switch, which is in turn nested within a four-direction navigation pad. The new addition looks a whole lot more interesting than the traditional navigation Philips has used on models like the SA6185, or the SA6045, but from a practical point of view it's a small step backwards. For all of the navigation pad's visual elegance, its operation is no more intuitive than on older models and the Play button has shrunk down to an awkward tic-tac size. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the Play button pulls double duty as an Enter key, so you have to use it every time you need to dive into a menu or make any kind of selection.
The navigation also feels odd while browsing photos, as Philips decided to use the left and right keys for rotating images instead of advancing through images. Flipping through photos using the vertical rocker switch works fine, but we found it hard to resist our instinct to use the horizontal buttons. Inevitably, we'd relapse into our old ways and watch as our photos somersaulted around the screen.