Samsung's affordable YP-U2
Samsung's latest MP3 player directly challenges the iPod Shuffle. The flash-based Samsung YP-U2 offers 512MB of storage, and like the iPod Shuffle, it features an integrated USB 2.0 design. Unlike the Shuffle, it has an FM tuner, a voice recorder, WMA DRM 10 compatibility, and last but not least, an LCD. Despite mediocre battery life and an awkward headphone-jack placement, we like the overall design and sound quality of the YP-U2 (though the name is unoriginal), and there's little doubt that its retail price of $70 will appeal to many. Look for 1GB and 2GB versions to debut this summer.
At 3.4 by 1.0 by 0.5 inches, the 512MB Samsung YP-U2--available in white or black--is a tad shorter and thicker than the iPod Shuffle and a hair heavier at 1 ounce. The 512MB Samsung YP-U2--available in white or black--is a tad shorter and thicker than the iPod Shuffle, at 3.4 by 1.0 by 0.5 inches, and a hair heavier at 1 ounce. The body design is decidedly elegant and simple, with a small but bright and crisp monochrome LCD. The screen's reverse polarity (white text on black) gives it a legible old-school feel, though viewing angles aren't spectacular. The screen can be seen without the backlight; this is useful when you're outdoors in the sun. Packed on to the little screen in playback mode is information including the track number, the EQ setting, battery life, a time-elapsed meter, and single-line scrolling-track info.
The primary controller is a tactile four-way square with a big selector button (M) in the center. Navigating the Samsung YP-U2 is a cinch, though you'll soon learn that to get to the main menu from any other screen, you'll have to hold the M button rather than press it. You can press up and down to control the volume and right and left to forward and reverse.
Animated icon-based main-menu options on the Samsung YP-U2 are Music, Navigation, FM Radio, and Settings--a refreshingly simple set of choices. Music is broken down by Track, Artist, Album, Genre, Playlist, Favorite, and Recorded, and these choices can be displayed by pressing the M button on the playback screen. Browsing through tracks four at a time--the maximum number of items displayed on the screen--would be more challenging if the player had more than 512MB of storage. But the LCD beats the iPod Shuffle's blind navigation any old day.
Two thin buttons--one for play/pause/power, the other for recording--line the top of the Samsung YP-U2 as you read the LCD. Pausing the player can be a tad counterintuitive, as it cannot be done with the primary controller. Holding the Record button puts the player into active recording mode; there is no voice-recording option in the main menu, which keeps the user from fumbling around to record. Unfortunately, voice-recording quality--even at the maximum 128Kbps MP3--is weak and muffled. Conveniently, the Record button doubles as a user hot key and can be customized to toggle through the copious equalizer settings, adjust the speed of the track (plus or minus 30 percent), activate an AB loop, or tweak the play mode. We preferred using it for the EQ, but the instant speed control can create some cool-sounding effects.
The hold switch is on the bottom of the Samsung YP-U2 near the awkwardly placed headphone jack. Trust us--your headphones' plug will get in the way of your hand or your pocket. The other notable design feature is the transparent USB cap, which gives the YP-U2 an early-'90s see-through appeal, and thanks to an LED planted next to the USB connector, the cap will glow a funky blue at the press of a button. It's an MP3 player and a glow stick in one; too bad it's not sold in pairs. For those who find the light hideous or want to conserve power, there is an option to deactivate the LED.