Standalone media players are in an interesting position at the moment. Much like the PDA market of the last decade, more and more people are turning to converged devices to accomplish all of their ‘on the go’ needs, while tablets are beginning to fulfill more sedentary media consumption roles.
While tablets and smartphones are blossoming growth areas, not everyone is keen on fronting the additional costs of a smartphone plan, and tablets are only just beginning to find their audience.
I spent the Thanksgiving holiday playing with a new Samsung Galaxy Player 5”. Since I’ve recently become a tablet convert (and I’ve been rocking a smart phone for a while now), read on to see how I handled going back to a standalone media player!
So I’ve said before that Samsung is waging war on screen sizes. They now support Android form factors from sub 4” through 10.1”, and they land on almost every major form factor in between. Sammy sent us the 5” version of their Galaxy Player line.
The Galaxy Players (known as Galaxy S Wifi models overseas) come in four and five inch varieties, and are products aimed squarely at the iPod Touch. In the states they come preloaded with Android 2.3.5 “Gingerbread,” and a scaled down version of Samsung’s Touchwiz skin.
For those of you familiar with the original Galaxy S phones, the G-Players hardware specs shouldn’t come as a surprise. Under the hood we’re getting a 1GHz single core processor paired with 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of built in storage (which can be increased another 32GB by Micro SDHC). Wifi B/G/N, Bluetooth, FM Radio, and GPS are included for all your connectivity needs. Front and rear facing cameras (plus LED flash), stereo speakers, standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and internal mic round out the package. Included in the box is a standard charger (with a VERY short micro USB cable) and a decent, if unremarkable, pair of headphones with mic and headset controls.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s big. Having just recently reviewed the Galaxy S II at 4.5”, that extra half inch on the screen diagonal makes a noticeable difference in overall size. It makes my 4” Epic 4G look downright tiny. The 5” Player (from here on to be called GP5 to save me a few keystrokes) is a beast. Almost twice as thick as an iPod Touch (and almost twice as heavy), it fills the hand, and most activities become two-handed. It’s clad in white plastic, and the battery is not user replaceable.
For a device making this bold a statement, the screen is an interesting set of compromises. To keep costs down, Sammy opted for a more traditional LCD, instead of going with the more exotic Super AMOLED. Colors aren’t quite as vibrant, and the backlighting keeps blacks a bit more “gray” than the pools of ink you’ll see on a Galaxy S device. Resolution also remains unchanged at 800×480, giving the GP5 one of the least appealing pixel densities around. Thankfully, the extra real-estate means you won’t want to hold the device as close to your face as you would a puny screened iPod, but pixilation is pretty easy to see from medium distances.
There are some benefits to the lower res. App compatibility is key, and anything that ran well on older Android handsets will do just fine here. Also, the lower res helps with performance. Pushing fewer pixels helps the device feel snappy. For all its size though, the screen really isn’t the crown jewel of the GP5.
In my not so humble opinion, the speakers on the GP5 deserve the lion’s share of praise. This is simply the best sounding mobile gadget I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing since playing with the HTC Surround. Loud, clear, crisp and while lacking a little low end, they easily go toe to toe with tablet speakers. They capably provided the soundtrack for a recent outdoor get together, and most activities, from movie watching to game playing, sparkle with better audio.
The cameras on the GP5 also show interesting compromises. The rear shooter is a surprisingly decent 3MP with LED flash, and easily bests the iPod Touch. In fact stills look slightly better to my eye than the output from the GalaxyTab 8.9. Unfortunately the video output is hobbled at 720×480, and these days we just expect at least 720p, which even the hobbled sensor on the iPod provides.
One personal note on the hardware, I wasn’t particularly fond of white gadgets before. I often thought they were a little attention grabby. The GP5 has so far reinforced this hypothesis, as every time I use it in public it always gets a double take. While I don’t enjoy the attention, the glossy white shell has so far proven to be almost completely smudge proof. Unlike glass or glossy black plastic, I’m not constantly wiping the device on my shirt.
Software performance is generally very good.
I was very happy to see Gingerbread on board. This allows apps greater access to the front facing camera, so Skype works very well. It’s tempting to think you could just use the GP5 with Skype and Google Voice instead of having a smartphone plan…
Most apps play well, and only the most graphically intense games (like the ones designed to be played on dual core tablets) will give you any stutter.
TouchWiz is our last examination of compromises. I’m not a fan of manufacturer skins, but I’ve met many folks who do actually like the colorful look it provides. My wife currently uses and enjoys TouchWiz on her Galaxy S II. Unfortunately, TW on the GP5 suffers from a couple of obnoxious omissions.
First, there is no way to sort apps in the drawer alphabetically in a grid. None. You have to move apps individually, or use the list layout (which wastes a lot of space).
Second, for all the fun widgets and apps that Sammy brings to the party, I was surprised to see that you can’t create a contact short cut. I know this device isn’t intended to be a phone replacement (so less emphasis is given to phone features), but I thought it was a curious thing to leave out.
Lastly, battery life is pretty spectacular. I’ve complained about our obsession with thinness before in other reviews, but the GP5’s chunkiness here comes with a huge battery. As smartphones are starting to creep into the 1800 mAh territory, the GP5 is sporting 2500 mAh. With no cell radio on board this means days of casual use. I’m at 50% now after 70 hours of up time (about half of that with wifi and Bluetooth in use). This may be the best reason to get the 5 over the Galaxy Player 4, as the 4 comes with a 1200 mAh battery. Since the battery can’t be swapped, 1200 mAh feels a little lean…
So where does that leave us?
For the price of a 32GB iPod Touch, you can get the GP5 and a 32GB Micro SDHC card (40GB total). The iPod will have a slightly better screen, but the larger screen, stereo speakers, larger battery, and better camera give the GP5 the edge, unless all you desire is having the smallest possible device.
What gets tricky is how to compare the device to other media consuming gadgets. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for guys who already keep a smartphone in their pocket. Tablets like the Kindle and Nook are now arriving at this price point ($269 retail, but cheaper online), making purchasing decisions even harder.
If you want a durable companion device with a large screen, but a seven inch tablet is too large, then this will be a great solution.
Personally, it was great taking the load off my phone for casual gaming, music, and movies; but now I kinda wish my phone had a five inch screen…