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Review: Samsung T809

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Feb 1, 2006, 10:00 AM   by Jesse Lewin

In-depth review of the razor-thin Samsung T809 slider for T-Mobile.

Form

Is It Your Type 

The Samsung t809 is T-Mobile's gorgeous new fashion phone, and it certainly is the light around which people will crowd. The t809's display is hands-down one of the best we've seen, and particularly in such a svelte phone. If you find yourself texting occasionally, sharing photos and video, or just using your phone as a flashlight, the t809 will surpass your expectations. However if you plan on using the t809 as heavy texting tool or a camera replacement, it won't stand up to the job.

Body 

Body

The t809 is by far the most attractive phone to come out of Samsung in recent memory. It's slim black shape feels small yet solid and reassuring. It is barely thicker than the RAZR, which gives the phone the same ability to drop right into a pocket.

The volume rocker switch on the left side is the only button on the phone's edges. The minimal edge buttons leave maximum real estate, making the phone easy to grip. The power plug and microSD (TransFlash) card access are covered by simple plastic flaps.

The t809 build quality doesn't age well. While the use of very high quality plastics and tight seals allow for a great initial impression, during our testing the phone quickly showed signs of wear, both in the finish of the plastics, as well as the slide mechanism. At the bottom of the display, below the Samsung branding, there's a small ridge used for pushing the display up to reveal the keypad. Pressing on this ridge when the phone is closed creates a visible and audible flex. None of this effects the t809's functionality, but when comparing a one month old t809 to a RAZR of the same age, the RAZR will feel like a higher quality handset.

Keypad

The exterior keypad provides for easy usage of most functions without having to open the phone. The four-way D-pad is concave and includes a ring of light to help illuminate it. The cancel button below the D-pad has a nice ridge, which makes it easy to use despite its small size. The soft buttons have fixed partitions to separate them from the send and end buttons. These left and right columns of buttons are made from a more rough plastic than the smooth and shiny d-pad and cancel buttons.

The numeric keys underneath the display are amply sized for large thumbs. They also feature the same plastics and partitions as the exterior keys. The large numbers and clear lettering make for easy dialing and texting. Also, voicemail, shift, and silent icons occupy their standard locations which eliminates any sort of frustrating keypad learning curve.

Overall the keys are brilliantly designed and constructed. On the outside they stay compact and allow the display to fill the face of the phone. Inside they do a surprising job of accommodating large hands considering their small overall footprint. The difference in polished and unpolished plastics in both keypad areas makes no-look operation very easy.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

The display on the t809 is without a doubt one of the best we've seen in recent memory. The 18-bit 240x320 display provides five brightness settings, as well as controls for both when the backlight dims and when it shuts off completely, ranging from three minutes to fifteen seconds. Under standard indoor lighting, the maximum display brightness provides flawless visibility. In a dimly-lit pub however, the same level of illumination approaches uncomfortable. The few times we foolishly looked directly at the phone while using it as a midnight flashlight, our night vision was promptly shattered. Throughout our testing we kept the brightness at its minimum setting and almost zero visibility issues (Mid-day sunshine trumps even the best display).

Signal

The t809 displays a standard antenna and four bar signal indicator, which was accurate throughout our testing and rarely gave us false reads on network availability. Signal strength was great while on a call, with very little hiccup or clarity issues. Calls could also be made and maintained inside our stainless steel Apple mini store restroom. Unfortunately we had several occasions where calls would ring once before the phone reported a missed call. This behavior proved to be particularly frustrating by the end of our test.

Sound

The sounds of the t809 are a bittersweet experience. On the plus side, the performance of the speakerphone and music playback were excellent. The phone produced clear and loud calls and music from the built-in mp3 player application.

Because of the off center earpiece (in order to accommodate the camera), calls tended to sound softer than we would've liked. The earpiece volume had to be set quite loud to maintain conversations in loud pub environments or speeding cars. We also found that the most effective way to talk required that one corner of the phone be pressed into our ear; a somewhat uncomfortable position.

Aside from call volume, the music playback software only decodes standard mp3 files, transferred either over Bluetooth or USB from our Mac. However these files were not usable as ringtones (there has been talk in our forums of how to circumvent this).

Battery

The t809's battery performed admirably over the course of our test. We saw three full days of use calling, texting, surfing, and taking half a dozen photos per day. We also accomplished all of this while keeping Bluetooth enabled. Keep in mind however that this was while using the lowest possible display brightness, so keeping the display brightness cranked up will bring down your battery life.

The first indication that the battery is depleting is a change in color (from blue to purple) of the first of the battery's three blocks of charge. From there forward the three charge blocks disappear periodically. The battery indicator could be more clear, as this combination of color and shape makes determining your battery life difficult.

Basics

Menus 

Samsung's user interface is unique and very easy to manipulate, thanks largely to the excellent display. The main menu's nine icons are all large, high contrast, and animated, making them quick to memorize. The secondary menus are all written out in simple lists. The only departure from this design is in the camera application, where icons are used in place of text.

Each menu item is also tied to a keypad number, providing a similar keypad navigation strategy to Nokia Series 40 phones. The highlighted element in the menu is brilliant blue, which eliminates any discrepancy about what is currently selected. Interface response is quick, and in our testing we weren't able to find a place where the system bogged down.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls / Contacts 

Call records are all controlled from a single screen, with the left and right D-pad buttons used for filtering out missed, incoming, and outgoing calls. The type of call is also differentiated using a uniquely colored icon next to the number or contact name in the list. The calls list keeps a number to the right of each contact in the list, which tracks the number of received, sent, or missed calls.

Each of the t809's 1000 possible contacts, in addition to first and last names, included fields for mobile, home, office, fax numbers, as well as picture, ring-tone, and group. The phone does lack voice dialing, which was curious in light of the voice recorder that is included on the phone.

The in-call menu options are not as easy to use as they look. On the plus side, the speakerphone is easily enabled and disabled from the main menu. On the down side, after putting our first call on hold to answer a second call, the immediate menu option is to join the two calls. This function is something we use very rarely, particularly when compared to simply swapping back to the first call while the second one disconnects.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

Messaging on the t809 was a breeze, thanks to the great keypad and exceptional display. Slide the phone open, hit left on the D-pad, and you're composing a message. This is our preferred method as opposed to being presented with message type selection. Instead, from the composition screen, adding pictures, video, or sound is accessed from the options menu. Pressing the center button moves forward to a choice between the recent log, phonebook, and phone number entry. A nicety under the recent log that we haven't noticed on previous phones: the first option is select all.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Camera 

The t809's 1.3mp sensor does a very well, even though it's size is quickly losing its position at the top of the class. Sliding open the phone reveals the camera lens, which can be rotated 180 degrees to face the user for a quick photo with a friend. Pressing the camera button on the D-pad gives a two second load time before filling the entire display with the image. Resolution, ISO, zoom, and contrast settings are overlaid for a couple seconds before disappearing to leave only three icons (options, shutter, cancel) along the bottom of the display.

The options menu includes image effects (negative, sepia, emboss), graphic frames, timer, as well as ISO, exposure, and white balance controls. The most entertaining adjustment though has to be the t809's different shooting modes. Multi-shot will burst six, nine, or fifteen shots at 320x240 (just right for an MMS message or an iPod). Mosaic shot allows you to create a multiple-image composition. Each shot we took filled in one part of the overall image.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The t809's photos suffered from a slight blur, probably a result of the lens. Outdoor shots and bright light produced unreliable images. The contrast was out of balance, which produced washed out brights and extreme darks. Night shots on the street and in the pub produced more ISO noise, but much better color and contrast. Overall still photos produced enough resolution to make viewing easy, though the image clarity left something to be desired.

Video capture with the t809 was a real high point in our test. The video recorder supports four different resolutions; 128x96 and 176x144 for mms, and 320x240 and 352x288 for high quality capture. Video recorded for messages is smooth, though to make sending the video quick, it suffers from a bit of pixelation. The high quality video recording was smooth and crisp. Sound recording in both settings was loud and highly sensitive to environmental noise.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures and Videos 

Despite the blurry outcome of some photos, the t809 still scored a decent 20/50 on the vision test. In the still life test, colors were a bit dull, but accurate. This same accuracy came through in pictures taken under cloudy skies or indoors. When the sun comes out, the t809 does not compensate for the bright light. Colors are lost in a sea of too-bright lights and too-dark shadows. Even though the t809 lacks a flash, it took reasonable, if slightly grainy, pictures both indoors and out in the dark.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

(mack)
QuickTime format
File size: 474 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browser

The Openwave browser installed on the t809 was simple and effective in our testing. The browser app itself launched our site in less than ten seconds. Text was extremely crisp and clear, and navigation between links and other page elements gave us no trouble. The web experience was only held back by the lack of an EDGE data availability indicator. Occasionally we tried to look up a phone number using Google local mobile, only to be rebuffed with a network error.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customization

Customization on the t809 is limited in both image and sound. As we previously mentioned, mp3 files which playback perfectly through the music player app are not available for use as ringtones. The built-in selection of mp3 and midi ring-tones were all equally obnoxious, particularly when the phone lacks a simple telephone ringer.

Menu and display options are limited to two different layouts and color palettes. The first skin provides a green palette, and the second is blue. The green was kind of sickly, so we used the cool blue for our test's duration. The wallpaper on the phone is easily changed, and with such an exceptional display it is certainly the most exciting bit of customization.

File management

File management throughout the phone is simple and straightforward, with one screen displaying photos, video, music, and other files. In any list of files inside the file manager, the phone presented a select all option, which made quickly moving content great. Each of these sub menus also has direct access to the memory card, which is itself divided into the same categories. Navigating into the video folder of the file manager for example, presents options for downloaded videos, captured videos, and then a link to the memory card. Selecting the memory card presents you with the main memory card directory, where you again have to select the type of file you are looking for, be it video, image, or sound. We would prefer to see one hierarchy to control both internal memory and the memory card, as it creates one extra step when navigating.

Other 

Watch

The clock is perpetually displayed in large, clear type in the upper right corner of the display. Though it doesn't display a simple clock once the display goes to sleep, pressing any button or sliding the phone open will briefly activate the display to allow you to check the time. While we would prefer to have a screen saver that always displays a clock, the responsiveness of the display makes checking the time quick and painless.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth implementation on the t809 includes headset and handsfree profiles. The phone also allows for simple file transfer and object push for trading data between devices. Pairing the t809 with our Mac gave us options for using the phone as a high speed modem for DUN usage, as well as connecting it to the Mac's address book. Unfortunately the t809 does not support syncing with a PC or a Mac, something it's RAZR competition does without protest. Keep in mind that while syncing wasn't possible, using file transfer we were able to move collections of vcard files into the phone's address book.

Extras

The t809 does include the basic utility applications under the Organizer heading. The stopwatch function is surprisingly well executed, with a rolling clock and room for recording four splits underneath. The timer allowed us to set a time in hours and minutes, start the clock, and return to other operations while it continued in the background.

The unit conversion tool includes currency, length, weight, volume, area, and temperature, and all of these share a common screen, allowing us to quickly change between different types of data. The calculator provides a large expression space, and then maps basic arithmetic functions onto the main rocker pad. This design allowed for very quick operation, something rare in most phone calculators.

The world clock includes two different time zones which are selected using major world cities. It also includes a graphical map on which the selected time zone is highlighted. The alarm clock includes a wake up alarm, two secondary alarms, and lastly an auto power option. While we prefer to see any alarm clock power on the phone, this option is certainly better than an outright lack of such an ability.

Lastly, the calendar has the standard month, week, and day views, along with schedule, anniversary, misc, and to-do appointment types.

Video 

Want to see more of the T809? Check out our video review:



Direct links: Google Video or YouTube.

Wrap-up 

The t809 is poised to be a fantastic alternative to the RAZR. Samsung has packed a higher quality display, larger camera sensor, and a much better UI into an equally sleek form factor, though the build quality shows age faster than the RAZR. The true advantage of the t809 is the incredible display which brings the t809's functions to life. Although T-Mobile is carrying the t809 exclusively, Cingular will be launching its sister handset, the d807, very shortly. The high design of both of these phones amounts to Samsung throwing an elbow at Motorola.

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Comments

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Subject Author Date
Build Quality muchdrama Feb 1, 2006, 12:53 PM
Nice, but Disapointing for the money infoman Mar 11, 2006, 5:58 PM
I love it MrBoo Feb 6, 2006, 12:06 PM
My review... jfox76 Feb 1, 2006, 2:14 PM
The mp3 player braindead5400 Feb 1, 2006, 3:07 PM
 
 
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