An inexpensive alternative to an Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 ($149.99 list, 8GB) acquits itself well as a basic, budget MP3 and video player that also runs most of the 400,000 Android apps available. It’s for people who want to play “Draw Something” but don’t want to deal a smartphone contract, and it costs $50 less than the same-capacity iPod touch ($199, 5 stars). But its low-res screen may limit its appeal to status-conscious teens who could make up its core market.
Physical Design and Networking
The Galaxy Player 3.6 looks like a small budget smartphone. Made of black and chrome plastic, it has standard MicroUSB and headphone jacks on the bottom panel and a matte back. The front is mostly a somewhat-dim 3.6-inch, 480-by-320 LCD screen with three standard Android touch buttons below it. At 4.6 by 2.6 by .4 inches (HWD) and 4.2 ounces, it’ll fit easily into any hand and most pockets.
Here’s the thing about the screen. Yes, it’s the same resolution as many low-cost smartphones. But remember that we’re competing with the Apple iPod touch here. Because of the touch’s dominance in this category, there are different expectations for media players than for phones, and this screen is noticeably dimmer and grainier than that of the iPod touch. In a row of iPods, the Galaxy Player 3.6 will stand out in an unattractive way. That’s why we’re more likely to recommend the larger-screen Galaxy Player 4.2, whose 800-by-480 screen stands up better against its top competitor.
The Galaxy Player uses its Bluetooth connection to pull off a neat trick: The handheld can act as a Bluetooth headset for a simpler phone you have lying around. When it’s connected to your phone, you can answer calls on the Galaxy Player as if it was a smartphone. You can also dial from the Galaxy Player’s contacts book, though there’s no traditional dialer, and no easy way to activate voice dialing. The Player doesn’t share your phone’s Internet connection over Bluetooth. To get on the Web, you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection; we had no problem connecting the Galaxy Player to our 802.11n network.
The relatively dim screen and lack of phone capability make for great battery life; we got 8 hours, 15 minutes of full-brightness video playback time on a charge, compared to five and a half hours on an iPod touch with its screen brightness set to full and eight hours with the iPod touch’s brightness set to half.
The included earphones come with a microphone, and clear rubber flanges that create a bit of a seal within the ear to improve sound and provide some very basic passive noise cancellation. You should still look at upgrading, but this pair is better than the signature white earbuds that come with the iPod touch.
Built around a 1GHz, single-core Cortex-A8 processor, the CPU is the same as you’ll find in many inexpensive-to-midrange smartphones. It runs Android 2.3, with no real hope of an upgrade to 4.0. It was undistinguished at benchmarks, but performed well overall because of the low-res screen. With fewer pixels to push, the processor doesn’t have to work as hard as it does with higher-resolution devices.
Casual games like Angry Birds and Draw Something performed well. Web browsing will feel cramped if you’re used to the now-more-common larger 800-by-480 screens, but at least the Galaxy Player supports Flash 11.
Along with the standard Google Play market, the Galaxy Player comes with the Samsung Apps store, a selection of mostly free apps curated by Samsung. Proprietary Samsung apps let the Galaxy Player be used as a remote viewfinder for Samsung Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, or as a remote control for Samsung Wi-Fi-enabled TVs.
There’s 8GB of on-board memory as well as a MicroSD card slot that you must remove the battery to use. Our 64GB SanDisk MicroSD card worked fine, so you can get quite a lot of media onto this device. The Player handled AAC, WMA, MP3 and OGG format music files at a range of bit rates, and played MPEG4. H.264 and WMV video files at up to 640-by-480 resolution without any issues. The Player has a moderately loud, single speaker that delivers undistinguished, but not awfully distorted sound loud enough for a small bedroom; you can also use wired or Bluetooth headphones.
The low-resolution screen doesn’t bring video to life the way the iPod Touch screen does, but it’s adequate for TV shows and cartoons. Netflix, TV.com and Vevo apps work. The Hulu app said it does not support this device.
The FM radio works when headphones are plugged into the 3.5mm jack. It automatically scans for stations, which is very convenient. I found that it locked into stations easily and played them clearly.
There’s a 2-megapixel camera on the back of the Galaxy Player 3.6 and a VGA camera on the front, but don’t expect much of either of them. The rear camera takes slightly hazy, very contrasty pictures with some low-light blur and in one case, rather odd fish-eye distortion. The front camera is for taking basic snapshots of your face. You can record unremarkable 640-by-480 videos at 25 frames per second with the rear camera; there’s no flash.
You’re not actually saving much money by getting the Galaxy Player 3.6 instead of a smartphone. Looking only at prepaid no-contract Android phones, Virgin Mobile has the LG Optimus V (4 stars) for $129.99, MetroPCS has the HTC Wildfire S (3 stars) for $119, and Cricket has the Samsung Vitality (3 stars) for $99.99. None of them are really standouts, but neither is this device.
So the Galaxy Player 3.6 is for the niche of people who really, truly don’t want a smartphone, but also want a touch-screen gadget that runs apps. I suspect many of those people will be kids. (They want smartphones, but their parents won’t let them have them.) At $150, the Player 3.6 is a decent device that undercuts the price of the iPod touch by $50.
With the Galaxy Player 4.2 and iPod touch now both at $199, there’s no reason to pay any more for your media handheld. The older Galaxy Player 4.0 (4 stars) still lists at $229, with no advantages over the less expensive Galaxy Player 4.2. The Sony NWZ-Z1000 ($249, 3 stars), meanwhile, has a faster processor but worse battery life than either Galaxy Player, and no camera or camcorder. Don’t buy that one either.
But I think those $199 products are the sweet spot, and the Galaxy Player 3.6 is shooting a bit too low. With every similar competitor running at 800-by-480 or greater, the Player 3.6′s grainy 320-by-480 display just looks cheap in comparison. Save your pennies for the Galaxy Player 4.2 or the iPod.
More Media Player Reviews:
Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6
Sony Walkman Mobile Entertainment Player (NWZ-Z1000)
Samsung Galaxy Player 4.0
Sony W Series Walkman (NWZ-W262)