Introduced in 2005 the famous U series has welcomed a new device end of 2010: the YP-U6 or U6. No surprise here as this series has always sold well. Indeed, many people do not want to spend much money on mp3 players and just need a small MP3 USB key, not a high-end Cowon DAP. But they may also be demanding on quality. Thus this review is the opportunity to check if the U6 is worth it and really better than the U5.
Please note this review is based on firmware 1.09. At the time you are reading it, a new firmware may have been released.
- Samsung U6 Specs
- Dimensions: 86.2 x 26.9 x 12.3 mm
- Weight: 34g
- Colors: Black; Pink
- Capacities: 2GB, 4GB
- Display: CSTN 1″ (128 x 64)
- Battery Life: max. 20h
- Audio: MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, WAV
- Features: RDS FM Tuner, Voice Recording, Fitness, 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 U6 comes in a pink & white box. As for most recent electronic devices, the box is rather empty: it only contains the mp3 player, the earphones and a quick start guide. The full user manual and the Kies software setup file are directly in the player’s memory. You wonder where the case, the AC charger and the USB extension cable are? Welcome to year 2011, hum…
All previous devices from the U series were made of plastic. Nobody will deny it, the U5 looks rather “cheap” and is not really beautiful. With the new U6, Samsung decided to put an effort on the build quality. Indeed, it has a full aluminum body that looks really nice and robust! As a result, the device is quite expensive and a bit heavier than the U5 (34g vs 23g) but it’s for the best!
Fortunately, like the U5 it features tactile buttons. Useless to tell you that is much better than the touchpad from the U3 or U4… On the black version everything is….black. I would have preferred the navigation square to be white like on the U5 but the Product Manager of one Samsung subsidiary (I will not tell you which one) opposed that idea. You can imagine how I hate him. However, the pink model has a white navigation square.
Another good thing on this U6 is the return of the sliding USB connector. It is a normal USB connector (and not a smaller one like on the U3 and U4) that you can slide very easily. The advantage is that you don’t worry about losing the cap anymore. The only drawback is that dust can enter it.
Normally the U6 takes approximately 10 seconds to power on but you can skip the startup animation if you want. Then comes the first disappointment. The interface is exactly the same than on the U4 and U5. It’s not that it is awful or something like that but when you buy a new device you generally appreciate it does not look like than the previous ones. Ok, probably not many U6 owners also have a U4 and U5 but you understand the matter: Samsung is too lazy to develop a new interface and that’s a shame! The only difference is that the useless Datacasts (Samsung name of podcasts) menu has been removed and now the interface is in color. You can choose the theme color (black, pink, blue, red, lime) in the settings but personally I can only stand the default black one. Now it is also possible to adjust the contrast and the brightness. However, I must admit I am not totally convinced by this CSTN technology: colors do not look so great, response times are quite slow and horizontal viewing angles are terrible: if you are in front of it you see white text on black background but from a 40° viewing angle you see black text on white background! Fortunately we are not supposed to watch pictures or movies on that screen…
I really like the tactile buttons: there is a good feeling when you press them, they are well placed and they are less noisy than on a Sansa Clip+ for instance. Thus the navigation is really easy and intuitive: with the left and right keys you move to another menu icon, with the up and down keys you adjust the volume on the home menu or scroll the submenus, with the central button you enter or select a menu and with the back button you come back to the previous screen.
Last but not least, the Korean touch: Popcon characters. A Popcon is a small animated picture, often a funny character, that may display when you power on the U6, when you are on the “Now Playing” screen (if no cover art is embedded in the id3tags) and when you use the fitness feature. You can select your Popcon among the 10 available on the U6 or draw yours directly on the player. And if really you are not satisfied with them, you can even make one on your computer and transfer it to the U6! See this thread to download Popcons. Note that only the default Popcons on the U6 are in colors, the others will display in different grey levels.
The U6 supports the usual formats: MP3, WMA (DRM), OGG, FLAC and WAV. Unfortunately AAC is not supported, I don’t know why.
This mp3 player supports the tags (artist, album, song, genre, track number) for every format (except WAV of course) but only supports album arts with MP3 and WMA files
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly the U6 does not support gapless playback, there is a small gap between two tracks.
The Now Playing Screen is exactly the same as on the U5: it displays either the file name or the id3tags (song title, album, artist) but you can’t know the bitrate of the song and the scroll of tags informations is slower than on the U5. The U6 also shows the elapsed playing time and the playing progress bar. The album art is displayed if it is embedded in the id3tags (MP3 and WMA only; no folder.jpg or cover.jpg support). Even though the cover art is in color now (grey levels on the U5) it is still quite useless because of the very poor resolution (I guess the album art displayed is something like 42*42px). If there is no album art available, the Popcon character will appear instead.
Controls are easy: the left and right arrow keys 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 user button allows you to assign a function in music playback:
- Study Mode (see the Additional Stuff chapter)
- SoundAlive (see the Sound quality chapter)
- Play Speed (normal, fast 1/2/3, slow 1/2/3)
- Play Mode (normal, repeat, repeat one, shuffle)
Without any surprise, you can navigate by tags (artists, albums, songs, genres) or browse by folders/files, it’s up to you! Unfortunately, like on any Samsung mp3 player browsing by album year is not possible. Contrary to other Samsung devices you can not choose between line by line scroll and page by page scroll, it is necessarily a line by line scroll. In a short list of songs that does not matter but if you have hundred of songs in a list, you will have to be patient!
The U6 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 but you cannot rename them (they are named “Playlist 1″, “Playlist 2″ etc..) and 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 U6 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 U6. In MTP mode you can easily create PLA playlists. But who will use this terrible mode? Please note multiple bookmarks are not supported. The U6 only remembers where it was in the last playing file.
Samsung does not provide in-ear earphones with the U6. There are just standard earbuds (Black EP-340) that do not really sound good as you can imagine. You’d better replace them by “true” IEM or headphones. There is only a maximum volume limit in FR region code (5mW/ch instead of 18mW/ch). In EU or US region code there is no limit so it should be able to drive most headphones (tested with AKG 518DJ) but sometimes you are obliged to go to maximum volume (Ultrasone Pro 900 for example). Please read this thread to change the region code.
With my UE Super.fi 5Pro and Triple.fi 10 as well as with an Ultrasone Pro 900, the normal/flat sound is very good but it seems to me that my best devices (Samsung P3/R0, Cowon J3) are still a cut above. Unfortunately with very sensitive IEM you can hear a permanent hiss and noise. My U6 is a pre-commercial sample so it might be different on a normal U6 but normally there is no hardware difference.
Sound enhancements called SoundAlive are available. They replace the famous DNSe 3.0 effects. If you read my Q3 review you already know that they did not really impress me. So I did not really expect something better on the U6. All the more since it is a “light” version of the normal SoundAlive enhancements. On the U5 Samsung was quite honest by naming them DNSe 3.0 Core but on the U6 no distinction is made while obviously there are differences as you can see on the comparative table below:
As you can see, most enhancements are gone. I won’t complain about the street mode and the audio upscaler but it is a pity for the clarity enhancement for instance. In my opinion the EQ presets (Auto/Normal/Vocal/Instrument/Tweeter/Big Bass/Concert Hall) are useless. Fortunately there is a quite effective 7-Band User EQ.
The RDS FM tuner works pretty well. Once again, the interface does not differ from the U5: it displays the frequency and the RDS informations below when possible. The sound quality depends on the conditions of reception. Of course it is better in Paris than in my small town of the suburb. The tuner is a bit more sensitive than on the U5 and finds the RDS informations faster.
With the left and right keys you scan the stations manually or automatically. The up and down buttons adjust the volume while the play/pause button mutes the sound.
A short press on the user button adds the current station to presets (up to 30 stations) while a long press starts recording. You cannot adjust the recording quality, it is necessarily MP3 128kbs.
Some disappointments: to switch between the manual and preset mode you have to go to the main settings and exiting the FM screen stops the sound, you cannot listen to FM radio while navigating in the other menus.
FM recording sample
This feature introduced on the U5 was one of its main commercial arguments. I am not sure this feature really made people buy a U5 but well, Samsung decided to put it on the U6 too. Basically the U6 is like a guide in your daily physical exercises to burn calories. First you set your body information, that is to say your weight. Then you choose your daily calorie consumption and a daily fitness goal (the default value is 200 Kcal). After that you select the exercise type (walk slow, walk fast, run slow, run fast, hiking, cycle or yoga). Finally you set the duration of the workout and a play option (now playing song, playlist, FM radio or shuffle play). 3, 2, 1, ready! The mp3 player plays the song and starts the timer with an animated Popcon character. It also displays the number of calories progressively burnt. If you enable the audio guide, a sweet female voice tells you some informations like “xx minutes elapsed!” (5min interval). You can stop the exercise whenever you want. Then, the U6 displays the number of calories really burnt and the percentage of the the daily goal achieved. The U6 saves these data for the last 30 dates. Thus you can compare your results directly on the player.
However, you have to know that contrary to the old YP-60 (released in 2004), there is no software for analyzing your results on your computer and above all there is no sensor. That is why you can have doubts about the accuracy of the figures. Actually, from the type of exercise and your weight, the U6 gives the average number of burnt calories but if you stop the work-out the calories meter still runs. That’s the limit of the lack of sensor. The occasional sportsman may appreciate the feature but for the great sportsmen it is only a gadget.
The quality of the voice recorder is very bad. Hiss and background noise are very audible and annoying. Of course you can’t record music instruments with the U6 (sound saturation comes quickly) but even for voice notes this mp3 player is not really appropriate. Recordings are only possible in MP3 128kbps.
Voice recording sample
Guitar recording sample
This function has originally been made for people who learn foreign languages. Indeed, in this mode the left and right buttons skip backward or forward in 10-second intervals, the up & down keys adjust the playback speed (slow 1/2/3, fast 1/2/3) and the user button enables the repeat A-B function. It is a good idea on the paper but ironically the U6 is the only current Samsung DAP that does not allow to adjust the playback speed without pitch variation. When you increase playback speed the voice becomes sharper and vice versa. Never would I be able to learn foreign languages that way and so this feature gets useless.
The U6 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.
Thanks to the integrated USB connector, you don’t need to worry about losing or forgetting the USB cable anymore. In MSC mode, 310MB music files have been transfered in 54 seconds, i.e. 5.74MB/s in average. The library automatically updates when disconnecting the U6 from the computer. You can also update it manually in the player settings.
Charging time via a standard USB AC charger lasts about 2hrs. On the PC it is rather 3hrs.
Announced battery life is 20hrs max. 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 (default brightness and display off time: 1min). Volume: 15/30. With SoundAlive Normal (=disabled) I got 15h40 of listening, that is rather acceptable regarding the size of the device. Moreover the device is not new and is at least 6 months old! Thus battery life is better than on a U5 or Sansa Clip+. I usually test battery life with SoundAlive enhancements enabled too but I think that does not make sense on such a device. But bear in mind that they would probably gobble up much power!
Of course I will compare the U6 with the U5 but also with the Sansa Clip+. Indeed, even though the latter is not a USB key, it also features a 1″ display and is in the same price range.
U6 vs U5
Better on the U6:
- Build quality
- Sliding USB connector
- RDS FM tuner
Better on the U5:
- Screen quality
U6 vs Clip+
Better on the U6:
- USB key
- Build Quality
- RDS FM tuner
- Battery life
- More ergonomic
- Fitness feature?
Better on the Clip+:
- MicroSD slot
- Gapless playback
- Available in 8GB capacity
- Track information available (bitrate etc)
Evolution but no revolution. The U6 is really a nice mp3 player. The full aluminum body and the sliding USB connector are a real improvement over the U5. It still has ergonomic tactile buttons and an user-friendly interface although it is unfortunately exactly the same as on its predecessor. It supports most common audio formats, only AAC compatibility is missing. The sound quality should satisfy most people except most demanding ones and the owners of very sensitive IEM. Moreover, the U6 includes a performant RDS FM tuner. However, I must admit I’m a bit disappointed by the SoundAlive enhancements and the new color CSTN screen: I would have preferred a good monochrome display. But that’s not a too serious issue as we are not supposed to watch movies on the device. Actually, the biggest drawback of the U6 is probably to have the Sansa Clip+ as competitor. Of course it looks cheap compared to the U6 and requires a USB cable for file transfers but it is available in 8GB capacity, the memory is expandable with a microSD card, it supports gapless playback, it is rockboxable and… is cheaper! I think Samsung should take all that into account for the U7…
- Aluminum body
- Tactile buttons
- UMS/MTP (user selectable)
- Sliding USB connector
- Audio compatibility
- RDS FM tuner
- Screen quality
- SoundAlive disappointing
- No microSD slot / Max 4GB!
- No gapless playback