Impressively, the Samsung YH-820 is smaller than the iPod Mini and weighs in at a mere 85g. The player's 41mm (1.6-inch) colour screen is also a theoretical step up from the iPod Mini's monochrome effort. But, as we'll see later, the YH-820's screen is not necessarily any more practical than its enemy's.
The YH-820 is compatible with many online music stores. Unfortunately, like all non-Apple players, it won't work with iTunes.
Coated in a faux-titanium paint job, the YH-820 is eager to please the Apple-hungry masses. What seems like a pleasant mix of PowerBook and iPod aesthetics is let down by a tacky-feeling control pad that makes a surprisingly audible creaking sound when changing tracks or navigating functions.
The YH-820 brushed off our best efforts to penetrate the outer casing with keys and other pocket debris. It's reasonably scratch-resistant, but no more so than the iPod. Both players will react badly to sharp metal objects jammed into their supple bodies, so you may want to buy a case for the Samsung. This may well be a problem -- although Apple's players are well catered for by the accessories market, most others are not. Realising this, Samsung does at least provide a belt clip.
As with all manufacturers, Samsung faced the uncomfortable challenge of bettering or at least matching Apple's Click Wheel interface. No-one has come up with a better alternative, and the YH-820 uses the most predictable approach -- a simple directional pad. This is a larger, flatter version of the control pads on PlayStation or Nintendo consoles.
The headphones bundled with the YH-820 are good enough for casual listening, but nothing to go nuts over. The rubber cover on the USB port at the base of the YH-820 is completely removable and we lost it in around half a second. There was no good reason to include it -- the iPod does without -- and we felt uneasy about mislaying part of our new player so soon.
Although YH-820 is lighter than the iPod Mini, it's definitely not as elegant. Samsung is taking things in the right direction -- it's a lot better looking than the players most of Apple's competitors were dishing out last year. But you feel that given a bit more attention to detail, this player could have been so much more.
The YH-820 plays MP3s and WMA files, but doesn't support drag-and-drop transfers. This is the same for most players, but it's always annoying to have to use a manufacturer's proprietary software. Transfer rates through Samsung's Music Studio ran at 0.43MB per second -- slow enough to drive you to kill a household pet.
Unusually, the YH-820 can display photographs. The only problem with this is that the 41mm screen will frustrate anyone who doesn't design postage stamps. Actually, some postage stamps are bigger than 41mm -- something to think about. Unlike the iPod Photo, it has no provision for AV-out, so you won't be able to view photographs stored on your YH-820 on a standard television screen. It may be we're expecting too much from a Microdrive player, but the colour screen promises a lot more fun than it delivers.
There's also provision for recording sound directly into the YH-820 and encoding it on the fly. This makes it great for use as a voice recorder using the built-in microphone, or for capturing better quality recordings using a microphone and the line-in socket.
MP3 players need a good beating and that's a fact. There's no telling what these things are capable of until you've taken them to the depths of hell on a mountain bike.
We took the Samsung YH-820 to a BMX track in London and caught some scary amounts of air off a set of jumps. Crashing to earth like a fleshy meteorite, we were scarred but the player wasn't. It didn't fall onto the floor though, so there's no telling how much protection our tracksuits were giving it. There were no noticeable skipping incidents -- the music kept on playing, barely audible above the ambulance siren, but still.
Battery life on the YH-820 is an unimpressive 7 hours. Compared to what some Microdrive players are managing, this is fairly low. The YH-820 also has an infuriating start-up lag of around 20 seconds during which it advertises Samsung to you. The company logo glistens in a miasma of light, etching itself on your psyche like a brainwashing procedure from A Clockwork Orange.
In our informal tests, sound quality on the YH-820 was good, but it fell short of the iPod. We connected the two players to flat-response studio monitors to compare the sound and found that the YH-820 sounded slightly weaker on tracks like Landed by Ben Folds. The YH-820's WOW, SRS and Trubass equaliser enhancements give the audio more punch, but also make for a more strained sound. Most listeners will find the difference between the iPod and YH-820 extremely subtle, but audiophiles may prefer the cleaner tones of the iPod.
Auditioning heavier material, the differences were again slight. Lithium by Nirvana sounded clear and taut on both the YH-820 and iPod. Again, we felt the iPod had the edge because it stayed truer to the sound of the source CD. Some listeners may find that the YH-820's bass enhancement produces a more gutsy low-end, but the engineers who mixed these tracks spent a long time getting it to sound right. In many ways, equaliser enhancements like Trubass change songs from the way the bands wanted you to hear them.
Although it's no iPod killer, the Samsung YH-820 has an aggressive sound and an attractive style. Its photo viewer is largely a gimmick because of the impractically small screen, but there's enough resolution to make out a basic image. Perhaps the one overwhelming reason to choose the YH-820 over an iPod is the built-in microphone and recording capability. Apple doesn't offer this on its iPod Mini.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide