A basic MP3 player needn't be ugly or featureless to fall into the "simple and inexpensive" category, and Samsung's sticklike U3 provides the proof to that statement. The 2GB flash MP3 player offers a cute design, a simple user interface, and a handy plug-in design. And it will only set you back $80. Sure, it may not have a color screen or video support, but it has the best of basic music playback in spades.
It's hard not to see a pack of gum when first looking at the U3. At 3.2x1x0.5 inches, the thin, rectangular player looks strikingly like a six-stick pack of Doublemint; well, our green version did, anyway. The device is also available in black, blue, or pink versions (all with 2GB storage). The face of the U3 is almost entirely smooth but for the indent of the 1-inch monochrome OLED screen, which sits to the left of the touch-sensitive control pad. Here, you get track shuttle and volume keys, which alternately act as directional arrows within the menus, and a back selector. Continuing around to the right edge, you'll find a thin, retractable USB adapter, which can be popped out via a switch on the bottom side of the player. This area also houses a hold switch, a highly necessary feature in a device with touch-sensitive controls.
If the Samsung U3 disappoints in one area, it's sound quality. Although the sound settings help to fill in the low end and tailor tunes more to your taste, we found that music came across a bit flat, even through our Shure SE310 test headphones. It didn't have the richness or warmth we like, and we noticed some odd feedback during quiet moments on a couple of tracks. That said, the U3's sound is certainly passable; the clarity was quite good overall, and it gets plenty loud--it really is a great player for the gym. The rated 15-hour battery life ain't bad, either, but the actual battery life of 11.8 hours is a bit of a letdown.