A portable music device doesn't need to cost hundreds of dollars or start with "i" to play your tunes in style. Samsung'sslim U3 provides all the evidence you need to show that an $89 MP3 player can deliver. With 2GB of flash space, a simple touch user interface, a handy plug-in design, and a built-in FM radio, all the bases are covered.
The size and shape of a pack of gum, the 3.4 x 1 x 0.5-inch player (ours was hot pink) easily clipped onto a pair of gym shorts (with the included attachable clip) and fit into our jeans pockets when walking around the streets of New York City. The device is also available in black, blue, green, and white.
Turning the player horizontally lets you control it. To the left, a one-inch, blue-and-black OLED screen is indented into the player, and to the right is the player's smooth, touch-sensitive control pad. You get volume up and down and shuffle keys, which also act as directional arrows within the menus. A dedicated back button lets you maneuver through menus as well. These buttons were very responsive--perhaps too responsive: Even slightly grazing them changed the song. But you can enable the Hold switch on the bottom to restrict those touch-sensitive controls. Along the edges, you'll find a retractable USB adapter, a play/pause/power button, a record/user-defined key, and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. A blue LED indicates whether the player is on or synching. This blue light looks especially cool when playing your tunes and easily lets you locate your player in a bag.
Though the device comes with Samsung's proprietary music-synching software, we had no problem getting our music onto the device through Windows Media Player 10. Samsung's Media Studio software was easy to install, and the interface was simple for transferring songs to the device. The U3 can support MP3, OGG, ASF, and WMA files, but not AAC. The U3 organizes music by artist, album, and songs.
The included pink earbuds offered good sound clarity. The musicwas loud enough to hear over blasting gym music and a treadmill. We also tested out the FM tuner while walking around the streets of New York. We got a decent signal and could hear all of our favorite stations, but toggling through the stations was slow with the touch buttons. A dedicated radio button would have solved this problem, since we had to keep quickly pressing the shuffle buttons to move through the channels. The ten presets make toggling through your favorite bookmarked FM stations easier, though. The device's voice recorder works well for quick recordings or quotes, but the built-in mic didn't pick up sound more than five feet away.
The rated 15-hour battery life is strong for such a small device, but the U3 fell short of that in our testing, at about 12 hours for general use; nevertheless, it will outlast Apple's shuffle any day. It charges via USB only, with its cool flip-out connector, which means traveling without your laptop is out of the question. On the other hand, we were happy not to have to carry around any extra charging cords; you can't play your music while the device is charging.
The U3 exceeded our expectations as an MP3 player and radio. As an inexpensive player, it goes beyond its call of duty with an FM tuner and a voice recorder. Its small, cool design and built-in USB interface make it perfect for those who need music without all the bells and whistles.
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