Haier's 30GB ibiza Rhapsodymade a strong run for would-beZuneoriPod touchowners when it debuted last fall. Now this home-appliance stalwart has updated its portable music player, adding two thinner, lighter (and cheaper) flash-drive models to its impressive spec list of Wi-Fi, FM radio, video/photo playback, Web browser, and support for streams and downloads via RealPlayer and AOL. It's a bit big and pricey, but overall, we like this player.
Design and User Interface
The 8GB version of the ibiza we tested was a two-tone blue, with a flat, metallic-looking front. It is large but slim and, at 3.2 ounces, suprisingly light--1.7 ounces lighter than the 30GB model--and has a 2.5-inch, 320 x 240-pixel screen. The ibiza also comes in a 4GB model as well as an array of metallic colors (aqua, black, pink, and purple). Below the QVGA-resolution screen are four chrome buttons and a 1.1 x 0.9-inch clickable touchpad with adjustable sensitivity. On the right side are volume and power buttons, and a hold switch, Wi-Fi menu button, and headphone jack are on top. A variety of accessories are available for the dock connector on the bottom, but you can use the mini-USB port next to it for syncing and charging.
The menu system is polished, well-organized, and mostly speedy. The textured touchpad is very responsive, and we easily whizzed around menus and lists with precision. We like the customizable animated themes, which are available as free downloads via the Extras menu. Entering text is fairly easy; you scroll through a single line of characters via the touchpad and click to select. With a little practice, we were able to type URLs and searches with reasonable speed, but it doesn't hold a candle to the iPod touch's virtual QWERTY keyboard.
The ibiza works with Windows Vista and XP via Real's Rhapsody software or by drag-and-drop, though it doesn't work with the Mac OS. Format support is broad, including AAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA, and Audible for audio, as well as MPEG-4 and WMV for video. The only supported DRM is Real's Helix, which lets you play tracks downloaded from Rhapsody; given the diminishing relevance of Windows Media DRM, we're fine with this setup.
The ibiza's hottest feature is its integration with Rhapsody, Flickr, and AOL Video, providing wireless access to music, photos, and video without having to touch a computer (except to set up a Rhapsody or Flickr account). The three services work very well, and the ibiza comes with a free 30-day Rhapsody trial, after which you can pay $12.99 a month for unlimited streaming access or $14.99 a month for Rhapsody's To Go service (which lets you download songs directly to the player that are yours to keep).
We downloaded Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" from Rhapsody in about a minute; AOL Video streams were mostly glitch-free though generally very low-resolution. Rhapsody streams didn't skip at all, though we could easily hear the effects of heavy compression. The service's abundant editorial content like artist bios were easily readable on the large screen.
Decent Web Browsing
The 802.11b/g-equipped ibiza doesn't give you the iPod touch's excellent Safari Web browser or the Zune's wireless sync and sharing. But the onboard Minimo browser can handle basic HTML sites--forget about watching YouTube videos--and has preloaded links to Reuters News, Wapedia, and various search engines. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it to work with our Gmail or Yahoo e-mail accounts, and the player lacks a dedicated email client. (Perhaps some enterprising Linux-head will remedy this.) Unlike the 30GB hard drive model, both the 4GB and 8GB lack Bluetooth connectivity.
Audio and Video Quality
The included in-ear headphones seal up your ear canal, and the soft silicone tips block out a moderate amount of noise. They delivered weak highs and poor tonal balance, so we swapped them out for our Sennheiser HD280 Pros and got far better performance. Bob Marley's "Natural Mystic" had plenty of bass and good detail, while the acoustic jazz of Miles Davis' "Bye Bye Blackbird" sounded crisp. Still, the ibiza doesn't sound as good as the iPod or Zune. Haier added an equalizer with presets to the ibiza, but users can't customize the settings.
Video and photos look very good on the ibiza's sharp LCD, with decent color and smooth playback. Brightness is adjustable, and we could see the screen reasonably well outdoors.
The ibiza Rhapsody's battery is rated for an unimpressive 10 hours of music playback, but streaming content, downloading music, and browsing the Web will drain the battery even quicker. We had to recharge our test unit daily with moderate use. While startup time has been cut to about 12 seconds, it's still not as fast as the iPod or Zune.
At $249 for the 8GB model, the ibiza Rhapsody is a bit more expensive than comparableZuneandiPod nanomodels. We like what Haier does with integrated Wi-Fi, though the player's lack of a sophisticated Web browser or wireless sync holds it back. The ibiza Rhapsody is no iPod or Zune killer, but we can recommend the player for serious Rhapsody and Flickr lovers looking for something different.