We didn't hesitate to compare this to the iPod nano; arguably the flagship flash-based MP3 player on the market. Small, compact, light, thin and boasting a colour screen as well as a touchpad, the Samsung Z5 is the closest thing we've seen in terms of looks, features and functions. But does it stack up? We definitely think so.
Aesthetically, the Z5 is pleasing. Our review unit was black and chrome in colour, and while the chrome highlights are a menace to keep free of fingerprints, they look fantastic; especially given the contrast the deep black metal finish provides. Weighing in at just 56g, the Samsung Z5 is a joy to cup in the palm of your hand. In fact, the metal finish ensures the Z5 feels well built, unlike the delicate and somewhat scratch-prone nano.
The most interesting feature is arguably the touchpad control system. As we all know, the iPod has set the standard when it comes to MP3 player controls with the click wheel. While some may dislike the iPod, nobody can deny that the click wheel is the best control system we've ever seen - nothing else has even come close. Samsung has desperately tried to at least be on par with the click wheel and although we really like it, it just falls short.
The main issue we have with the touchpad is its sensitivity; sometimes you'll touch it and it will work, other times you'll use all the force possible and it just won't budge. It's very temperamental and this tends to get a little frustrating at times. Although you'll get used to it, it isn't ideal and detracts from the overall user experience. The touchpad utilises Enter/Select, Left, Right, Up and Down, with Next/Previous Track, Back and Power/Play/Pause as normal buttons around the perimeter of the pad. A handy volume control is located on the right hand side of the unit, which is definitely a function we like.
If the controls fall short, the display is one feature where the Z5 has beaten the nano; it's longer, wider and the user interface is used excellently within it. Perhaps the only criticism we have is that it isn't as crisp or clear as it could be, especially when displaying album art and photos. But if Samsung has one thing almost spot on, it's the user interface. After copping a bit of criticism for previous efforts, it seems as though a lot more time, effort and feedback has gone into developing the Z5 and the results are extremely pleasing. Both intuitive and visually impressive, the menu is a welcome addition to the Samsung range and while it still doesn't beat the iPod interface, it's the closest you'll get from a competitor that is still forging its own style.
While many MP3 players on the market are fine players themselves, a lot of them have horrid software that isn't very user friendly or compatible with many operating systems - so this is always an important factor when considering an MP3 purchase. The Z5 doesn't require any software. Yep, that's right, the Z5 will mount onto any computer as a generic USB drive - meaning files can be dropped and dragged directly onto the player. This is an outstanding feature that seems to be overlooked by many players on the market. To learn that Samsung has opted for it on the Z5 was a pleasant surprise. We had no issues with music transfer, and if you use Windows Media Player 10, it will automatically add album art where available. Perfect!
Despite the drop and drag function, Samsung still decided to stick with a proprietary USB cable, for reasons unknown. The convenience of being able to use a standard USB cable for connectivity would have been a bonus.
Sound quality was fairly good for most part and definitely at the same level as the nano. However, another surprise was the headphones - they're good. Finally, a standard set of headphones that aren't lacking in quality. While they're not the greatest, the bass levels are more than adequate and most people will find the earphones comfortable and easy to listen to.
Overall, the Z5 certainly surpassed our expectations. And throughout our testing we were constantly impressed. Battery life is rated at a whopping 40 hours - we found it was closer to 35 but, even so, this is impressive.
What's Hot: Small, thin and lightweight, User Interface, Drop and Drag music transfer, Battery life
What's Not: Touchpad has some issues, Screen could be clearer, Lacks some other features (Radio, Recording etc.)
The Final Word: This is the closest you'll get to an iPod killer. Its features are well implemented and designed and the end result is a fantastic MP3 player that perhaps just falls short due to the moody controls. A definite winner in our books.