It wasn't all that long ago that one of the pinnacles of the gadget world was the PMP. How many gigs has yours got? Mine plays FLAC. Whoa, iPod video! These are sentences that are largely consigned to the digital mists of time. Now that your phone, watch and pretty much any other gadget can fill the shoes of the media player, its days among gadget nobility are numbered, and its rank slipping ever lower. There will always be a corner of the gadget realm for them but it's more of a country cottage, compared to the sprawling manor of yesteryear.
Why all the nostalgia? Samsung's Galaxy Player 4.2 is the latest descendent of the Android media player lineage, and the company's rightful heir to its PMP kingdom. As you can see, a full-fat media player in 2012 wears a very different uniform than its forefathers, and definitely fights a different battle. Can what is essentially a phone-without-a-phone, hold its territory and prevent the mobile bandits from scaling the walls? We spend some time with it in the trenches to find out.
Make no mistake: this looks like a phone. Specifically, a Samsung-made Android phone. Why, more than once during our testing period we were asked if this was that new Galaxy handset. Makes sense to us -- the similarities are endless. There's the plastic body, the "home" button, the capacitive buttons at the bottom, even the top and bottom speaker grills. The only notable differences are under the battery cover. Whereas you might typically expect to see a SIM slot, there is, of course, nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly, as there is a 1,500 mAh battery and microSD slot (to augment the on-board eight or 16 gigs by up to 32GB). Still, you get what we mean. While it shares much of the DNA of the Galaxy line of cellphones, it does seem to lack a little of their flare. It's by no means ugly, just serviceable. Screen, button, ports, done.
As you'd expect, that display is a 4.2-inch WVGA affair. That screen is ringed by a thin band of chrome, which adds a dash of variety to an otherwise generic device. If you take a close look at the player's profile, there's a tiny lip created by the chrome band, but fortunately it's not enough to catch the dirt and fluff that might circulate in your pocket. The home button, however, manages to stand ever so slightly proud of this, making it protrude just a touch above everything else on the front face. This didn't cause any functional issues and it sits nicely under the thumb. However, the button's placement might expose it to a little more wear than if it were less pronounced. The devil is in the details.
If you've ever clasped one of the larger Samsung Galaxy phones in your palm, you'll have a good idea of what this is like: well-built, from ho-hum materials.
The only other punctuation marks on the device are the volume rocker / power buttons flanking the right, a 3.5mm headphone port down the bottom, the micro-USB port next to it, and the front (VGA) and back (two-megapixel) cameras. Unlike the Galaxy Player 4.0, the speakers are around the front (those grills we mentioned earlier). The end result is a device that looks better than some of its PMP siblings, but lacks the visual character of some of its mobile cousins. If you've ever clasped one of the larger Samsung Galaxy phones in your palm, you'll have a good idea of what this is like: well-built, from ho-hum materials.
Given that it's expected to perform many of the same tasks you'd want from a higher-end phone (media, apps, games, etc.), it's odd Samsung only saw fit to bless the Player 4.2 with a 1GHz OMAP processor. To be fair, navigating menus, viewing videos and listening to music all seemed to be taken well in its stride, so no complaints there. But as you add more apps, and things get more demanding, we can imagine cracks starting to form. And what about the battery? Well, the product page on Samsung's website promises six hours of video playback time. That honestly matches pretty closely with our own testing. In fact, we actually got six hours and 43 minutes out of it when playing a looped video at 50 percent brightness, so better than expected.
As for everyday use, the runtime will naturally depend on your usage habits. As we played with it, occasionally web surfing or firing up some tunes, it tended to hold out for the better part of two days, which seems average. While it might have one less radio to deal with compared to a phone, it's also burning through the battery when playing back your media, which has its own power demands. Speaking of which, we know you love a good benchmark, so we thought we'd run a few just out of curiosity. The Player 4.2 rolled through SunSpider with a lowly 6748.6 score, down in Samsung Stratosphere territory. Vellamo ranked it just behind the Nexus S, however. Meanwhile, it managed only 9fps in GLBench. A mixed bag at best.
Maybe we're foolish, maybe we just like to get in the zone, but the Galaxy Player 4.2 is simply not loud enough. If you like your music at more pedestrian levels, then it will likely suffice, but more than once we found ourselves mashing the volume rocker in an attempt to eke out a little more juice. Sure, you don't want it cranked up all the time, but when your favorite song comes on, it's nice to pump it up a touch, right? To be fair, it's about as loud as the Galaxy Nexus, so it's not as if Samsung's notched it down on this device. Still, though, the OG iPod shuffle handily trounces it when it comes to straining those eardrums.
There are EQ controls, which might help you tweak the sound to your taste, but it's far from ideal. If anything, we were more inclined to just jack all the sliders up to milk a little more volume out of it.
The sound you do get, however, is fine. This is of course assuming you binned the accompanying headphones for something much more suitable. We took a holistic approach to critiquing the audio, which is to say we did nothing more scientific than spend lots of time listening to it. We assume this is likely what you will be doing with it too, so it only seemed apt. In this regard, the Galaxy Player 4.2 is most definitely adequate. It would be unfair to call the sound bad, so we won't. In fact, it's only when you directly compare it to another player that you realize it's a bit flat. We loaded up the same track on an iPod, let the two play and swapped the headphones back and forth. The Galaxy Player initially sounds okay, but when you switch over to the iPod, you can suddenly hear the mid and high frequencies poking through, and bass sounds feel more, well, bassy. There are EQ controls, which might help you tweak the sound to your taste, but it's far from ideal. If anything, we were more inclined to just jack all the sliders up to milk a little more volume out of it.
We also tried another music app -- Jet Audio, from Cowon -- for playing back tracks to see how it compared to Samsung's stock application. The result? Well, more of the same really. You get a little more control over the sound, and even a little workaround for the volume issue, but it's a kludge, rather than a fix. As for those front-facing speakers? They'll suffice for providing sound on the occasions you want to share a video with someone next to you etc, but for prolonged amounts of time, they're just going to annoy.
It's only fitting that something that can play media should be able to create it too. The pair of cameras on the device will allow you to do just that. The VGA camera up front is really only there –- we hope at least –- for any applications, like Skype, that might necessitate it. You're never going to get anything more than an okay picture out of it, at best. And, to be fair, Samsung likely wouldn't claim any different. As for the main camera? Well, at two megapixels, we weren't holding out for anything sensational either. And it seems we were right. First of all, the camera is slow –- an issue we experienced in the Galaxy Player 4.0 before it. Secondly, the camera struggles in anything other than the optimum conditions. Photos on a cloudy day? Forget it. Trying to shoot a moving target? Good luck. In short, forget about the camera, unless you really need to grab a shot of something and this is your only option.
The same goes for video. It's good for grabbing those candid moments, where quality isn't an issue, but it's unlikely that the results will find their way beyond the device itself, for watching later. It's fair to say that the addition of cameras here is merely to round out the spec sheet. In fact, the 2-megapixel camera is technically a downgrade from the Galaxy Player 4.0, which has a slightly less feeble 3.2 megapixels to play with.
Gingerbread, Gingerbread, Gingerbread. Repeat that word over and over in your mind. If you do it for long enough, the word might start to lose the sense of disappointment that somehow lingers around it. Okay, so it's hidden under TouchWiz 4.0, and isn't all that bad in and of itself. But by now you'd hope that Android 4.0 might be finding its way to this product line out of the box. Otherwise, the main differentiator between this device and its siblings is largely the display size. Everything we threw at it ran fine, games were responsive enough, and Google Maps, for example, was perfectly functional. Still, as you flick around the screens, you get the sense that while it's not lagging, it's not far off.
The software that comes bundled with the player is a bit of a mix. There's a stash of games included, which the product landing page on Samsung's global site is very keen to show off. There are also some Samsung utilities, such as the Music and Video apps which take center stage (inasmuch as they're on the home screen). There's not a lot to talk about here other than they do what's asked of them without getting in the way. If you have a Samsung TV, then there is an app that lets you use it as a remote control, which is cool in a sort of novelty way. It works well, but unless you've lost your remote, or want to annoy your partner, you likely won't be needing it much. There's also the AllShare app, which lets you stream the media on the device to a compatible TV easily. This works well, and is a quick and easy solution, especially if you're not generally familiar with DLNA.
As we're dealing with Android here, you can obviously enjoy a whole world of different apps from the Play store, and this is likely what will really help you set the Galaxy Player 4.2 up just how you want it. It's worth noting that if you are running Windows, you can use the Emodio software to manage and sync your media library, but you're out of luck if you are using Mac OS X. In this case, you will have to either use another solution like DoubleTwist or, of course, plug it in and manually drag media over in mass storage mode.
By now, you have probably gathered that while there isn't much wrong with the Galaxy Player 4.2, we feel Samsung could have tried harder. As we've noted throughout this review, 100 percent of the functionality of this device is available in any recent smartphone. Therefore, for this device to shine, it really should smack its core features. It doesn't. If the music player had been exceptional, or the screen wonderfully crisp, then we could see how this might stand alone as a media player. But Samsung chose not to do any of those things, and instead turned out something that sadly feels like the spare parts left over from various phones. Given that the 8GB model stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the iPod touch price-wise (the latter being older, granted), you'd have thought there would be a few features to swing any decision in its favor. As it happens, it really comes down to whether you prefer Android, want GPS, and the option to expand the memory.
Unlike dedicated music players, even those offering basic video playback, the Galaxy Player has two thorns in its side. Firstly, smartphones will make this a superfluous purchase for most, and secondly, there's the competition. Not only from Apple, but companies like Cowon, who have the advantage of specializing in this area. But perhaps the most frustrating thing of all is that it's not even terrible. It does everything just fine –- certainly for a mainstream user –- and that's almost worse than if it was just plain bad. Enough time and effort went into making it perform to this level. If only Samsung could have tweaked something, or thrown in a killer feature, then it could have a corner of the market to call its own. As it stands, however, it'll blend in with its Galaxy Player colleagues, doing very well at not offending you. We suggested earlier that this device was heir to Samsung's PMP throne, but the truth is the market has become more of a democratic republic than a monarchy.
Samsung has made a well rounded device that does everything you ask of it. Sadly there just isn't anything special to get excited about