Being a low-end device, it’s no surprise that the Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 still runs on a single-core 1 GHz processor. What might be a little more surprising is that despite that, it does much better than average in benchmarks, scoring 1940 in testing with Quadrant. In contrast, my Samsung Stratosphere, also running on a 1 GHz chip, only ran around 1600. The original Galaxy Player 5 only managed 1640. Why is this faster? Some of it may have to do with the screen. Having less than half as many pixels as either of the other devices means less has to be drawn, speeding up anything having to do with graphics. The Player isn’t overly fast, for certain, but given its capabilities, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need any more speed than what it has: plenty to play games and watch any video of decent quality.
Like its predecessors, it runs on Android 2.3, also known as “Gingerbread.” That seems old considering that Android 4.0 launched last autumn, but the reality is a lot of brand new smartphones are still shipping with Gingerbread right this minute, so you’re not missing too much yet by not having the latest OS.
Out of the box, the Player comes with about 6.5GB of free memory. That’s a fair amount already for a music player (equivalent to about 100 hours of CD-quality music) but that’s hardly it’s limit. Unlike the competing iPod Touch, the Player has a slot for a MicroSD card. With 32GB MicroSD cards going as cheap as $20 shipped today, you can effectively have a 36GB player for still $30 less than the 8GB iPod Touch. In contrast the 32GB iPod Touch starts at $300.
Not being a smartphone, the GP3.6 has some obvious limitations on it’s communcations abilities… but it also has some very unusual added perks which we’ll get to in a moment. Without cellular internet, anything you want to do online or with the Google store has to be done exclusively over Wi-Fi. That limitation also shows up now and then in other places; for instance, the Player has full GPS, but most of the popular mapping apps like Google Maps won’t run at all without a continuous internet connection. To do driving directions, you need downloaded maps, which usually means paying for them.
There is one slight oddity about how the GP3.6 handles Bluetooth: it has a headset profile. No, not for connecting TO a headset (although it can do that too for Bluetooth headphones), but for connecting AS a headset. You can quite literally take the GP3.6, pair it to a generic Bluetooth-enabled phone, then use the Galaxy Player to dial, answer, and conduct calls without ever touching your “real” phone. This alone is a compelling selling point for the new Players, making them the next best thing to a real smartphone for those who can’t or don’t want to pay the $30-per-month data plans every carrier wants to slap on you for owning the real deal.
There are a few serious limits; the Galaxy Player doesn’t have a dialer app on it, so you can only dial numbers from your contacts list. It also won’t display notifications such as missed calls or voicemail. When you come right down to it, using it as a headset is a bit of a kludge, but it’s still one that might be attractive to plenty of people who don’t want to spend the money on a real smartphone.
That’s not the end of it though: you can also send and receive text messages from the Galaxy Player. And this isn’t dependent on having a phone connected to it, although it is dependent on Wi-Fi. The GP3.6 comes with an app called Text+ pre-installed. Text+ is, in short, an app for sending SMS messages for free over the internet. It’s ad-supported, and gives you a complimentary US or Canada phone number for texting, a number which remains yours and can even be used on multiple devices. I’m sure there are some parents right now whose eyes are lighting up at the thought: a cheap device that’s much like a smartphone and lets the kids send unlimited real text messages, with no monthly fees at all? Text+ doesn’t allow multimedia messaging at all, and it is entirely reliant on Wi-Fi, but it’s hard to beat free.
Last but not least, the Galaxy Player is also designed with VoIP in mind, including video chat via the surprisingly-not-omitted front camera. For a device?that lacks a phone, the Galaxy Player has surprisingly more communications choices than you might think.
The GP is not a device designed for productivity; it’s a “fun” gadget, not a work gadget. So it’s for that reason that, while it does include a copy of Quickoffice, it’s the free version of Quickoffice which only supports viewing Office documents, not creating or editing them. Even if it did, that would be awkward at best on a small, low quality screen. Beyond that, the Player has little but the basic Android apps for productivity: calendar, contact list, etcetera. Although it does have a nifty voice recorder option which could be of use for keeping track of to-dos.
With a focus on music, it’s no surprise that the Galaxy Player handles it better than your average Android device. Samsung included a very good set of DSPs, so you can count on getting a good quality experience out of your music. Add to that DLNA for connecting to multimedia devices on your home network, MicroSD for loading as much music as you could possibly listen to, and when connected to Wi-Fi, all the streaming options available to other Android devices, like Pandora, Last.fm, and others. And just in case you get bored with what you’ve already got, there’s even an FM radio receiver for those times when you’re away from Wi-Fi.
Of course it doesn’t have any kind of video output, so if you want to go beyond music into movies, you have only two options. Stream over a network using DLNA, or watch it on the Player. While the latter is possible, if that’s a priority for you, I’d recommend you wait for the larger, better-screened Galaxy Player 4.2.
One of the other corners cut in the making of the Galaxy Player 3.6 is the camera. At just 2 megapixels and without an LED flash, it falls on the extremely basic end of the spectrum. Quality isn’t that bad, though. Detail is lost, particularly in longer distance shots,since the focus is fixed near to the camera. You won’t be printing out anything you take with this, but its snaps are Facebook worthy in most cases.
Surprisingly, they didn’t cheap out on including the front camera. It’s clear that Samsung didn’t want to compromise the VoIP options of the Players, including video chat, even if losing the front camera could have saved a little money.
Curiously, even Samsung’s own spec sheets are wrong here: while they list the GP as having a 1200 mAh battery, the actual battery itself is marked 1500 mAh. Which, with a small screen and no cell phone radio to feed, should perform well. In fact, it should perform better than it actually does. I was a little bit disappointed in the Player’s average battery life; I suspect most people will only get about one day out of it before needing to recharge, whereas I would think it should deliver closer to a day and a half. It’s possible this will improve over time — I had some battery hiccups when I was reviewing the Galaxy Player 5.0, too, which seemed to stabilize the longer I used it. Then again, there might be some software kinks to work out, since I noticed that according to the OS “Cell Standby” accounted for a large percentage of my battery drain, which shouldn’t be the case on a device with no cellular radio.