- Review Price: £109.00
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.
The major new addition to the YP-P3 is haptic feedback, whereby the whole unit vibrates subtly as you drag up and down or select an option. It’s a nice, positive response and one that helps complete one of the best – if not the best – touchscreen GUIs I’ve seen on a non-Apple PMP. However, it’s still not perfect.
Most of the time a quick flick of the finger and a stab of the tip is enough to get you where you want to go, but there are odd times when you find yourself prodding repeatedly without much response. This isn’t a disaster, however, and the important thing is that the fundamentals of a decent PMP GUI – clear navigation, coherent style and the ability to find the track, file or playlist you want using standard ID3 tags – are all there.
The YP-P3 also offers a fairly solid selection of features beyond audio playback and those flashy widgets. The radio is enhanced from the one found on the YP-Q1, offering six presets, an auto-preset function and decent sound quality. Unlike the YP-P2 the new model has built-in voice recording, and you’ll also find a photo viewer, a selection of mildly unimpressive Flash games, an alarm, an address book, calculator, text document viewer and a player for podcasts and other data-casts (though you’ll have to set these up using the bundled EmoDio windows application).
There’s some more nice use of the touchscreen UI here, too. Double-tapping in the photo viewer, for example, zooms into the image, while sweeping across moves it around. A quick circular motion rotates the image from portrait into landscape format. It’s surprising how many companies have attempted touchscreen players without working this kind of stuff into the GUI. Samsung hasn’t made the same mistake.
Now, all this stuff is good, but we haven’t yet got to the real strengths of the YP-P3. The first is video playback. The 3in screen is slightly smaller than that of the Cowon S9, let alone the iPod touch, but it’s still pretty sizable for a player of such compact dimensions, and the quality is very good. Colours are bright, the image is crisp and motion is handled smoothly and without too much sign of blur.
You can comfortably watch TV programmes or even movies if you feel the need, and the audio is as powerful and immersive as you could wish for, with a wide and clearly defined stereo soundstage that works well for more action-packed content. As with the YP-Q1, BBC iPlayer WMV files are properly supported, and the YP-P3 will also handle H.264 MP4 files and MPEG-4 (DivX/XviD) AVIs. It’s not as flexible in terms of format support as the Cowon S9 or O2, but it goes a step further than the Sony and Apple competition.
Secondly, while it’s a disappointment that the YP-P3 doesn’t have built-in WiFi, it does, like its predecessor, have built-in Bluetooth. Annoyingly it doesn’t seem to work with everything – my own HP laptop was a no-no – but you can transfer files between your YP-P3 and some Bluetooth phones, use a pair of A2DP headphones, or even use the YP-P3 with it’s built-in speaker and microphone as a Bluetooth hands free set (using the term ‘hands free’ rather loosely, of course).
Best of all, however, is the news that the YP-P3 not only matches Samsung’s previous best players for audio, but surpasses them. The warmth of tone and clarity that characterized the YP-Q1 is still there, but there’s a bit more life and snap to the sound. Unfortunately I’m unable to make direct comparisons, but I’d say that it’s pretty darn close to the Sony NWZ-S639F in terms of quality, and that means it’s very good indeed.
Needless to say, you won’t hear the full potential through the supplied earbuds. They’re not awful, but you won’t be able to wring a solid low end or maximum detail from them. Hook up some half-decent canalphones, however, and you’re laughing, the YP-P3 dishing out a rich sound with a tight, well-defined bass and sparkling clarity at the top, producing great results in tracks ranging from Kings of Leon’s Closer to Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps to the more relaxed tones of the Sinatra/Carlos Jobim take on The Girl from Ipanema.
What’s more, there’s a lot of power on offer here. The YP-P3 is noticeably louder at the same volume setting than the YP-Q1, and it easily has enough power to drive a pair of Sennheiser HD485s or Grado SR-60s at a decent volume without cranking the levels up to max and compressing the sound.
Through full-ear cans the output is nothing shy of awesome. Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around… reveals all the production details that come together to make a great pop track, and my collection of Wagner in FLAC has rarely sounded so good. Interestingly, while the UK specification only mentions MP3, AAC and WMA playback, the sample YP-P3 was perfectly happy playing FLAC and OGG files, making this a more flexible player than the Sony competition. Just ignore Windows’ moans when you drag them over.
As with previous Samsung players, the output is also very, very configurable. Samsung DNSe processing once again comes into play, with a range of preset EQ settings aimed at different genres, and it’s joined by a street mode, an audio upscaler and a slightly odd ‘VibeWoofer’ function which makes the YP-P3 pulsate in time with the bass beats. I spent most of my time with DNSe and the upscaler switched off, but I did notice some positive effects with DNSe switched to auto and the upscaler kicked in, particularly with the medium-quality, 256K MP3s that Amazon keeps flogging on the cheap these days.
Battery life is respectable for audio, less so for video. Expect 30 hours of music playback from a single charge but only five hours of video, and even less if you mess around with Bluetooth and the VibeWoofer. I got around nineteen hours of mixed use (with the player left running music overnight), which is fine unless you like watching movies on a long-distance commute.
So, enough with the praise, do we have a new must-have player on our hands? Well, a lot depends on what you’re comparing the YP-P3 to. Despite its widgets and Bluetooth support, it’s still not a true rival to the iPod touch. Apple’s GUI remains the best in the business, and features like email, the excellent web browser and the App Store still put Jobs and co.’s player in a slightly different sector of the market. But then, it’s priced accordingly, and don’t forget that a good £40 to £50 separates the 8GB touch from the 8GB Samsung.
On the other hand, price also works against Samsung’s little wonder. The YP-P3 does more than the Sony NWZ-S639F, offers better format support and sounds comparable, but then you can pick up the 16GB Sony with its superior bundled earphones for less than the 8GB Samsung (which costs another £50 for a 16GB variant).
All this is quite true, but overall I think the YP-P3 successfully finds a nice niche of its own between these two greats, offering a bit of the iPod touch flash and a wider range of features than the Sony, but with better sound quality than the Apple product. It’s also cheaper and a little easier to use than the similar Cowon S9. In other words, if you merely want great music and great value, buy Sony, but if you’re looking for a little more pizazz, the YP-P3 is well worth stumping up for.
Samsung’s touchscreen beauty lacks many iPod touch features and can’t match the S-series Walkmans for value or sound quality. But as a slick, pocket-sized player for audio, video and stills, it takes some beating. Samsung’s best PMP yet!
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9
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