Samsung's very Nano-like YP-Z5
We've been waiting to see whether the flash-based Samsung YP-Z5 deserves all the hype it received before its release. Now that we have it in hand, we can say that although it's not perfect, it warrants consideration as an alternative to the iPod Nano. The YP-Z5's main selling point is the same as the Nano's: a thin, compact profile that doesn't compromise on features. The YP-Z5 sounds great and boasts excellent battery life, and its physical design and its innovative GUI have their advantages, though there is a learning curve for the inconsistent touch pad. First, we must point out that the Samsung YP-Z5, available in 2GB ($200) or 4GB ($250), is a good-looking piece of gear. It comes in two different tones of silver, with a 1.8-inch color screen for navigating menus and viewing photos; there's also a black model. It has a modular design--two sides are joined by a metal collar that wraps around the circumference of the device. Although the YP-Z5 is much thicker, in fact, than the iPod Nano, your pocket will scarcely know the difference. It's nearly as tiny at 3.5 by 1.6 by 0.45 inches (the 4GB version is 0.48 inch) and a mere 1.8 ounces. In addition, the screen is bigger than the 1.5-inch Nano's.
On the lower half of the Samsung YP-Z5 sits a square touch-sensitive control that requires you to lay a fingertip gently on the top half for scrolling up or the lower half for scrolling down. Once the proper item is highlighted, you click the middle of the touch pad to select it. There's a slight lag before the cursor starts scrolling, and if you press too hard or softly, nothing happens. Furthermore, it'll take some dexterity to get your touch just right, and you'll often find yourself scrolling past the intended selection. After a few days of use, most people will get used to it, although it's clearly not as intuitive and easy to use as Apple's competing Click Wheel.
We appreciate the Samsung YP-Z5's dedicated buttons for back, fast-forward, rewind, and play/pause/power. They surround the touch pad while the dedicated volume buttons are placed on the side for easy access with the right thumb when the device is in your hand. With its dedicated volume and play/pause (more on this later) buttons, the YP-Z5 bests the iPod, which has neither. A handy hold switch on the top and a recessed reset button on the bottom round out the controls. You will notice two screws on either side of the player, and presumably, you can replace a dead battery yourself, though we wouldn't recommend it.
All of the Samsung YP-Z5's buttons feel solid, and the device's aluminum case is pleasantly cool to the touch. The YP-Z5's overall build quality appears to be quite high, and its screen is nowhere near as scratch-prone as the Nano's. We dragged a key right across it, and it didn't scratch until we pressed hard.
We should mention that the Samsung YP-Z5 utilizes a proprietary dock/USB port, much like the iPod Nano. There's no word yet on YP-Z5 accessories, though the unit ships with white earbuds, a proprietary USB connector, an installation disc, and a manual (both paper and electronic).
In our initial install process, we had some trouble getting Windows Media Player and its associated drivers to install properly on a brand-new system. This kept us from transferring and playing purchased or subscription-based WMA files. We did, however, get a proper install on another machine and, thus, were able to test DRM-protected WMAs. We are currently speaking with Samsung about our initial install troubles and will update the review with any new information. If you connect the device to a Windows Media Player 10 computer before installing the bundled CD, the YP-Z5 will show up as a MTP device. The Z5 does not have a UMS mode, which would enable you to connect the device to virtually any machine for drag-and-drop transfer. You can drag and drop files via Windows Explorer, but you must have Windows Media Player 10 installed.