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!

Philips GoGear Connect hands-on

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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.

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