Editor’s Note: Lebellium is our Samsung Moderator based out of France and English is not his first language, so the grammar and wording in this review is not perfect. Please refrain from grammar trolling in the comments and enjoy the content of the review. Lebellium really knows his stuff when it comes to Samsung and is well connected to the product teams there. He moderates our Samsung forums and does an incredible job- so please have that understanding while you read this review. Thanks! – Enzo/Grahm
After more than a year and a half Samsung finally launched the successor of the Q2, the YP-Q3. Mp3 players enthusiasts have never been interested in the “Q” series but despite its numerous flaws, the Q2 was a bestseller, probably thanks to its low price. While the Q2 was based on the Q1, one can’t say the Q3 is based on the Q2. Actually, Samsung changed so many things that this new device is closer to the R0 than to the Q2. I really wonder why it still belongs to the “Q” series but Samsung series names never made sense after all. On the paper it looks like an interesting audio device but is it really? I’ll try to answer in this in-depth review.
Please note this review is based on firmware 1.31. At the time you are reading it, a new firmware may have been released.
- Samsung Q3 Specs
- Dimensions: 42.2 x 95.1 x 8.6 mm
- Weight: 51.4g
- Colors: White & Pink, Black & Silver
- Capacities: 4GB, 8GB
- Display: TFT LCD 2.2” 320×240
- Battery Life: max. 45h for music, max. 6 hours for video
- Audio: MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, AAC, WAV
- Video: WMV9, MPEG4, XviD, DivX, H.264 – Subtitle Support: SMI
- Other File Support: JPG, BMP, GIF, PNG, TXT
- Features: RDS FM Tuner, Voice Recording, SoundAlive enhancements
- Controls: Tactile buttons
- Transfer Protocol: MSC and MTP (User Selectable) in EU/US region code. MSC only in KR region code.
In the Box
The Q3 comes in a transparent plastic box. A micro-USB cable, a (very) quick guide and IEM are also included. The earphones may differ from country to country but most likely you will also get these black or white YA-EH420, the same as those coming with the R0. 2 tips sizes are provided. The full user manual and the Kies software setup file are directly in the player’s memory. Some years ago you could have also expected a wall charger and a case but not any longer.
First point: This mp3 player belongs to the “Q” series but its design has almost nothing to do with the older Q1 and Q2. The old-school Samsung owners like me will immediately notice the Korean firm got its inspiration from the old 2006 YP-Z5!
The device is small and light enough to be put in any pocket (42.2 x 95.1 x 8.6 mm and 51.4g). It is a bit smaller than the Q2 or the R0 because Samsung reduced the screen size, using a 2.2″ LCD instead of a 2.4 or 2.6″ display but its quality is terrible. How a company that makes Super Amoled displays can offer such a poor quality LCD screen? Viewing angles are among the worst I have ever seen. Fortunately the consequences are not too serious as the Q3 is mainly an audio player.
Samsung points out the aluminum frame which is indeed really great: looks nice, good feeling when you touch it and of course it is solid. But what Samsung doesn’t highlight is that everything else is glossy plastic that keeps all fingerprints. The build quality is a bit better on a R0 or R1 thanks to their full aluminum body. Yet, the Q3 doesn’t look as ‘cheap’ as the Q2.
The Q3 is a bit long to turn on: ~12s. Actually, contrary to the older models, there is no sleep mode anymore, probably for a matter of battery life (the R0 and R1 users will understand). Then the main black matrix menu appears. It has been specifically designed for the Q3. It is simple and easy to use with its 9 icons but well, I have already seen more attractive main menus. The usual useless Datacasts icon has been removed and a new Now Playing icon has been added. It gives you a quick access to the last playing file. I hoped it would only work for audio or video files. But if your last action was to read a text file or view a picture, select the Now Playing icon will go to those menus too. That does not make sense to me…
You can change the menu design in the settings:
- the same matrix menu in pink color (would probably better fit the white/pink version of the Q3 than my black one…)
- the My Skin menu that allows you to set any picture as wallpaper. Unfortunately there is an awful aliasing effect on the font of this My Skin menu.
- and like on the other Samsung mp3 players you can download the so-called UCI (User Created Interface). That’s a good point as some of them are definitely prettier than the default Menu designs. Please read this thread to download UCI.
You can also change the font of the sub-menus (5 different ones) and contrary to the R0 it is possible to change it in every language and not only in Korean or English.
Except the main menu, the whole interface is almost the same as on the R0. That is not necessarily a bad point as in my opinion, the R0 interface is quite beautiful, easy and user friendly but above all that shows Samsung is too lazy to design a new interface for a new product and that is a shame!
I can’t forget to mention the tactile buttons. If it was a Sony player, that would be normal or even boring but from Samsung it is almost a revolution. After the R0, the Q3 is indeed the 2nd Samsung DAP to get tactile buttons in the recent period. Hopefully the Korean company abandoned its terrible touchpads (K3, K5, S3, S5, T10, U3, U4, Q1, Q2…) for good.
The navigation square really looks like the Z5′s one: a selection button, then directional buttons around and then the power/hold, back and user buttons still around. There are no dedicated volume buttons, you have to use the up and down arrow keys for that.
Useless to tell you that is much better than the Q2′s touchpad, especially if you want to use it in your pocket. I have to say though that I prefer the R0 buttons: less noisy and better placed (on the Q3 you may mistake the power/user/back buttons for the arrow buttons)
The user button allows you to assign a function in music playback (Play Mode, SoundAlive, Repeat (3s) or Repeat A-B) but it is still too restrictive (why can’t we use the user button as shortcut to add the song to a playlist for example?) and in the other modes (video, text, fm tuner, pictures) you can’t even choose its function, Samsung chose for you…
A long press on this button opens the Task Manager screen, a new quick access feature on Samsung mp3 players. It displays thumbnails of the 4 latest active menus. I would not say it is essential but well, that may save your precious time.
Some people may like it but I personally hate this current trend of power/hold buttons to press. I prefer the old hold switch to move like on the Samsung P2 or Cowon S9. Indeed, the on-screen hold animation almost lasts 2 seconds on the Q3 and the player can easily unlocks itself in the pocket. Moreover the screen automatically turns off when you press hold. I’d like to have the choice.
No surprise here, the Q3 supports the classic formats: MP3, WMA (DRM), OGG, FLAC, AAC (AAC-LC, AAC-Plus and Enhanced-AAC-Plus). WAV support is not mentioned in the official specs but it works too.
Regarding the tag support, it is fortunately better than on the R0 and R1 but not perfect though. According to my tests it seems that the Q3 supports tags (artist, album, song, genre, track number) for every format (except WAV of course and AAC files require id3tags v1) but only supports album arts with MP3 and WMA files while the P3 supports album arts with FLAC files for example. According to the user manual that is normal so since it is not considered as a bug it won’t probably be improved via a firmware update.
Please note the Q3 doesn’t support gapless playback unfortunately.
The Now Playing Screen is exactly the same as on the R0, i.e. it displays a big album art (if embedded in the MP3/WMA tags, no cover.jpg/folder.jpg support), the track title, the artist and album names as well as a very thin playing progress bar. Unfortunately no detailed information about the music file (size, format, bitrate, frequency etc…) is available.
Controls are easy: the right and left buttons skip to the previous/next track or search backward/forward and the up and down buttons adjust the volume. The central button pauses or resumes the music. The Q3 automatically pauses playback when headphones get disconnected.
The Menu button displays the quick settings:
- Add to Playlist
- SoundAlive (see next part of the review)
- Play option: play mode (normal, repeat, repeat one, shuffle) and play speed (normal, fast 1/2/3, slow 1/2/3). Please note that changing the playback speed doesn’t change the pitch. The sound quality gets a bit worse but that may be useful to learn a foreign language for example.
- User button function
- Music Play Screen: Album Art, Album Art + lyrics (KR region code), My Skin, Spectrum, Passionate, Sweet, Quiet or Cheerful.
You can navigate by tags (artists, albums, songs, genres) or by folders/files, as usual (it seems that only the Creative R&D is not smart enough to let you the choice). The Q3 also displays the recently added and the most played songs. Note that browsing by album year is not possible. Browsing is fast enough as you can choose between line by line scroll and page by page scroll (up and down or left and right arrow buttons) but it would have been great to also have a fast browsing by letter like on Sony Walkman players.
The Q3 supports on-the-go and PC playlists. 5 on-the-go playlists are available. It is very easy to add a song to a playlist or remove a song from a playlist. Moreover you can rename them directly on the player thanks to the virtual phone-like keyboard. But it is not possible to change the playlist order. Playlists can also be created and transfered from the computer. Unfortunately, like the other Samsung DAPs the Q3 doesn’t support the famous M3U format. Either you have to use the new Samsung software Kies to make SPL playlists or you can convert your M3U playlists into SPL format with this online converter for example. You can’t add a song to a PC playlist from the Q3. In MTP mode you can easily create PLA playlists. But who will use this terrible mode? Please note multiple bookmarks are not supported. The Q3 only remembers where it was in the last playing file.
Samsung provides in-ear earphones YA-EH420. They are clearly better than most default earbuds, I would say they are as good (or as bad) as the Creative EP630 but if you really want to enjoy good sound I advise you to replace them by better IEM or Heaphone. There is only a maximum volume limit in FR region code (5mW/ch instead of 20mW/ch). In EU or US region code there is no limit so it should be able to drive most headphones. Please read this thread to change the region code.
The normal/flat sound is unsurprisingly very good, I can hardly hear a difference with the other recent Samsung and Cowon mp3 players with my UE Super.fi 5Pro and Triple.fi 10. Moreover it does not hiss at all (except at max volume but who is crazy enough to listen to his music at volume 30/30 with sensitive IEM?).
Sound Enhancements. Here should be the revolution. According to Samsung of course. Indeed, the famous DNSe 3.0 are replaced by the new SoundAlive effects. Are they really better or is it just a marketing illusion? Below is a comparative table between them:
I must admit I am a bit disappointed: I wonder why the usual preset EQ (Studio, Rock, Classical, Jazz, Ballad etc) have been replaced by new ones: Vocal, Instrument, Tweeter and Big Bass. It is very disturbing as their names don’t evoke anything to me except Big Bass: I immediately assume it sucks and indeed it does…But the others are not really better and there are fewer EQ than before.
Fortunately there still are the 2 custom enhancements. I really appreciate the 7-Band User EQ and the Clarity effect which are both efficient. However, the Audio Upscaler still makes the sound worse instead of improving it. You can also notice the useless Street Mode has been removed and a Level Optimizer has been added. It is supposed to “automatically adjust the volume of each track to maintain the same volume”. In reality it is far from a real replaygain feature and does not really work: different tracks with different volume levels still have different volume levels and even worse, the volume varies within track playback, that is completely awful!
What is the conclusion? The flat sound is fortunately still very good but the new SoundAlive enhancements are no way better than the DNSe 3.0, they are just as good. Do not fall into the marketing trap! Actually they are not as efficient as Cowon’s BBE but definitely better than Creative X-FI or SRS-WOW for instance (it was not difficult though…).
Of course, with such a screen (too small, too bad viewing angles) videos playback is not a main feature but sometimes you may want to watch a short video (The Simpsons and South Park in my case). And that’s easy on the Q3 as most of time no re-encoding is necessary. The official specs only mention WMV and H.264 support in 320*240 max resolution as well as Xvid playback up to 720*480. divX support is not mentioned, probably for a license matter but my non re-encoded divX files just played fine. MP4 (H.264) and WMV files with a bigger resolution (640*360) also work properly.
Several settings are available:
- SoundAlive: Normal, Voice, 5.1ch and Theater.
According to Samsung, “Virtualizer allows you to experience 5.1 channel surround sound while using headphones, by preserving sound loss of front and back”. In fact, above all the 5.1ch mode boosts bass. That’s pretty cool during action scenes but rather sucks for dialog scenes. Voice and Theater effects are useless so most of time you will use the Normal mode.
- Mosaic Search: Divide the video file into 15 chapters. You can select one of the chapters and start playback from that chapter.
- Display: Brightness, Screen Size (Standard, Full, Zoom) and Subtitles (On/Off and Sync)
The Q3 is supposed to support SMI subtitles only. During my test, the subtitle setting appeared for both SMI and SRT files but no subtitle displayed. This bug should be fixed in a next firmware though.
- Bookmark: Insert, move, or delete bookmarks.
- Play Speed: Normal, Fast 1/2/3, Slow 1/2/3 without pitch variation
- File Information: Informations about the video and audio codec, resolution and bitrate.
Samsung provides here a RDS FM tuner. Unfortunately no recording is possible whereas the Q2 had this feature. Nothing new here, the interface is exactly the same as on the R0. With the right and left buttons you can scroll through radio frequencies or scan the available stations automatically. The selection button mutes the sound. You can add up to 30 radio stations to preset. The reception is often strong enough and the sound quality is decent but SoundAlive effects are disabled. If you live in a European country where the RDS is available, the Q3 may display the station’s name and potentially other informations. I noticed that does not work as well as on the R0 as sometimes the Q3 does not refresh properly the information displayed.
There were 3 games on the Q2, there is none on the Q3. That does not really matter as you can imagine but children and teenagers may miss them. The Q2 was quite “fun” and seemed to be designed for this age bracket. This is not really the case of the Q3.
Of course it is a pretty useless feature on the 2,2″ LCD screen as most current mobile phones have a bigger screen and a camera. But as long as a mp3 player has a color display, it is impossible to avoid such a feature…
The Q3 displays 20 thumbnails and you can select one of them to display it full screen. Loading a 3MB 5MP picture takes only 3 seconds. You can set the picture as My Skin. The user button zooms (up to 200%) and the selection button starts or stops the slideshow. There are no settings (speed or transition effects for instance) for it and surprisingly it is not possible to rotate the picture. A mini player allows you to control the music or FM radio playback while viewing pictures.
Supported formats: JPG, BMP, GIF, PNG.
It is just a basic text reader (*.txt files only). You can change the font size and the background style (3 different ones). It is also possible to insert a bookmark for each text file. Same as for pictures, a mini player is available. Of course, you won’t read ebooks on the Q3 but you can use this feature for non-sync lyrics or quick notes for example.
This feature had disappeared on the R0, it reappears on the Q3. As you can imagine you won’t record a concert with it but the quality is enough for voice notes. Without any surprise hiss and background noise are quite audible. Recordings are only possible in MP3 128kbps. I love the old-school cassette tape animation during the playback of recorded files.
Voice recording sample
Guitar + Backtrack recording sample (yeah I’m a pirate!)
The Q3 supports both MSC/UMS and MTP connection modes. Thus it is theoretically compatible with any OS (Windows, Mac, Linux). I have to say though I only tested it on Windows computers. Mac OS is sadly known for creating potentially dangerous garbage files (“.Trashes” or “.DS_Store”) on some mp3 players so use it at your own risk! Samsung provides its new software Kies for mp3 players and mobile phones but you are not obliged to use it to transfer your files, drag & drop or copy & paste just work fine.
There is a standard micro-B USB port on the Q3 so it does not really matter if you lose the USB cable. A 721MB video file has been transfered in 3min04 in MSC mode, that’s a 3,92MB/s average transfer rate. 582MB music files have been transfered in 2min10, i.e/ 4.48MB/s in average. The library automatically updates when disconnecting the Q3 from the computer. You can also update it manually in the player settings. Hopefully there won’t be big issues with it as on the R0 and R1. Charging time via a standard USB AC charger lasts about 2hrs. On the PC it is rather 3hrs.
The Q3 is rated at 6 hours for video and and 45 hours for audio. To test audio battery life I let the DAP play continuously MP3 files (mostly VBR V0 files) and some OGG and FLAC files. I regularly turned on the display to simulate a normal use (max brightness and display off time: 1min). Volume: 15/30. With SoundAlive Normal (=disabled) I got almost 36hrs of listening, that’s the best battery life I ever benchmarked on a Samsung DAP with this demanding benchmarking protocol! Regarding the small dimensions of the player, it’s a good performance and I’m happy Samsung finally made an effort on that point. Unfortunately the SoundAlive effects gobble up much power. Indeed, for the 2nd benchmark I kept the same protocol but I set a user SoundAlive (user EQ, 3D: 1, Clarity: 1). I only got 18hrs of listening this time.
Video battery life is only 3hrs (non-reencoded divX and Xvid files playback, max brightness, SoundAlive Normal, Volume 15/30), that confirms the Q3 is definitely not made for video playback. But I guess that may be optimized with a firmware update.
Unfortunately I don’t have a Sansa Fuze or a Cowon i9 close at hand so I can only compare the Q3 with my other Samsung DAPs.
Q3 vs Q2
Better on the Q3:
- Tactile buttons!
- Standard USB connector
- AAC Support
- Video support
- Quick access (Now Playing Icon / Task Manager)
- Build quality
- Audio Battery life
Better on the Q2:
- More features (Games, FM rec)
- More settings (rotate pictures, auto power off time, FM reception, etc)
- Screen quality
- Available in 16GB
Q3 vs R0
Better on the Q3:
- Tags support
- Voice Recording
- Audio Battery life
- Quick access (Now Playing Icon / Task Manager)
- More stable firmware?
Better on the R0:
- MicroSD slot
- Tactile buttons (better placed and less noisy)
- Screen quality
- Available in 16GB
- Full aluminum body
Most likely the YP-Q3 won’t be the mp3 player of the year but Samsung released a good successor to the Q2. I appreciate its design although I would have preferred a full aluminum body. Tactile controls are a real improvement over the usual touchpad and Samsung had the good idea to implement a standard micro-USB port. The interface is user-friendly and if like me you are not really fan of the default main menu, you can easily replace it by one of the numerous UCI available. Since the P2 came out, Samsung is famous for providing a good sound quality and that’s still the case with this new Q3. However, I’m not convinced by the usefulness of the new SoundAlive effects. Not that they are bad, quite the contrary, but they are not better than the previous DNSe 3.0. And since they are presented by Samsung almost as a revolution, they are all the more disappointing to me. BBE+ are still the best audio enhancements available on the market today. The Q3 has a satisfying RDS FM tuner and good video support which is unfortunately spoilt by a small screen with very bad viewing angles. With its better build quality and a microSD slot so you may think the R0 is better in every way but don’t forget the Q3 has a much better battery life, a better tags support and seems to have a more stable firmware. The Q3 is compatible with all common audio formats but that’s a pity it doesn’t support gapless playback. Last words: this player is sold at a good price but why the hell isn’t it available in 16GB?!
- Tactile buttons
- UMS/MTP (user selectable)
- Sound Quality
- Audio and Video support
- Battery Life with SoundAlive disabled
- Really better than the Q2….
- …But not different enough from the R0
- SoundAlive quite disappointing (not better than DNSe 3.0)
- Screen Quality
- Max 8GB!
- No gapless playback