Samsung’s last blockbuster was the P2. It was a hot topic in our forum and a player that we put on our Top 5 Players of 2008 list. With that, you can imagine the P3 is a highly anticipated device for current P2 fans and possibly some other-brand owners looking to trade up to a very solid feature set.
For many of the P2 owners, the question is whether the changes made to the P3 make it worth upgrading. The P3 is a substantial improvement on features, build quality, UI, touch, and video playback and is very worthy of the incremental name. I might even call it a “P3.2”
- Quick Look
- Dimensions: 4.0 x 2.1 x 0.4 in.
- Weight: 3.4 ounces /li>
- Colors: Black, Silver
- Capacities: 8G, 16GB, 32GB
- MSRP: $150. $200, $300
- Display: 3″ 480×272 LCD 16.7m colors, Touch Capacitive, Haptic
- Audio: MP3, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, AAC, WAV, ASF
- Video: WMV9, MPEG4 (AVI, SVI, XviD, DivX), H.264 (.MP4)
- Photo: JPEG, BMP, PNG
- Other: TXT
- Transfer Protocol: MSC/MTP User Selectable for US fimware MSC only on Korean firmware
- Audio: 5-band EQ, DNSe 3.0
- Battery: 40h Audio, 6h Video
- Other: Flash, Utilities, Games, Bluetooth (voice, phone dialing/answering, vCard transfer), FM, Voice Recording, Built-in speaker
I wanted to kick this review off with some discussion about the firmware since in the past Samsung has made substantial improvements on the P2 throughout its lifespan. These firmwares were always stable, each of them breathing new life into the device by adding some pretty big features along the way. This is what is happening with the P3. Early “1.0” versions of the firmware were stable, but with the recent “2.0,” touch responsiveness has been improved, features have been added, with one of the killer features being native XviD/DivX support up to 800x600px.
Keep in mind that this review is based off of firmware version 2.10 KR. Some things are likely to change over the year, but they will be very welcome and for the better. Even in the latest update from 2.07 to 2.10 was a huge improvement in touch responsiveness. For the latest updates and various firmware hacks, stop by the P3 Firmware Forum.
In the box / Accessories
As most players these days, the bare basics are in the box: the player, USB cable (proprietary Samsung), earbuds, and software disc. Since the P3 is using the same connector as the other Samsung players, most of the fancier, less-known docks and speaker docks will work. There are also plenty of cases in whatever type of material you prefer: silicon, plastic, or leather. P3 Accessories Forum.
Design / Build Quality
The size of the P3 is nearly identical to the P2, with just an extra millimeter or two on the long dimension. While they may be similar in shape and volume, the P3’s design and build is a huge improvement over the P2. However, like its predecessor, the P3 is housed in an aluminum backing with a plastic face, but I will note that black plastic material they used on the face of the player blends extremely well with the aluminum back. For the first month I owned it, I thought it was all metal housing until I did more detailed material tests.
One of the issues with the P2 was that this metal back was painted and often times scratched. The metal backing on the P3 is painted too, but they solved the scratching problem by adding a brushed aluminum veneer so finger prints and scratches are no longer an issue. This is one of the many examples where Samsung clearly learns from its experience.
Sandwiched in between the front and the back half is a real chrome (not the typical plastic) piece that wraps around the top buttons and acts as a stable base for the dock connector, headphone jack, and Mic/Reset hole. On the top you will find the on/off/hold button, volume up/down, and speaker.
Of course the most important part of a touch based player is the build quality of the screen. Unlike a hard plastic used on the P2, the screen on the P3 is glass. You might find yourself wiping fingerprints from it, but you won’t scratch your screen. If you’re still worried that you might by some dumb chance scratch the glass, it is further protected by being slightly recessed into the housing.
It’s this screen that makes the touch experience better than the P2 . With the P2 it almost felt as if you could “press though” the screen- as if it wasn’t solid enough. The P3’s is a solid surface and has no give to it, lending to a better overall experience.
The 3” 480×272 pixel 16.7m color LCD has the same specifications as the P2’s and very well may be the exact same one. As far as a device goes, there is little to improve here: colors are accurate, the screen is bright, and clarity is very good. Now this may be as top-notch as far as LCDs go, but there are still other screens that are faster and have better contrast rations, such as the AMOLED screen on the Cowon S9. While the difference between the two is very apparent when placed side by side,the quality difference is not big enough to be a deal breaker. For instance, I have been carrying both the P3 and the S9 for the last few months and I never thought “I wish I was watching this video on the AMOLED screen of the S9 instead of the P3”.
With all players I spend a great deal obsessing over the user interfaces, and with Samsung players they have always been well thought out. There are almost always minor details in the UIs where I would recommend improvements, but the general flow of UI is well designed. The P3 is no exception and builds upon what Samsung has learned on the P2. P2 users will feel at home but will be pleasantly surprised by lots of little additions and refinements. For example: addition of a quick
menu at the top of the now playing screen, bigger touch area for menu buttons, better use of the now playing screen by using a popup menu, and one of my favorites- a touch area below the screen for additional shortcuts.
Here one of the default included videos demoing all the various aspects of the P3′s UI. The second video shows the real world preformance of the touch screen and UI.
Home Screen: The entire home screen is also redone with a basic grid style layout with extended “panels” which can be accessed by sweeping across the screen horizontally. The locations of these icons are customizable and can be moved to any panel. These additional panels are useful for other Samsung brewed or flash applications (more on that later).
Widgets: These panels are also useful for widgets, such as a calendar, clock, time zones, mini slideshow, and one of my favorites – the “sleep cat” which is a sleep timer. While the usefulness may vary by individual, I wouldn’t dismiss these as useless gimmicks since they give you quick access to features or display your content. For instance, there is a light bulb widget that gives you one-press brightness control, or the “sleep cat” which activates the sleep timer with one or a few presses, depending on how long you want the timer to last. There are widgets, too, for those who find comfort in uselessness. There is the gingerbread man who urges you to touch him, yet crumbles into destruction when you do, a cup of coffee with heart shaped foam can be disturbed with your finger, or your touch can cause a butterfly to leave a flower. There are only a handful of widgets at the moment, but I imagine that Samsung may add more with future updates.
UCI: User Created Interfaces are popular among the Korean manufactures as seen in iriver, Samsung, and Cowon. These will allow you to change the look and even the feel of the UI by downloading UCIs though our P3 forums and Samsung’s official Emodio.com site dedicated to their players. I personally haven’t found too many I like yet, but the availability of other will grow as the P3 becomes more widespread in the US. You can roll your own UCIs, but it is a bit more advanced than changing your background image. Download the latest UCIs in the P3 Theme forum.
The P2’s touch screen worked well for the most part, but it was a bit sluggish and did suffer from many mis-presses. The P3, on the other hand, has a vastly different experience and is a big improvement over the P2. Touch gestures and presses are now accurate and on par with any touch-based gadgets as the S9 or the Touch. Though one thing to note is that it doesn’t “feel” as smooth, not due to the touch screen itself, but to the lack of frames in the animations; it can be visually choppy in comparison.
Related to this, it also lacks kinetics. For instance, when flipping though a list it doesn’t feel “analogue” and doesn’t have momentum. Flicking a list on the P3 will simply do a “page down” or “page up”. In the latest 2.10 fimware update this behavior has become more kinetic and responsive, but it doesn’t quite redraw fast enough and still appears a little choppy on larger redraws such as on the main screen. I imaging that this will be improved over the next few firmware updates.
Haptics: One of the touting features of the P3 is vibrating feedback or haptics. What haptics aim to do is give button or touch feedback, letting you know a button has been pressed. This is a relatively new thing to gadgets and is cropping up on devices’ touch buttons, hoping to bridge that gap between tactile and touch. I believe iriver was the first one to use haptics on the SPINN, and now Samsung has stepped in with P3.
Haptics on the P3 is ok, but it is not convincing as it should be. The goal of haptics it to trick you into thinking you pressed a tactile button; it should be targeted and immediate. The P3 isn’t really either of those; it definitely needs to be better tuned, though it could be a limitation of the hardware. Now don’t get me wrong, it does not detract from the player. It does still give good tactile feedback. Just don’t get your hopes up for a fantastic implementation of haptics, its very “Haptics 1.0”.
Transferring Media / Software
The P3 shipped in the US will likely be an MTP device, but just like the P2 you can load the KR version of the firmware to make it MSC. For most the difference is irrelevant, especially those running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7. If you are running Mac OSX or some flavors of Linux, then you might want to switch to MSC.
The player can be filled with dragging and dropping content into the relevant folder, or you can use any popular media player to sync, such as Windows Media Player or Media Monkey or Winamp. If you are looking for a subscription service, Rhapsody and Napster are compatible.
Emodio is the software that comes with the P3. In addition to its being a typical media player, it also handles extended functions like Datacasts, auto firmware updates, text to speech, and simple UCI downloading. If you are not going to use Datacasts or text to speech, don’t install Emodio. It’s a horrible piece of software- sluggish, buggy, and a terrible UI. Some of the above features like firmware updates and UCI installation can be done without the software by downloading from Emodio.com or our P3 forums. More on the Emodio specific features will be discussed below.
The P3 is rated at 6 hours for video and and 40 hours for audio. I loosely tested audio battery life at more than 32 hours for typical use. Battery life for video seemed to vary quite a bit depending on the codec used, so I did a mixed test playlist of WMV, H.264, and DivX. A few tests averaged around 4.5 hours of just video. Short of specified but it’s enough to entertain you for a PHL to SEA flight.
Datacasts on the P3 are basically RSS feeds imported to the player. This is a great idea in theory, but the unfortunate part of this is you need to use the Emodio software in order to import RSS texts and attachments (video or audio podcasts). It does work fine and you can have it set up to import all your favorite RSS news and podcasts – though there is a serious learning curve to the Emodio software. Datacasts on the P3 have remained relatively unchanged since the P2.
Text / Text to Speech
Reading text on the P3 is comfortable experience. The high resolution screen makes text clear and easy to read. Font sizes can be adjusted, bookmarks can be added, background / font colors can be changed, and changing pages is as easy as a simple swipe of the screen. All the features of a text reader that you need are there, along with the addition of a text to speech reader. This is an extra free download that plugs into the E
modio software, converting the text to speech and loading it onto the player. This is strictly software based and must be done from the desktop software. It’s a neat little feature, but personally I don’t care for weird robot like voices misreading stuff back to me.
The photo viewer on the P3 is what you would find on any player these days. It’s a simple file folder browser with thumbnails and a slide show. Photos can be rotated or zoomed in on. One cool feature is you can choose “Set as Boot Image” which shows the photo instead of the Samsung animation.
The voice recorder is what you would expect: great to use for quick voice notes. You might be able to get away with recording lectures, but may have some volume issues. Voice notes are recorded in 128kbps MP3 files.
I found the radio reception to be very good, with the auto-program feature picking up only the clear stations. The radio interface is well done with a simple and easy to use layout. Changing the station is as easy as pressing one of the six on-screen buttons. You can flip to another set of six buttons by tapping the arrows to the side. There are a five different sets, for a total 30 presets altogether.
Flash / Games / Apps
There are a few applications and games available on the P3. Some of these are developed specifically for the P3 and are packed with the firmware. These applications are the Subway Maps, Sketchbook, Dictionary, calculator, and games. These applications are either “built in” or can be added by dropping new applications in the “My Pack” folder. There is not SDK out there that I’m aware of, and it’s unlikely Samsung will make a developer kit available, so you will have to wait for Samsung to add more of these applications.
However, the P3 supports Flash so many Flash games and applications already available can be added by dropping them into the appropriate folder. Many of the applications for the Cowon S9 and most of the iriver touch screen players work well on the P3
I don’t want to get too far into each application since the usefulness of each may vary by person. I can say, though, that they are stable applications with no found bugs so far.
Check out the Flash Games & Applications Forum for more details.
The P3 outshines all other players when it comes to Bluetooth by extending these features beyond the basic AD2P wireless audio. While it still does a great job at pairing with wireless headphones with audio controls, it pairs nicely with many Bluetooth mobile phones. For instance, your phone can remain in your pocket, backpack, or purse while you answer your phone with the P3. When a call comes in, the P3 will display the caller on screen and pause the music. You can either decline or answer using the headphones and the built in microphone as your headset. There is no way to integrate your address book yet, but you can make phone calls from the P3 by dialing the number directly on the touch screen.
One of Samsung’s last players, the S5, did a really good job at being a Bluetooth speaker phone because of its large and clear built-in speakers. The P3 on the other hand, will not work as well due to its lower volume and clarity of its speaker. I was able to have a conversation over the P3’s speaker and mic, but it was rather frustrating repeating every other sentence, but having headphones in and speaking thought the mic works great.
Music playback is very similar to the P2, but with a lot of little navigation and GUI improvements refreshing the overall music experience. It’s not dissimilar to other players, since it’s the basic layout (Now Playing/Artist/Albums/Songs/Genres/Playlists/Recorded Files) ID3 browsing screen for the main music menu. If you want to browse by folder they’re at the bottom of this main screen below “Recorded Files” is “Music Browser” menu item.
Most of these are basic lists of media, but the Albums section has three different views: list of 8 items and tiny album art, list of 4 with medium album art, and the album art “stack” similar to the P2.
Playlists / Bookmarks
Unfortunately there are not bookmarks for audio, but Samung does allow you to make up to five playlists on the go, more than most players in terms of on-the-go playlists. Playlists cannot be renamed and appear on the device as “playlist 1”, “playlist 2”, etc. Of course you can put as many playlists on the device which can be made on your desktop computer using any number of desktop media players.
For the vast majority the sound quality will do more than please. Compared to the P2 its an overall improvement in clarity and overall flatness of the spectrum. Being overly critical I find that its missing a bit or warmth and tends to have a sound stage that’s a little more narrow than the Cowon S9 and Sansa Clip. However, Samsung’s in house sound shaping technology, DNSe 3.0, makes it a little more interesting.
I’m typically not a huge fan of sound enhancing technologies; my complaints being that these enhancements sound too synthetic. The only one I have found to be acceptable is BBE (used in professional studios and typically found on all Cowon players). The third revision of DNSe is a different story. I still don’t find DNSe to be as good as BBE, but in this latest version it is much more natural. For instance there is a “clarity” tweak which opens up that slightly lacking sound stage without the synthetic haze and the equivalent of BBE “MachBass” can bring back some of that low end warmth. In addition there is a 7 band EQ for further sound tweaking.
Video is one of the P3’s strengths, sighting the fact that it will playback most video formats you throw at It such as the popular three: DivX/XviD, WMV, and H.264/MP4 codecs. Testing these three codecs with 640×380 versions of the same video showed no difference in quality – all played back flawlessly. Even though 800×600 pixel video conversions are unlikely, the P3 will play files up to that resolution.
Mosaic Search: One of the really cool features in the video section is the “Mosaic Search” option. This will create a screen full of thumbnail screenshots to jump directly to a section in the video. This doesn’t do any kind of smart scene selection, but it simply splits up the video thumbs in equal parts. You can select the mosaic to be broken up 16, 32, or 64 thumbs. Additionally there is a progress bar at the top you can press to jump to any part of the video if you prefer that method. The progress bar is instant, whereas the Mosaic Search may take a few seconds for the thumbs to show.
Playback Speed: Another great feature is the ability to change the playback speed of the video from -5 to +5. It will also pitch-adjust the video so voices don’t sound like chipmunks. This works pretty well for the first few increments +/-2, maybe +/-3, but 4 and 5 starts to become a bit squeaky/choppy with some video. Screen shot, circular control.
VibeWoofer: With this option the player will vibrate to the video’s lower frequencies. Personally I found this to be more of a gimmick that was cool at first, but wears off after you use it once or twice. I didn’t do any battery tests with it on versus off, but there will likely be an hour or two less with this on.
Bookmarks: For the long movies, or to save your place in any video, the bookmark feature is located in the under the video options with the rest of these features. Simply tap once and you are bookmarked.
Considering the overall user experience it really feels like Samsung put in a genuine conscious effort into listening to user feedback and improving their product. The P3 is a genuine update to the P2 improving on almost every aspect, video playback, build quality, sound quality, UI responsiven
ess, intuitiveness, and so on. There might be some fluff and candy in the form of silly widgets, but can easily be tucked away if you want to rock your P3 with a straight face. To sum it up in a few words, the P3 can be described as very well rounded and an overall fun mp3 player.