Any casual tech observer knows that Android power more than just phones, like tablets, netbooks, and on occasion actual androids. But Samsung’s Galaxy Player 5.0 seems like a gadget in search of a problem to solve. Ostensibly a competitor to the iPod Touch, albeit one that’s built at a plus-sized scale, this Wifi-only media player may be music to the ears of those who want a huge screen and no phone contract (or, indeed, a phone at all) to worry about.

Hardware

If you’ve seen a Galaxy S, you’ve seen a small Galaxy Player. The 5-inch LCD screen dominates the front of the device, with three capacitive soft buttons below it – as usual with Samsung’s carrier-free devices, the Search button is absent. The placement of some of the buttons and ports seems odd – an empty MicroSD port hides behind a tiny plastic door, while the headphone jack and Micro USB port are on the bottom. The right side gets Samsung’s standard power button and volume rocker combo, the left is bare, and the plastic white back features two stereo speakers, a the camera, and a flash.

The 9.9mm-thick device is undeniably large; it dwarfed my DROID X and makes a standard paperback book fear for its dead tree delivery system. That said, it’s not uncomfortable in the hand as it might seem, and it slid into the pocket of my jeans without complaint. (Your mileage may vary here, of course.) When showing the device off to some of my friends they said they preferred the large screen to their own phones and didn’t mind the bulk – until I told them it couldn’t make regular phone calls.

On the inside you get a last-generation 1GHz Hummingbird processor and 8GB of storage. That should be enough to play a few videos and some music, but large collections will have to be loaded off of an SD card. The LCD (notably not AMOLED) screen has a resolution of 800 x 480, despite its massive size. While it’s crisp and clear, and a good bit brighter than most, those with an affinity for counting pixels will be unnerved, as you can definitely see jagged edges on text and photos when viewed up close. The Galaxy Player ruins Gingerbread and has full access to the Android Market. A 3.2 MP rear camera is complimented by a VGA front cam, but neither are worth writing home about. The 2500 mAh battery should last days for light browsing and music, but video and games are of course more taxing.

Software

TouchWiz is present in full force, and like most Gingerbread devices, it’s smooth and mostly stable. I did notice some freezes when returning to the homescreen, and if you ask me, the whole experience apes the iPho… er, iPod Touch a little too much. Thanks to the device’s Wifi-only status, it’s blessedly free of bloatware.

There’s plenty of custom Samsung apps here, though, and for the most part they’re welcome. Customized video, music and photo apps are there, along with Samsung’s Smart Viewer TV sharing app. Other than that, it’s just your basic Android apps, with the odd addition of a file manager and a link to Samsung’s approved app downloads. This is in addition to the Android so I don’t know why you’d use it. A Swype keyboard is included, but the huge screen makes it almost impossible to use with a single hand, especially in landscape mode.

The device itself is only mostly stable. Nine times out of ten worked without complaint, but every once in a while I encountered a nagging hang on one app or another. This is a troubling precedent for a device that’s designed to be loaded with apps, especially games. The Galaxy Player has an odd way of mounting the SD card, too: all the free space on the device is in the standard /sdcard folder, but anything on the actual card has to be found in /sdcard/external_sd/. Luckily, the automatic scanner is nice and fast, so media loads into the appropriate app very quickly.

Media

The Music and Video players were simple and competent, though the later is picky about codecs. AVI and XVID videos worked fine, but a downloaded trailer in the relatively universal MOV format choked. It’ll handle anything formatted for its 800 x 480 resolution without complaint, but once I threw a 720p video on there, there was too much tearing and stuttering for it to be useful. Music was an enjoyable experience on the standard player, especially since controls are built into the notification bar and lock screen. It’s a wonderful music playback device made even better by a pair of loud, if not particularly clear speakers.

Unfortunately some of the advanced playback was wanting. Flash is iffy on the 1GHz single-core processor, and I imagine Flash video is something that prospective buyers will be very interested in. When I connected my Bluetooth A2DP headphones playback was too choppy to be enjoyable. Netflix and HBO GO stuttered for a passable experience only. Basic games were fine, but more advanced games slowed down quickly.

Price and Value

At $270, the Galaxy Player 5 is considerably more than the entry-level iPod touch. For that you get a much larger device with a larger screen, but the resolution and storage are both lower. Since Android doesn’t have an integrated music store (yet) you’ll have to make due with your own collection or third-party apps, and streaming video is a frustrating affair. It’s hard to recommend the Galaxy Player over an iPod for anyone but the most die-hard Android fan.

Wrap Up

The device is a lot less unwieldy than you’d think, and for some, it might be time for a 5-inch upgrade – but again, without a phone, the Galaxy Player 5 is a novelty at best and redundant at worst. Bring on the Galaxy Note, Samsung – I want to see how this form factor works on current hardware with a truly mobile experience.

Check out our hands-on unboxing video below:


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