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MP3 player manufacturers can count on one thing: there will always be a demand for cheap, basic portable music players. These minimally featured devices are often perfect for the gym or brief, day-to-day use. To that end, Samsung is throwing its chip into the game in the form of the S2 Pebble, a screenless MP3 player that looks like a shiny stone. The Pebble is typically light on extras, but its sleek design, straightforward operation, and super affordable $40 price tag is sure to appeal to those looking for a basic-yet-stylish device.
The Samsung S2 Pebble is perhaps the most stylish MP3 player we've come across in the ultrabudget category. It looks like the ideal skipping stone: smooth and flat and almost perfectly circular, but just imperfect enough to look like a rock. The outer casing is a high-gloss plastic that looks a bit like marble in some of the colors, such as the white version. It also comes in black, red, green, and purple, all of which are shiny and dark. The device is predictably small, measuring just 1.5 inches in diameter and less than 0.5 inch thick.
Unlike nearly all other MP3 players, the front of the Samsung S2 Pebble is almost completely plain, except for a large, oblong LED that glows from beneath the outer shell to let you know the status of the device. The controls are housed on the back side and are indented in a bowl shape, which gives them a nice feel. A central play/pause/power key--the only bit of silver on the device--is surrounded by track shuttle and volume buttons. Jutting out from the bottom right of the control pad is a smart key, which is used for placing the player in shuffle or playlist mode, turning the LED function on and off, and switching through a set of three sound effects: Normal (flat), Studio, and Concert Hall. The playlist mode is a nice extra that lets you create and listen to an on-the-go playlist. The S2 plays back files in the MP3, WMA, and OGG formats.
The earbuds that are included with the Samsung S2 Pebble may offer a convenient design for wearing the player, but they're not particularly comfortable, nor are they the best option for taking advantage of the player's sound. Still, we found that when we had the player in Studio mode, audio coming from the 'buds was above-average for a stock set. We swapped in our standard test earphones, the Shure SE310s, and we're really impressed by the capabilities of the S2. Music sounds rich, clear, and encompassing, with plenty of sparkling high-end detail and a reasonable amount of low-end thump. The rated battery life of 13 hours isn't fantastic, and CNET Labs test results of 9.9 hours is even less impressive, but it's about standard for a player of this size. You can't really ask for more for $40.