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Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 is impressive iPod alternative

Consumer Reports News: June 21, 2012 05:08 PM

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Samsung has launched the Galaxy Player 4.2, a successor to its Galaxy Player 4.0 media player. After using a press sample on a range of tasks, I think this new Galaxy has made an already-fine player an even-better alternative to Apple's iPod Touch.

As its name implies, this new model, called the Galaxy Player 4.2, has an LCD touch-screen that's 0.2 inches wider than that of its predecessor, which fares well in our Ratings. Other improvements include a higher-capacity battery (1,500 mAh vs. 1,200 mAh) that promises up to 8 hours of video play, a six-axis gyro sensor for gaming, and two front-firing speakers for better sound without headphones.

At $200, the 8GB Galaxy Player 4.2 costs the same as an 8-gigabyte (GB) iPod Touch, which has a 3.5-inch display. That's a good deal when you consider you can expand its capacity by up to 32GB via microSD card (which costs about $20). That would give you a 40-GB player for around $80 less than a 32GB iPod Touch, which costs $300 and whose memory can't be expanded.

This new Samsung does, however, cut corners in some surprising ways. Samsung downgraded the rear-facing camera from 3.2 megapixels to 2.0 megapixels, and the display, which used to be a Super Clear LCD is now only a "plain" LCD. While both displays have the same resolution (800x400 pixels), Samsung admits the Super Clear LCD on the older player had fewer layers, which should give you a slightly better picture. I didn't notice a difference when comparing old and new displays side-by-side. They both appeared rather brilliant—though not as sharp, of course, as the one on the iPod Touch, which packs more resolution (960 x 640 pixels) into its smaller screen.

And I didn't compare prints from the camera. But our engineers will address such performance issues when they test the retail model in their labs.

Here are my quick impressions:

A phone without the phone. This model runs on Android (Gingerbread), which, via its Wi-Fi connection, enables it to run a wide range of apps and connect to Android's impressive ecosystem of content. That Wi-Fi connection gives you access to your calendars, e-mails, and social-network accounts, map-based searches, GPS navigation, and video chats via the front-facing camera. The Galaxy Player lacks phone controls and access to cellular networks, but if you download an app like Skype, you CAN use this device as a phone whenever you have an Internet connection.

Controls. The controls of this Galaxy's preinstalled music and video players are intuitive, providing lots of options for sorting your stuff through their virtual buttons. And you can always download other media players you may prefer from Google's Play or Samsung's App store.

The Galaxy Player 4.2's permanent controls are identical to an Android phone. Along the bottom edge of the screen you'll find the familiar home button, which doubles as a recent apps button when you press it for more than half a second. It's flanked by the back-lit menu and back buttons, which are invisible until your finger touches them. That may irk some users. On the upper right hand side are the power/screen lock button, and the volume rocker button just below it. Both are easy to access. One quibble: The volume rocker button doesn't work when the screen is locked.

Speakers. The two front-firing speakers are rather tinny compared to a decent pair of headphones, but decent enough for streaming music in the background or enjoying a movie or video game when no one's sitting next to you.

Gaming. Google Play recently opened its Longest Day Deals, in honor of the summer solstice, offering a plethora of games for just 99 cents. But to get you started the Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 comes with free game downloads from Electronic Arts: FIFA 2012 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

Before you download these freebies, however, you should consider upgrading storage because each game takes up more than a gigabyte of space.

I found that Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, a car-chase game, made full use of the Galaxy's gyroscope, which turned out to be quite responsive. You steer the cars by tilting the phone from side to side. FIFA 2012 was also fun. You control the players via a virtual joystick, which wasn't quite as responsive. (Or it could be that soccer is just not my game.)

Battery life. With the exception of watching the two-hour movie I sideloaded from my computer, I spent most of my time with the Galaxy Player 4.2 streaming music from Pandora, Slacker, and Google's cloud player. I also spent a fair amount of time on Facebook and Twitter, and streaming from YouTube. While performing these battery-beating activities, I could count on the player entertaining me about 2-1/2 to 3 hours before pleading for a recharge.

Bottom line: Like its predecessor, the Galaxy Player 4.2 is an impressive iPod alternative for Android fans, offering many of the same excellent options of its Apple counterpart for accessing its content from other devices. The larger display, compared with the iPod, is also a major plus for playing games and watching videos.

For more on mp3 players see our buying guide.

Mike Gikas

   

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