The Samsung Galaxy 5.0 Test Drive
Filling a Vacancy
In the phone arena, Android devices are in constant battle with the ubiquitous and ever-evolving iPhone for mobile supremacy. Meanwhile, the iPod Touch has essentially gone unchallenged. When it was released, some questioned why it even existed in the first place. What was the point of having a stripped down iPhone with no phone functionality? Was there really a market for such a device? After 4 years and over 60 million units sold, people aren't asking those questions anymore.
As a user of both Apple and Android devices, I've often wondered why nobody made a competing product running Android. All this time they've allowed Apple to have the market essentially to themselves. As it turns out, Philips and Samsung both had Android based players finished in 2010, but for various reasons neither company fully brought them to market until recently. Philips has me on a waiting list for their GoGear Connect device, so for now my focus is on the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0.
The Galaxy Player 5.0 shares a closer relationship with the original Galaxy S line of phones than it does with the new Galaxy S II models. That means the hardware itself is no longer considered "high end", though it would have been considered very good back in 2010 when it was first made. Still, it's no slouch, packing a 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor, Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, GPS, 3.2 megapixel camera with LED flash, and Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread. That's about equivalent to a mid-level phone these days. Unlike Apple, Samsung only offers a single memory configuration: 8GB of storage, along with a slot for micro–SD cards. That's a key feature—with micro-SD cards currently going for about $1 per GB at time of writing, this $239.99 8GB player can easily become a 40GB player without much extra investment.
The main draw of this device—the part that earns it the "5.0" in the title—is the massive 5 inch screen. On paper, it seems underwhelming: it has a resolution of 800x480, and is a standard TFT display rather than something fancy like a Super AMOLED as used in some other Samsung devices. Despite that, I thought it looked quite nice during real world use. Text was crisp, colors where vibrant, and overall brightness was more than adequate. You may be able to notice the difference when comparing it directly to a higher spec display, but the Galaxy Player user experience never feels poor. I think most people would choose the larger size over a higher resolution for real world use.
The extra display real estate comes in very handy when dealing with densely populated screens full of albums or tracks. I also had a much better time fine tuning EQ settings. The experience is somewhere in between that of a tablet and a phone, while still reasonably transportable and very light weight.
The other key spec is the 2500mAh battery. Even with the large display presumably taking more juice than a normal screen, I still got excellent results. I used the device regularly for several days at a time before worrying about charging. This is a huge improvement over the phones I've tried, which often struggle to give you one day of solid use before demanding a charge.
What's in the Box?
Accessories were sparse in the package, but quality is more important than quantity. To that end, Samsung includes a pair of in–ear monitors with the device rather than the typical throwaway earbuds. Dressed all in white to match the rear casing of the Galaxy Player, the earphones come with 3 sizes of reasonably high quality silicone tips. Judging by the tiny vent on the rear I'm fairly certain they use a dynamic driver. Slightly tangle-prone cable aside, I was very pleased with them overall. I normally associate cheap dynamic-driver based IEMs with massive boomy bass and excessive treble roll-off, but these actually had a relatively neutral sound. There was somewhat of an extra kick in the lows but it was not overdone, and the rest of the spectrum was surprisingly well represented.
I would compare these favorably to some of the low priced IEMs I've heard from brands like SoundMagic. That being said, users will likely want to spring for something better when possible. But I'd definitely recommend keeping these as a backup. Hopefully this is a trend that Samsung continues with future devices since it seems wasteful to include the usual terrible earbuds.
The Gingerbread Android install on the Galaxy Player 5.0 is pretty close to the barebones Android experience. It does have Samsung's TouchWiz UI to make it a tad prettier, but the changes are minor. That means right out of the box you can browse InnerFidelity and do all the usual smartphone activities (with the obvious exception of calling people), and you have full access to the Android Market. Some Android devices such as the Kindle Fire have their own version of the market, which can be missing key apps.
The most important feature for our purposes is the fact that the included Samsung TouchWiz audio player supports FLAC files. It's hard to believe, but Android had no native support for the lossless format until version 3.1 which was released fairly recently. So most phones out there have been unable to handle FLAC files without resorting to 3rd party apps. The TouchWiz music app also has a fairly competent set of controls for EQing, making the whole experience much more advanced than the basic Android music app.
While the audio experience right out of the box is superior to that of many Android devices, there are ways to improve it ...