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Towards the end of last year I was beginning to feel a little sorry for Samsung; the company was producing its best MP3 and media players ever, and yet it still seemed to be coming second best in every category. The YP-U4 was a lovely little compact audio player, but couldn't match the Sandisk Sansa Clip for sound quality or value. The YP-Q1, meanwhile, was a great sounding, versatile PMP, but was pipped to the post by the better sounding Sony NWZ-S639F. The YP-P2 was another solid effort, but only as a sort of cut-down alternative to the iPod touch. When we were dishing out points and prizes, Samsung kept on getting A for effort but never had the performance to match.
Within minutes of clapping eyes on the YP-P3, I had hopes that this new touchscreen player might be the device to turn that sorry situation around.
I don't like to think I'm superficial, but it helps that the design is both attractive and highly functional. The YP-P3 feels like a halfway house between the stripped-back cool of the iPod touch or Cowon S9 with the rugged, slim-line feel of the S-series Sony Walkmans. At 53 x 102mm and just shy of 10mm thick it's not an awful lot larger than Sony's player, and what additional size is present is compensated for by the screen. This occupies the majority of the front panel, covered by a sheet of glass, and the rest of the construction is predominantly die-cast metal.
Whereas the touch feels like it needs a little TLC if it's to make it through the working day, the YP-P3 feels tough enough to cope with anything bar some rough treatment to the front. Controls are limited to a power button and volume controls on the top, with the former doubling as a lock/unlock toggle, and the only other things breaking up the sleek lines are the headphone socket, a miniscule reset switch and Samsung's proprietary USB connector on the bottom.
The YP-P2 was Samsung's first stab at building a touch-based GUI for a PMP, and the YP-P3 shows clear signs that the company is learning, or possibly even drawing on its experience with the Pixon and Tocco mobile phones. The core functions are handled with a fairly straightforward grid of icons, but as with the aforementioned camera phones, Samsung has gone big on the idea of widgets: useful or entertaining applets you can drag out anywhere you like on the YP-P3's desktop.
Examples include a simple memo application, analogue and digital clocks, a photo slideshow, a light-bulb which acts as a brightness control and a little butterfly that flitters around the screen. If things get crowded - and they will - you can assign different widgets to different screens and flick between them at will. None of the examples are particularly sophisticated, and many aren't more than a novelty, but they certainly let you know that this isn't just another PMP.
You get the same feeling from the touchscreen interface. Like the YP-P2 it relies on a system of taps and gestures. Touching the lower part of the screen during music playback, for instance, brings up the transport and navigation controls. Vertical menus and lists are navigated by dragging your finger up and down, while a brusque flick of the finger up and down on the screen activates the volume control. Samsung has made the interface less fussy in terms of context-sensitive screen zones and the like, and usability is better for it.