Take a quick glance at Samsung's Galaxy Player 3.6 and you'd swear it was an Android phone. That's essentially what this device is--minus the phone part. The Player 3.6 lets you can access all sorts of Android apps via Wi-Fi and can even be used to make calls (for those ashamed of their BlackBerrys or flip phones) over Bluetooth. And did we mention the Galaxy Player starts at just $149 compared to the iPod touch's $199 price tag? Still, Apple's device is the leading portable media player for a reason. Here's how the Player 3.6 stacks up.
Pick up the Galaxy Player 3.6 and it looks and feels like a budget Android phone. At 4.5 x 2.56 x 0.4 inches and 3.9 ounces, the plastic Galaxy Player is thicker and heavier than Apple's venerable iPod Touch (4.4 x 2.3 x 0.28 inches and 3.6 ounces), which has a more premium aluminum back. This device fit comfortably in our pocket, but it feels cheaper than Apple's device--because it is.
Above the Player's 3.6-inch display is a thin, black earpiece and silver Samsung logo. To the right is the front-facing VGA camera. The standard Android Settings, Home and Back buttons sit beneath the screen. Tying it all together is glossy, black bezel that, unfortunately, picks up fingerprints quickly.
A power/lock button and volume rocker line the right side of the Player 3.6. The bottom edge is home to the Player's micro-USB and headphone ports. The rear top left corner plays host to the Player's 2-megapixel camera, while the lower left corner is where you'll find the device's sole speaker.
The Galaxy Player sports a 3.6-inch HVGA TFT display with a relatively low 480 x 320 resolution. Meanwhile, the iPod touch features Apple's gorgeous 3.5-inch Retina display, which manages to pack more pixels, 960 x 640, into a screen that's 0.1 inches smaller than the Galaxy Player 3.6's screen. When it comes to visual clarity, the iPod touch is beyond reproach. Text on NYTimes.com was razor-sharp when viewed on the iPod touch, but looked somewhat fuzzier on the Galaxy Player.
In the trailer for "The Avengers," Captain America's round shield appeared to have jagged edges when viewed on the Galaxy Player. Colors also had a tendency to blend together or looked washed out. The normally brilliant red and yellow flashes of explosions that litter the trailer were much duller on the Galaxy Player than they were on the iPod touch.
Apple's iPod touch also beats out the Galaxy Player 3.6 in the display brightness category, though not by much. The touch notched a rating of 364 Lux to the Galaxy Player's 341.
Despite having just one external speaker, the Galaxy Player 3.6 pumped out an impressive amount of sound thanks to its SoundAlive SoundEngine. On AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," Bon Scott's raspy vocals came through loud and clear enough to be heard in a busy parking lot, while Angus Young's iconic guitar riffs rang out without a hint of unintended distortion. Only bass-heavy tracks fell flat; Ludacris's "Money Maker" lacked the kind of oomph we would have liked to hear.
The in-ear headset included with the Galaxy Player was adequate, providing accurate sound with a good amount of bass, but audiophiles will more than likely seek out a higher-quality headset.
The 3.6's music player gives users plenty of ways to alter their listening experience, thanks to its SoundAlive equalizer and 13 preset sound options. Of the 13 options offered, our favorites were the Rock and Concert hall settings. Rock provided just the right amount of treble and bass for most of the songs we listened to, especially AC/DC, while Concert hall added a cool echo effect to the audio, making each song sound like the artist was performing a private show for you in an empty concert hall.
Adding to the Galaxy Player's audio prowess is its preloaded FM radio tuner, something conspicuously absent from the iPod touch. The app, which gets top billing thanks to its placement in the Galaxy Player's permanent app drawer, features a fun radio dial that users can turn to reach specific stations. At the bottom of the screen, you'll find a grouping of spaces set aside for you to save your favorite preset stations. The app's one downside is that, like all FM tuners, you need to have a headset plugged into the 3.5mm audio jack to get any reception.
Software and Interface
Like Samsung's previous generation of Galaxy Players, the 3.6 comes loaded with Google's Android Gingerbread OS augmented with Samsung's TouchWiz software. In this application, TouchWiz does a good deal to enhance the overall Android experience, starting with the permanent app drawer located at the bottom of the screen. The drawer includes shortcuts for the Galaxy Player's music and video players, as well as its Web browser and apps menu.
At the top of the screen, TouchWiz adds a custom notifications bar that provides message and app alerts, as well as access to several important settings. You can toggle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Vibration, Auto Rotation and GPS.
Samsung packs the Galaxy Player 3.6 with a bevy of proprietary apps, including its Social Hub, AllShare, Kies Air and Smart View, as well as the standard Google app suite of Google Maps, Gmail, Play Store and more. Samsung's Social Hub provides a single portal from which you can receive push notifications from your social media accounts, instant messages, email and SMS messages.
AllShare allows you to wirelessly stream content from your Galaxy Player to any DLNA-enabled device. We tested the app with a 55-inch Samsung TV and within a few seconds, we were streaming videos from the 3.6. Just keep in mind that you can't stream copy-protected content.
The Galaxy Player's Kies air app allows users to wirelessly sync and back up files stored on the Galaxy Player from any device via a compatible Web browser.
Our favorite preloaded app is Samsung's Smart View. It offers several levels of functionality, including the ability to serve as a remote control for your Samsung Smart TV and a game controller. While the remote control portion of the app is fun to use, when you turn off your TV, the app becomes unusable until you turn on your set from the TV itself or another remote.
Samsung Mobile Link
With Samsung's Mobile Link, users can connect the Galaxy Player 3.6 to their smartphone via Bluetooth 3.0 and make and receive voice calls. We tested the feature using an HTC Rezound and could answer incoming calls like we would on any other Android device.
While it may not seem practical to use Mobile Link with a smartphone, Samsung says it is a perfect fit for feature phone users who want smartphone functionality without having to fork over monthly data fees. You can also use the Galaxy Player 3.6 as a Bluetooth handset of sorts for bigger phones like the Galaxy Note, should you want to keep it in your bag.
Specs and Performance
The Galaxy Player 3.6 features a 1-GHz single-core Cortex A8 processor, which helps keep the gadget's price down, but doesn't do it any favors in the performance department. On the CPU Benchmark test, the Player scored 1,675, far below the smartphone category average of 2,368. The Galaxy Player fared a little better on the An3DBench 3D graphics test, scoring 6,776. The average Android Phone scores 6,917 on the same test.
In real-world testing, the Galaxy Player 3.6 performed well. Games such as "Angry Birds Space" ran without a hitch, and swiping through the Player's apps was quick and snappy. Web pages, however, took longer to load than the iPad touch when connected to the same Wi-Fi network. In addition, the camera's shutter speed was somewhat sluggish.
The Galaxy Player comes with 8GB of memory, but you can upgrade that up to 32GB using the microSD card slot.
Camera and Camcorder
Images taken using the Galaxy Player 3.6's rear-facing 2-megapixel camera were slightly grainy and left jagged edges around objects. An image of the New York skyline offered dull colors, while the blue sky looked overly saturated. There was also a noticeable amount of screen tearing when shooting cabs as they zipped by. Video shot of a busy New York street was exceedingly blurry despite the camera's 720p video resolution.
The Player's WVGA front-facing camera was equally grainy, making the fine details of a person's face hard to make out.
The Galaxy Player 3.6's 1,500mAh battery delivered strong endurance on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuous Wi-Fi usage with the screen set to 40 percent brightness. The device lasted 7 hours and 37 minutes with 10 percent still left in the tank. If we extrapolate those results, we would expect to get roughly 8 hours and 45 minutes of battery life out of the Galaxy Player.
Not surprisingly, this runtime is better than the smartphone category average, which is rated at just 5 hours and 47 minutes, since 3G/4G radios simply use more power. Another plus is that the Player 3.6's battery is removable.
For $149, the Galaxy Player 3.6 is an exceedingly capable media player and gaming device. This gadget is not only $50 cheaper than the iPod touch, it has features Apple's device lacks, such as expandable memory and a removable battery. Plus, you can use the Player 3.6 as a remote for Samsung Smart TVs and pair it with a phone to make and receive calls. Overall, the iPod touch is still the champ in our book because of its superior display and design, as well as the more robust iTunes store for music and video. But if you're looking for a value-priced alternative, the Galaxy Player 3.6 is definitely worth considering.