Toybox: Thumb drive-sized MP3 player has surprisingly good sound quality

Samsung's U3 MP3 player plugs in into the USB drive on your computer

When Samsung’s U3 MP3 player arrived at Toybox headquarters I must admit, I wasn’t too impressed. The tiny, fluorescent pink device reminded me of a highlighter, and the pictures on the box it comes in — of music instruments, butterflies and ducklings in a dreamy landscape — didn’t make me feel any better about it. One of my colleagues, walking past my desk, snorted and said “that thing just screams eight-year-old girl”. Well, at least I am a girl. Imagine the fate of this MP3 player had it landed on, say, one of the PC World boys’ desks.

But, I have discovered that the U3 is surprisingly cool. I can see past the hideous pink now, and to its credit, it does come in other colours — green, blue, white and black.

The little device — it measures 25 by 80 by 11mm and weighs 22.8 grams — was very easy to set up and start using. You simply plug in into the USB drive on your computer — how cool is that — and install the software that comes on a CD. It takes about two hours to fully charge the device, which comes in 1GB and 2GB models.

The U3 plays MP3, WMA, OGG and ASF files. It also has an FM radio receiver, and can be used for voice recording, using the tiny microphone on the back of the device. The voice recording bit rate can be set to 32, 64 or 128 kbit/s.

The U3 has just a few buttons to navigate, and they work very well. It has a User/Recording button, which can be set to control Samsung’s proprietary Digital Natural Sound engine sound system, the play speed or play mode. It also stops recording. When pressed and held it starts recording. Next to it is the Power and Play/Pause button. Below the OLED display there are volume up and down buttons, right and left file browser buttons and a back button, which will take you back to the main menu when pressed and held. The only drawback is that, even with small fingers, you sometimes hit the wrong buttons because the device is so small. The Hold button comes in handy, as the touch buttons below the display are very sensitive. Luckily the annoying beep that accompanies every button-push can be switched off.

The sound quality of the U3 is, again, surprisingly good. I don’t know if it is the Digital Natural Sound engine, which Samsung claims optimises sound quality and compensates for sound deficiencies, providing a surround sound experience, or the fact that, for such a little device, the U3 has an impressing range of music settings – more than my iPod has.

I reckon the price is pretty good too, at $129 for the 1GB model and $159 (both including GST) for the 2GB model.

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