Every music player will be judged against offerings from Apple and every player so far as come up short in come capacity. For that reason, players must do more than just play music. The K5 not only plays music but it plays music through a set of stereo speakers neatly tucked under the screen.
Previous Samsung players have been items that you got lumbered with rather than desired. After spending the best part of a month with the K5 I felt that if I pulled this out of a stocking on Christmas morning, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the World. Samsung really have pulled all the stops with the K5 and it shows.
Taking a leaf out of Apple's book, the K5's packaging is impressive in itself. However it's not quite as impressive as the piano black gloss ingot that you are presented with. The overall fit and finish of the K5 is of a high calibre.
When you slide the speaker from under the screen, the sprung loaded mechanism feels reassuring rather than fiddly and ready to snap. The speaker unit tilts up so that the player can be sat on a desk with the speaker unit pointing about 40 degrees upwards.
Samsung have a minimalist thing going with the K5 with the only tactile button being a slider which functions as a power switch and a hold button. Thanks to a raised lip, the high gloss finish remains devoid of scratches. The clean lines of the K5 are a joy to behold. I can't help but think Apple's design teams would be proud of the K5.
Physically the only mistake is the use of a proprietary connector to hook the K5 up to your computer. Rather than going with a USB connector, Samsung have fitted a socket which looks more at home on the bottom of a mobile phone. Although ultimately it does connect to your computer through USB, it should be USB right from the start.
Sound quality of the K5 is acceptable. Through the supplied in-canal earphones, bass is good but if you are serious about your music listening you will want to invest in a pair. When played through the speakers, the output can surprisingly loud. Even in environments with background noise, it copes well. Don't get me wrong, it's not a £10,000 Linn setup but it's perfectly fine for personal listening when you are in a small room.
The K5 features an equalizer with five presets, however none of these presets are adjustable and custom ones cannot be created. I found "bass" to be lacking and "3D sound" to make very little difference. As I couldn't find any mention of SRS Labs, I guess Samsung didn't license the 3D positional audio technology from them, which is a shame because it works very well on my iRiver.
Sadly only the top touch-screen is finished in gloss black. This black veneer is pierced by the blue navigation touch-screen buttons which appear when the slightest pressure is applied. The screen is of a high quality with colours vibrant and contrast good. Although pictures in JPEG format can be viewed on the K5, the screen is physically too small for it to be of any great pleasure.
Navigation in itself is easy with the interface being quite intuitive. The real problem comes from the touch-screen. Being a screen it has no tactile feel. This isn't a huge issue as you are typically looking at the screen to get visual feedback of button clicks. The biggest problem is the proximity of buttons. Being so close to each other, I found myself frequently pressing the skip buttons when I wanted to press play. Buttons aside, the navigation system works well and shouldn't take more than five minutes to familiarize with.
Battery life is very good, especially when using earphones. Samsung quote 30 hours and in my travels I quite easily managed to get over 20. When using the speakers, battery life suffers an extreme drop with Samsung quoting just six hours. Unsurprisingly my experiences correlated with this information.
The K5 supports MP3 and WMA formats. As a multi-function device, it it has FM radio capabilities, the ability to display pictures in JPEG format and the ability to set alarms. Functionality wise, the K5 is pretty well covered.
When connected a computer, the K5 grabs its power and appears as an "audio player" in Windows XP. This is a good thing as it gives you a file system view of the player, allowing you to put files where you want. However I found myself encountering numerous errors when copying over music using file explorer. Thankfully you also have the option to synchronize with Windows Media Player or Samsung's own software, both of which I had no problems with.
Available in 1, 2 and 4Gb versions the K5 is priced to reflect the inclusion of speakers. A 1Gb unit will cost you the same as a 2Gb iPod nano. Considering that a pair of portable speakers for your iPod generally retail at over £50, the premium on the K5 isn't too great.
The K5 is radically different and in this industry that's a very good thing. The K5 left an impression on every person I showed it to. With good looks and good functionality, Samsung has made a player that's very desirable without being an iPod wannabie.