The Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 sports a smaller size and low end specs, but it still offers some surprising features. Plus it comes in at just $150 (or less).
If you're not familiar with the Galaxy Player line by Samsung, it's quite simple: unlike Samsung's flock of smartphones, the Galaxy Players are marketed as pure media devices, Samsung's answer to the iPod Touch. Marketing aside though, they're fully functional Android devices with effectively all of the features of a smartphone, sans the phone itself.
It's probably for that reason that they're often contrasted to smartphones, a comparison which finds the Galaxy Players lacking. It's also a comparison which is wrong. The Galaxy Player line isn't intended to compete with smartphones, or to supplement them for people who already have one. They're an alternative. Your teenager doesn't need a $30 a month data plan to listen to music, and your great aunt doesn't need a Droid RAZR to play Words With Friends. The selling point is price. The cost of ownership for the Galaxy Player is its $150 retail price; for a smartphone, it's the retail price plus $720 over the next two years in data fees.
Some of you may recall that when I reviewed the Galaxy Player 5.0 last year, my overall impression was that it was a good device, but that the next update had the power to make it great. This is not that upgrade. That's not to say that the Galaxy Player 3.6 isn't a good device -- it's to say that it isn't intended to be an upgrade to the Galaxy Player 5. The GP3.6 is aimed at a very different market, a low-end market competitive to the most basic version of the iPod Touch.
Build & Design
Coming with a 3.65-inch screen, it should be no surprise that the Galaxy Player is pretty small and light, although it's footprint isn't that much tinier compared to some smartphones; it's featherweight at just 3.75 ounces. From the outside, it looks basically just like a small, very plain smartphone. As with the older Galaxy Player models, the GP3.6 uses only three silkscreened buttons on the bottom of the display, dropping the fourth "search" button common on other Android OS 2.3 devices. There's no specialized music controls; everything is handled through the touchscreen.
The build of the Galaxy Player is obviously all plastic, but it feels solid. Maybe a little sleek and slippery, but it doesn't feel like it's going to break easily. The black and grey design isn't flashy, and doesn't need to be. Beneath the battery cover we find the removable battery and the microSD card slot, which is empty right out of the box. The only accessories included with the Player are a stereo headset with microphone and play/pause button, USB cable, and power adapter.
No doubt the biggest corner that Samsung cut while producing the Galaxy Player 3.6 is the screen. For reasons that probably include both price and size, Samsung chose a lower resolution of 320 x 480 (HVGA) instead of the 800 x 480 (WVGA) that's more common on smartphones these days, making it less than half as sharp as the average smartphone. Although being smaller and the pixels packed tighter makes that easier to bear, it's still visibly less crisp. On top of that, the screen technology is also a little lower quality, with narrower viewing angles than you might?be used to from a phone or tablet.
So how bad is it? Well, it might be a measure of how good smartphone screens are these days that a substantial downgrade in screen quality still turns out to be not that bad. I certainly wouldn't recommend doing a lot of ebook reading on the Galaxy Player 3.6, or trying to watch anything more serious than a YouTube video. The viewing angles are actually better if you turn it 90 degrees, the way you would watch a movie, but if that's your goal, I would still say that you should probably wait for the Galaxy Player 4.2, due out soon with a better screen (and higher pricetag). For day-to-day use though, things like playing music, checking headlines, and even some mapping and light web browsing, the GP3.6 does alright for itself.
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.
The Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 is a good example of a dirt-cheap device that plays to a specific market well. I think it will particularly be embraced by parents whose kids want a smartphone but aren't old enough for it, and as a good mobile media player by people who also want to play a few games or check the headlines cheaply.
Those looking for a little more would do well to wait and see how the upcoming Galaxy Player 4.2 fares with a larger, better screen.
A good low-end choice for the kids or the casual user who wants a few smartphone features without the cost of the real deal.