In terms of sheer number of MP3 player designs, Samsung has launched an impressive onslaught so far this year. It seems like the passing of each month is marked by the arrival of a new MP3 player. There are almost more Samsung players on the market than there are varieties of rice cake in the yearly Kyongju cake festival. In the battle of South Korea vs. California, all guns are blazing.
The 2GB YP-U1, reviewed here, is a USB key-style player. Its most obvious competition is the iPod Shuffle (which has a maximum memory of 1GB), but where the iPod has no screen, the U1 has a small LCD, which provides enough track information to give you a basic idea of what you're listening to.
At first glance the U1 offers an attractive proposition: 2GB of storage and an LCD screen in a nearly Shuffle-sized chassis. But can Samsung's new fighter match the Shuffle's acclaimed audio quality and battery life?
A bit bigger than a packet of chewing gum, the YP-U1 will tuck neatly into the small pocket on your jeans widely believed to be the traditional pouch for cigarette lighters. The folding USB connector on the end of the player means it's easy to use the U1 as a data memory stick when the mood takes you.
Unlike the Shuffle's easily lost USB connector cap, the U1's fold-away design uses a little sliding door to keep the plug held in place, tucked away during transit. Our only criticism of this approach is the flimsy build-quality of the sliding panel. It works, but the whole mechanism feels loose to the touch.
While nowhere near as minimalist as the iPod Shuffle, the U1 does use a greyscale LCD with a white backlight rather than a colour design. Buttons on the player are kept to a sensible minimum. You're unlikely to be confused by the layout. There's a four-way directional control with a large menu button in the centre. When you're playing music, the up and down buttons control the volume and the left and right keys will skip or scan through tracks. A brief press on the centre switch brings up a list of available tracks, and a long press summons menu options. Other controls include the obligatory Play/Pause combo button and a Record and Hold control.
You can attach a lanyard to the top of the player through a metal collar that runs across the chassis like a really tiny bridge. Unfortunately the 3.5mm audio-jack socket is positioned right next to this lanyard collar, which makes it difficult to insert some headphone jacks. In fact our studio reference headphones would not plug into the U1 at all, forcing us to use an esoteric adaptor to listen to the audio during our tests.
As with the Shuffle, the U1's battery is built into the unit. The small display is not ideal if your eyesight is poor and if you're used to the way iTunes lays out artist, album and track information, you'll be frustrated by the U1's inflexible navigation approach.