On the lower half of the Samsung YP-Z5 sits a square touch-sensitive control that requires you to lay a fingertip gently on the top half for scrolling up or the lower half for scrolling down. Once the proper item is highlighted, you click the middle of the touch pad to select it. There's a slight lag before the cursor starts scrolling, and if you press too hard or softly, nothing happens. Furthermore, it'll take some dexterity to get your touch just right, and you'll often find yourself scrolling past the intended selection. After a few days of use, most people will get used to it, although it's clearly not as intuitive and easy to use as Apple's competing Click Wheel.
We appreciate the Samsung YP-Z5's dedicated buttons for back, fast-forward, rewind, and play/pause/power. They surround the touch pad while the dedicated volume buttons are placed on the side for easy access with the right thumb when the device is in your hand. With its dedicated volume and play/pause (more on this later) buttons, the YP-Z5 bests the iPod, which has neither. A handy hold switch on the top and a recessed reset button on the bottom round out the controls. You will notice two screws on either side of the player, and presumably, you can replace a dead battery yourself, though we wouldn't recommend it.
All of the Samsung YP-Z5's buttons feel solid, and the device's aluminum case is pleasantly cool to the touch. The YP-Z5's overall build quality appears to be quite high, and its screen is nowhere near as scratch-prone as the Nano's. We dragged a key right across it, and it didn't scratch until we pressed hard.
We should mention that the Samsung YP-Z5 utilizes a proprietary dock/USB port, much like the iPod Nano. There's no word yet on YP-Z5 accessories, though the unit ships with white earbuds, a proprietary USB connector, an installation disc, and a manual (both paper and electronic).
In our initial install process, we had some trouble getting Windows Media Player and its associated drivers to install properly on a brand-new system. This kept us from transferring and playing purchased or subscription-based WMA files. We did, however, get a proper install on another machine and, thus, were able to test DRM-protected WMAs. We are currently speaking with Samsung about our initial install troubles and will update the review with any new information. If you connect the device to a Windows Media Player 10 computer before installing the bundled CD, the YP-Z5 will show up as a MTP device. The Z5 does not have a UMS mode, which would enable you to connect the device to virtually any machine for drag-and-drop transfer. You can drag and drop files via Windows Explorer, but you must have Windows Media Player 10 installed.
Once we were able to transfer music on to the Samsung YP-Z5, it was a pleasure to use. Navigation in all of the normal ways (via artist, album, genre, composer, playlist, and shuffle) is a breeze after you master the control, and new menus spring up from the middle of the screen when they're selected, rather than from the right--a minor albeit nice touch. We expected a decent graphical interface, as it was created by software designer Paul Mercer, who worked on the original iPod software. It's visually appealing, and it's certainly a step in the right direction for combating the iPod's famed intuitive interface. We also like that the Z5 always displays whatever song is paused or selected at the bottom of the screen no matter what mode you're in.
You can choose to shuffle all tracks or only within a certain artist, album, genre, composer, or playlist. Album art is displayed prominently, even showing up on the upper right of the screen when a song is selected from any list. In addition, you can customize your display's wallpaper with the image of your choosing. In order to play a track, you'll need to click the center of the control pad rather than the play/pause button, which controls only the song currently playing. This seems odd at first, but the advantage is that you can always pause a track, no matter where you are in the menus.
One feature that stood out was the Samsung YP-Z5's sound options. You get a full range of controls, including eight EQ presets and three 3D simulators that do a decent job of impersonating a club, a stage, or a studio using a reverb/delay algorithm (Samsung's own DNSe surround-sound simulator). You also get a slide-show function that displays a series of your photos as you listen to music.
All in all, the Samsung YP-Z5's feature set is standard and very iPod Nano-like, though you won't get extras seen in many flash-based players, such as an FM tuner, voice and audio recording, and video playback. The Z5 does not support on-the-go playlists.The Samsung YP-Z5 sounds fantastic with or without the surround-sound simulator turned on. We encountered firm, deep bass, pristine treble, little distortion or hiss, and just about every other positive sonic quality you can expect from a portable player. The YP-Z5 is certainly one of the louder and better-sounding players we've heard, and it offers a slightly more brightness and punch than the iPod Nano.
As far as processor performance, we experienced little to no lags while navigating the menus, and the interface's cool zoom effect gave the player a lively feel.
Battery performance is where the Samsung YP-Z5 truly stands out, as it boasts a rated life of 35 hours per charge with its lithium-ion cell. In CNET Labs drain tests, we got 27.5 hours, quite a bit less than that figure, though we're still impressed. It dwarfs the iPod Nano's 15 hours, though it still gets bested by other flash players, such as iRiver's T10 (45 hours) and Sony's NW-E400/500 series (more than 40 hours).