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Like its grayscale predecessor, the 5.6-ounce Samsung YH-925GS packs everything into a slim but slightly long case. Its 1.8-inch, 160x128-pixel screen looks bright and colorful--great for viewing photos and navigating menus. The menus themselves remain a marvel of simplicity, as do the player's controls. Admittedly, the large four-way control pad lacks the panache of the iPod's scrollwheel, but it makes for extremely easy operation.
To make a voice recording, you just slide a switch on the side of the player and start talking, then flip the switch back when you're done. Regrettably, voice notes can be recorded only as 32Kbps stereo MP3 files, while line-in recordings--which also encode directly to MP3--are limited to 160Kbps. Support for higher bit rates would be welcome, and so would the charging cradle that came with the YH-920GS. All that's left is the proprietary Y-cable that splits between USB and AC connections--not great for travel.
The Samsung YH-925GS accommodates Windows users like few other players. It supports not only MP3, WMA, and DRM-protected WMA files but also Microsoft's PlaysForSure spec and Janus subscription services such as Napster To Go. The latter required a firmware update, but installation went quickly and smoothly.
Although Samsung dropped Napster from the product name, the YH-925GS relies on that service's eponymous software for music management; you can also drag and drop songs to the player, but if you don't install Samsung's driver first, they won't play. Napster is an attractive, full-featured program, and the integrated to-go service represents a decidedly tempting alternative to iTunes. For $14.95 per month, you can fill your player to the brim with songs from Napster's million-plus library; the YH-925GS will also work with the more affordable Yahoo Music Unlimited service.
To view photos on the player, you'll need the included Multimedia Studio utility. It automatically converts batches of photos to the proper size and downloads them to the player. Inexplicably, however, the Samsung YH-925GS can't play slide shows on its own; you have to create them first in Multimedia Studio.
Playlists are another story: You can easily create one right on the device just by holding down the Select button for any album, artist, or track. Alas, Samsung hasn't fixed the last model's bugs--when you add an artist to the playlist, only a random few tracks actually show up. And when you add an album, songs are listed alphabetically rather than in their native order.
The bigger holdover problems, however, are sound quality and battery life. The Samsung YH-925GS lasted a bit less than 10 hours in our battery tests--better than we expected, given the addition of a color screen, but 5 hours less than the latest iPod. What's more, as with the YH-920GS, many of our songs sounded ragged and hollow; something about the player just sucks the warmth out of music. And some of the settings actually introduce distortion, so fiddling with the equalizer and SRS settings just makes things worse. At least music transfers were impressive, coming in at a brisk 4.3MB per second over USB 2.0.
If you're less interested in fidelity than you are in a low price, as well as compatibility with lots of music stores and services, the Samsung YH-925GS doesn't disappoint. But we think Samsung should work on correcting the player's flaws before introducing a YH-930GS.