The Samsung YP-U5 is a fitness-friendly MP3 player with a cute design and an affordable price, at around £30 for the 2GB version and £40 for the 4GB version. With a small amount of storage and a cramped, 25mm (1-inch) screen, the YP-U5 isn't suited as a primary MP3 player, but it works very well as a secondary device, sparing your iPhone the indignity of being tossed in the gym bag.
The YP-U5 has a long, USB-stick design, measuring 89 by 23 by 13mm. A four-direction navigation pad graces one end of the player, and, at the other end, you'll find a standard USB connection covered by a removable cap. A four-line OLED display is slightly recessed into the middle of the YP-U5, unfortunately causing it to resemble a pregnancy test kit. Despite its small size, the display is relatively bright, with white-on-black lettering and the kind of excellent viewing angles only OLED can accomplish.
The YP-U5 distinguishes itself from the crowd of small, cheap MP3 players by infusing the on-screen interface with a cast of animated characters that Samsung describes as 'Popcon' (not to be confused with popcorn). When booting up the YP-U5 for the first time, a set-up screen allows you to choose one of 11 Popcon characters and assign it a name. Your little character will greet you every time the player is booted up, and will appear in the music playback screen for songs that lack album artwork (yes, the YP-U5 actually supports album artwork, believe it or not).
There's no getting around the fact that the whole Popcon animated character thing is a little cheesy, but it's not unbearable, and the little creatures actually do add some welcome whimsy to the fitness program included on the YP-U5 (more on that below).
Two last little design details worth mentioning are the bundled pair of white earbuds and the clear, snap-on acrylic belt clip. The earbuds use a generous 1.2m cable and provide a sound quality comparable to that of iPod earbuds -- mediocre but adequate. The acrylic clip snaps onto the back of the YP-U5 and is remarkably sturdy.
The YP-U5 includes menu options for music, FM radio, 'fitness', voice recording and 'datacasts' (podcasts pulled over from Samsung's PC-only EmoDio software, included with the YP-U5). You won't find photo or video support on the YP-U5, but that comes with the territory when you're dealing with players in this size and price range.
The YP-U5's music player is surprisingly well-appointed. Songs can be browsed by folder or ID3 sort (album, genre and artist) and format support extends to MP3, WMA, OGG and FLAC. Noticeably missing from the supported format list are AAC (for all those iTunes downloads) and Audible audiobooks.
If having both AAC and Audible on your MP3 player is critical, you'll need to look at an iPod or Creative Zen. Otherwise, a fitness-minded MP3 player like the Sony Walkman NWZ-W202 will at least afford you AAC support, and the SanDisk Sansa Clip is your best bet for an affordable, gym-ready Audible player.
The YP-U5's FM radio supports automatic and manual presets, and also includes an FM-recording function (recordings are made as 128Kbps stereo MP3). We were happy with the quality of the voice recorder, which captured clean, 128Kbps mono MP3 recordings without the high-pitched whine we often hear with such devices.