Samsung Galaxy S Wi-Fi 4.2 (YP-GI1) review

Remember MP3 players? Those were the things that were popular at the start of the decade, before mobile phones all got dozens of gigabytes of storage and apps and games and lots of things to keep you occupied when you are bored.

Well, Samsung thinks that there's a market for these devices in the small group who don't have tablets, phones or other Android-powered devices in their lives already. So is the Galaxy S Wi-Fi 4.2 worth some of your money, or just a wannabe phone-without-the-phone?

Design

The Galaxy S Wi-FI is simple enough, in its styling. You can't really tell it apart from a phone, aside from the fact that it has stereo speakers on the front - where most phones either don't do stereo, or have the speakers on the back. This means you get great sound from them, that's louder, clearer and more difficult to obstruct with clothing or hands.

The back houses a camera, and a plastic cover which can be removed to show the battery and the microSD card socket. There are volume controls and an unlock button on the right-hand side, and the USB and headphone jack are both located on the bottom edge of the device.

There's a single physical button on the front, with menu and back controls on either side. These are nice enough, but they are invisible unless the phone's backlight is on. That means, unless you can remember which is which - not a massive task for most people - then you need to get the lights on before you know which side to press.

Sound quality

Let's not keep you hanging around, the Galaxy S sounds lovely. We tested with some nice Klipsch headphones, and the audio produced was rich, clear and had just enough bass without being overwhelming.

Of course, the sound varies wildly depending on what headphones you use. Ours increase bass, but others have a flatter response, or favour treble. But the EQ options provided by the Samsung offer ways to tweak the sound for such eventualities. That means people who like skull-rattling bass are taken into consideration too.

As good as the EQ is, and as nice as it is to have options to tweak the sound, there's a problem. In common with all Android devices, EQ applies only to apps installed by Samsung, or bundled with Android. That means, if you want to use a streaming service or third-party music player, you won't be able to tweak the audio, unless you purchase a third-party EQ app from the market. This is another problem with Android that doesn't help sell it as a platform for audio devices.

Having said that, the overall balance for this device is very good. So audio via the Rdio app, and Plex - out prefered media streamer - both sounded great.

Screen quality

It's fair to say, the screen on the Samsung is fantastic quality. It's a TFT LCD, so there's no unnatural OLED colours to contend with. Details are sharp, and so is text on-screen. It's nice to look at web pages on, but it's also a great device to use for watching video, or just playing games.

The iPod touch is technically better, but it's also smaller. So while the Samsung can't boast a "retina" quality display, it is very good indeed, and using it is a joy.

Android just won't shut the hell up

For us, the biggest complaint we have about Android-based MP3 players is that they're cursed with the same idiotic system as Android-based phones. Namely, notification sounds and system alerts all happily crash in over the top of your music, making it fade out to almost nothing while a stupid chime or beep plays over the top.

Of course, you can turn off notification sounds, but if you're using the device to read email, check Twitter and make Skype calls and send messages then turning off notification sounds a bit of a problem, because you'll never know when anything happens.

And what's more infuriating is that this is solvable by Google without any effort at all. All it needs is for apps to be able to mute notification sounds, and then we'd have no problem with emails wrecking the listening experience.

This is the worst thing about using Android for a media player, and the best reason to get an iPod or some other dedicated non-android-based player.

A slightly outdated version of Android

The Galaxy S runs Android 2.3.6, which is basically an updated version of the original Gingerbread. In a phone, we might bemoan the fact that it's an old version of the OS, but for a media player we can't help but say "meh". It just doesn't seem to matter as much.

That's partially because the audience for these devices is likely to be a less technical one, and one interested in music more than phone operating systems. Sure, it's nice to have the latest version of everything, but it won't affect the core of what this device does.

Based on our time with phones, the processor and memory specification of this device wouldn't make it a great Ice Cream Sandwich device anyway, so perhaps it's better that it uses an older version.

Samsung does, however, provide some customisations. Touchwiz is here, and you get the usual visual benefits of that. Samsung has toned it down in recent years, and it's the better for it. You get lock screen controls too, which is essential for a music-focused device. 

You also get Samsung's usual apps for sharing media with DLNA compatible devices. Samsung calls it AllShare but like all DLNA apps, it allows you to play media on the device from a remote server, or to a remote server, from the device. We found it a little slow to browse remote media on our Plex server, and to be honest, the Plex app is nicer for this sort of thing. 

Media is synced via USB, as you'd expect, but you can either drag and drop, or use Kies. We didn't use Kies, because we swore a blood oath never to install it ever again on any of our PCs. It may have improved, but it's frankly not necessary these days. Either use another, third-party program, or just drag and drop files in your file manager. If you must use Kies, at least now it syncs via Wi-Fi. 

Two capacities, only one real choice

The Galaxy S Wi-Fi is available in either 8GB or 16GB capacities, which is good, but there is very little reason to pay more for the 16GB version, as there is the option of a microSD socket too. This means that spending a lot of money on a higher capacity model is likely to be a waste of money. Especially as a 32GB microSD card costs about £15 these days.

Of course, internal storage is a little more convenient, and some apps will default to internal storage, and not give you an option of using the SD card, this applies to the likes of Spotify and Rdio, so it might be that if you want to rely on these services, that you for the higher capacity model.

If, however, you're mostly using MP3s from your own collection, stick to the 8GB and invest in a 32GB microSD card. After all, this makes switching to a new device a lot easier too.

Camera

Photos from the on-board camera are really nothing to shout about. But this isn't a photographic device, and it's not really sold as one. That said, for tweets and Facebook status updates, it's more than adequate. Colour is decent, and there's enough detail for most basic uses, and we have seen worse on camera phones, frankly.

Although images are fairly modest in output size from the 2-megapixel on-board camera - there's a front-facing snapper too, for video calls via Skype or the like. But, that too, makes them decent for uploading to the internet.

Verdict

The question isn't really if the Samsung Galaxy S WiFi 4.2 is a good MP3 player. Because it is. It's also a great app, game and internet device. In fact, if it had 3G it would be a great phone too. And therein lies our one major issue with it: in most cases, it would simply be better to buy a Samsung mobile phone, and not all that much more expensive either.

But assuming you want something just for music, then we think you'll be very happy with the Galaxy S. It's a solid little device, with a pleasant finish and a lovely screen. Sound quality is, thankfully, excellent, and therefore listening to it is a pleasure.

A limited processor means that you might struggle with the most recent, graphically intensive games, but even so, there is plenty of casual gaming to be done here, which should please the target audience.