Samsung K5 digital audio player

Whichever way you choose to listen to your tunes, the K5 can deliver terrific-sounding audio

Wrapped in an attractive black case, the Samsung K5 is a flash-based digital audio player has a unique design that integrates slide-out speakers. I tried out a shipping version of the US$210 (street) 2GB model; Samsung also offers a 4GB model for US$50 more.

The K5's 1.7-inch OLED screen displays icon-based menus and photos. For navigation it relies on touch-sensitive, flat-surface "button" controls (rather than on actual three-dimensional buttons that you have to depress) on its front face. But while they look slick and contribute to the player's minimalist design, I found these two-dimensional buttons annoying: Repeatedly, I got unintended results when pressing them--a problem exacerbated by the fact that the buttons are context-sensitive and handle multiple functions, depending on how firmly or gently you touch them. The speakers that slide out from the K5's back turn it into a little jukebox, but they also double the thickness of the player. The speakers' audio quality and volume may suffice in a pinch if you're sequestered in a hotel room, and the 3D simulation effect does broaden the stereo field impressively from its otherwise thin, lacking-in-bass default setting. But I'd rather listen to my music through the included earphones--particularly since the they fit in-ear for effective sound isolation, and supplied fuller bass and louder volume than the earbuds that accompany Apple's iPod.

From a technical standpoint, whichever way you choose to listen to your tunes, the K5 can deliver terrific-sounding audio. In the PC World Test Center's quantitative evaluation of audio quality, the K5 earned the highest score to date on our suite of tests for a flash-based player. The Samsung K5 certainly looks cool--even if it's too thick to fit comfortably in your shirt pocket--but its temperamental touch-sensitive controls overshadow its coolness. Having the speakers built-in is more convenient than toting a separate minispeaker system around, but I'd rather leave the speakers behind when I don't want them, and have a thinner player instead.

Samsung K5

If you don't need a tiny player, the K5 is worth a look for its top-notch audio quality and sound-isolating earphones; its built-in speakers seem gimmicky, but may suffice when you're on the go.

Street price: US$210

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