The Samsung U5 is a fitness-friendly MP3 player with a cute design and an affordable price ($40). With only 2GB of storage and a cramped, 1-inch screen, the U5 isn't suited as a primary MP3 player, but it works great as a second-rung surrogate to spare your iPhone the indignity of being tossed in the gym bag.
The U5 has a long, USB stick design, similar to the Sony Walkman B-Series, measuring 3.5 inches long by 0.9 inch wide by 0.5 inch thick. A four-direction navigation pad graces one end of the player, and at the other end, you'll find a standard USB connection covered by a removable cap. A four-line, 1-inch, OLED display is slightly recessed into the middle of the U5, giving it an unfortunate resemblance to a pregnancy test. Despite its small size, the display is relatively bright, with white-on-black lettering and the kind of excellent viewing angles only OLED can accomplish.
The U5 distinguishes itself from the crowd of small, cheap MP3 players by infusing the onscreen interface with a cast of animated characters Samsung describes as Popcon (not to be confused with popcorn). When booting up the U5 for the first time, a setup screen allows you to choose one of 11 Popcon characters (remember Tamagotchi?) and assign it a name. Your little character will greet you every time the player is booted up, and will appear in the music playback screen for songs that lack album artwork (yes, the U5 actually supports album artwork, believe it or not).
There's no getting around the fact that the whole Popcon animated character thing is a little cutesy, but it's not unbearable, and the little creatures actually do add some welcome whimsy to the fitness program included on the U5 (see below).
Two last little design details worth mentioning are the bundled pair of white earbuds and the clear, snap-on acrylic belt clip. The earbuds use a generous 4-foot long cable and provide a sound quality comparable to iPod earbuds (mediocre, but adequate). The acrylic clip snaps onto the back of the U5 and proved remarkably sturdy.