This reviewer's last taste of Packard Bell's foray into the world of portable audio didn't go well. The AudioStar player was ugly, slow and a nightmare to use. So has the firm learned its lesson? Er, yes.

The Vibe 360 instantly wipes memories of its ill-fated predecessor with a stunning silver-and-black exterior, complete with convenient buttons and a decent-sized screen. Say it quietly, but this is the most attractive audio player we've reviewed.

The user experience isn't bad either. There are still minor navigation niggles – for example, after selecting 'music' or 'photos', you still have to pick the correct folder for that sort of file, needlessly introducing an extra tier into the procedure. And for some reason, there's a folder called 'trashes'. But problems are now at the level of harmless eccentricity, as opposed to the maddening inconvenience of the earlier model.

The 360's range of functions includes MP3 and WMA support, along with picture viewing and a video playback function. Before uploading pics and clips you have to use bundled conversion programs, and this is unfortunate, since Magic Picture and Video Toolbox are both rather clunky, and the former has the irritating habit of disappearing into the depths of your computer after installing.

The hardware layout lacks a dedicated volume button, but is otherwise impeccable. It's nice to see a maker think outside the scrollwheel box, and the Vibe's neat controls are a pleasure to use. The screen is 1.8in (compared with the 1.5in deployed by the second-generation iPod nano) and produces a crisp picture.

And as for the all-important battery life, Packard Bell has declared a 15-hour figure that pretty much tallies with our real-world findings. Refreshingly honest, and not a bad performance – even if it is dwarfed by the new nano's impressive 26-odd hours.

Packard Bell Vibe 360: Specs

  • 2GB capacity (1GB version available for £90)
  • supports MP3/WMA/WAV
  • picture and video playback
  • battery life 15 hours
  • 1.8in screen
  • conversion software bundle
  • 2GB capacity (1GB version available for £90)
  • supports MP3/WMA/WAV
  • picture and video playback
  • battery life 15 hours
  • 1.8in screen
  • conversion software bundle

OUR VERDICT

What with Apple's iPod announcements, the timing of this truly beautiful player couldn't have been worse. The Vibe 360 is now £20 more expensive than the equivalent nano, and its moderate battery life is made to look rather weak. But this remains a high-calibre product, marred only by a fiddly software bundle.

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