The YP-Z5 from Samsung offers a similar-looking chassis to the iPod nano, the same storage-capacity flavours and a price tag that's not a million away from its Apple rival. So what makes it stand out? Plenty.
But first, the worries. Initially, the YP-Z5's control system seemed a bit fiddly – you'll need a light touch and a dextrous thumb to master the delicate navigation interface. But while occasional mis-selection of tracks blighted our early experience of the device, use soon became instinctive. The Samsung has its own way of doing things; you just have to get your head around it.
Furthermore, it quickly becomes obvious that a number of the peripheral features we have grown used to in our MP3 players are absent from the YP-Z5. There's no contacts database here, nor games, nor calendar or stopwatch. But let's be honest: these are not what you shelled out for and, while it hardly hurts to have a few extras, this isn't a major concern.
The good news
The rest of what we have to say about the Samsung is good. For a start, it's a gorgeous, robust piece of kit. While it isn't quite as slim as the nano, it somehow gives a much nicer feeling due to the extra weight – and we guarantee it'll slide effortlessly into any jeans pocket. It's available in black, silver, white and pink versions.
The menu system is intuitive and simple. For this you can thank designer Paul Mercer, who has worked on iPod software too. Loading songs is a simple process. You have the option of going through Windows Media Player – which we would recommend for ease of playlist creation – or you can merely drag-and-drop in the manner of an external hard drive. Setting up the necessary folders within folders can be a bit of a hassle, but it's a nice option to have.
Not being tied to proprietary software is a huge plus as far as we're concerned – it's consistent with the Samsung's generally user-friendly nature. Another thoughtful addition is a dedicated volume control on the righthand side. This avoids the occasional confusion – and ear pain – that can be caused by a shared select switch and volume button.
There's a play/pause switch, as well as the general navigation and select buttons. Because of its relatively extensive array of controls, the Z5 lacks minimalist chic, but the ease of operation is well worth the pay-off.
As well as music files, the YP-Z5 can display Jpegs – including the usual slideshow option. Which leads us neatly on to another rather nifty feature: the generous portrait-format screen. The extra space it gains from moving up to 1.8in makes it a comparative joy to view your snaps on. Squinting is reduced by a significant amount – although the Samsung YP-Z5 has a lesser resolution than the nano and stretches pictures over a larger space, so clarity isn't quite what it could be. The screen seems robust and, while prone to smudges, didn't scratch easily.
The all-important battery life was extremely impressive – see below for more on that subject – and sound quality was solid, with a comprehensive range of EQ settings. The usual proviso about ditching the supplied headphones applies, however.
There are three things people care about when buying a portable audio player: the way it looks, the number of songs it holds and its battery life.
And while the YP-Z5 appears to have followed a similar path to rival and market leader the iPod nano on the first two aspects, Samsung reckons it's got the edge on the third. But talk's cheap: how do they compare in PC Advisor's stringent real-world tests?
Things started badly for the YP-Z5, with the battery struggling to make it through even half of the boasted 38-hour playback life. But after a few lengthy charges, the battery seemed to warm up properly and in later goes our two test models were consistently managing 25 to 29 hours of mid-volume playback. Not quite what was promised, but still impressive. Apple, meanwhile, claims 14 hours of playback for the nano – we found it cutting out after 12 or 13. Round one to Samsung, we reckon.