Philips GoGear Connect hands-on

We had a chance to check out Philips' new GoGear Connect a few hours ago ahead of its IFA debut later this week, a brushed metal media player that pretty closely apes the Muse but adds a wee bit of girth, swaps in Android 2.1 for the proprietary OS, and adds a trackball down below. Interestingly, it's got both a 3.2-megapixel camera and edge-mounted microphone on board, meaning that it's basically just a GSM radio shy of being a full-on smartphone -- but we digress: the point is that the Connect will be going head-to-head with the likes of the Galaxy S-inspired Samsung Yepp YP-MB2 and the new iPod touch for the hearts and minds of the dedicated PMP crowd this autumn. Read on for our impressions!

The Connect is noticeably thicker than the Muse -- thick enough to put it squarely in phone territory, in fact, which partially eliminates the advantage of a dedicated PMP. The front is really attractive, a perfect combo of glossy black and aluminum with the intriguing bend below the display; the back, meanwhile, is a cheap-looking (but great-feeling) soft-touch with a stylized pattern. As we mentioned, it's running a modified build of Android 2.1 with a bunch of Philips customizations, including a quick-access app launcher that automatically appears when you flip it to portrait and music / video players that are significantly prettier and more functional than the ones you get with stock Android. Problem is, we can't figure out why Philips went with a trackball instead of an optical pad, and the HVGA display is -- get this -- resistive, not capacitive, and you can immediately tell as soon as your finger hits the screen. Don't get us wrong, it's got decent response for a resistive display, but it still doesn't touch what even an average capacitive display can do for sensitivity and ease of use when you're dealing with a finger-centric UI like this. Philips cites better usability with styli, but since the Connect can't accommodate one internally, that might be a moot point anyhow. On the plus side, we're told an update to Froyo is in the cards, but they haven't established a date.

Overall, we came away feeling like this is an interesting version 1.0 effort in a world of version 2.0 and 3.0 Android devices -- and considering that Philips has mostly been a no-show in the smartphone game for the past several years, we can't say we blame them for the Connect's shortcomings. Dedicated PMPs aren't necessarily a hot category at the moment, but add a year or two of refinement and some 3G radios to this bad boy, and there's no reason to think the Dutch giant couldn't get back into the phone race in a big way. In the meantime, €250 (about $320) for a rough-around-the-edges 16GB media player -- even more for the 32GB model -- is a tough sell.