Samsung’s Galaxy Player 4.0 and 5.0 are the Android answer to Apple’s iPod Touch, which has long been the king of portable media players. Of the two, the Galaxy Player 5.0 (US$240 as of January 4, 2012) is a particularly attractive device for anyone who wishes to remain within the realm of Android for music, video, and apps, but who doesn’t want to pay for monthly services with an Android phone. Offering specs similar to its iOS rival, the Galaxy Player 5.0 makes a gallant attempt at beating the iPod Touch at its own game, but falls short in audio quality.
Note: Much of this review will mirror that of the Galaxy Player 4.0. The two devices are nearly identical, save for design differences and the battery size. Design
The Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 looks like a larger version of T-Mobile’s Samsung Vibrant, save for the front-facing camera, the much larger screen, and its availability in white. Measuring 3.07 by 5.56 by 0.46 inches and weighing 6.42 ounces, the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 is both larger and heavier than the fourth-generation iPod Touch. The Galaxy Player is composed largely of plastic, but feels very well built. Unfortunately, the decorative silver-toned bezel scratched easily in my pocket and backpack, much as the bezel on the Galaxy Player 4.0 did.
The Galaxy Player 5.0 gets its name from its more-than-ample 5-inch, 800-by-480 WVGA LCD screen, which tops the fourth-generation iPod Touch’s 3.5-inch display in size but not in resolution. The standard Android navigation buttons are arranged underneath the screen. As with most other Samsung handhelds, the power button resides on the right edge of the device, and the volume rocker sits on the left. The headphone jack rests on the bottom of the device, along with the Micro-USB port. In addition to the aforementioned front-facing VGA (640-by-480-pixel resolution) camera, the Galaxy Player 5.0 has a rear-facing 3.2-megapixel camera with flash.
The MicroSD card slot sits at the top of the player for convenient access, and the Galaxy Player runs on a 2500-mAh lithium ion polymer battery. Regrettably, unlike its 4-inch sibling, the Galaxy Player 5.0 does not have a removable battery pack.
Performance and Specs
At its heart, the Galaxy Player operates just as any Android phone does. To get started, you sign in using your Gmail account (or create one), and all your contacts and other information sync from the device over a Wi-Fi connection. It runs Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), which is the most recent phone version prior to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). We reached out to Samsung to ask whether the Player would ever get an update to Ice Cream Sandwich, but as of this writing we have yet to hear back from the company. Chances are low, however, that it will ever leave the realm of Android 2.x.
Inside, the Galaxy Player carries a 1GHz single-core Hummingbird processor and 512MB of RAM, which together provided fairly good response. But I did notice some minor lag while using the Galaxy Player, as I’ve come to expect from single-core devices. For example, pages would scroll smoothly enough, but on occasion apps would hang for a second or two before opening. Normally this happened when I had several apps open, and a quick trip to the task manager generally solved the problem.
Since by definition the Galaxy Player lacks a cellular chip, you’ll need to be tethered to a Wi-Fi connection to do anything online. The good news is that most local apps don’t require a connection at all, and will run fine. However, a small handful of apps (such as Voice Actions) require a data connection, and will not run without it; apps don’t seem to have any real ability to recognize that the device is not a phone. The Galaxy Player 5.0 does come with Google Maps, but relies on a data connection for GPS. Although you can cache maps for offline use, you won’t be able to use the Galaxy Player for turn-by-turn directions due to its lack of GPS.
Samsung rates the Galaxy Player 5.0 for 60 hours of audio playback, and 8 hours of video playback. In my hands-on tests, the battery did last about that long, but it took around 4 to 5 hours to completely recharge from empty back up to 100 percent. I suggest that you plug the device in every night before you go to sleep; that way, you will always have a full charge in the device.
Software and Extras
While you may find other Android-based media players, Samsung devices stand out because they’re Android-compatible, and they thus gain access to licensed material such as the Android Market and Google Maps.
Another differentiator: As on its phones, Samsung has replaced the stock Android interface on the Galaxy Player with a stripped-down version of its TouchWiz overlay. Anyone who has used a Samsung Android phone will feel right at home among the bold-looking icons and finger-friendly buttons.
Among the many preinstalled apps, one, ThinkFreeOffice, stood out to me as being truly useful. ThinkFreeOffice allows you to manage office documents on the go, and it can act as a basic file browser as well. This feature is handy for installing Android applications from sources outside of the Android Market.
As an Android phone without the phone, the Galaxy Player 5.0 hits the right marks; but a media player that aspires to compete toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPod should also have ready access to a store through which users can buy new content. You can purchase apps, books, and music–and rent movies–all through the Android Market, but TV shows are nowhere to be found.
To download a book or an album from the Android Market, you’ll need to install Google Books or Google Music, respectively. Those apps, oddly enough, do not come preinstalled on the Galaxy Player. However, as with other content associated with your Google account, you can use purchases across devices, and they will sync to wherever you are. When you rent a movie, you have 30 days to start watching it, and 24 hours to finish the film once you’ve begun it. Apps such as Crackle and Netflix are available if you prefer streaming over downloading, but regrettably Hulu+ is not yet compatible with the Galaxy Player.
If you want to move your own media onto the Galaxy Player, you simply have to drag the files onto the Player’s 8GB of internal storage, or onto a MicroSDHC card of up to 32GB. You can also use applications such as Dropbox to save files locally onto your device.
This is a device that you will want to watch movies on. When I watched a 720p HD video clip, it looked and sounded quite good on the Galaxy Player’s 5-inch screen. The Galaxy Player natively supports the H.263, H.264, MPEG-4, and VP8 file formats.
To test the audio playback quality, I played my test track, a 320-kbps AAC copy of Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.”
Using three different pairs of headphones, I compared the song to the same file playing on a fourth-generation iPod Touch. Playing on the iPod Touch, the song sounded a lot cleaner and crisper than it did on the Galaxy Player, which produced a considerable amount of static in the background during playback. The hiss wasn’t as prominent in the third-party app WinAmp for Android, so this may be a software glitch limited to the bundled music player on the Galaxy.
Compared with the iPod Touch, the Galaxy Player is better in managing content that is already on the device, and in the freedom of getting content onto the device. The iPod Touch still has the upper hand in media selection and ease of use, but the Galaxy Player is better for people who wish to have more control over their own files. Android gives you that control, and makes it easier to organize and manage your media collection.
As an iPod Touch alternative, the Galaxy Player 5.0 offers much to like — especially if you are already familiar with Android and have invested money in the ecosystem. Audio playback through the stock Samsung music app is of poor quality, but the Android advantage means that you have the ability to choose third-party player options from the Android Market. If you are looking for a taste of Android without the cost of cellular service, the Galaxy Player 5.0 is a good Android device to tinker with.