Samsung was showing off two new finger-touch phones at MWC this year: the F480 and F490. Unfortunately, both are tri-band GSM for Europe and Asia, so they won't be offered directly in the States, and we wouldn't really recommend them for use the US. However, the two phones represent Samsung's second generation of finger-touch phones, and run a new version of Samsung's finger-touch UI. We hope to see similar phones for the US announced at CTIA in a few weeks.
Samsung's first generation of finger-touch phones included the F700 "Ultra Smart" that debuted at last year's 3GSM, which was then followed by the diminutive Armani phone. Both implemented "Croix", Samsung's first stab at a finger-touch phone interface. Croix was okay, but did seem a bit rushed (to compete with the iPhone) and wasn't nearly as refined as LG's competing UI on phones like the Prada and Viewty.
The new F480 and F490 run "TouchWiz", which you could think of as Croix 2.0. Samsung told us that TouchWiz will replace Croix on all new Samsung finger-touch phones. In fact, the F490 was originally slated to run Croix - and that's what was on display in the booth - but it was recently decided to upgrade the UI to TouchWiz instead of Croix on the final shipping version.
As you can see from the photos above, TouchWiz is very similar to Croix in most places. The basic layout and menu structure remains unchanged. TouchWiz upgrades the look to be more appealing and user-friendly, including text labels on the main menu icons and new icons added to the sub-menus.
There are some very key changes in several places, though. The cryptic icon bar at the bottom has been replaced with much more intuitive virtual soft keys that are clearly labeled. The system-wide shortcut menu also has a dedicated hardware button now, instead of the square icon taking up valuable screen space all of the time. The dialer also has larger number buttons now, and the phone book starts with a more powerful interactive screen now, instead of a plain menu, saving a click or two for anything contact-related.
By far the most "fun" improvement, though, is definitely the new home screen. The new home screen has a completely customizable set of widgets that can be dragged and dropped anywhere on the "desktop", and added and removed via a handy pop-up dock. The setup is highly customizable, fun, and very easy to use. Be sure to check out the video above to see this in action - it's really neat.
TouchWiz will be available on both the F480 and F490. The F480 is like a slightly larger Armani phone. The Armani phone is so tiny, though, that the F480 is still quite small. The little bit of extra size allows for a vastly improved camera (5 megapixel auto-focus) plus HSDPA for Europe and a larger, 2.8-inch display.
The F490 is a big brother to the F480. They're very similar, but the F490 steps up to an even larger 3.2-inch display. With a 16:9 aspect ratio and 240 x 432 pixels, it's optimized for video in landscape mode. The F490 is just about as thin as the F480. It's a bit taller, but the big surprise is weight: it's incredibly light.