Fall is an anxiously awaited time of year in the gadget world because it's when tech companies roll out some of their hottest gadgets in preparation for the holiday buying season. September in particular seems to be the prime month for MP3 player announcements, with last year marking the debut of the Apple iPod Nano. It looks like 2006 is set to continue this tradition, with the sleek Samsung YP-K5 leading the way. This unique flash player, available in 2GB ($210) and 4GB ($260) capacities, may be a bit pricey and thick around the middle, but that's not stopping it from turning some heads.
In the closed position, the K5 isn't that remarkable looking--rather reminiscent of the Olympus M:robe MR-100--but its smooth, black body feels good in the hand and its shiny face is eye-catching. Once the device is powered on, the visual experience becomes even more pleasing. Like the M:robe, the K5 features touch-sensitive controls, backlit in pleasing shades of blue. A center circle select key is surrounded by four arrow indicators, while Back and Menu selectors sit kitty-corner to one another on the outskirts. A smallish (1.7-inch) color OLED screen resides above the controls, and along the top edge is the power/hold switch. The bottom edge of the player houses the headphone jack and a proprietary USB port.
The K5 is on the large side for a flash player--it measures 3.9 by 1.9 by 0.7 inches and weighs a relatively hefty 3.8 ounces--but there's a good reason for this. If you flip the player on its side and push up the bottom edge, a built-in speaker slides out. What's great about this is that the speaker is designed in such a way that it angles itself up, not only propping the face of the player at an ideal viewing angle, but pointing the speakers up and forward so as to direct the sound at the listener. We've seen MP3 players with built-in speakers before, but none have shown this kind of ingenuity. What's even better is that the speakers actually sound OK--tinny and lacking in bass, but certainly passable, and better than any other built-ins we've heard. And they get quite loud.
Another cool feature is that the interface automatically rotates when the speakers are pushed out. And we're totally smitten with the K5's interface in general. The playback screen is dominated by a large EQ graphic, below which song information scrolls (you also get a battery meter and a time-elapsed counter on this screen). When you don't touch the controls for a while, this screen fades to a screensaver of your choosing (analog clock, various animation graphics, photos). The music menu offers the usual choices of Artists, Albums, Playlists, and so on, and as you scroll through these options (or any other list, for that matter), a bouncing sphere indicates your position--cute! Our favorite is the top menu, though, which is a bit difficult to describe in words. Its main selections are represented by different images--headphones for Music, a wrench for Settings, and so on--which are made up of animated blue dots. As you shuttle through the options, the dots morph into the next image. It's just a little visual effect, but it adds a certain flair to the K5 and makes it fun to use.
The K5 comes with a rather decent pair of rubber-tipped earbuds, a USB cable, and a software disc. The last includes Samsung's Media Studio 5, but it's not necessary to use this to transfer music to the player. The K5 is compatible with various jukeboxes and services, including Windows Media Player 10 (which is one of the system requirements for the player), Rhapsody, and Napster. Supported audio formats are MP3 and WMA, including DRM-10 for use with to-go services. The device also has an FM radio with seemingly limitless presets, and it displays JPEG photos, though we don't recommend it as a photo viewer; images were rather dark and had a noticable screendoor effect. As with other Samsung players, the K5 includes various sound effects, such as 3D Sound, Bass Boost, and Concert Hall. You can even use the player as an alarm clock.
Overall, the K5 proved to be a great little performer throughout testing. The touch pad was not overly sensitive, and the device responded immediately to all commands. Even through the included headphones, sound quality was top notch. Through our Shure E4c test 'phones, tunes coming from the K5 sounded stellar, with rich mids, all-encompassing bass, and a sparkly high end. We got clear, detailed sound across all genres of music. And the sound effects provided some interesting twists, especially Concert Hall. Rated battery life for the player is 6 hours through the speakers or 30 hours through headphones, and CNET Labs was able to eek out a more than respectable 32.7 hours.