UPDATE: This preliminary review was written after only a short time with this Android device. A more in-depth version based on much greater testing is available:
When Samsung delivered the world premier of its 5-inch Galaxy Player and the U.S. debut of a 4-inch counterpart, I was there in New York City for a first-hand look at how these two Wi-Fi, but not cell-enabled, Android OS-based "tweener" devices might fit into Samsung's growing family of Galaxy gadgetry.
Samsung has been showing off the 4-inch player for the last several months, but reporters gathered at the Manhattan press conference got the world's first peak at the five-incher.
As I saw during my hands-on session later in the day, the two players appear at first glance to be just about identical, aside from screen size and weight, but there are a few other physical differences that show up at a closer look. The four-incher tips the scales at five ounces, and the five-incher at seven ounces.
4-incher to Compete with iPod
The 4-inch model is targeted at competing with Apple's iPod Touch, acknowledged Travis Merrill, Senior Manager for Corporate Planning and Development, in an interview at the event.
Merrill also told me that Samsung sees either player acting as a "companion" to Galaxy smartphones for those who want a bigger, but still practically pocketable, device for TV viewing, music, and videoconferencing.
You might even be able to do a bit of work on the pint-sized tablet, since the ThinkFree Office suite will be pre-loaded.
Essentially, both models of the player sport the same kind of sleek, uncluttered design as Samsung's existing Galaxy phones and 7-inch Tab. Like the Sprint Epic 4G, one of several models of the Galaxy S produced by Samsung for an assortment of wireless carriers, the Galaxy Players will come with dual facing cameras for videoconferencing.
Other features will include microSD support (up to 32GB), a built-in speaker and microphone, Android OS 2.2 (Froyo) -- upgradeable to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) -- and about 20 embedded apps.
According to a spec sheet I was shown, embedded apps for the five-incher (and presumably the four-incher) will include a music player, video player, e-mail, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, and a calculator. Others on the roster are a contact manager, task manager, calendar, memo pad, MyFile, and Samsung Apps, for instance. You'll also be able to download any of the apps in the Android Market.
Unlike the Samsung Epic 4G smartphone, the players won't include slide-out hard keyboards -- or keyboards of any sort, for that matter.
More significantly, wireless connectivity in the players will be limited to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Differences Between the Two Players
In terms of physical differences, the four-inch model will come with both Skype and Qik, whereas the five-incher is only slated for Qik.
On both players, the front camera offers VGA resolution while the rear camera is 3.2 megapixel auto-focus. The rear camera on the five-incher, though, will come with LCD flash.
In another point of distinction, the four-inch player will use Samsung's Super Clear WVGA LCD, whereas the five-inch player will offer a WVGA TFT-LCD touted as superior for movie viewing. Both displays will support HD video.
‘Twin View' and AllShare
Both models of the player will also support Twin View, I was told. Samsung plans to offer Twin View through an Android OS app called AllShare. AllShare is slated for availability too, on upcoming editions of the Galaxy S phone, Galaxy Tab, and Samsung PCs.
As described to me, Twin View is aimed at letting you watch an HD movie - or whatever else is playing on a TV - from your mobile device while you're in another room of the house.
AllShare will run on top of DLNA, with "DLNA providing the underlying pipes," said Dan R. Schinasi, senior marketing manager in Samsung's HDTV group, during another interview. Samsung is also readying a new search capability to make it easier to hunt down movies and music, Schinasi told me.
Another exec on hand in New York said that AllShare's video streaming will work over both wired and WiFi connections, and that you'll be able to use Bluetooth for audio streaming, but not for video streaming.
The Test Drive
During my hands-on session, I tried out the virtual keyboard on both the four- and five-incher. As you'd expect, it turned out to be roomier than either the virtual or hard keyboard on the Galaxy S phone, but still crowded in comparison to a PC keyboard. Sprint's recently unveiled Kyocera Echo -- when used in tablet mode -- would probably work out better for any situations requiring heavy keyboard input.
Also as you would anticipate, photos pre-loaded into the gallery showed up even more brilliantly on the larger screens of the Galaxy Players than on slightly smaller Super AM-OLED displays of the Galaxy S phones. I didn't detect any major differences between the two devices in still image display quality.
Unfortunately, Wi-Fi connections at the event venue turned out to be erratic. However, I did access Skype on the four-incher and Google and YouTube on the five-inch model. YouTube videos played back smoothly without any hitches. The audio from the players' stereo speakers with Virtual 5.1 surround sound and Samsung's SoundAlive post-processing technology sounded quite good to my ears.
Lack of Cellular Connectivity
Yet I, for one, find it kind of disappointing that these two tweeners don't support 4G connectivity -- or 3G either -- so that communications are constrained to VoIP voice and video calling, e-mail, and other messaging via WiFi.
For videoconferencing, the person you're communicating with also needs to be using some sort of mobile device with dual cameras, and with Skype- or Qik-enabled.
What if you want to make a voice call to Grandma, your school, or the store down the street? Skype, of course, started offering VoIP voice calling long before moving into videoconferencing. Right now, though, Skype is only scheduled for availability on the four-inch player. In any case, if you do use Skype to call non-Skype phones, you'll pay for that.
Moreover, although Wi-Fi hotspots are growing increasingly abundant, you're likely to run into plenty of places that don't have them yet, like your car or your next door neighbor's living room. So if you want to use your Galaxy Player for Internet access wherever you go, you'll also need to tote your phone along, too, and deploy it as a mobile hotspot.
It's true that the WiFi-only approach spares you the cost of a cellular subscription. Yet the lack of cellular connectivity also means that the Galaxy Players are unlikely to be sold by cellular wireless carriers. Wave goodbye to subsidized pricing.
Part of a New Series
The next generation of gizmos in the Galaxy series will include the two models of the Galaxy Player ultra-mobile device, a second gen 7-inch Galaxy Tab, Samsung's first 10-inch Galaxy Tab, and Galaxy phones, including the second edition of the Galaxy S, a product widely rumored to be set for rollout at next week's CTIA show in Orlando, FL.
To support the Twin View feature, Samsung plans to link the upcoming Galaxy devices together with laptops, "smart TVs," and other consumer electronics for streaming top-quality video and audio throughout the house, said a series of Samsung execs at the press event in NYC on Wednesday.
Samsung hasn't yet announced pricing or availability for the Galaxy Players. However, since the Galaxy S smartphone already carries a non-subsidized MSRP of around $600 -- and the Galaxy Players are similar to larger devices -- we could be looking at pricetags for the players that are hefty indeed.
If Samsung wants to sell enough Galaxy Players to keep them members in good standing of the new Galaxy family, maybe those gadgets should get 4G.
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