Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gadget Review - Samsung P2 PMP

As I've promised in an earlier column, here's my review of the Personal Media Player I bought, the Samsung P2.

Brief Description
The P2 is an 8GB flash-based media player. It is operated through a 3-inch widescreen LCD touchscreen. The screen is extremely bright and readable under various light conditions. It has a built in FM radio, a built in Bluetooth support (more on that later) and built in support for podcasts (which Samsung calls "datacasts" - everything to avoid the Pod word smile).

The device itself is small and thin - easily slipped into your shirt's pocket.

Playback Quality
The player's audio playback is superb - on par, and even surpassing the iPod's quality (to my ears). It supports many equalizer pre-sets and allows manual tinkering as well.

Video playbeack is clear and seamless. This is where the LCD screen shines (pardon the pun).
Contrast is great and brightness can be tuned.

Supported Formats
The P2 supports the MP3 and WMA audio formats, with various bitrates.

For video playback, it supports WMV and its internal SVI format - both are MP4 based. Luckily, it's possible to convert every known format to these 2 (figure about 20 minutes to convert a 2 hour movie) with the software supplied.

For images, it supports JPEG only.

The battery will hold for 35 hours of music playback time and for about 5 hours of video playback. So far, following a long domestic flight + a l-o-n-g transatlantic flight, I'm satisfied with the battery's performance.

The PMP is charged through a proprietary (what else?) USB cable. Since I don't like being dependent on a computer, I've added about $3 more and got a USB wall charger - just plug your USB cable in and plug into the wall.

FM Radio
The radio works extremely well. I got to try it in 2 different countries (US and Israel). Just set the country in your FM type and you're good to go. The radio provides auto and manual presets (up to 30 of them). Radio playback consumes less battery than media files playback - but of course, you don't buy a PMP for its radio functionality smile.

This functionality allows you to pair the player with bluetooth headphones or speakers. A promised firmware upgrade (scheduled for end of December) will allow pairing the player with your cell phone. When a call comes in, the music will mute and you can use the player's built in player to talk, without the need to locate your phone.

Another important functionality that will be added in a future firmware will allow synchronizing the device to your media library over the air - no more need for cables.

The player supports pairing with up to 30 devices simultaneously (although who needs so many, I don't know). Bear in mind that turning Bluetooth on would consume more battery power.

The PMP has a calendar, a world clock, and an alarm clock - so far, not that great. It also has a built in text reader (for .txt files) and here I was surprised: due to the great screen contrast, text comes out highly readable. The touchscreen provides a flick-like interface, allowing you to "turn pages", or just scroll through the files.

The photo browser is great - again, due to the screen's quality and the touch/flick activity, allowing you to browse through your photo collection easily. It also supports a slide show mode, 4 levels of zoom and horizontal/vertical aspects.

Ease of Use
The touch interface is extremely easy to navigate: you scroll your finger around and choose the function (music, video, photos, radio etc.). If you don't like the scroll-like menu, you can revert to a simpler, matrix-like menu structure.

The player also has 4 "hard" buttons: a Pause/Start button, 2 volume buttons and a Hold button. That means you're always one click away from stopping the music - an annoyance with other players I've tested, that rely on touch interface only. I highly recommend using the Hold button once you start playing. Since every other function is driven by the touchscreen, the tiniest pressure would turn on the screen, or jump to the next song.

Media files are sorted by artist, album, genre etc. - just like on an iPod. Unlike the iPod though, you can control the internal file structure of the player. Combine that with playlist functionality and you can navigate your files in any way you choose. Anything that makes sense to you can be defined.

While playing a song, you can change the screen to show the album details, cover art, an equalizer, or 3 more visualizations. A flick of your finger (called "horizontal stroke") can be configured to jump 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds ahead or backwards - depending on the flick's direction.
It took me a couple of minutes to understand that right-to-left is forward and left-to-right is backwards - quite counter-intuitive in the US.

There are 2 things that bother me a bit with the interface:
  1. the player assumes all users have petite fingers (not so on my case) and I find myself hitting the wrong choice on the screen more often than I want. Samsung does include a graphic recommending how to hold the player to avoid such errors, but I find myself slip by just trying to hit a part of the screen and hitting another instead. I hope I'll get used to it in time.

  2. The Samsung Media Studio software. It's not really intuitive and definitely not as polished as iTunes. I find myself transferring files again, because the ID3 tags got jumbled.

    The nice part is - this is no locked down iPod: you can mange the files through the Windows explorer directly, or through Windows Media Player (WMP 10 and 11 supported), so I got around the Samsung software.
The Price
The 4GB model will set you back $200 and the 8GB model will set you back $240 (compared to $150 and $200 for the 4 and 8GB iPod Nano models). But the touchscreen, the FM radio and the bluetooth functionality are well worth the premium, in my opinion.

The player is available in black, white and burgundy.

Bottom Line
I've had the player for a bit over a week now, and so far it's highly recommended. The sound quality, the capacity, the video playback and the overall design are great.

I cannot wait for the bluetooth upgrades: being able to use the player as a headphone for my cellphone means I will no longer miss calls. The ability to synch over-the-air would be great too. And something tells me that a sound recorder capability will be added in the future (the player already has a microphone - why waste it?)

On the cons side, you'll find the minor inaccuracies of the touch interface, the packaged synchronization software (that can be ignored, as far as I'm concerned) and the pricey price.

I give the Samsung P2 4.5/5 stars.

Next time: the second surprising gadget I bought this holiday season...

Firmware updates can be found here.

Update 12/22/07
The promised patch arrived on 12/20 (v. 2.08). I can now use my P2 as a handset for my Blackberry through Bluetooth. The P2 can also hold contacts from the phone and battery consumption is slightly improved.

Update 2/1/08
The second promised upgrade (v. 3.07) just delivered some intersting features:
  • You can now record the radio
  • You can delete songs from the player (without using a PC)
  • Few additions to photo navigation
  • Control of video wide screen
  • An A->B play mode
  • Games. And at least one is quite fun
And best of all, unlike iPhone upgrades, it's free! More to come (I hope)...

Update 2/20/2008
Version 3.15 of the firmware just published. Several bug fixes, more games.
Also, the Korean version of the patch contains some interesting Korean-only content: Korean-English dictionary, subway map of Seoul... Will we get it too eventually?
This cool video compares the first and second patch generations.


Anonymous said...

Its not an OLED screen. Its LCD

Traveling Tech Guy said...

My mistake. It is indeed an LCD screen and not OLED. I was mislead by the bright blue-on-black colors and contrast. Thanks for pointing it out. Post corrected.

ag said...

Hey, may i ask you if you would know why is my P2 unable to play the video even when it is in WMV format? Because i actually was able to play one only and the rest, i was unable to when all are in WMV format.

Hope you could help me with this, thanks!

Traveling Tech Guy said...

Hi ag,
Make sure your WMV file is a WMV9 SP 320x240 or 480x272 @ 30FPS - as these are the only formats suppoted by the P2, other than Smasung's SVI.

I suggest using Samsung's converter program (included in their desktop app) to convert videos to the supported format, or any other conversion software - if you just need a resolution adjustment.

Let me know if this helped.

ag said...

YEAH! it did. oh my thanks alot! =) luckily i only needed to convert the resolution so it was easy. thank you!

Traveling Tech Guy said...

Glad to be of service. As for me, I'm still struggling with their crappy new desktop software "emodio"... :(