Samsung Galaxy Player 4.0
- Expandable storage
- The customizability of Android
- Sub-par sound
- Disappointing camera
- Poor value
The Galaxy Player is essentially an 18-month old cellphone with the phone removed and sub-par audio performance. Simply put: avoid it.
Looking at the Galaxy Player 4.0, it's clear where its roots lie. It'd be easy to mistake its silver-garnished bezel and curved plastic back for a white variant of T-Mobile's Galaxy S (or, for the more cynical amongst you, a white iPhone 3GS). It is, sadly, just as bulky as those now aging devices and just as plasticky. Samsung's build quality isn't always our favorite, but we're used to it. Still, we were shocked by just how cheap it felt. The shiny plastic and tacky chrome made it feel like a KIRF -- not the premier media player from the company behind some of our favorite Android handsets. While a tad on the large size it wasn't uncomfortable to hold or carry in a pocket -- at least no more so than a 4-inch smartphone. It might seem bulky compared to some of the tinier (non-touchscreen) media players out there, but if you're moving on from a dying iPod classic you wont notice the size. On the other hand, carrying both a smartphone and the Player seemed excessive and took up quite a bit of pocket space. Especially since it doesn't offer any advantages, where as going with a dedicated hard drive based player at least offers an obvious advantage in storage capacity.
The backplate is one large glossy piece of white polymer that snaps on and off to reveal the removable 1,200mAh battery (the 5.0 bumps that to a stunning 2,500mAh) and microSD slot. Also around back is the 3.2 megapixel camera and a pair of speakers. The edges of the device are littered with your usual assortment of ports and keys, with the reasonably solid volume rocker on the left and the power button on the right. Up top is the all-important headphone jack and the micro USB port, which is hidden under a strange and flimsy feeling sliding door. The front of the device is home to the ear piece, for placing VoIP calls, a VGA camera and the trio of capacitive buttons found on most Samsung handsets (i.e., no search button here).
Most of the front of the device is taken up by the four-inch 800 x 480 Super Clear LCD screen which, while not quite as stunning as the Super AMOLED Plus panels on its relatives, is still a pretty decent display. Colors are bright with plenty of eye-popping contrast and viewing angles are excellent, though black levels do leave something to be desired. The WVGA resolution is expected, but still a bit of a letdown. As a device primarily meant for media consumption we'd expect that Sammy would want to deliver the best visuals possible and, although it's good, it's not quite great. And the difference between those two things is glaringly obvious when you place the Player 4.0 next to its extremely pixel-dense, Apple-branded competitor. That being said, we did find watching video on the four-inch Samsung much easier on the eyes than squinting at the 3.5-inch panel on Apple's devices. We still wouldn't want to sit through a feature length film, but a half-hour episode of 30 Rock was pleasant enough.
Inside Samsung's Gingerbread-powered media player is essentially a Galaxy S. And, yes, you read that right -- Galaxy S. There is no "II" at the end of that title. The brains of the operation is a 1GHz single-core Hummingbird CPU with 512MB of RAM to help it along the way. There's also an accelerometer and a gyroscope inside, alongside 8GB of storage (which can be expanded via micro SD) and a CMOS sensor for capturing 3.2 megapixel images. Then there are the radios, including an 802.11n connection, BlueTooth and GPS.
Performance and battery life
Speaking of that Exynos 3110 processor and half-gig of RAM, they still provide plenty of power for handling most day to day tasks. The average Quadrant score of 1,651 puts it in a league with the aging, but adequate Droid X and the somewhat disappointing Rhyme. In fact, even though specs never tell the whole story, the Galaxy Player 4.0 actually sports more powerful silicon than the latest iPod touch which rocks an 800MHz single-core chip and just 256MB of RAM. But, as we all know, iOS is fine-tuned to take advantage of the provided hardware -- that's not always the case with Android. We ran the Player through our usual barrage of benchmarks and it performed about as well as you'd expect given its year-old hardware, scoring just 17.64 in single-threaded Linpack and averaging just 50fps in Nenamark (Nenamark 2 refused to run).
We've gotta give Sammy credit, though, it promised five hours of video playback and it delivered. In our standard battery drain test, which loops a video with the screen at 50 percent brightness, it actually managed five hours and 23 minutes. That doesn't exactly make this PMP an ultra marathoner -- but it's always nice to see a company deliver the battery life it promises -- something that's an unfortunate rarity in the gadget world. Then again, that doesn't really put it very far ahead of many LTE smartphones on the market, which aren't known for their stellar longevity.
Being a media player it's not just important, but crucial, that the Galaxy player impress when it came to sound quality. Sadly, we found ourselves let down at every turn. The pair of speakers on the back of the device are all but useless. They're tinny, not particularly loud and prone to distortion when the volume is cranked past the half-way mark. When you plug in headphones things get better, but not much. While the sound is clear and not in the slightest bit muddy, it's distinctly lacking in low-end and much quieter than the competition. We pitted it against an iPhone 4, a fifth-gen iPod classic and a Droid X -- we preferred the sound of all three to the Galaxy Player. Both the six-year-old iPod and the iPhone produced more balanced audio, with equal clarity and much more punch, while the Droid X was a bit muddier to our ears, but made up for it with a more satisfying low-end and decibel levels that put the Player to shame. Then again, if you're the kind of guy who turns the bass all the way down on your equalizer and you're seriously worried about hearing loss, this might just be the PMP for you.
It's not surprising then that the included headphones piled on the bass pretty heavily. Actually, it wasn't until we swapped out those buds for some higher-end phones that we really noticed the weak bass response when compared to the other players. That being said, the white buds that come packed with the Player are not bad at all. No, they can't hold a candle to what you could pick up for only $50 in any reasonably serious electronics or audio shop, but they're light years beyond a certain iconic, tiny and uncomfortable set of pale plastic ear pieces.
Cameras, the Player 4.0's got 'em. That's about all the positive things we have to say about that. The front-facing VGA cam is fine for the occasional video chat, but the 3.2 megapixel autofocus shooter around back leaves something to be desired. Color reproduction was decent and, considering the pixel count, quality was decent. But, even images taken outside during the day were noisy and chances are you could manually focus a DSLR in less time than this thing lock on its target. Perhaps we've been spoiled by the 8MP sensors on most modern smartphones, but we couldn't imagine using this camera unless we absolutely had to. Video recording isn't much better. Clips were dark, soft and being only 720 x 480 didn't help matters. The low-res video capture was particularly confusing since even the abysmal shooter on the iPod touch is capable or 720p. Audio recording was acceptable -- we were able to hear ourselves narrating over a busy street, but wasn't anything to write home about.
All this hardware is running atop Gingerbread and, of course, TouchWiz. But this is not the less maligned version found on Sammy's recent handsets. No, no, no. This is 3.0 -- the same candy-colored skin found on the original Galaxy S. (Noticing a trend yet?) Thankfully, the device is pretty free of bloatware. Samsung has included its own app store, ThinkFree Office and a few simple apps like a diary, FM radio, memo pad and a social hub, but the PMP is relatively crap-free on first boot. The default music and video playing apps are slight improvements over their vanilla Android counterparts and we especially appreciate the 7-band customizable EQ for the music player. That being said, they're quite basic and there are much better options available in the market, including Google Music and DoubleTwist. Then again, that's the beauty of Android -- you can pretty much customize it to fit your every whim. Hate TouchWiz? Try LauncherPro or GO Launcher EX. Don't like the default music app? Give Winamp a go. And let's not forget the wealth of messaging options at your disposal, including Google Voice for sending texts and Skype for video chats. Access to the wealth of apps in the Android market is perhaps the Player's strongest selling point. Its competitor out of Cupertino also has a vast app catalog, but iOS doesn't have the same flexibility and deep integration with other services that Android has. Using widgets, swapping home screens and using the media player of your choice is just really just scratching the surface.
On the other hand, media management is a nightmare. There is no default tool for easily loading or syncing music of video to the Galaxy Player. In fact, when you plug it into a computer it simply offers you the option to enter USB mass storage mode. Being able to copy your files manually to it is nice, but without an easy syncing option out of the box Samsung starts at a serious disadvantage. There's not even a market place included for purchasing new tunes. Now, you could download Google Music or Amazon MP3, which provide bothing syncing and shopping solutions, or DoubleTwist which, when combined with the $5 AirSync, provides the most seamless syncing solution we've seen on Android. But, having to go search these things out is not something most consumers will want to do with their brand new PMP.
Even if the Galaxy Player 4.0 existed in a vacuum we'd have a hard time getting excited about it. When positioned as the Android answer to the iPod touch, things go from bad to worse. Even its strengths ultimately become weaknesses when placed next to its competitors. Its Super Clear LCD display is nice, but it's nowhere near as crisp as the Retina Display on the Apple's touchscreen media player. Taking pixel density out of the equation -- it still can't stand up to the abyss-like blacks of the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Galaxy S II. That expandable storage sounds nice until you realize that even if you max it out with a 32GB microSD card you're only looking at 40GB -- 24GB less than the high-end iPod Touch. And, yes, we know a Galaxy Player 4.0 and a 32GB microSD card would cost much less than the $400 top-of-the-line touch but, the truth is, most people don't want to go out buy (then swap) a microSD card. Out of the box an entry level touch offers the same storage for just $200. Even the user-replaceable battery doesn't seem like such a great thing when it adds so much bulk and (at least according to the manufacturers) lasts two hours less than Apple's device when playing video. Even its one clear and decisive victory -- its camera -- isn't really a selling point. It's just that the shooter on the iPod touch is that bad.
Ultimately here's the pitch for the Galaxy Player: it's got expandable storage, a removable battery and runs Android for those of you who don't care for iOS. Android does allow you to customize the player to your heart's content -- and that's definitely a very, very strong point in Sammy's favor -- but is that enough to compensate for the rest of its short comings, especially the seriously disappointing audio? And for $30 more than the 8GB iPod touch? Not even close.