In the five years that I have been reviewing MP3 players for CNET, I have seen a lot of strange ones. I have seen MP3 player shoes, MP3 player sunglasses, MP3 player keychains, MP3 players for toddlers, and even Apple's confounding buttonless iPod Shuffle design.
But the Galaxy Muse might be the worst MP3 player design I've seen yet. The navigation interface is difficult to see, impossible to feel, and infuriating even when it's working properly.
Like the Apple iPod Shuffle, the Galaxy Muse is roughly the size of a wristwatch. On its face you'll find a few markings that indicate the touch-sensitive controls for volume, Track Skip, and Play/Pause. On the review unit we received, these markings were made with dark-gray ink on dark-blue plastic, making them impossible to see in low light. And because the Muse is as smooth as a glass pebble, there's no way to physically differentiate the controls either.
But to really take this ill-conceived design over the top, Samsung set the controls to automatically go to sleep when not in use. Considering that it's impossible not to touch the volume-up button when pinching the clip open, putting the controls to sleep may have seemed like an ingenious way to prevent people from accidentally blasting their eardrums. And while it may prevent lawsuits over hearing loss, it also makes the navigation seemingly unresponsive, as you need to touch the controls once to wake them up, and then again to carry out their intended function. Repeated use only makes this unintuitive system more infuriating.
The rest of the device is relatively unremarkable. You get a headphone jack at the top (headphones included) a plastic clip on the back, a power switch on the right edge, and switches for hold and shuffle on the left.
For better or worse, the headphone jack also doubles as a charging and data transfer port. This makes for a slightly tidier design compared with adding a Micro-USB port, but it comes at the expense of requiring two small, not-easily-replaceable adapters for standard USB and Micro-USB.
The inclusion of both adapters makes it possible to sync music files from either a computer (via USB) or compatible Samsung smartphone (via Micro-USB). Not surprisingly, Samsung's flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2, are compatible with the Muse once a free app has been installed.
The Muse is a basic 4GB MP3 player cut from the same cloth as the similarly minimalist Apple iPod Shuffle. There's no screen, and no method for dialing up a specific song or album. You simply turn it on and pray that the song you hear is something you like. If it isn't, you can skip between songs using the capacitive touch controls on the front. There's also a switch on the side that can change the playback mode to either shuffle all the songs randomly or play them sequentially.
Audio formats supported by the Muse include MP3, WMA, FLAC, and OGG. Noticeably absent is any support for AAC, the music format of choice for Apple and its iTunes store.
The most intriguing feature of the Muse is that it's capable of syncing music either from your computer or directly from a compatible Android device. A headphone jack adapter that converts to standard USB is used for traditional computer syncing (via mass storage mode). As anyone who's owned an iPod Shuffle will tell you, these odd little cables are easy to lose and relatively difficult to replace compared with a standard Mini- or Micro-USB cable.