Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
Make no mistake: Samsung has Apple in its sights and wants to seriously challenge the US company for MP3 dominance. The plucky Korean’s recent releases have all been very stylish, very sleek, and offer almost exactly the same options as the iPod, at the same price.
Until recently the K3 cost exactly the same as a 2GB iPod nano, but a price drop sees it sneak in under $200, which is very attractive, just like the player itself.
Like with the iPod, Samsung is more interested in giving you everything you need and nothing you don’t. Simple is stylish, and the K3 is all about style. Even the box is fabulously wrought, encrusted with design award stickers.
There’s no direct encoding or voice recorder, but the K3 does have one over the Nano with an FM tuner. Apart from the radio, features are identical, although the unit only supports MP3 and WMA files. No AAC, which is a shame. And of course we simply don’t expect OGG support on a “top shelf” item from a major company like this.
The K3 also adheres to Microsoft’s “Plays For Sure” standard for maximum WMA compatibility, DRM and all.
Most of the appeal of this unit though comes from the style. The shiny black exterior is completely blank until you power it up, whereupon all sorts of glowing lights and tasteful animated menus appear. It really is lovely to use, from an ergonomic standpoint at least.
The K3 ships with the latest version of Samsung’s Media Studio software. While most people won’t have heard of it, it’s every bit as capable of iTunes, though of course there’s no built-in music store.
The interface is clean and sleek, much like the player, and with full ID3 tag support it organises all your files with the minimum of fuss. It also tells you what format the file is recorded in, and shuffles things into automatic folders if you so desire.
Media Studio will also group and classify your music into pre-determined categories if you let it. So if you can’t be bothered thinking which album to listen to, but want some “cheerful” music, just let the software make a selection from those tracks it has, by dint of its own weird machine logic, decided rate as “cheerful”.
The fact that the K3 is so good to hold and touch and use almost makes you forget it has fewer features than many other units at this price point.
If you’ve just made the “switch” from an older iPod, the button layout takes a little getting used to, and those of us with stubby fingers will need to be a little careful. Because there are no buttons, just sensors that detect your finger, you can’t operate this unit when you can’t see it. Fortunately, all the sensors are back-lit so you can use the unit in the dark. That said, wandering around in full sunlight can make things tricky, especially because the fascia has a shiny piano-black finish.
Indeed, like the first generation Nano, keeping the K3 clean is a bit of a chore. We recommend grabbing one of the cute specialised socks from a mobile phone accessories dealer – since the K3 is almost exactly the same size as the current Nano, it will fit and that beautiful finish will be protected.
Music sounds excellent, the EQ options add some flexibility, and the FM radio is strong though as usual uses your headphone cables as the antenna. The included headphones are okay, but this player does deserve an upgrade.
When it comes to getting a sleek, simple, painless and iPod-like experience, the K3 is a real winner. It looks good, it plays well, and the software is excellent.
The range of supported music formats is a little limited and the controls are very cramped. If you want an iPod-style MP3 player with an emphasis on style over packing in as many features are possible, the K3 is your wee beastie.