Samsung isn't content with dominating the world of Android smartphones and tablets: they want the nebulous portable media player market as well. And more power to them, since they seem to be the only ones who do want it. Their Galaxy Player series is now in its third generation, and while the Galaxy Player 3.6 isn't anywhere near as capacious as the 5-inch version we reviews late last year, it's still got its fair share of charms. How does Samsung's latest phone-without-a-phone stack up? Let's find out.
Comparing the Galaxy Player to the Galaxy S II, or even the original Galaxy S, will lead to disappointment. The hardware just isn't designed to stack up to superphones: this is a compact, portable media player with an emphasis on music, that can handle web surfing and video over WiFi in a pinch. The 3.6-inch screen has a somewhat disappointing 480x320 resolution - think first-generation Android phones, and you've just about got it. The 1GHz processor is more than enough for basic Android tasks and music, but high-end games and flash are out of the question.
Construction is typical of Samsung's products as of late: heavy on the plastic, but noticeably light and with a finish that's admirable. While the device itself isn't going to win any beauty contests, it's exactly what it needs to be to get the job done. Samsung's standard three buttons (all capacitive, strangely) are present, as is the power and volume control both on the right side. 8GB of storage on the base model isn't a lot, but you can boost it cheaply with a MicroSD card. Samsung's basic headphone/headset combo is included in the box.
Sound quality is typically good. The pack-in earbuds aren't going to give you a symphonic experience, but connecting your more high-quality speakers or headphones produces solid sound in all registers. Video is obviously pretty small and low-resolution, but for simple YouTube-style web videos it's serviceable. Don't expect a great Netflix experience here, but if you're just catching up on the Colbert Report, it'll do.
After months of using gigantic 4.5-inch and larger smartphones, the Galaxy Player 3.6 is almost refreshing. The smaller size makes managing media quick and easy, and it won't slow you down while jogging or hitting the gym - at least, not nearly as much as a Galaxy Nexus would. For the $149.99 asking price you'd be hard-pressed to do better if you want Android, and you could spend a lot more if you want that other OS.
By now I'm so familiar with Samsung's TouchWiz-tinted version of Gingerbread that I could navigate it in my sleep. While the Android fanboy in me is disappointed that Ice Cream Sandwich doesn't make an appearance (and almost certainly never will) the utilitarian must admit that it really doesn't need it. Gingerbread does well on the hardware. Samsung's spent so much time working with TouchWiz that it seems like it could do well on a Palm Pilot.
The included apps will be familiar to anyone who's messed with a Galaxy phone, but there are some additions to the apps that are actually appreciated in this form factor. An FM radio is a major bonus when you get tired of listening to your all-Eagles mix, and the voice recorder gives the Galaxy Player 3.6 yet another useful function. Pre-installed Angry Birds should thrill fans of the aggravated avians, without being controversial for anyone else.
If you live in a Samsung world, the inclusion of the SmartView remove viewer application and AllShare (DLNA) will be useful - assuming that you don't have your music or video hooked up to a Samsung screen somewhere else. These are appreciated if you get the urge to watch something on a bigger, better video device, but given the small amount of space, you won't be saving much video anyway. It might be more useful if you could see the screen on your Samsung TV on the Galaxy Player itself - if you're working in the kitchen, for example. Other additions include Kies air, a free version of QuickOffice, and Samsung's solid if bland skinned version of Android's default media apps.
The Galaxy Player 3.6 comes with a 2 megapixel rear camera in the back and a VGA front-facing cam. You can take them or leave them - and most will opt for the latter. There's nothing wrong with the shots and video that these cameras produce, all things considered, but if you've got a later smartphone or point-and-shoot around anywhere, you have better options. On the plus side, the front-facing cam is at least useful if you intend to do some web video chatting. Hey, it's a hundred and fifty bucks - what did you expect?
Like most WiFi-only devices, the Galaxy Player 3.6 seems to have a pretty awesome battery life when compared with its smartphone counterparts. You don't need much to keep this little guy going all day. All the power and battery advances that Samsung has made get dialed up to the may when there's no constant cellular data connection to worry about, and the small low-res screen actually helps in that department.
If you want something that's going to replace your high-powered Android smartphone minus a data connection, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a cheap alternative to the latest iPod Touch, you're not going to get the same high-res screen or gaming performance. But if you want a simple media player that uses Android to become considerably more useful, the Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 might be right up your alley. Five years ago $150 wouldn't get you anything more than a lot of storage and some really frustrating video options - but now that Android's come into its own, you get a lot more.
For the price and the expectation, the Galaxy Player 3.6 is a solid choice. If you love Android and want to keep a familiar interface in a small media player gadget, this is it. The expandable storage, great battery life and the connectivity and software options make for a rich experience on this little device. If you want something bigger, track down the last-generation Galaxy Player 5.0, or wait for the newer 4.2 version that'll be available in May.