Guess what, mechanical buttons? Samsung's just not that into you, at least when it comes to the design of its MP3 players. The tactile T10, and Q1 all feature touch-sensitive surfaces, and now the U4 continues the trend. The latest player has 4GB capacity, costs around a hundred bucks, and comes in a range of gorgeous, glossy colours.
The U4 is about the size of a lighter, but the edges have been rounded off to create a more streamlined look. Every surface is glossy, so it feels very smooth in the hand. The front of the player houses a 128x64-pixel OLED on the left and the all-important five-way touch pad in the centre. To the right, a line of three red LEDs hides stealthily beneath the surface, lighting up when your finger makes contact with any of the touch keys.
There is just one mechanical button on the U4, but Samsung seems to have overcompensated by making it perform as many functions as possible. The very thin key, located on the top of the player, is labelled with a confusing array of symbols including dashes, dots, play/pause icons, a power symbol and the word "User". It's all a bit baffling at first glance, but a browse through the manual confirms that the button is divided in two — the left side does double duty as a record key and user-defined button, while the right section is the power and play/pause button. Simple, right? To be fair, all of this makes a little more sense when you factor in the contextual on-screen menus.
On the bottom of the U4 is a tiny switch labelled "USB". Give it a push and a USB plug will flick out of the end, switchblade style. The plug is not your typical size though — it lacks the usual metal shielding and is half the thickness, leaving the contacts exposed. This means that when you plug the U4 into your computer, the connection feels a little precarious. Accidentally knock the player and you risk pulling it out of the socket or damaging the connector. The USB plug also has a sneaky habit of popping out when it's in a bag. It's best to put it in a small pocket to prevent the contacts getting scuffed.
The U4 is a small player with a small features list. Inside its glossy confines you'll find an FM radio with recorder, a voice recorder and a file browser for sorting through your music and podcasts. The settings menu offers a heap of tweaking options, including an adjustable EQ, a laundry list of DNSe presets and multiple playback speeds. You can also create playlists and delete files on the go — good news for those who have been frustrated by having to connect other players to a PC in order to expunge songs.