Scratched That Neophiliac* Itch…Sorta, Part 1
Today I got to see a couple devices that I’d been really eager to see in person — the Samsung YP-K5 mp3 player, and the Sony Mylo. Somehow I stumbled upon info that indicated the K5 was in stores today. So I hunted around, trying to figure out where I might be able to check the K5 out in person. Unfortunately I had to go into a Best Buy to see a display model (long story short — I don’t like Best Buy’s policies on how they treat customers, so I decided a while ago that I never wanted to buy anything from them ever again, a la putting my money where my mouth is). 😛
(picture from Samsung)
K5 First Impressions
Anyway, I got to play around with the K5, and I am ever so close to feeling like it’s the mp3 player best suited for my podcast-listening activities. The build is solid, and the sliding mechanism for the built-in speakers is rather smooth. I really don’t mind the extra bulk that the built-in speakers add. The extra bulk kind of makes the player feel more solid and seemingly more robust than a small, thinner player like the iPod nano. I think in reality, though, it might be a bit more fragile than a nano if it was dropped. Irritatingly, the K5 was practically glued/clamped down to its little pedestal, so when I slid out the speakers, I couldn’t even rotate the device to look at the screen the right way in landscape mode. 😛
Speakers and Menus
When you slide out the speakers while a track is playing, the sound fades in, which is a nice touch, a rather Mac-like detail that I was impressed by. I also enjoyed the cute bouncing ball on the menu that indicates your menu selection. It also reminded me of the bouncing icons on the OS X dock. 😀 The morphing animations displayed when you switch between main menu choices are also really eye-catching. All in all, I really like the menu interface, combined with the touchscreen controls. It’s a nice change from the tried-and-true iPod click wheel, or the d-pad and side buttons of the Gigabeat S. The look of the K5 is very modern and minimalist, definitely different from the other mp3 players out there. I wish I could’ve taken it home with me tonight!
(picture from Samsung)
The external speakers would be perfect for listening to podcasts around the house, without lugging around a bulky speaker dock, or some lame-o, tiny, tinny speakers. The K5’s speakers were surprisingly loud and seemed to have relatively good stereo separation, in spite of their small size. I’m not an audiophile, and the mp3s I’m mainly going to listen to don’t require super high-quality speakers, so YMMV.
The K5 has an OLED screen that was alright. It seemed a bit dim or washed out, but I was in a Best Buy with a lot of “school gym” kind of high-wattage lighting. I would have to carry it around my normal environment to see how it fares during daily use. I’d be surprised if the screen was readable outdoors in the normal sunlight, especially with the slick, shiny face on the player, but I am not often outside listening to music and needing to read the screen a lot, so again, YMMV. 🙂 The screen is also kind of small, though I think it is probably on par with the iPod nano’s screen.
No video playback, but after my recent experimentation with trying to get vidcasts onto my Gigabeat S, I think it’s probably better to watch these vidcasts streamed to my TV in the family room. I don’t actually find many opportunities to watch these half-hour+ vidcasts besides when I’m home and don’t have any TV shows to catch up on. If I do feel like I want to watch a vidcast over a lunch break or something, I could always fire up my PSP, especially now that it can handle m4v files (the iPod-friendly video format adopted by a lot of vidcasters) without conversion, and can download them straight to a Memory Stick over WiFi without even needing a PC connection.
The K5 can display pictures, and I think you can configure a slideshow of the pictures on the device to be a screen saver, but this feature is pretty much fluff, considering the screen size. Nevertheless, scrolling through the sample set of pictures on the K5 was pretty fast. No problem with buffering or anything. The pictures themselves looked okay. The OLED screen sort of lacks sharpness.
There is an alarm function, but I wasn’t able to play around with it in detail at the store. I wasn’t even sure how to make the K5 display a clock when it was in alarm mode (if that’s even an option; one review implied that even though you could set the time, you can’t actually see the time anywhere, like on the playback screen). There is also an FM radio feature that uses the headphones as the antenna, but since I don’t listen to FM radio anymore, I am indifferent about it.
Should I Buy It or Not?
To tell the truth, the K5 is kind of expensive for its feature set and storage capacity. I think that the Sandisk Sansa e280, Sandisk’s latest 8GB flash player is similarly priced, if not cheaper than the Samsung YP-K5, which is only a 4GB player. It also has an expanded feature set that includes voice recording and video playback. I believe it has a larger screen as well. And an SD slot so you can expand its already huge 8GB storage capacity.
(picture from Sandisk, Sansa e280)
So why would I choose the K5 over the Sansa e280? Well, that’s a tough question, and I’m actually still kind of wrestling with it. The built-in, decent-sounding, slide-out speakers and the touchscreen are the two main features that draw me to the K5. I love the slide-out speakers and the menus so much that I feel like I need to buy this mp3 player to reward Samsung for coming up with this neato design (again, putting my money where my mouth is). I want Samsung and other manufacturers to keep pushing the design envelope and come up with different and interesting stuff. So that’s sort of the emotional, idealistic, less rational side of my internal argument.
The more logical side of my internal argument is that the Sansa e280 clearly has more features and better bang for the buck. It can even give me the ability to play short vidcasts if I wanted to squint at them on the Sansa’s tiny screen. It also can do both MTP and USB protocols for transferring files, so if I wanted, I could just forgo all of this syncing crapola and just drag and drop files onto the player to simplify things even more.
OT: Podcatching and Syncing
Actually, this is sort of a big issue with me, because I have not enjoyed dealing with two different applications — one to download the podcasts, and another to sync tracks and make playlists — to get podcasts onto my Gigabeat S. Windows Media Player, version 11 or older, is totally ridiculous if you are mainly interested in downloading, managing, and listening to podcasts as I am (if you’re just interested in music files, it’s alright, but still has flaws and unnecessary complexities compared to iTunes). Perhaps I’ll elaborate on my WMP annoyances in a future blog post. I went back to using my iPod nano because “it just works” for podcatching and syncing all in one program.
Anyway, by using the Sansa in USB, drag-and-drop mode, I might be able to use iTunes to sync podcasts to it, since iTunes does support some non-Apple mp3 players that use a regular USB connection for file transfer, rather that Windows’ proprietary Media Transfer Protocol (MTP). However, it might even be simpler just to drag and drop files onto the Sansa directly, and bypass all syncing completely (if I’m able to create “on-the-go” playlists on the Sansa).
The K5, unfortunately, only supports MTP, so I would have to use Windows Media Player, or a 3rd party app that can take the place of WMP. The only problem is that even now I have not found a good enough alternative to iTunes for an integration solution for podcatching and syncing the files to the player. I did use Happyfish as a podcatcher for the Gigabeat S for a while, and I do like it, even though it’s still buggy. Its major flaw is not being able to sync the tracks to my Gigabeat directly. It can sync files to mp3 players, but for some reason it wouldn’t recognize my Gigabeat S. I don’t know if it would recognize the K5, but even if it did, it doesn’t have playlist creation capabilities, and I don’t think the K5 has the capability to create playlists on the fly, which makes syncing from Happyfish kind of useless.
The 8GB capacity of the Sansa is also a huge factor to consider. For a while I wanted to put both music and podcasts onto my iPod nano, and found that 4GB just wasn’t enough to have a good balance of music and podcasts, as well as a little extra storage space for general USB flash drive usage. Having 8GB of storage would go quite a long way towards solving the issue of having enough music and podcasts and generic data storage capabilities. Double the storage capacity of the K5 at a similar price point is hard to ignore.
One last thing: I looked at the Sansa again today, and while its controls and menus were fine, they didn’t have the flash and “gadgety-ness” that the K5 does. The K5’s funky, modern design and touchscreen really appeals to my neophilia and design taste. 🙂 The Sansa just looks too plain or pedestrian compared to the K5, too much like the iPod nano in form factor. The menus aren’t that flashy, and the album art display during playback looks kind of yuck. The buttons and scroll wheel are functional and matter-of-fact, not luminescent like the K5’s controls. The Sansa is definitely a case of functionality trumping fashion (though it is generally a good looking player), while the K5 is kind of the opposite — very fashionable, almost to the point that the fashion gets in the way of the functionality. I worry about the touchscreen controls losing sensitivity over time, leaving me with a useless device. And the lack of tactile feedback from the K5’s touchscreen might annoy me after a while, especially while trying to control it in the car during my commute.
So, that’s my first impression of seeing the Samsung K5 in person, finally. I really really want to snap it up, but my budget and knowledge of the Sandisk Sansa e280’s features are preventing me from just impulse buying the K5. And yes, I’m considering selling my Gigabeat S, but that’s another blog post. Stay tuned (or don’t) to see what I end up buying… My fickleness could cause me to end up with some device other than the K5 or the Sansa e280. *smirk*
*Neophilia is a love of new things, if you translate the word literally. In the tech blogging context, it’s a fancier name for gadget lust, I guess. 🙂 Recently I read some articles from JKOnTheRun and elsewhere about neophilia possibly being caused by abundance of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A in certain people. So hey, if you love acquiring gadgets and keep getting flack from people about it, tell them it’s a medical condition. 😀