Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
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Review of MP3-player Samsung YP-S5
With the world’s first (and seemingly one of a kind so far) sliding player with embedded loudspeakers on its track record, Samsung decided not to rest on its laurels and were quick enough with rolling out an update. Though, generally speaking, it wasn’t all that prompt after all – once a year the company presents a handful of milestone models and then, “in the course of action”, throws in other solutions for good measure. Last year, the highlights of that autumn’s announcement were the T9-Indigo and the K5-Dynamix, the slider. You can easily guess how much they made (and are still making) of these players by looking at all the advertisement campaigns they enjoyed. But, the truth is, it was only the Indigo that was seriously promoted in Russia – even these days billboards with the T9 on them are about on many key roads and subway stations. In its turn the K5 is featured in the clips of Fergie, playing the role of a fashion-conscious solution (and not for its owner, but for the company itself). Naturally, rolling out the K5, over in Korea they did realize that stellar sales were not meant for that player, however it could well catch some eyes – and that was the way it all turned out. That’s why they decided to release a refreshed version, which is in the spotlight of this write-up. Probably, with the debut of the K3, also known as the X-Metal is Russia, Samsung’s marketers opted to develop the K-series in some other fashion and take all niche solutions to the S-series along the way –there is no other reason that would explain the new index. That’s what regards the fact that otherwise the K5’s successor would have been known as the K6, which is what we normally see with models by other manufacturers; nevertheless, this player comes with the index “S5”. It may come that the company has some other trumps up its sleeve for this range, the ones that are to come before the New Year or even early in 2008, after the CES in Las Vegas.
Functionality-wise the S5 stands very close to the older model, however Samsung wouldn’t manage to stay in the top five of manufacturers even for a year, if it didn’t count the market’s needs in the equation. It took the consumers’ expectations of a new player only a year to change – now the focus in on video and wireless connectivity. And again, the displays have made another step forward, and the old matrixes aren’t good anymore. But, the company certainly has addressed all these issues with its new solution.
First up, the S5 is thinner and lighter, which is one of tricks you can’t go wrong with, as consumers vote for these two qualities in the most apparent way – with their pocketbooks. That’s why the S5 has shed 21 grams and 3 mm off its girth. The latter figure, if you think of it, is more impressive. After all, it is by no means a routine task to cram all the chips, a battery, loudspeakers and a slider mechanism into just 15 mm. Other dimensions have changed by a hair at best, so they won’t make all the difference.
The S5 also packs some new features, although it would seem what we previously had is quite enough. Let me put it differently – it has all the amenities, like FM-radio, voice recorder, UMS mode. It also comes with loads of memory, which feels so Samsung, for they have the place to take it from: 2, 4 or 8 Gb – quite adequate by today’s standards
The display has also improved. To my mind, even back when it was released, the K5 had a mediocre display spec-wise, which, the credit here goes to the maker, they tried to save its face with an elaborated and well-designed gamma-wise interface. Don’t expect the S5 to boast a QVGA display like that found in the today’s phones, though, since it is the privilege of the Indigo’s successor. Nevertheless, it still comes with a pretty decent in-between solution, more on which – in the dedicated section of this review.
And finally, the foremost enhancement, which I already hinted at, disguising it as “wireless connectivity”, is Bluetooth. All Samsung’s new players come armed with this option, and while the S5 sports version 1.2, other show off Bluetooth 2.0. Nonetheless, even with this under its belt, the S5 can be managed in a very intriguing way. To cut a long store short – the S5 can be used as a speakerphone-headset with a mobile phone and on top of that you can employ some other benefits of Bluetooth. More on this below.
Design and casing
Nothing has changed here, meaning that the player’s face is pretty good. Notwithstanding its fashionable edge and being geared to a certain niche, they haven’t added a variety of colors to its palette or chromed every inch of the S5’s surface – and this is the right thing. The player comes in choice of two colors – black and white. Either of them looks pretty ascetic and complete, however the white edition undoubtedly looks more festive and flashy. By the way, on September 5th, with all this hype around the new iPods, everybody missed the fact that Apple forwent its legendary white plastic finish, which used to be the synonym for the iPod for years. That’s it – nothing remains the same way. So all the fans of the milky-white color will have to turn to some other brands, thankfully Japanese and Korean solutions are fond of it and have a whole lot of models coming in this design.
The front fascia has remained glossy and it still picks up tons of fingerprints and smudges - some things just don't change. You want to look it good – make it glossy, but you better include a cleaning cloth into the box. It good to see there are no chrome-coated details on the front, unlike the K3, I used to like, but in fact it lends its design that pop feel. Nevertheless, it is quite fitting for the K3, being the selling point. And the S5 has no frames whatsoever, which is good – minimalist look on the front is quite imposing, even intriguing in some way, regrettably the white version so no effect of this kind to it. The tricky thing about it is that if you don’t stare at the S5, you will never see the touch-sensitive pads or the display frame, so when turned off the player reminds more of a mysterious brick, so you won’t figure out what it really is at a glance.
The controls layout is pretty much conventional – the front side houses the display and keys, while the back side is empty, the loudspeakers and the slider mechanism are in the middle, the power-hold toggle switch sits on the upper edge, while at the bottom you will find a proprietary socket and a headphones jack.
Build quality has become such a boring topic lately, even though we keep getting our hands on some interesting units, mainly from the camp of entry-level gadgets. As you would expect for it, the S5 is a solidly built device – its slider action is also pretty decent and with its metal runners, I don’t think it is worth being concerned about its loosening in the future.
The spines and the underside are still have the “soft-touch-like” cladding, which feels good, plus prevents the player from slipping in your hands.
If we try to make a conclusion on how we feel about the player’s design, that’s what we will get. Personally, I find the ascetic color scheme, straight lines and the fancy form-factor very appealing. The S5 definitely has a style of its own, but at the same time, while it may not be a device for just about any occasion, it won’t look out of place in many environments – be it on your office desk or in a pop music video. The good thing is that it is eye-catching not because of flamboyant color schemes or glamorous design, but thanks to completely opposite traits.
I think, over at Samsung they have thought things over and decided not to replace their controls scheme that handles pretty good already, and focused on other, more vital matters at hand. As a result, the S5 comes with the same controls as its predecessor. Also, there is a curious trait to it – duplicated Back key, made for two orientations: landscape and portrait. It is quite original, although, I think it had been implemented in some other device long before the original K5.
Sitting on the immediate right side of the display, or right beneath it, depends on your vantage point, are eight touch-sensitive pads, out of which two – that duplicated Back key. Another buttons brings up the context-sensitive menu. Finally, the other five form a conventional five-way navigation key and will help you in browsing the S5’s menus, lists, adjusting volume, confirming your choices and other affairs.
While these pads are pretty sensitive, it is not through the roof, so you won’t experience any hardships with the controls in the S5 – everything is done intuitively and very easily.
Another control element is the toggle switch on the upper edge, just like those countless switches we already saw. You can move it to one direction, and it will stay that way unless you push it back – this will actually lock its controls. And when pressed towards the opposite end, it comes back to the initial position, for this action turns the S5 off. Nothing new about it, being sophisticated doesn’t do any good for this type of controls.
Display and menu
The player’s display, just as you would expect, has been replaced, with only the diagonal remaining intact. The new screen boasts QCIF+ resolution, or, in other words, 176x220 pixels, which is quite okay – even today you can find some Nokia-branded smartphones utilizing similar displays. The picture has gotten way shaper and more detailed, which, obviously, comes as no surprise. Also, it is easy to guess that the menu looks has been refined as well. Those “flying stars” that made the menu icons in the K5, have become multicoloured, grown up a little and now look even prettier. It is good to know that the maker hasn’t backed away from the concept of the predecessor’s interface, as it deserves being developed further.
The display is quite vibrant and bright, even though it gets washed out in the sun, just like it “class mates”. The increased resolution makes for entertaining photo shows, and you can even find some details on your images with the S5. The same goes for video clips.
I already said it and will say it again – the menu looks very beautiful. Of course, all these compliments are addressed to the menu icons and the transitions between them. Also, we can’t overlook a decent solution applied in the S5 - luminescent light-blue looks stellar against the dark background. The latter, by the way, has a subtle color pattern, so it doesn’t look gloomy.
The menu tree has been substantially expanded with some new features. Some of them, the ones you usually find in the foot directory, were moved to a special section.
The new menu tree: Music, Videos, Pictures, FM Radio, Datacasts, Prime Pack, File Browser, Bluetooth, Settings.
Music. Tracks can be sorted by artist, album, genre etc. From here you will call up playlists, adding tracks onto your playlist is done from the context menu.
Videos. Upon picking this item, the display shows you the list of videos you can watch. If the S5’s memory contains a file that it can’t playback, you won’t see it on this list.
Pictures. The display shows eight thumbnails.
FM Radio. Tune in!
Datacasts. Samsung’s version of podcasts – uploaded via Samsung Media Studio.
Prime Pack. This section holds all important options that couldn’t make it to the main menu: text viewer, voice recorder, games, alarm clock, world clock, audio in.
File Browser. Allows browsing the player memory’s contents, enables you to create folders and delete files.
Bluetooth. Every last thing that has something to do with Bluetooth connectivity is found here – activation, device search, modes, file transfer.
Available profiles: FTP – file transfer, A2DP and AVRCP – support for wireless headphones, and HFP – Handsfree mode.
Settings. A slew of options and device information here.
Apart from the main menu, the S5 also features context-sensitive menus, housing various functions unique to every mode or shortcuts to the main menu’s items, like the equalizer.
The S5’s menu layout is pretty straightforward and intuitive – no pitfalls here. To you joy, the new player’s menu looks successfully picks up and develops the ideas found in the predecessor’s design.
Battery life and PC connection
When it comes to batteries, as a rule all players seem to be no different from one another and the S5 is no exception. It pulls power from an inbuilt battery, presumably a 800 mAh Li-Pol unit (no exact data as yet). Probably, there are some mains adaptors available, the only question remains where you can get one. But third-party manufacturers seem to have noticed much potential in accessories for Samsung-branded players, and have already gotten into various widgets for them, carrying cases for the most part, as of today. There are reports on availability of mains adapters for the new players, so you will need to purchase them separately.
The battery life is rate for around 25 hours, which is pretty decent. And if the S5 plays back via the loudspeaker, it will last roughly 5 hours.
PC connection couldn’t possibly be any simpler with UMS. There is also a variation of the S5 shipping in Russia, that supports both UMS and MTP, and all “western” editions and samples sport MTP protocol only. Which is nothing to be sad about – you still see the S5’s thumbnail in My Computer, allowing you to get music onto your S5 by dragging and dropping required tracks. Furthermore, you can store file types not supported by the player, so as to employ it as a mass storage device. Nevertheless, the data transfer speed test resulted in a pretty average 2-3 Mb/s for the S5.
Video, photo and other features
The video functionality found in the S5 seemingly has been tacked on just for the sake of a marketing move, rather than something more serious – the display’s dimensions, as well as the player’s positioning don’t seem quite fitting for this. The S5 comes with support for Samsung’s proprietary codec alone – SVI, meaning that they decided not to bother themselves with support for non-converted files. This way, regardless of file type, you will need to get it though the standard routine. Thankfully, this process doesn’t take too long, however, it greatly depends on the original file’s size and your PC speed. The resulting clip looks pretty much fine, although even smooth movements seem to be a little sharp, which is probably brought about by the frame rate.
On the other hand, the image viewing front has everything you need in stock – the display shows up to eight thumbnails, and on top of that, all these icons appear to be well-detailed, so you can even discern something. There is no way you can zoom in/out, instead you are enabled to rotate images, which is a great thing that we meet not as often as we would like. Photos can be also viewed in the slide-show mode or set as the display background. However, I would recommend going for the latter only to complete narcissists – the interface loses a lion’s share of its appeal outright.
The no-frills FM-tuner found in the S5 can record broadcasts, and we think we are quite content with this alone. The player can keep up to 25 radio stations in memory, which is already quite insufficient for Moscow. Nevertheless, you favorite broadcasts will fit this limit just fine.
The S5 also comes preinstalled with three games, which are, however, nothing out of the ordinary; some might still like the Baseball, though.
Thankfully, the S5 manages text files in a convenient fashion – it recognizes Unicode, and, more importantly, has no quarrel with files bigger than 1 Mb. You are free to setup background color and font size, which is not par for the course today.
As for sound recording, the S5 performs well on this front, being able to record radio and from the mic. In the former case the top bitrate makes 192 Kbit/s, in the latter – 128 Kbit/s, which is adequate for most situations, especially given the quality of recordings provided by a non-professional device.
This technology is nothing new in the industry of personal audio gadgets, and the range of available headphones has been extending and makers are trying to keep up. Again, the ability to trade files back and forth with handset users is quite intriguing as well. However, the designers of the S5 probably thought that just this (music plus wireless file transfers) wasn’t enough, and they tacked on some interesting features onto the player. In a word, the player can be used as a speakerphone device and a wireless headset for you handset. When it comes to field tests, it turns out that the player can be anywhere near you, while your handset’s location doesn’t really matter as long as it is within the range. This way, with you hands on the S5 alone you can accept and decline calls, and it has a call log with all numbers it could identify. Regrettably, it can’t accept phonebook entries from handsets – at least our Sony Ericsson W900i, used for the field test, failed to beam them to the S5. However, you can dial right from the player, but since there is no number pad on it, it doesn’t seem particularly convenient, still possible, though. The loudspeaker’s volume level is quite mediocre, so you won’t hear someone speak while in a noisy environment. But as long as you are in a room with only a couple of people or sitting in your office, the S5 should do just fine. The same holds true for the microphone sensitivity. There is only one thing we can fault the S5 with: people on the other end of the conversation can actually hear muffled echo of your words with a slight delay. Naturally it doesn’t ruin the whole calling experience, yet can be irritating at times. Nevertheless, I’m positive they will come up with some sort of solution in the final firmware version.
The ability to make and receive calls via the player is definitely something we haven’t seen before. But, in truth, it is not that much of a useful gimmick. It will never become widely adopted or a real must-have, but it does the job being a feature that makes good use of the built-in speakers and the Bluetooth connectivity.
Sound, headphones, slider action
First, let’s see what the S5’s slider action is all about. In fact, it does very well, can’t even find something to complain about: two metal runners, spring-loaded mechanism, smooth movements. It leaves a favorable impression, and on the face of it, the mechanism is quite sturdy, so generally it should be able to last as long as the player stays in one piece. If only you won’t start zipping it open and closed like every second when you feel bored or deep in your thoughts. Not that I suspect something about the prospective owners of the S5, but there are loads of people out there fond of pushing their slider phones (including Samsung-branded ones) up and down.
The slider action is quite comfortable thanks to the spring-loaded mechanism. If you have never bumped into this system before, here is a 101 course: all you need to do is slightly push the upper half upwards, and the rest is done by the spring inside the player.
The S5 incorporates an enhanced sound system – DNSE 2.0. The new version comes with more presets, reverberation effects etc.
The loudspeakers, as they feel and sound, have remained the same. At least the sound quality provided by these two baby speakers is quite decent and occasionally they even output something that sounds like low frequencies, which is the thing you can’t readily believe at first. The volume level is average, so that in noisy environment you are very unlikely to discern something. The best way to employ the S5’s speakers, like I already said, is put it on your work table and get your favorite tunes playing, or get up to your number-one song (thanks to the sleep-timer and the alarm clock), or even use it while taking a shower. Don’t start laughing just yet – it actually is pretty loud when on your bedside table, and those who love singing in the shower will appreciate the S5 as well. If I remember it right, Sergey Kuzmin already wrote that many usually employ their mobile phones for these purposes. Now there is another way to go.
As for the sonic experience you get you a pair of headphones on, the S5, no surprises here, is a good performer. Of course, no use in expecting it to put up a mind-blowing volume level. And we don’t have any quibbles when it comes to the frequencies – across the entire range, from the deepest bass to the highs it hasn’t obvious peaks or dips, let alone noises and static.
General performance: Good
There is a whole lot of equalizer presets, everyone will find something to his own liking. Those who won’t, will have a chance to tweak the user-manageable nine-band equalizer.
It is such a rare occasion when the pair of earphones you get out of the box get your excited or even slightly shocked. Thankfully, I have been dealing with players for over three years now and have seen many different things. But when I first saw the S5’s default headphones, I was quite surprised, to say the least. Being quite bulky (almost as big as an apricot’s seed), their casings are coated in plastic all around, including the tips. There is only a tiny hole, about 1 cm long and 0,5 wide on either of the earphones, covered with a fine metal grill. Moreover, it sits on a smallish platform, sticking out of the surroundings, that faces your eardrum. However, due to the size and shape of these headphones, you will have a hard time putting them into your ears. And if you actually manage to do that, then you will enjoy the decent bass level they claim. It seems that for this purpose along the shape of the earphones is so sophisticated. And basically, the efforts engineers haven’t gone to waste – the S5’s default earphones do sound good and handles the lows in a convenient fashion. However, as I see it, it would have been easier (and cheaper) to throw earbud-style headphones with noise isolation into the box. Simply because when it comes to the bass beat, all thanks to the design they can trump standard in-ear headphones hands down. But, Samsung has picked the more complicated way, invented its own design of clumsy and quaint in-ear headphones. I just hope this solution has been technically justified, and they should know better what all this complexity is for.
The model that was planned as Samsung’s move in the fashion world and a niche-aimed product now has a worthy successor. Following the latest trends, the S5 has been put on a diet, acquired Bluetooth and a good display.
Its Bluetooth functionality is worth a special note – apart from the fresh idea of a desktop headset, the S5 also sports the ability to trade data back and forth between the player and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like mobile phones, with no restrictions.
And putting all this officialese aside, the S5 is a typical fashion-savvy gadget not without its own talents and merits. The fans of skinny players, apparently, will have to look elsewhere, but those, including your humble servant here, who value substance more than style, might actually fall for the S5. It is a pity though, that the player will need charging sessions pretty often, if you intend to leave it on your table playing some tunes – in this mode the S5 lasts around 5 hours.
No word on the real prices for this player as yet, since it still hasn’t arrived on the market. However we have some information on the recommended retail prices, which can serve as the guideline for you – the 2 Gb edition will go for roughly 230 USD, while the 4 and 8 Gb versions will retail for 285 USD and 350 USD respectively. On top of that, the price is likely go down in the near term in view of the Christmas season and the upcoming battle with the new iPods.
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