Column published on Saturday November 10th 2007 in The Guardian “ Streamium gives you that sinking feeling” – The Guardian headline

Philips were behind the tape cassette and the CD, but their new music player is a woeful attempt to take on the iPod – perhaps it’s time they looked for a rapid injection of talent.

Apple’s ability to grab headlines is a matter of huge annoyance to many. How come their launch of a phone makes the evening news? A new iPod, and it’s a bigger headline than Darfur. Whoopy-doo, as Americans like to say. Why should I care?

I have an iPhone, an iPod Touch and a new Nano to hand, but to save the anti-Apples out there aggravation, I shan’t review them. They don’t need it. All you have to do is ask someone who has one if you can play with it for a second and any pointless carpings melt into nothing.


And if they don’t, well, that’s fine, too. You can carry on hating Apple and thinking it’s all hype, but you’ll have to accept that the iPhone and iPod Touch changed the face of hand-held digital devices.

In 1984, many said Apple’s use of a mouse and pull-down menus was a silly, stylistic nonsense, but sure enough in the end everyone had to follow. Apple doesn’t always invent or originate all the technology for which it becomes known, but it is nearly always first to bring it fully formed to market.

Proof of how it has changed the digital world, and a clear demonstration of how far its rivals have to go to compete, comes in the shape of the Philips Streamium Player. (Yes, someone was paid to devise that name.)

“Its bright, large display and intuitive UI with Sensory Touchpad SuperScroll let you easily engage with all your music, videos and photos.”


Actually, Streamium is the name for a range of Philips devices that are meant to utilise WiFi home networks and Universal Plug and Play devices to “deliver content”, streamed via wireless, which gives some justification to the preposterous name.


The family of products are multiplatform and allow you to watch movies, listen to music, download podcasts, vodcasts and so on all over the house. Dozens of companies are trying to offer the same thing, but Philips is Philips, so we should pay attention. They were behind the tape cassette and CD, after all. They’re big. They know what they’re about.

Well, no, they don’t. They’re wading backwards in treacle with this. A Flash device (meaning its ROM memory is solid state not disk drive) of 4GB, this product is an insult to the buyer and a stain on the reputation of a once noble company.

Despite the vaunted multiplatform interoperability of the Streamium name, this is a PC-only player. I don’t mind products such as this per se, but what would Mac users who have the Philips Media Manager software and other devices feel about the name Streamium being appropriated for an object that a) doesn’t stream and b) is incompatible with their OS?

But that’s of no importance compared with the cheap, clumsy and dreadful nature of the device itself. I wanted to throw it in the ocean after five minutes (I am in America right now), but instead gave it to a friend who threw it away after 10. One knows the instant one plays the bundled video content, a truly pathetic and dated home movie of some dudes skiing, that we are dealing with a dog. The blocky, pixelated images are so poor as to beggar belief (220 x 176 pixels) – and this is the footage that’s meant to show it off!

It gets worse. It has touch controls, but not touch screen. In the desire to jump on Apple’s multitouch bandwagon, Philips have come up with something worse than an old-fashioned knob. The Streamium offers fiddly controls with terrible delay, so you’re always pressing them too often and reversing their function. The sound level is poor and the phones inadequate. The whole thing’s a gift to Apple.

The price, too, is a disaster – you can get an 8Gb iPod Nano with its stunning 320 x 240 resolution screen for the same money. How mad, sad, ignorant and deranged would a consumer have to be to forgo the latter for Philips’s horror? Believe me, this will be a forgotten failure within a year. I don’t know who is in charge of recruitment or marketing at Philips, but they need a rapid injection of talent, imagination, flair and understanding, or in this sector at least they’ll rapidly go under.

I kept the foam earplug pads. The rest lies deservedly somewhere on the seabed of Nantucket Sound, along with sunken whaling ships and other obsolete embarrassments.

© Stephen Fry 2007

Stephen Fry’s gadget column, Dork Talk, appears in The Guardian newspaper’s Weekend section.