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printed December 20, 2014
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Review: Samsung Propel

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Propel's face is, of course, dominated by its squarish 2.2-inch LCD screen. Below the screen is a generously-sized circular navigation array. On either side of the array are three keys; stacked on the left are a soft menu key, a messaging access key and the Send key; on the right, a soft menu key, a back/clear key, and the End key. While the keys are tiled and adjacent, they are large enough to avoid accidentally hitting the wrong one.

At 2.33 inches wide the Propel is the perfect width for a breast or inside sports jacket pocket – it won't tip over and sink to the nearly unreachable bottom like other skinny phones. By making the phone wider, there's more room for a wider screen and a wider QWERTY keyboard without having to turn the phone on its side.

Propel also feels more natural in your hand for use with both applications and conversations, more like a BlackBerry than the usual cellphone.

Varying control keys, jacks and slots are arrayed around the phone's perimeter; on the left side are the volume toggle and the microSD slot, on the right is Samsung's proprietary power/headphone jack – there is no separate 3.5mm or 2.5mm headphone jack – and an application shortcut key. The volume and shortcut keys stick out just enough to find by feel but not far enough to catch on the inside of a pocket.

Pushing this application shortcut key displays a horizontal row of six icons – phone, messaging, Web, music, game and "end all," which closes any and all background apps, such as music. There's a direct access camera key on the bottom row of the keyboard.

Pressing the End key doesn't end an application, but shifts you to the home screen. You return to the background application via the side application shortcut key.

The 1.3 MP camera itself, alongside a vanity mirror, is located behind the top slider/screen screen section of the Propel and is revealed when you slide the screen section up. At the top rear of the Propel's QWERTY/base section is a small mono speaker.

A push with your thumb easily slides the screen up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard similar to a full-size BlackBerry's, complete with dual half-white number keys imbedded within the left side alpha keys (E-R-T=1-2-3, etc.).

Like BlackBerry and Treo keyboard keys, Propel's QWERTY keys are rounded rather than tile, so even though they're tightly packed, they are moderately thumbable unless you've got chubby thumbs.

Conversely, "dialing" a phone number on such small keys is disconcerting. This paradox – small keys are fine for the more complex task of text input but are awkward for the simpler task of tapping out a 10-digit phone number – is a matter of experience and learned muscle memory. We're used to tapping out messages on small keys and we're used to dialing on large keys.

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