Mobile : Expert Review: P3 MP3 Player

THE GOOD: The Samsung P3 offers a sleek and sturdy design with a gorgeous full-color touch screen and fun interface; it includes a boatload of features such as Bluetooth connectivity, widgets, an FM radio, and voice recording; there is support for a wide variety of audio formats.

THE BAD: The Samsung P3's interface may take some getting used to; there's no Wi-Fi, and podcast support is inelegant.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung P3 is an excellent multimedia device that packs a grand amount of features into an impressively compact package with one of the best screens available. Plus, it sounds superb, making this a top contender for audio enthusiasts.

Touch-screen MP3 players and PVPs are all the rage, and it's no wonder: the migration of controls to the display of a device makes it possible to dedicate most of a player's surface area to the screen. Thus, larger screens on smaller gadgets. Surely, the Apple iPod Touch is a testament to the potential success of this setup, and Samsung's first foray into this arena, the P2, was no slouch, either, drawing praise from critics and consumers alike. As such, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Samsung's follow-up, the P3, is quite the impressive device, packing a wealth of features and some of the best sound to be found in a portable media player. Better yet, the P3 is priced to sell at $149, $199, and $299 for the 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB models, respectively. For those who are keeping track: that's the same price as the iPod Nano, not the Touch.

To look and feel
At first blush, the Samsung P3 doesn't look strikingly different from its predecessor, the P2, and in fact, the design updates are far from massive. However, the few changes Samsung did make give the device a more polished and put-together feel. First, the P3 is slightly thinner, measuring 4 inches by 2 inches by 0.3 inch. Also, while both the P2 and P3 are constructed mainly of metal, the P3 lacks the shiny clear coat that gave the P2 a more plasticky appearance. All in all, the P3 comes across as sleeker than its predecessor, and it also feels more durable than the iPod Touch, though whether or not this is a fact is up for debate.

Like the P2 and the Touch, the P3's face is dominated by a bright, full-color touch screen, this one measuring 3-inches diagonally. The display, a 480 x 272 WQVGA number, is undeniably gorgeous–we almost feel guilty muddying it up with our fingerprints constantly, a necessity given the fact that the screen serves to control most major functions, such as menu navigation and media playback. Samsung does include a few tactile buttons–a power/hold key and volume controls–on the top spine of the device. You'll also find a tiny mono speaker in this area, which allows you to listen to music sans headphones as well as use the P3 as a speakerphone when paired with your cell phone (more on this feature later).

While it must be said that the iPod Touch has rather cornered the market on touch-screen functionality, Samsung implements it quite well on the P3. You can tap, double-tap, swipe, and drag to move through and among the various menus. And while we're on the topic of menus, it's worth mentioning that those on the P3 are laid out well. The main screen displays icons for all the chief features of the device–music, video, photos, settings, and so on. You can then swipe left or right to enter the two side screens, which contain icons for the various widgets. Tapping on any icon takes you into the respective submenu, where for long lists (such as songs), you can drag or tap to move speedily through the selections. All in all, we found navigation to be quite intuitive, though as with any touch-screen device, getting proficient at accurate tapping may take some practice.

Features galore
Initially, it's tempting to compare the P3's features with those of the iPod Touch; after all, that is the most obvious competitor in the design and interface department. However, the P3 is actually priced to square off against the iPod Nano, and the Samsung player clearly has a leg up when it comes to extras. In fact, there's little the P3 can't do–all that's missing is integrated Wi-Fi and elegant podcast support.

Naturally, the P3 offers extensive multimedia playback. It supports MP3, WMA (including subscription), AAC, OGG, and FLAC audio; WMV9 (including Amazon Unbox), MPEG4 (.AVI, .SVI), and H.264 (.MP4) video (some conversion required); JPEG, BMP, and PNG photo; and text files. You can even create your own memos (in TXT format) on the device, using virtual buttons that mimic a standard telephone keypad. If you tire of your own content, the P3 offers an excellent FM radio with autoscan and up to 30 presets. In addition, the player includes both FM and voice recording. Other fairly standard features consist of support for Windows, Mac, and Linux; slideshows with transition effects; a clock with an alarm function; a seven-band user-customizable EQ; and Samsung's DNSe 3.0 sound enhancement technology. Plus, there's a file browser for those who prefer to navigate content by folders (rather than the step-down artist > album > song method).

From there, we get into the more unusual–and perhaps more fun–extras. Foremost is A2DP Bluetooth support, which lets you listen to music via compatible Bluetooth headphones as well as pair the player with your cell phone for taking and receiving calls. Then, of course, you have the multitude of widgets. One is a light bulb that you tap to adjust the brightness of the screen; another is a globe you can spin to see the time in various cities around the world; yet another is a "sleep cat" that you can tap to set a sleep timer (naturally, it meows as you do so). There's also a calculator as well as support for several games, such as Bubble Bang, World Car Puzzle, and Sudoku Champ.

As with the P2, the P3 offers a customizable interface with various fonts and themes to choose from, plus the ability to set any image as wallpaper. The player is also fully updatable via firmware updates, so you never know what games and widgets may be added going forward. Samsung was fairly consistent with firmware releases last time around, so we suspect the company will make good on them going forward.

Super sound; dazzling display
Given the Samsung P2's impressive performance, we had our hopes set high for the P3. We were not disappointed. During preliminary testing, the P3 excelled in every area. Foremost, audio quality is nothing short of stellar–it would not be a stretch to call this an audiophile's MP3 player, especially given the FLAC support. Everything from hip-hop to blues to classical to electronica shines. (It helps that we tested the player with a pair of Shure SE530 earphones.)

Hilary Hahn's violin in her renditions of Bach is truly haunting, and the busier highs in The Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter" couldn't be more individually clear. Mids across genres are warm and enveloping with the rich, buttery tone we crave in this range. Low-end representation is similarly striking, the bass exceptionally tight and present without being overly forceful (Kanye West's "Heartless" provides the perfect example here). Plus, the P3 gets extraordinarily loud, so it wouldn't be a stretch to hook this MP3 player up to your home audio setup.

Video and photo display is also exceptional. Color saturation is excellent, viewing angles are great, and fine detail is very clear–no blurred edges here. We only experienced pixelation with low-quality video files, and that can't be blamed on the player. Conversion of video files was a fairly quick and simple process through WMP. Similarly, rated battery life is admirable, clocking in at 40 hours for audio and 6 for video. We still have to test this out for ourselves, but things are looking good thus far. Our one minor gripe is that the processor seems to lag a bit when switching among certain functions.

To P3 or not to P3
To be sure, the Samsung P3 is no iPod Touch killer, but then we're not sure it's meant to be. After all, the P3 is significantly cheaper than the Touch–by about $100 across the capacity board. However, pitted against other flash players and touch-screen PVPs, the P3 holds its own and then some. If you like the idea of massive screen real estate, a heap of extras, and superb performance, this device should be at the top of your list.

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