It was only a matter of time before Samsung put out a speakerless version of the innovative YP-K5 MP3 player. The YP-K3 delivers the goods in an even sexier--if ever-so-slightly bigger--body than the iPod Nano. But it's priced for the masses at $119 for 2GB and $169 for 4GB, undercutting the iPod's tag. Samsung says an 8GB model will be out by summer, which makes sense given the company's good footing in the flash memory market.
Out of the box--which is nearly identical to that of the full-size iPod, interestingly--the K3 is simply stunning. Its glossy front is trimmed with chrome, giving it a sleek and stylish look. When you turn the player on using the side-mounted power/hold switch, the touch-sensitive controls light up, reminiscent of Philips' GoGear line of players. The controls consist of four directional arrows, as well as Select, Menu, and Back keys. Like the K5, the YP-K3 takes some design cues from the LG Chocolate phone, right down to the availability of black, red, and green versions--sorry, no white. The red version in particular is truly gorgeous, and the backlit controls give it a very jukebox-like appearance.
The K3's 1.8-inch OLED screen is a bit larger than the Nano's 1.5-inch LCD, but like said iPod, the K3 has a bottom-mounted headphone jack and a proprietary dock connector. The K3 isn't as prone to scratches as the original Nano was, but ours picked up a few very minor scratches as well as lots of fingerprints. Navigating the menu system is snappy, and we like the animated icons on the main menu level. There are no significant differences between the YP-K5 and the YP-K3, other than the K3's lack of an alarm-clock function, which depends upon a built-in speaker. The touch controls are very sensitive, but they're spaced far enough apart to avoid too much frustration. Still, with no tactile feedback, it's impossible to operate the K3 without taking it out of your pocket.
Setting up the YP-K3 to communicate with your computer is a no-brainer--just attach it via the proprietary USB cable, and it syncs with Windows PCs. Sadly, though, Samsung has once again left out the growing number of Mac users by abandoning USB Mass Storage Class drivers, so the K3 can't be used as a thumb drive. But it syncs fairly well with Windows Media Player 10 and 11, as well as other MTP-based jukebox software. We did run into a few issues with Windows Media Player 11 where we had to disconnect and reconnect the player a couple times to get the sync feature to work right. But it's not clear whether this is a WMP 11 issue or a K3 issue.
File format support is fairly limited, including only MP3, WMA, and ASF, but the K3 supports PlaysForSure content. It would have been nice if Samsung included compatibility with Audible.com files, OGG, and AAC--especially in light of EMI's recent announcement that it will offer unprotected AAC files through the iTunes Music Store.
The YP-K3 offers some basic yet desirable features, including an FM tuner (which has a bit of trouble picking up fringe stations even with its sensitivity set to High), music playback, and photo viewing--but no video or recording. Little else distinguishes it from the masses besides its looks. There are some nonessential items, such as trippy visualizer screens and a live graphic equalizer, but Samsung intentionally kept it simple. Photo viewing is basic, with no pan or zoom, but you can watch slide shows with musical accompaniment. The screen is bright and colors are vivid, but as with most small OLED screens, the resolution is far from impressive. Despite the graphically intense interface, the K3's interface is very responsive and speedy overall.
The YP-K3's sound quality is very good, with detail and bass definition similar to the iPod Nano's. Equalizer options are slim and largely useless, but the bass boost is powerful. The included earbuds are better than most freebies, but if you're looking to upgrade, the K3's output is strong enough to drive headphones that cost as much as the player itself. The nonremovable battery is rated for 20 hours of audio playback time; CNET Labs beat this rating by about 4 hours. You can even get an optional speaker for the K3, but don't expect anywhere near the variety of accessories that are available for the iPod.
Two minor annoyances are the lack of gapless playback and the fact that each track starts with a fade-in that can't be disabled. We like that music automatically pauses when you unplug the headphones, but the jury's still out on whether it's a good idea to have the volume automatically reset to halfway when you power the player on without the option to disable that feature. Another oddity with our production unit is that the system settings reverted to the default each time we plugged the player into our PC. Hopefully, Samsung will fix this with a future firmware update.
The Samsung YP-K3 may not be a Nano killer, but it does have enough visual appeal to be a conversation piece. Samsung has done a good job at making a glamorous and great-sounding yet affordable and uncomplicated player, though the company needs to bring back the ability to use the player as a USB drive for Mac users and data storage. The inclusion of a few more features such as recording and on-device playlisting would have also added to the player's versatility. The touch-sensitive controls are definitely a double-edged sword; they add to the attractiveness of the K3, but they don't do much for its usability.