Samsung is a big fan of built-in FM radios judging from its previous players, but the U1 goes without. You can assemble playlists, but as with most small USB players, you're limited to one at a time. You can select songs for a playlist by pressing the Menu button while you're in the main track listing.
For transferring music to the player, Samsung has bundled Media Studio. Though this is a huge improvement on earlier revisions of the software you can sidestep the issue entirely by treating the U1 as a generic drag and drop player. This is one of Samsung's great strengths, and means that the player is compatible with every conceivable platform, whether Mac, Linux or PC.
Samsung has included a nine-band equalizer on this petite player. The most we usually see is five bands, and we aren't sure why a home user would need to tweak their audio with such precision. Usually this kind of feature is either an attention grabber for specification junkies or hints at a problem with the audio output stage of the player.
If an MP3 player is delivering sound output as it should, then you won't normally need to adjust the EQ -- that was the job of the engineer in the studio where the music was recorded. Still, if you do need to counteract the shortcomings of a badly ripped MP3 or a pair of cheap headphones, this feature could improve things.
In our tests, sound quality on the U1 compared well with players like the Jens of Sweden MP-500, but fell short of the iPod Shuffle. We ran both players through flat-response studio monitors to compare the sound and found the U1 lacked coherency on tracks like Nirvana's Lithium. Auditioning more dynamic songs, the differences became clearer. Ed Harcourt's Born in the '70s lost mid-range definition on the U1, and the low-end drifted into a fugue. Some of the tone could be rescued by fiddling with the nine-band EQ, but we felt more like scientists than casual listeners doing this.
The YP-U1 is acceptable for voice recording, but the range you'll get with it falls just short of a metre before things get too muffled to hear. Battery life on the U1 was around 13 hours, falling significantly short of the Shuffle's 30.
If the iPod Shuffle just can't contain your music collection, the U1 is a viable alternative. However, more discriminating listeners should definitely opt for the Shuffle's superior DAC (digital to analogue conversion) stage.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield