A basic MP3 player needn't be ugly or featureless to fall into the 'simple and inexpensive' category and Samsung's stick-like U3 provides the proof of this. It's available in 1GB, 2GB and 4GB versions.
We reviewed the 1GB flash MP3 player, which offers a cute design, a simple user interface and a handy plug-in design. The 1GB version will only set you back £35 -- the 2GB is priced around £50, the 4GB around £65. Sure, it may not have a colour screen or video support, but it has the best of basic music playback in spades.
At 25 by 80 by 11mm, this rectangular player looks strikingly thin and the device is available in black, white, blue, green or pink versions. The face of the U3 is almost entirely smooth, but for the indent of the 25mm (1-inch) monochrome OLED screen, which sits to the left of the touch-sensitive control pad. Here, you get track shuffle and volume keys, which alternately act as directional arrows within the menus and as a back selector.
Continuing around to the right edge, you'll find a thin, retractable USB adapter, which can be popped out via a switch on the bottom side of the player. This area also houses a hold switch -- a highly necessary feature in a device with touch-sensitive controls.
Notable physical features line the edges of the U3. On the top side, there's a play/pause/power button and a record/user-defined key. The left edge comprises of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack surrounded completely in opaque plastic, which houses a blue LED that indicates if the player is on or syncing. This combined with the texturised body gives the U3 a cool, designer look. It may not appeal to everyone, but it's certainly not ugly.
The Samsung U3 is predictably light on features, given its price and body style, but it does offer some handy ones. It supports MP3, OGG, ASF and WMA files, including DRM 10 for subscription music. Music is arranged handily by artist, album, genre and so on.
You get standard shuffle and repeat options, a nine-band user equaliser (EQ), and DSNe sound effects, which consist of 12 preset EQs. There's also a built-in mic for making voice recordings and an FM tuner with autoscan and at least 15 preset slots.
If the Samsung U3 disappoints in one area, it's sound quality. Although the sound settings help to fill in the low end and tailor tunes more to your taste, we found that music came across rather flat, even through our Shure SE310 test headphones.
It didn't have the richness or warmth we like and we noticed some odd feedback during quiet moments on a couple of tracks. That said, the U3's sound is certainly passable. The clarity was quite good overall and it gets pretty loud -- it really is a great player for the gym. The rated 15-hour battery life isn't bad either.
The Samsung U3 may not look like the most advanced MP3 player on the market but it does have a cute appeal, with its slim looks. If it's basic music playback you're after, the U3 could well fit the bill.
Additional editing by Jon Squire