Measuring 2.3 by 2.1 by 7.1 inches and weighing 12.3 ounces, the Philips ShoqBox is too big to carry around like a traditional MP3 player, though setting it on your shoulder might draw a few chuckles. The Source button allows you to pick from your music library, the FM radio, or a line-in source. Lifting the door on the back of the unit reveals USB, line-in, headphone, and external power inputs. The ShoqBox feels sturdy and well built, and the silver buttons are solid and responsive. The white-backlit screen is easy to read and features enough contrast to view in bright, sunny environments. The screen displays info for the current song, the EQ setting, and the name of the next song in the list. To encourage use on the go, Philips includes a travel case in the package.
As for playback controls, the ShoqBox offers what you'd expect from a basic MP3 player. In MP3 mode, you have menu options for shuffle/repeat, a sleep timer, an alarm clock, basic system settings, and EQ. While a song is playing, you can press the left navigation button to view your music library by playlist, artist, album, and so on. You can establish key shortcuts to toggle through EQ settings, shuffle/repeat modes, or additional song information. The ShoqBox uses Musicmatch Jukebox, included on the installation disc, to transfer songs, which means it syncs easily with playlists created in the app. The player handles DRM-protected WMA files purchased from Musicmatch and Napster without a hitch. Unfortunately, the device stores only 256MB worth of tracks (about 64 MP3s), and there is no expansion slot. The ShoqBox would be much more attractive with 1GB of storage.
The line-in jack enables you to use the ShoqBox as portable speakers for, say, a portable CD player, but you can't record from an external source. The player includes an FM tuner, though you have to attach the included pigtail antenna to the headphone jack to activate this mode. You can set up to 10 presets manually or automatically, but you're forced to work with presets only--you can't manually browse through FM stations.
The volume cranks loud enough to disturb others in the immediate area, but don't expect the ShoqBox to power your next house party. You get five EQ options (rock, hip-hop, jazz, dance, and funk) but no user-defined mode. Unfortunately, each option eliminates practically all of the bass or treble response. There's a Dynamic Bass Boost button on top of the unit, just above the volume controls, which mostly makes everything sound muffled. You certainly wouldn't expect home-theater-quality sound from such a unit, but if you have a variety of music genres in your library, you'll likely find yourself adjusting the EQ for each song. Playback quality is significantly better with headphones, but that's not the main purpose of this product.
Music transfer may be simple, but you'll have to wait a while to fill up this device. In CNET Labs' tests, the ShoqBox scored an average of 0.19MB per second--painfully slow even by USB 1.1 standards. Without headphones, we reached 14.5 hours of continuous playback from the internal lithium-ion battery, beating Philips's rating of 10 hours. With headphones, the battery lasted 21.1 hours.