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The MP3 player market does nothing but benefit from the decline in flash memory prices. One of many examples can be found in the Samsung S3 Slim, a super slick-looking device that comes in 4GB and 8GB versions for just $79.99 and $119.99, respectively. The S3 delivers a good value, thanks to excellent sound quality and a handful of useful features. However, we're a bit letdown by the player's shrunken screen and lack of integrated Bluetooth, a neat feature that is included on its sibling, the Samsung T10.
The Samsung S3 Slim is fairly similar in design to its predecessor, the Samsung T10, although the S3 has a sturdier feel and more rounded edges. The clear-coated metallic body gives the player a smooth feel and stylish look, and at least some of the colors aren't completely smudge-prone--a rarity in shiny devices. The S3 is available in a choice of five colors: black, blue, green, red, and white. Glowing touch-sensitive controls live beneath the shiny exterior and light up only when activated by your finger. On the one hand, this gives the player a sleek and stylish look; on the other, it adds an extra step to navigation. The singular tactile control, a combo power/hold switch, resides on the right spine. The bottom of the S3 houses a proprietary syncing port and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Unfortunately, you won't find a dedicated volume rocker anywhere on the device.
As its name suggests, the Samsung S3 Slim is slender and compact, measuring 3.7 inches by 1.7 inches by 0.3 inch, which is just fractionally larger than the 4G iPod Nano. Sadly, the S3's screen is 0.2 inch smaller than that of both the T10 and the Nano at 1.8 inches diagonally. This seemingly minor decrease is definitely noticeable when it comes to portable devices.
Despite the decrease in screen size, the onscreen interface remains one of Samsung's strong points. On the S3, content is neatly ordered into separate music, photo, and video menus; alternatively, there's a folder selection for those who prefer to navigate files based on desktop organization. Once you dig into the music menu, you can find tracks by artist, album, playlist, and so on. The standout, however, is the graphic interface. Samsung offers a choice of three menu themes, one of which lets you set any photo as wallpaper. The playback screen may be set to display album art, song info, or one of three animated visualizations. We suspect the latter may affect battery life, but it's a nice option for those who like eye-candy.
On the features side, we were disappointed to find that some of our favorite extras from the T10 were not carried over to the S3. There's no built-in Bluetooth and no Rhapsody DNA integration, so while the player does support subscription WMAs, it will not accept Rhapsody Channels. In addition to WMA, the S3 supports MP3 and Ogg Vorbis audio, JPEG photos, simple text files, and SVI/MPEG-4 video. All video must be transcoded using the included Media Studio software--always a bummer in our book. On a positive note, the S3 does include an FM tuner and recorder, as well as an alarm function, a handful of games, and the ability to adjust playback speeds for audio files (a useful feature for audio books and podcasts). There's also plethora of DSNe sound effects, including Samsung's signature nine-band user-definable EQ.
During our sound testing, we toyed with many of the sound settings, but ultimately kept the S3 on flat to hear it in its purest form. The different effects and EQs dramatically affect the audio output, so pretty much any listener should find a suitable sound profile. One thing is a given: you must replace the packaged headphones if you really want to hear what the S3 has to offer in the audio department. The stock 'buds sound OK, but they don't do the player justice. We used the Shure SE310 canalphones and Creative's Aurvana Live cans and were pleasantly surprised at how well the S3 powered the full-size 'phones. This player--with all bass boost settings off--offers an impressive amount of bass. It's deep, heavy, and tight, without taking away from the crispness on the high-end. In general, music sounds rich, warm, and encompassing, and all genres are pretty even. Two minor issues we noticed: a very slight background hiss in certain tracks and a tendency for some songs to sound harsh. However, we found that the latter could be remedied by adjusting the EQ.
Video and photo performance was more than adequate in our testing, though the small screen makes it a bit difficult to enjoy either--we definitely found ourselves missing that 0.2 inch. Still, images are bright and clear with good color saturation, and viewing angles are decent. Rated battery life of 25 hours for audio and 4 hours for video is plenty adequate. Sadly, the numbers that CNET Labs got for music playback were below average at 15.8 hours. Video was better than expected, coming in at just over 6 hours.