Samsung's latest portable media player, the P2, may feature a slick, touchscreen GUI, a thin, slab-like design, and two available capacities (4GB and 8GB), but don't call it an iPod touch ripoff. Its robust sound, excellent 3-inch display, and innovative Bluetooth capabilities give it more than enough credibility to stand outside of Apple's shadow.
Slick Hardware, Software Design
Sporting an all-black body highlighted by a 3-inch widescreen display, the 3-ounce P2 isn't as sleek as the iPod touch, but it has a smaller footprint (3.9 x 2.1 inches vs. 4.3 x 2.4) that makes it very pocket-friendly. It's also available in red and white. There are more physical keys (for volume, hold, and power) than the near-buttonless iPod touch, but we appreciated the dedicated volume controls.
The P2's touchscreen was intuitive when making menu selections, but scrolling using the slim bar on the right side of the display was awkward. Also, the display smudged up with fingerprints quickly. A helpful back arrow lets you exit applications easily, and pressing and holding it returns you to the main menu. We also like the contextual menu options. For example, when listening to tunes, pressing the Menu button on the bottom of the screen lets you tweak sound effects, select tracks as an alarm, and more.
The main menu by default has three icons (Videos, Music, Pictures), and swiping your finger down reveals more options. These include Bluetooth, Settings, File Browser, Prime Pack (Texts, Alarm, Calendar, World Clock), Datacasts (or podcasts) and FM Radio. We prefer the Matrix view, which lets you see all of these options at once.
Multimedia Playback on the P2
Our photos looked sharp and bright on this player's 480 x 272 resolution widescreen, but we discovered that images larger than 200K took 10 to 20 seconds to load when we cycled through the picture library (smaller photos booted almost instantaneously). WMV and MPEG-4 files, as well as a 1.5GB Family Guy episode purchased from CinemaNow, looked brilliant and played back at a smooth 30 frames per second.
In fact, Samsung and CinemaNow have their own microsite (samsung.cinemanow.com) for downloading movies, TV shows, and music videos optimized for the player. The movie selection, which included recent titles like A Mighty Heart,Ocean's Thirteen, and Spider-Man 3, was more timely and robust than the TV lineup (24, Arrested Development, and Friends being among the highlights). Bundled with the P2 is Samsung's multimedia software that lets you transcode videos on your PC to ensure that your flicks play smoothly on the device.
We loaded the P2 with some of our ripped MP3 and WMA files, as well as purchased Napster tracks (unprotected AAC support is set to come before the end of the year), and found the audio quality superb. Not only was the volume exceptionally loud, but Samsung's proprietary DNSe 2.0 technology brought a liveliness to the music that few other PMPs can match.
Even better, when you tweak your tracks using the P2's genre-specific equalizer settings, the effects are immediate and discernable. Unlike on many other players that offer subtle changes, if you switch settings from jazz to rock on the P2, you'll instantly recognize the difference in bass, treble, and overall audio textures.
The Sweet Sounds of Rhapsody
The P2 features tight integration with the Rhapsody To Go subscription service. After ponying up $14.95 and downloading Rhapsody's music software, we downloaded a slew of tracks including The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," and The Dirtbombs' "Underdog." Syncing music to the player was as simple as dragging and dropping tracks within Rhapsody, and we were soon listening to the high-quality tunes on the go.
If you're a podcast fan, you can easily subscribe to your favorite shows using the Samsung Media Manager. It automatically downloads fresh content that you can then sync with the player. The included FM radio with 30 presets didn't fare nearly as well as the other audio features of the P2; while walking around midtown Manhattan, we experienced static-filled audio.
Beyond Stereo Bluetooth
The P2 stereo Bluetooth connection was easy to set up, and we had no problems pairing the player with a set of wireless headphones (Plantronics Voyager 855) and a stereo Bluetooth speaker (Samsung YA-BS300). In both instances, we enjoyed crisp, streaming audio that didn't suffer from any dropouts.
You can also pair the player with a Bluetooth-enabled phone. Using a Motorola RAZR V3, we were able to place a call using the P2 by selecting "Choose Call By Number," and keying in a buddy's phone number using the on-screen dialpad. The audio was solid with only the occasional dropout. We also liked that the P2 paused our tunes when we got an incoming call, and automatically resumed playback when we finished chatting. You can also beam contacts from the phone to the player, and exchange photos and music between the two devices.
Updated Firmware Makes the P2 Even Better
What sets the P2 apart from other portable media players is Samsung's dedication to continually add cool new features via firmware upgrades. If you have Samsung Media Studio installed, you can click the firmware update button, or if you want to get features manually, you can download firmware updates from Samsung's download center and copy files into the P2. The player will reset and automatically begin the update.
This initial firmware update not only included the above Bluetooth enhancements, it also allowed playback of unprotected AAC files, such as iTunes Plus tracks.
The second firmware update fleshed out the P2 even further. It added compatibility with Vongo's all-you-can-eat video service ($9.99), but unfortunately the majority of the videos are in the 4:3 aspect ratio, effectively wasting the P2's gorgeous widescreen display.
On the plus side, transferring movies to the P2 took less than a minute. Samsung also adds a couple of iPod-touch-inspired features. Album art can now be navigated in a Cover-Flow-like fashion, and when viewing photos you can double-tap an image to zoom in, or make a circle gesture to rotate it. For those that still listen to FM radio, you can now record programming to the P2 in 128Kbps MP3 format.
Samsung P2 Verdict
Samsung has crafted a fine portable media player with the P2. The Bluetooth integration is top-notch, and the P2 offers very good audio and video playback. If you can live with 8GB of storage and can do without Wi-Fi, this is one multimedia device that's worth a look.