Samsung has recently been cranking out some decent players into the market, one of them being the Nano-competing Z5. The newer K5 is an exceptional twist on the MP3 player, providing a set of external speakers that allow you to unhook your ears from sometimes confining headphones. The K5 is flash based and currently comes in 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB capacities with all of the standard MP3 player features: MP3/WMA audio playback, JPEG photo viewing, FM radio, and alarm clock.
Even though the K5 has a fairly standard set of MP3 player functions, what sets it apart from the rest is the innovative design and external speakers. The K5 is a niche player and is not for everyone, but for that niche, Samsung hit the nail on the head by creating something very unique.
Not much is included with the K5, just a proprietary USB cable, earbuds, and the unit itself. What is interesting about the supplied USB cable is that the connection is different from the Z5; in fact, it is similar to the proprietary cable found on the iRiver clix/U10. I have actually used the iRiver cable to charge the K5 and to transfer media to it as well. Why Samsung went with a different cable is unknown, but I think it was a bad decision considering docking stations and other accessories cannot be cross-compatible. As far as third party accessories, Belkin has already announced two different cases for the K5 so you can expect to see some options with aftermarket accessories.
The earbuds are unique and are worth discussing. They fit inside of your ear canal, which provides outside sound isolation and much better bass. These earbuds sound good especially on the bass end of the frequency spectrum, but at the same time, all frequencies are shifted toward the lower end. Highs and mids sound flat and slightly muffled. The other issue with the supplied earbuds is comfort; having to wear them inside of the ear canal may not be comfortable for some people.
The K5 includes a software CD that contains Samsung Media Studio. It will rip, convert, organize, play, et cetera – just like every other media player out there. The only real advantage Samsung Media Studio has over Windows Media Player is that it is much faster, especially when dealing with very large libraries of music. Other than that, Samsung Media Studio is a fairly simple and under-developed media player. It works great. Just don’t expect too much out of it.
Installing the software is optional, but you will need to be using Windows XP SP2 or above in order to use MTP drag and drop or Windows Media Player. There are also plenty of other pieces of software you can use to transfer media to your K5, such as Media Monkey, Winamp, and other MTP-based media players.
The design of the K5 is clean and no nonsense. The player feels solid and well built. The matte black finish and raised lip on the front of the player will keep the K5 scratch free under normal to heavy use. The sliding mechanism may feel delicate but still follows the overall sturdiness of the player. The one thing I don’t like about the design is that the sliding mechanism does not lock. Just picking up the player or grabbing it will cause the two halves to move slightly apart. If you wanted to be picky, dedicated volume buttons would have made the player a little easier to use.
The interface is easy to use and is intuitive. Menus are smooth and nicely animated. On the downside, the touch interface can be obnoxious. There are no touch sensitivity settings on the player and they can be on the sensitive side. I found myself many times just brushing over the controls and having them activated, and when pressing one button it is easy to accidentally push one of the neighboring buttons. The addition of tactile buttons on the face of the player may have taken something away from the overall design of the player, but would have been a extreme improvement of the overall usability of the K5.
FM works just as expected – reception is as good as any other FM radio. Auto programming makes adding local stations very easy. There is one problem with the FM feature and that is that the player uses the headphone jack as an antenna. This is fine if you are using headphones to listen to the r
adio, but you run into problems if you want to listen on the external speakers. You can solve this simply, though, by plugging any headphone into the jack and pulling out the speakers. However, if you just wanted to carry around the player sans headphones, you would not be able to listen to the radio.
The external speakers are what make the K5 unique and should be the deciding factor when purchasing this player. For the size of these speakers they are impressive and will easily fill a small, relatively quiet room with sound. The surprise to me was that the speakers are pretty much distortion free even with heavy bass music. This is not to say you are going to get bass out of this player, it’s just that the bass is limited so that the speakers do not distort. By no means is the sound that is produced by the speakers anywhere near audiophile quality, but it does provide for good background music. Overall the external speakers are a very elegant solution for audiobooks and podcast listeners who don’t want to be tied to headphones.
The alarm is a great feature on this player and it takes full use of the player’s external speakers. The player allows you to store a long list of alarms which can be individually set to different intervals: once, everyday, mon-fri, mon-sat, and sat-sun. There are only three different alarm sounds you can choose from, or you can use any audio file on the player as the wake alarm. The best thing about the alarm is that it doesn’t have to be on or opened in order for the alarm to go off.
Battery life through the headphones is rated at 30 hours. During my tests, playing it at around 75% volume, I consistently got around 27 hours. Now, if you were to use the player strictly with the external speakers, it would be rated at 6 hours. I found that using the speakers at max volume I would get between 4 and 5 hours of playback and nearly 6 hours of playback at 75% volume.
The photo feature is not the greatest and is more of a gimmick feature. The OLED with the tinted face of the player does not lend to accurate colors and can look dark and fuzzy. The other downside to the photo viewing feature on this player is the navigation of large quantities of photos. All photos appear as one long thumbnail list, even if you have organized them into file folders. Slideshows can play with music while the external speakers are on, but again, the small dark screen is fairly impractical for everyone to crowd around and watch.
The audio quality is nothing amazing but slightly above average. The major problem is the lack of customizable audio settings. There is no custom EQ and the EQ presets just didn’t improve any of my music, so sticking to the “flat” EQ setting is a must. I did find that the K5 does provide more robust headphones with ample power, playing them with plenty of volume.
As far as audio navigation, it is very basic artists/album/track/genre browsing and disappointingly there is no on-the-go playlist creation. You can still create playlists, but you need to create them on your computer and transfer them over.
Samsung’s K5 caters to a specific crowed and is not for everyone, myself included. However, it is a great player for its innovative design and surprisingly loud external speakers. I think that the player would be great for someone who listens to audiobooks, podcasts, or radio shows and doesn’t want to be tethered to headphones. The external speakers are okay for music, but consider its playback as working background noise rather than something you’d really want to sit and listen to. The sound quality through the headphone jack is fairly typical, but plays louder than most MP3 players. The touch controls give the player a clean look but are not favorable to the overall user interface. If you are considering this player, the external speakers should be the main deciding factor, because without them, the K5 is just another MP3 player.
- Unique Design
- External Speakers
- Supplied earbuds good with bass and sound isolation
- FM radio will not work without headphones plugged in
- Touch interface can be inaccurate
- Supplied earbuds may be uncomfortable for some people
- No on-the-go playlists
- No custom EQ
- Proprietary USB cable
Samsung has very good distribution though the United States and can be found at many brick and mortar retailers. The K5 can also be found at a lot of online US retailers like Amazon. For the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world, AdvancedMP3Players has them, along with a very good selection of other MP3 players.