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- Great sound quality for the asking price, inbuilt FM radio, attractive design, drag-and-drop
- User interface could be a lot better, poorly designed USB plug
The YP-U4 is an excellent MP3 player that packs in plenty of cool features for the asking price. While it fails to reach the lofty heights set by its YP-U3 predecessor, it remains a solid offering that won't disappoint the average music fan.
Price$ 109.00 (AUD)
The YP-U4 is the latest cut-price miniature MP3 player from Samsung. Combining sleek good looks, 4GB of storage, plug-and-play functionality and an integrated USB plug, it has clearly been designed with user-friendliness in mind. It also includes additional features like nine EQ settings, FM radio, an inbuilt voice recorder and WMA/OGG file format support. With an RRP of $99, it remains an excellent value choice despite some dodgy design choices.
The YP-U4 is a replacement model for Samsung’s YP-U3, which remains one of the best MP3 players on the market. Indeed, when our colleague tested the YP-U3 last year, his passionate review bordered on the fetishistic. This culminated in a gushing 5-star climax which frankly left us a little uncomfortable (to date, no other player has received a score this high, including heavy-hitters like the Apple iPod and Sandisk Sansa Clip). In other words, the U4 has some pretty big shoes to fill if it hopes it match its award-winning predecessor. Unfortunately, it falls just short of the mark.
But first, let's talk about what the U4 gets right. Our favourite thing about the YP-U3 was its superb sound quality, and in this regard the YP-U4 doesn’t disappoint. While audiophiles may complain about muted clarity and occasionally distorted bass, we think they’re just being picky for the sake of it — what exactly are they expecting for less than $100? Compared to similarly priced players, we think it acquits itself incredibly well. We were very impressed by the abundance of detail in the mid-range register, with individual instruments rising above the din of bass.
The player is particularly well suited to laidback listening, with a silky-smooth balance between music and lyrics. For instance, the ethereal echo attached to Toni Halliday's lyrics in the Curve track "Horror Head" was completely unaffected by the heavy bass line. Likewise, the subtle bird samples that punctuate Cagedbaby’s synth-heavy "Hello There" remain cleanly audible, even at higher volumes. In fact, volume in general is incredibly solid, with the DNSe 2.0 engine’s Street Mode drowning out your surroundings long before distortion enters the fray. All up, we had no problems with the U4’s sound quality. For the asking price, it’s a winner.
A variety of sound presets — ranging from Studio to Concert Hall — are also included, along with a nine-band equaliser for those who prefer a more hands-on approach to their music. Naturally, a pair of high quality, third-party IEMs (in-ear monitors) will help to improve the U4’s audio output to no end, though the included headphones should satisfy casual listeners.
Another thing we love about the YP-U4 is the ability to drag-and-drop files directly onto the device; something which has been ‘carried over’ from the YP-U3. [Didn’t I fire you for crap puns last week? — Ed.] If you’re sick of using the unwieldy proprietary software that comes with most media players, this is a definite plus. It makes managing your music as easy as fooling around with a USB thumb drive (you can also sync the device with Windows Media Player 11 for automatic file transfers).
For those who prefer to use tailor-made software, the YP-U4 also comes bundled with Samsung Media Studio. This is a fairly basic application that lets you manage your files via a simple split-window interface. However, its manual is completely rubbish, so you’ll need to work out the finer points yourself. Whichever transfer method you elect to use, the device is well equipped to store your favourite tunes — with 4GB of storage, it will hold up to 2000 songs (or 84 hours of voice recorded content).
In terms of design, the YP-U4 definitely improves on the YP-U3. With its opaque colour scheme, pulsing LED lights and ultra-glossy finish, it could easily pass for a device that costs twice as much. Although quite small, the four-line OLED screen remains perfectly legible thanks to a crisp white-on-black display (it even boasts tiny album art thumbnails and digital effects during music playback).
Now, on to the things we didn't like. Perhaps not surprisingly for such a small device, we found the U4’s user interface to be a little on the fiddly side. We didn’t like the touch-sensitive D-pad at all. It proved finicky and unresponsive even when using our fingernails. The lack of a volume wheel is also annoying; instead, the D-pad’s up and down buttons are used. Consequently, most users will find themselves adjusting the volume by accident until they get used to the unconventional layout. Otherwise, the U4 comes with the usual onboard functions, including pause/play, a back button, record (for voice and FM radio recording), a lock slider and a programmable function button. The majority of these controls are built into a single rocker switch, which helps to give the U4 a sleek and minimalist appearance. It doesn’t make it any easier to use, though.
Like its U3 daddy, the YP-U4 sports an inbuilt USB connector that slides out of the device at the press of a button. In theory, this makes it easier to connect the device to a PC, with no additional cables to worry about. However, at close to 30g the U4 is a lot heavier than the average USB thumb drive, which makes it an enemy of gravity. When we connected the device to a computer it tended to tilt downwards, rather than sitting flush inside the USB port. This makes it annoyingly easy to knock the player loose from the PC, with anything other than a slight bump disrupting the connection.
Before we round this review off, we should probably mention that we experienced some very peculiar behaviour from the U4 when it came to music transfers. On the first computer we tried, it wouldn’t let us drag and drop files (the folders appeared locked for some reason), while the second computer failed to register the device at all. We finally got it to work on the third computer we connected to, which happened to be running Windows Vista (the previous two were XP machines). We’re not sure whether this was an isolated manufacturing glitch, but make sure you test the device out before you buy it.
So there you have it: not quite the all-conquering product that its predecessor was, but a pretty good device in its own right. If you can still find the YP-U3 in stores, snap that up instead – it should be cheaper.
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