Samsung S3 Slim Music Player
At a Glance
With its sharp design and high sound quality, the Samsung S3 is a great value flash player.
The 4GB Samsung S3 Slim fills the void that Apple and Microsoft created in discontinuing the iPod Nano and Zune of the same capacity. This slick player isn't as feature-packed as the Nano or the Zune, but it's very affordable and offers excellent sound quality.
The S3 is a bit meatier in both size and weight (3.7 by 1.7 by 0.4 inches, 1.76 ounces) than the Nano, but is about the same size as the Zune. Its curved, slim design fits easily and comfortably into your pocket. That said, this isn't the simplest player to operate when it's in your pocket--in fact, using it that way is downright impossible.
That's because, with the exception of a hold/power button on the side, the S3 has no physical buttons. Instead you control the S3 with backlit, touch-sensitive controls that sit under the smallish, 1.8-inch-diagonal screen. When the player is off, the device's clean faceplate shows no evidence of any navigation controls at all.
Although the glowing, touch-sensitive controls contribute to the S3's sleek look, they're a bit tricky to use. Four directional controls (up, down, left, right) surround a central play/pause/select button. The setup resembles a touch thumbwheel, and, naturally, I wanted to use it as such. But instead, you navigate by repeatedly tapping one of the directional buttons, which is tedious when you're scrolling through a lot of songs. I also found myself accidentally hitting the pause when I meant to turn up the volume; after this occurred numerous times, I started wishing that the S3 at least had a dedicated volume rocker.
Sound quality was clear and crisp with the provided earbuds, but significantly better with high-quality headphones. Samsung's DNSe sound technology features a variety of equalizer presets: Rock, Bass Boost, Vocal, Concert Hall, Classical, and Studio. While the presets are fun to play with, most songs sound the best on the Normal setting. The S3 also has a good nine-band equalizer, which provided an easy fix whenever a song sounded tinny or bass-heavy.
In our lab audio tests, the S3 received a rating of Very Good. Its signal-to-noise ratio of 81db (the higher the score, the cleaner the sound) is on a par with that of some of our top-ranked players, such as the Creative Zen X-Fi and the Nano. Audiophiles should also be delighted with the S3's Ogg Vorbis file support, something that Apple and Microsoft players don't have. Additionally, the S3 supports MP3 and WMA audio, JPEG photos, and MPEG-4 video. Rounding out the features list are an FM tuner, a voice recorder, and five preloaded Flash games. (You can't load your own Flash games to the S3, but Samsung may make additional games available for download on its Web site, as the company has done with other players.)
The included Windows-only Media Studio software installs quickly and has an automatic scanning feature, which adds all new music on your computer to the Media Studio library. The software is fairly bare-bones; transferring songs to the S3 from your PC is an easy drag-and-drop. You can access Samsung's online music store with the software as well, but availability is limited to residents in the UK, France, Germany, and Korea.
To watch video on the S3, you must first transcode your original clips using the Media Studio software, which is a time-consuming hassle. The screen is small at 1.8 inches diagonal; it's a bit smaller than the Nano's display, but the same size as the Zune's screen. In general, video playback is smooth and crisp, but I did experience some video distortion in certain clips.
The S3's great sound quality and ease of use at such a low cost makes this music player an excellent buy--just don't expect bonuses such as cool software (as with the Zune) or a family of accessories (as with the iPod Nano). And be sure to test out the touch-sensitive controls before you buy; you may find them a deal-breaker.