Touchscreen MP3 players and portable media players are all the rage, and it's no wonder: the migration of controls to the display of a device makes it possible to dedicate most of a player's surface area to the screen. Thus, you can have larger screens on smaller gadgets. The Apple iPod touch is testament to the potential success of this set-up, and Samsung's first foray into this arena, the YP-P2, was no slouch, either, drawing praise from critics and consumers alike.
As such, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Samsung's follow-up, the YP-P3, is an impressive device, packing a wealth of features and some of the best sound to be found in a portable media player. Better yet, the P3 is priced to sell at around £110 for the 8GB version and £150 for the 16GB version. For those who are keeping track: that's the same price as the iPod nano, not the iPod touch.
At first sight, the P3 doesn't look strikingly different from its predecessor, the P2, and, in fact, the design updates are far from massive. However, the few changes Samsung has made give the device a more polished feel. Firstly, the P3 is slightly thinner, measuring 51 by 102 by 8mm. Also, while both the P2 and P3 are constructed mainly of metal, the P3 lacks the shiny clear coating that gave the P2 a more plasticky appearance. All in all, the P3 comes across as sleeker than its predecessor, and it also feels more durable than the iPod touch, although whether or not it actually is tougher is up for debate.
Like the P2 and the iPod touch, the P3's face is dominated by a bright, full-colour touchscreen, this one measuring 76mm (3 inches) diagonally. The display, a 480x272-pixel WQVGA number, is undeniably gorgeous. We almost feel guilty muddying it up with our fingerprints constantly -- a necessity given the fact that the screen controls most major functions, such as menu navigation and media playback.
Samsung does include a few tactile buttons -- a power/hold key and volume controls -- on the top spine of the device. You'll also find a tiny mono speaker in this area, which allows you to listen to music without headphones, as well as use the P3 as a speakerphone when paired with your mobile phone (more on this feature later).
While the iPod touch has rather cornered the market as regards touchscreen functionality, Samsung implements it quite well on the P3. You can tap, double tap, swipe and drag to move through and among the various menus.
While we're on the topic of menus, it's worth mentioning that those on the P3 are laid out well. The main screen displays icons for all the chief features of the device -- music, video, photos, settings and so on. You can then swipe left or right to enter the two side screens, which contain icons for the various widgets.
Tapping on any icon takes you into the respective submenu, where, for long lists (such as songs), you can drag or tap to move speedily through the selections. All in all, we found navigation to be quite intuitive, although, as with any touchscreen device, becoming proficient at accurate tapping may take some practice.
Initially, it's tempting to compare the P3's features with those of the iPod touch. After all, that's the most obvious competitor in the design and interface department. But the P3 is actually priced to square off against the iPod nano, and the Samsung player clearly has the advantage when it comes to extras. In fact, there's little the P3 can't do -- all that's missing is integrated Wi-Fi and elegant podcast support.
Naturally, the P3 offers extensive multimedia playback. It supports MP3, WMA (including subscription), AAC, OGG and FLAC audio; WMV9 (including Amazon Unbox), MPEG4 (AVI, SVI), and H.264 (MP4) video (some conversion required); JPEG, BMP and PNG photo; and text files. You can even create your own memos (in TXT format) on the device, using virtual buttons that mimic a standard telephone keypad.
If you tire of your own content, the P3 offers an excellent FM radio with autoscan and up to 30 presets. In addition, the player includes both FM and voice recording. Other fairly standard features consist of support for Windows, Mac and Linux; slideshows with transition effects; a clock with an alarm function; a seven-band user-customisable EQ; and Samsung's DNSe 3.0 sound-enhancement technology. Plus, there's a file browser for those who prefer to navigate content by folders.
From there, we get into the more unusual -- and perhaps more fun -- extras. Foremost is A2DP Bluetooth support, which lets you listen to music via compatible Bluetooth headphones, as well as pair the player with your mobile phone for taking and receiving calls.
Then, of course, you have the multitude of widgets. One is a light bulb that you tap to adjust the brightness of the screen; another is a globe you can spin to see the time in various cities around the world; yet another is a 'sleep cat' that you can tap to set a sleep timer (it miaows as you do so). There's also a calculator, as well as support for several games, such as Bubble Bang, World Car Puzzle and Sudoku Champ.
As with the P2, the P3 offers a customisable interface with various fonts and themes to choose from, plus the ability to set any image as wallpaper. The player is also fully updatable via firmware updates, so you never know what games and widgets may be added in the future. Samsung was fairly consistent with firmware releases last time around, so we suspect the company will make good on them this time too.
Given the Samsung P2's impressive performance, we had our hopes set high for the P3. We weren't disappointed. During preliminary testing, the P3 excelled in every area. Foremost, audio quality is nothing short of stellar -- it wouldn't be a stretch to call this an audiophile's MP3 player, especially given the FLAC support. Everything from hip-hop to blues to classical to electronica shines. It does help that we tested the player with a pair of Shure SE530 earphones.
Hilary Hahn's violin in her renditions of Bach is truly haunting, and the busier highs in The Bangles' Hazy Shade of Winter couldn't be more individually clear. Mids across genres are warm and enveloping, with the rich, buttery tone we crave in this range. Low-end representation is similarly striking -- the bass is exceptionally tight and present without being overly forceful. Plus, the P3 gets extraordinarily loud, so it wouldn't be a stretch to hook this MP3 player up to your home audio set-up.
Video and photo display is also exceptional. Colour saturation is excellent, viewing angles are great, and fine detail is very clear -- no blurred edges here. We only experienced pixellation with low-quality video files, and that can't be blamed on the player. Conversion of video files is a fairly quick and simple process through Windows Media Player.
Similarly, rated battery life is admirable, clocking in at 40 hours for audio and 6 for video. We still have to test this out for ourselves, but things are looking good thus far. Our one minor gripe is that the processor seems to lag slightly when switching among certain functions.
The Samsung YP-P3 is no iPod touch killer, but then we're not sure it's meant to be. Pitted against other flash players and touchscreen portable media players, the P3 holds its own and then some. If you like the idea of massive screen real estate, a heap of extras and superb performance, this device should be at the top of your list.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet