The MP3 player market is a pretty crowded place, from very cheap players up to premium products, offering a huge range of options. For many, however, the deciding factors are simplicity and size. This fits the profile of the Samsung U4: a compact design at an affordable price.
Like the Samsung Q1 we reviewed recently here on Pocket-lint, the U4 muddies the waters when it comes to name, being called the U4 on the packaging, the YP-U4 on the back of the device, and also rocking around with the nickname "Litmus", thanks to the graded colouration. But aside from nominal confusions, you’ll notice that the packaging has not just taken a leaf out of Apple’s book, it’s taken the entire branch.
The U4 itself is a compact player, measuring 83mm high, by 27mm wide, and weighing only 28g, it fits easily in any pocket, be it a jacket, jeans or shirt. The U4 is encased in glossy plastic, on both front and back, so is soon covered in finger prints and dirty smears. But whilst clean it does look pretty in the hand and will draw a few admiring glances.
Three coloured LEDs provide some sort of visual feedback when you touch the player and during playback and charging, but it is a novelty that doesn’t last long.
The front features a 128 x 64 pixel OLED display, which is plenty bright enough for the task of delivering mostly text and icon-based menus. The front also features the main four-way touch controls, centred around a central touch "OK" button, and below on the right is a touch "back" control. Other controls range down the right-hand side, giving you a hold slider, a user button/record, play/pause and power rocker switch.
The left-hand side features one slider which is the lock for the onboard USB connector. To save you having to carry an extra connection cable, the U4 has the USB connector spring-loaded in the base. Slide the catch and it springs out. Sadly it won’t spring back in again, you’ll have to do that manually which is a bit of a faff, but is relatively convenient. Because the player isn’t too wide either, it is possible to slot it into a USB slot alongside something else - a wireless mouse dongle for example.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top of the device alongside the mic, which can be used for voice recordings. The supplied headphones leave something to be desired but are not as bad as many manufacturers provide at this price and more. Still, to get the most from the music quality in your player, it is worth upgrading from the outset.
Into the player itself and the menus have six major areas: music, FM radio, datacasts, voice recordings, file browser, and settings. This also succinctly summarises the main features of this player. Of course, most people will be interested in music and it is most likely that this is where you’ll spend most your time once you have your preferred settings dialled in.
Control overall is on the fiddly side, with the central "OK" being difficult to hit, even with average size fingers. All too often you’ll hit one of the up or down arrows and change the volume, rather than make the selection you actually wanted. The volume control is also a bit of a nightmare because it is tied into the same menu navigation buttons. Without a separate volume controller, it makes it impossible to change the volume without getting the player out. In fact, it’s difficult to do anything without fishing it out of your pocket.
Tuning the FM radio is a bit of a bore – not intuitive and requiring a dip into the manual to figure out the sequence of button presses to be able to line-up the presets you want. However, it will store up to 30 presets and once done, performs reasonably well. You can also record from the radio, with a press and hold of that record button, at 128kbps.
To record voice you simply press and hold the record button in any area (except the radio) and the quality is pretty good – fine for recording your own voice notes, or one-on-one interviews in a closed environment, but not so good when additional background noise is added. Bizarrely, when you finish your recording, if you opt not to play it back straightaway, it reverts to playing music – even if you weren’t listening to it previously.
Music quality is reasonable, with Samsung’s DNSe 2.0 technology aiming to enhance the experience. There are a range of equaliser options and settings, however when paired with reasonable headphones the normal settings provide a good rounded performance. Some of the settings we found introduced or emphasised distortion artefacts. But things never really get going in sound quality department and even with better headphones, this doesn’t really get exciting. Bass is well enough represented, but there is little life or depth to music.
In terms of file support you get MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis, which will cater for many, but not all. The datacasts feature allows you to load MP3 podcasts that you may have downloaded from the Internet. You’ll get about 16 hours of playback from a full charge, which takes 4 hours. Unfortunately you can’t charge and listen at the same time, which is inconvenient.
The U4 comes in a choice of colours "rose", purple and blue, and there is a 2GB or 4GB version available. Samsung’s own Media Studio software is provided, but it is not mandatory, with simple drag and drop or Windows Media Player being equally competent.
If you are used to changing tracks and volume whilst on a packed train, you’ll know it is not always convenient to fish the player out of your pocket, so if your principle use is for commuting, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Besides the pretty design, unfortunately there is little here to make the U4 really stand out from the crowd.