We're not crazy about the name, but ibiza Rhapsody certainly makes sense. That's because, just like the Mediterranean island that's known for its trance music, this Haier-made player is an island unto itself, enabling users to download and stream songs from the Rhapsody music service wirelessly--without a PC. You can also stream AOL videos over Wi-Fi and surf the Web, although the latter is hardly an iPod touch-like experience. Nevertheless, with its stereo Bluetooth support, FM radio, and wireless podcast downloads, the ibiza Rhapsody is a lot cooler than the iPod classic, and it does a heck of a lot more with its Wi-Fi connection than the latest Zunes.
The 30GB version of the ibiza Rhapsody is a bit heavy at 4.9 ounces. That's more than the 80GB Zune (4.5 ounces), but the same as the Wi-Fi-less 80GB iPod classic. The Silver Moon model we tested looked old-school, complete with exposed mini screws, but we didn't mind carrying or being seen with this device over the course of two weeks. Other color options include White Sand, Volcanic Black, Ocean Blue, and Flamingo Pink. Those on a budget might consider the flash-based 4GB ($229) or 8GB ($249) models, although they lack stereo Bluetooth.
A relatively large touchpad lets you scroll through the intuitive interface (complete with fancy transitions) easily and make selections on the bright 2.5-inch display. Our first instinct was to press the left side of the touchpad to back out of menus, but there's a dedicated Back button for that above the touchpad. The Rhapsody also has three dedicated playback buttons that surround the touchpad. Pressing and holding the Back button brings you to the main menu at any time; pressing and holding the Play button pops up what's currently playing.
On the top of the player is a lock switch, a Wi-Fi button for locating the nearest router, and a headphone jack. The right side houses a too-slim volume-control bar and a recessed power button, and on the bottom is a mini-USB plug for charging and wired syncing, plus a proprietary dock connector for future standalone speaker systems. Haier includes a nice-looking set of earbuds, but they didn't deliver very good sound and fell out of ears too easily.
The ibiza Rhapsody's Wi-Fi connection is the center attraction, which works in perfect harmony with the Rhapsody To Go service ($14.99 per month). We loved how easily we could discover music right from the player and download it on the spot. While streaming the Alternative Hits channel, for example, all we had to do to add a Silversun Pickups track to our library was click the touchpad. Searching for artists right from the device is also relatively painless using the onscreen keyboard (by scrolling left and right). Unfortunately, though you can create custom stations on your PC and stream them wirelessly, listening to them on the go outside of hotspot range requires a wired sync.
If you're into free podcasts, you'll have access to thousands of over-the-air downloads. We headed right for the Technology category and subscribed to Diggnation. These podcasts are automatically updated via Wi-Fi, and the latest two episodes are always available for offline listening. The device supports the protocols that allow you to connect to most hotspots.
This player has other Wi-Fi tricks up its sleeve, including the ability to watch user-generated videos served up by AOL. The content isn't especially compelling, however; a blurry Kim Kardashian doing aerobics was among the most popular clips during testing. We'd like to see Rhapsody add some premium TV shows and movies to the mix. Dragging and dropping our own videos to the player via the Rhapsody desktop software was a cinch, and the player supports both MPEG-4 and WMV files.
At first we thought having the Mozilla-powered Minimo Web browser on board was just another notch in the features belt, but it's fine for delivering content optimized for mobile devices. That's why Haier includes a few bookmarks out of the box such as Google Mobile, which is great for getting your news fix. Traditional sites took too long to load, especially since the browser seemed to relaunch each time we entered a new URL.
We're glad the ibiza Rhapsody has jumped on the stereo Bluetooth bandwagon, and not just because the included earbuds are lousy. We paired the device with a set of wireless iLuv headphones, and using their onboard controls, we could pause and skip tracks with the player in our backpack. We noticed a few skips here and there, but for many, the convenience will be worth that tradeoff. Actually, there's another tradeoff: You can't use the FM tuner unless you have wired earbuds plugged in.
Stereo Bluetooth is an even more valuable feature for home use, especially because Haier doesn't yet offer a traditional speaker dock for its player. The good news is that there are several stereo Bluetooth speakers available that will let you stream the player's tunes loudly and clearly. In that mode the ibiza Rhapsody becomes a tiny Internet radio, making it ideal for parties. (You can also go the wired route using a traditional iPod dock that has a line-in connector.)
Just be sure to keep the charger handy; with regular Wi-Fi use the device lasted only a day on a full charge. The standard video playback time is just over 3 hours with the backlight at maximum. Haier says an upcoming software update will give users control over the backlight level, which should extend this playback time. Our only other complaint concerns the player's slow boot time. Waiting 20 seconds to listen to your tunes is just too long.
When you look at the $299 price, the ibiza Rhapsody seems too expensive for its limited capacity, given that the 80GB Zune and iPod classic each cost $249. But we think that $50 premium is worth it for fans of subscription music who demand over-the-air gratification.
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