Kneel Before Pod!

When it comes to mobile music, or mobile media in general, there is usually only one name that will come, unbidden to anyone’s mind: The great and powerful (or perhaps Great and Powerful) iPod. Apple has even gone so far as to try to patent the use of the term Pod. As if they and they alone are the progenitors of this simple term. As if before them, whatever plants were doing with their seeds, and spiders were doing with their eggs, were not creating pods, but something else entirely. Apple tried to declare dominion over that terminology. As time has gone by, many have tried and failed to bring down the behemoth iPod, and its resultant cornering of the digital music marketplace. They have endeavored for more than a minimal market share in combat with the great iPod, and been smote down each time by the Power of the Pod. Truly, there is only one thing a person can say about the iPod:

It is just the cutest little juggernaut ever. Yessum it is.

The latest challenger in this string of slain heroes is a device called the Samsung YP-R0. It’s a brash little latecomer that comes reasonably well armed, but does it have the gladiatorial moxy to step to the line and finally get the scrappy iPod to tap out?

The Eyes of A Killer?

The R0 (which is not a Porsche model, so the letter / number combination is a little pretentious, I feel) is essentially competing with the old Nano iPod models. I know this not only because it is the same basic size, but Samsung has used the phrase “iPod Nano Killer” to help advertise the R0. It is a swindler’s gambit attempting to capitalize on the classic feel of the iPod now that it has moved on to other things.

Normally, using the phrase “iPod killer” is tantamount to declaring yourself “Ordained by God” which is mostly the kiss of death. You will receive scoffs of derision from your peers, consumers will roll their eyes, and even Zune users will stop returning your phone calls. I held out real hope for the R0, however, because I am a long-time Nano user that does not generally enjoy the device. I thought perhaps this would be the magic bullet that would allow me to forever cast my iPod into the sea, declaring that we would see each other at the crossroads betwixt this world and whatever hell awaits the infernal little machine.


With the unveiling of the new iPod Nano, this Samsung seemed to be trying to fill the void left by giving a more classic Nano feel, rather than requiring the move to a fully touchscreen dependent device. It seems also to be using a lower price tag to put it somewhere between the $139 Nano and the $79 Shuffle. It might be a reasonably cunning marketing move, but it could also be the mp3 player equivalent of getting your friends boyfriend drunk and then sleeping with him to get back at her. It seems petty and lacks innovation or originality.

There were a number of likable features to the Samsung, at least in my savage little heart. First, it doesn’t employ the repugnant scroll wheel, nor rely on the irritating touchscreen that has been the Apple trademarks for years. Instead it has a touch plate design in which scrolling is accomplished not by thumb rolls, but by a press / hold design. All these were nice, but not nearly as nice as the universal mount feature.

One of the primary problems with many mp3 players is that they often have trouble interfacing with the system. The iPod works on a PC, but can be problematic. Most alternatives don’t work on Apple computers at all, and when they do, they are rife with error messages. The R0 doesn’t do this. It doesn’t use proprietary software, so there is a simple drag and drop interface when you plug it in to any USB drive. It operates just like a flash drive in this sense, and automatically detects the file type so that it can be used accordingly.


As to volume and performance, the R0 delivered on both. The musical clarity was very strong, and the volume was very solid, even on some of my more difficult recordings. Menus were easy to navigate, even if not exactly inspired. The R0 sports a little “Return” feature that allows you to move up and down menu tiers quickly without moving backwards too quickly, a problem I often had with the Nano. The setup is friendlier, and an accidental press doesn’t move you out of your podcast directory into your music accidentally, another fault the Nano suffered from.

There was a lot to like, however the menu navigation did falter when it came to scrolling. I much prefer the interface that the R0 uses, but it often scrolls through your options too quickly, requiring a lot of scrolling backwards and forwards instead of using a variable pressure system on the touch pad to accomplish slower or faster scrolling. This means that if you are in a funk and want to hit your Pierce the Veil songs, expect to scroll back and forth a couple of times, just to add frustration to your lamentable depression. It might give you a little more existential angst, but it does not for a happy music player make.


My other complaint comes partially from the lack of proprietary software. This is a personal matter, rather than a universal one. I don’t listen to music, because I don’t really care for it. Most of my iPod is podcasts and talk radio recordings, because that is just the kind of pimp I am. Since I could easily synch my iPod to iTunes and get all my podcasts automatically and then seamlessly transfer them to my player, which worked for me. Having to download through iTunes, then dig the podcasts out and put them into the player via click and drag was more time consuming than I really cared for. So if you are an avid podcast listener, you might be better off staying with your iPod.

The Wrap

The whole experience was good. It wasn’t “dashing my Nano on the rocks below as I laugh manically” good, but it was fine. I would suggest you tinker with the R0 if you are in the market for a new mp3 player. It is slightly larger and has improved battery life, both of which I enjoy, but the greater bulk (if bulk is even the proper word for something so small) might not be for everyone. The menu might feel a little hard to navigate and some of the click features might feel finicky rather than nuanced.

I would never declare this a killer of any kind. Unless it intends to literally wait in the shadows with hatchet at the ready, it is doubtful that anyone will be swayed to cut the tether to their little white headphones and multichromatic Nano. It is certainly the equal of the Nano in many ways, but is still going to be relegated to niche technology rather than usurp the stranglehold the iPod has on the market. A yeoman’s showing, Samsung, but we need an unstoppable force to dis-entrench the immovable iPod.