Being the middle child is never easy, and Philips certainly doesn't make it easy for the Aria sitting between its GoGear brothers; the slightly cheaper Vibe and the slightly more expensive Opus. Not only does the Aria need to stand out amongst members of its own family, but also from the Jonses next-door, in this case, the ever-popular Apple iPod family.
Apple's push into video with its Nano range has forced other companies to follow suit. The Philips Aria sports a 2-inch display and is capable of playing SMV video files, and if you haven't heard of this extension before don't be alarmed, it is a very obscure video codec. This means you likely have to re-encode all of your previously collected video materials using the re-encoding software bundled with the player. We tested the software with a 4.5-minute MP4 file and the re-encoding process took almost twice as long.
This extensive re-encoding process would be worth it if the results were of a high quality, but they are not. The resulting video from our test looked and sounded dreadful, and the small screen is far from being suitable for this kind of use. The low resolution display (176x220 pixels) is terrible for watching video, and its poor viewing angle makes handheld sessions difficult to sustain. A screen of this size and resolution is fine for menu navigation, but that's all.
Video may not be its strong suit, but at its core the GoGear Aria is an MP3 player, and this it can definitely do. The Aria is compatible with MP3 and WMA audio files, but not the high-quality FLAC files that the more expensive GoGear Opus can play. While it would be nice if the Aria could read AAC file too, MP3 might be all most people need. The menus are clear and easy to follow, but don't expect any fancy Cover Flow-style album selection. Once in a track adjusting settings is straightforward, with options to amend the EQ at your fingertips. You can also turn on Philips FullSound, a feature Philips promises will "restore the sonic details that music compression loses", but which mainly seems to work like stereo widening features on many new MP3 players.
Really disappointing is the quality of the bundled headphones. While they look the part, with replaceable rubber in-ear tips, the sound reproduction is tremendously underwhelming. The lack of bass produced is the major issue, but the remaining sound is a tinny mess to boot. We compared them to a pair of Apple headphones and when we say the Apple headphones were a clear winner you should have some idea about just how bad Philips' pair is. Philips recommend the price of the GoGear Aria to be around AU$180, but if you were seriously considering one you'd have to budget another AU$60-$100 at least for a decent set of headphones.
The Aria is capable of a few extras outside of video and music playback; there's an FM radio tuner and a voice recorder, but these are hardly selling points for an MP3 player that's only AU$20 cheaper than a comparable iPod Nano, but leagues behind in quality.