The YP-P3 has all of the major ingredients needed to become one of the best portable media players on the market but is hampered by a finicky capacitive touchscreen along with Sammy's implementation of ID3 tags and stereo Bluetooth A2DP.
Music, movies, bluetooth, oh my! The Samsung YP-P3 may not have too many bullet points over its P2 predecessor, but as we reveal in the review, just looking at the specs can be deceiving. Read on to see how this Haptic-enabled touchscreen PMP holds its own against discerning audiophiles, movie lovers, and those pesky iPod touch fanboys.
While the YP-P3 DAP shares the same form factor and screen size as the YP-P2, that is where most of the similarities end. Thanks in no small part to the metal casing, the latest Yepp MP3 player commands a ton of respect with a sense of ruggedness that only a handful of competing players can offer in today's world of molded plastics. Samsung has also tweaked the button configuration from the P2, combining the hold switch and power toggle into a single button then moving it along with the volume rocker to the player's top alongside the newly-added speaker. This is a marked improvement that works wonders for both lefties and righties.
Measuring 5.25 cm wide with a thickness of 1 cm, the P3 maintains a lithe, lightweight appearance that is easy to grasp for hands of all sizes. It's more compact than the iPod touch 1G/2G in comparison, but noticeably larger than the 4th generation iPod nano due to its larger screen.
The bottom of the P3 plays host to Samsung's proprietary docking connector, the headphone port, and a built-in microphone/reset hole. A polished strip of metal runs the course of the device's perimiter accenting the svelte lines, and is subtle enough that greasy smudges aren't noticeable. So yes, with the obvious exception of the touchscreen controls, the YP-P3 is a fingerprint free player. Hooray!
Surrounding the indented 480x272 3-inch touchscreen and mini-controls area is a black bezel that provides a slick contrast to the player's casing in both the black and silver variants. Traditionally I find myself purchasing the black versions of consumer electronics on everything from gameboys to computer monitors, but the bezel's contrast has such a nice effect that I find myself preferential to the silver version of the P3. As for that redundant indicator light on the front of the P2 predecessor that looks like a button but isn't, it was replaced by a conservative Samsung logo that offers 100% less confusion. There's no question about it, the P3 really does look sharp, so my kudos go out to the product's design team.
Samsung P3 stacked on top of the iPod touch (1G).
You'll find the hold/power button, volume controls, and the external speaker on top of the Samsung P3.
Of Capacitance and Haptics
The Samsung P3's primary means of control is through a capacitive glass touchscreen similar to the what's used on the iPod touch and BlackBerry Storm. While more durable than the resistive touchscreens made of plastic that are seen on many PDAs and the Nintendo DS, capactive touch requires that your bare fingers and thumbs be used to control the player, which in and of itself has two cons going for it. Gloves and thumbnails are out, and digits even as thin as mine are unable to accurately control the player. I've been getting better over the two weeks that I've used the player, but it still can be frusterating when the player refuses to accurately click where I want it to.
Updating the firmware to version 2.07 or greater should help with this a bit, offering improvements to both touch accuracy and the speed of navigation. The newer version 1.28 is said to have even greater control, but that excludes many of the other features offered in 2.07. Hopefully Samsung merges the two development branches for the best of both worlds in the near future. The other possible remedy for accuracy (and warmth during winter months) is to use one of the electrically conductive accessories that have been making their rounds in online shops for iPhones. So far I've come across threesetsof specialty gloves that should fit the bill as well as a capacitive stylus.
The biggest improvement over the YP-P2 in my opinion comes from the addition of Immersion's TouchSense haptics technology, also known as rumble vibration(tm). In essence, when you touch the screen it will rumble a faux "click" as if you're actually depressing a button and then feeling it spring back as you let go. Swiping your finger across the screen to scroll or flip through pages produces a short rolling sensation, and dragging slider bars produces a clicking sensation to indicate continuous movement. I cannot emphasize enough just how well the haptics work for the P3, as it gives you a feeling that you're actually interacting with a functional device and not just a slab of glass. Lastly there is the VibeWoofer gimmick, which will cause the player to vibrate in sync with the bass hits of your music and videos. It was cool for about five minutes before I switched it back off.
The Samsung P3 fully supports customization through Samsung's UCI, or User Customiziable Interface. Backgrounds and startup screens are the typical targets here, but these can also be coupled with new icons to create downloadable UCI packages that are available through Samsung and a few 3rd party sites across the internet. Samsung hosts both their own professionally created UCIs as well as a variety of user created UCIs, so not surprisingly there's the usual mix of Windows, Apple, and BlackBerry themed packages out there to download from as well. This creative functionality should be added to Samsung's EmoDio software for users outside of Korea shortly after the player's USA release.
User-created Blackberry storm theme on the left; Hello Kitty UCI on the right.
One of the new additions to the P3 is the inclusion of Widgets, or small applets that can provide useful information, quick access to system settings, or simple decoration. Their practicality however is limited, as the player does not have internet access for downloading live information such as weather and movie showtimes. Also, as of March 09 there are currently no means of downloading new widgets so unless you are overly thrilled with poking a butterfly that zooms across your screen, I wouldn't put too much thought into the widgets as a selling point for the P3, not yet anyway.
Widgets on the left; main menu screen on the right.
Of course, part of customization is not just tweaking what you see, but how you see it. To that end Samsung has enabled repositioning icons and widgets on up to 5 virtual desktops, accessed by swiping your thumb across the screen to access the next desktop. If no icons or widgets are present on a virtual desktop, it will vanish from sight until you try dragging something back onto one. This allows for easy grouping of items by functionality and removes clutter.
Apart from the stop-n-go scrolling, the interface itself is pretty snappy thanks to the use of shortcuts. From anywhere within the player, taping once on something that's not an icon or button will present contextual menus on the bottom of the screen, and tapping on the top of the screen will present shortcuts for managing the Bluetooth, audio and display output as well as navigating directly to the home screen. Likewise, from the Home screen holding down the Music or Movies icons will skip directly to their respective now playing screens.
One more shortcut present on the P3 is the mini-player, accessed by swiping your thumb across the arrows located directly underneath the screen. Doing this will show controls for play/pause and ff/rwd/skip much like the iPod touch has a mini-player accessible by double clicking the menu button. Unlike the iPod touch however, the P3 must be unlocked in order to get to the controls.
Audio Format Support
Out of the box, the YP-P3 supports a multitude of audio formats such as OGG Voribs, FLAC lossless, AAC and AAC+, all supplementing the classic MP3 and WMA formats. What Samsung doesn't tell you however is that neither its EmoDio desktop software nor the MP3 player itself can read ID3 tags from songs encoded in the AAC or FLAC formats. This has the adverse effect of making it so that those tracks can't be navigated to via the music database where songs are browseable by artist, album, title and genre.
Of course, you can still get to your AAC and FLAC songs via the File Browser, but anyone who's had the displeasure of working with MP3 CDs and car stereos with USB support should already be well versed with the frustrations inherent in doing so; though the handful of users that don't bother to maintain their ID3 tags aren't likely to care. I'm not saying that Samsung shouldn't advertise their AAC and FLAC support, I actually encourage that much. I just wish that they would have actively put the same effort into fully supporting those two codecs as they have with the underdog OGG Voribs codec. The other major issue in Sammy's implementation of music is the inability to read many but not all of the album art photos I've embedded into my ID3 tags via iTunes. Hey, if Windows Media Player can read them, why can't Samsung? Hopefully a firmware update and EmoDio patch will resolve these issues in the future.
File browser on the left; play speed adjustment on the right.
Music lovers will rejoice at the number of playback features to be found within the P3's music functionality. A-B repeat and the ability to adjust the playback speed without altering the pitch makes creating music tableture much easier, while on-the-go playlists are always a welcome addition for long road trips. The built-in mono speaker is also nice for sharing the gist of a song with a friend and not having to surrender your waxy earbuds. Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and buy another pair of earbuds to go with the P3. The ones that come bundled have muddy mids and highs that don't do vocal tracks justice.
Samsung rates the P3's battery life at 30 hours when listening to MP3s encoded at 128kbps with the voulume halved, sound effects disabled and the screen off. In my own testing, I managed to squeeze out just over 36 hours of continuous playback when listening to a variety of music encoded at various bitrates from 128kbps to 320kbps CBR and even a few tracks encoded with variable bitrates.