Electronics maker Haier claims its Ibiza Rhapsody media player "requires no PC hookup — ever!" because it can wirelessly tap AOL Video and the Rhapsody To Go music service without having to be tethered to a computer.
Never one to shrink from a challenge, I tried out the player without a PC. As it turns out, the Ibiza indeed functions on its own.
You can listen to tunes from Rhapsody, watch videos from AOL, listen to FM radio and surf the Web without ever having to plug in the gadget, even to set it up. It also supports wireless Bluetooth earphones, cutting yet another cord.
That's not to say Haier got everything right.
The Ibiza — the first media player from the Chinese company better known in the U.S. for its air conditioners and microwaves — appears to have an identity crisis. It looks like a cross between Apple's iPod Classic and Microsoft's Zune, with a boxy appearance, color screen, touch-pad control, multitude of buttons and slightly confusing interface.
The largest Ibiza model comes with a fairly small 30-gigabyte hard drive. It costs $299.
The player, released in November, is not a playback powerhouse, either. It is rated for 10 or more hours of battery life; I got about six hours while keeping the Wi-Fi on and using a variety of functions.
Rhapsody To Go access, which costs another $15 a month after a 30-day free trial, has a pretty good selection and is easy to use with the Ibiza. With a strong Internet connection, tracks downloaded quickly and music streamed mostly skip-free.
Searching for tunes on Rhapsody can be time consuming — you have to navigate to each letter on the Ibiza's screen before selecting it. (At least I got results after punching in "Ferraby Lionheart.") Fortunately, the gadget keeps track of recent searches so you can click old search terms to bring back music results.
Music, whether streamed, downloaded or synced (more on that later), sounded good on the player. I liked that the device displayed album art along with songs, though often with some delay.
The AOL Video feature was generally unsatisfying, as streaming videos often froze and there seemed to be a dearth of interesting content. But the videos I looked at appeared crisp on the Ibiza's bright 2.5-inch screen.
Haier's player also includes Mozilla's Minimo Web browser — it's listed under the player's "Extra" menu option — but I couldn't access my Gmail account with it or even read full articles on mobile news sites I tried.
The browser often scrolled by skipping from one link on a page to the next, which made it impossible to read more than a few lines of text at a time. It was useful for reading headlines, but not more.
Setting the Ibiza apart is its Stereo Bluetooth. It was easy to set up my earphones, and I enjoyed commuting with the player snug in pocket — and not having to worry about snagging my earphone wires on other passengers.
The Ibiza also includes two radio options — Internet radio channels via Rhapsody, and an FM tuner — though you can't listen to FM with Bluetooth headphones, apparently because the player depends on wired ear gear for its antenna.
Ultimately, I preferred using the Ibiza with a computer because that was the only way to upload my own photos, music and videos. The device has no slot for a memory card.
The Ibiza Rhapsody isn't likely to be a game changer, but consumers looking for an all-in-one device that doesn't require a PC may want to check it out. And while there are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, Haier is on the right track with the wireless features.