Way back, I got the Motorola RAZR v3, a very sexy phone. It had a stunning design, a nice display, and pretty good sound — and not much else. I've been hoping to upgrade for a while, but the next generation RAZRs took long to arrive, and did not entice me right away — the RAZR's design was so perfect that any change from it seemed to be for worse, while keeping it seemed more of the same. A rock, and a hard place. At the same time, the technology seemed OK, but not all that impressive, and the fact that the interesting features seemed spread out over a confusing trinity of next-generation rather products rather than being united in a single unit didn't help.
One contender was the LG Shine. I ultimately decided against it because its killer feature, its look and metal body, was offset by every review mentioning how it's "all fingerprints" after half an hour (give or take some complaints about the user-interface). I still think this might possibly be a great phone to have, especially if you wish to spend a little less.
Another contender from LG was the Prada-phone which in some ways anticipated the iPhone; with more up-to-date technology (or even just more memory), it might have likewise have been a serious contender. By now, it's sold on shop channel, so any exclusive air it may have possessed is gone.
Speaking of the iPhone itself, I'm pretty sure I'll want one. iPhone 2.0, iPhone 3.0, something like that. This one? Not so much — no 3G, no voice dial, no MMS, crap camera, no flash, no Java, no Bluetooth stereo, no video-recording, the list goes on. Add to that that it comes with a plan and I'm not sure I want one (I'm not even sure when mine expires), and that you can't change the battery yourself, and I'm put out.
Then came the Samsung Soul.
Well, for one thing, the SGH-U900 (video) is very chic, obviously. This is one seriously beautiful phone — the shell, the (brushed metal) theme, even the touchpad if configured right. The menus are more straight-forward than the RAZR's, the display's resolution is higher of course, and so is the camera's. It has more memory, and can be expanded further. Like the v3, it has the downer of some token plastic in that "full metal shell." And at first, it feels awkward to hold while making a call. But is it the "new RAZR"?
Below the fold: The Bad
The box included the user's guide in German and English; this seems to be largely the same document you can download as PDF (and DjVu!) from Samsung's site (~60 pages). The website also offers a 150 page user manual in English. The guide seems almost as bad as the RAZR's ("explains the obvious, and does not even address the interesting"), while the manual at least mentions, say, APOP, SMTP auth, POP/IMAP before SMTP. Nevertheless, it will not actually explain any of those terms, which sometimes results in entries like FOO: Enable feature 'foo', which, and let's be totally fair here, doesn't help shit's worth. (What does help is setting the interface language to English first thing, so feature names are somewhat standardized.) Not only is it unacceptable that some of the options are not explained properly (especially the ones specific to the phone so you can't "just know" or look up the word online), it is also a mystery why this isn't part of the phone's UI in the first place, with all the memory phones have these days. Designate a help-key, and make it work with every single option in the phone.
Addendum: Interestingly enough, there are about half a dozen options in the phone that have one-line explanations onboard; having this for all options would have gone a long way.
Somewhat surprisingly, the user interface takes a little while to get used to — it's a mix of a display, hardkeys, softkeys, and a touch-sensitive context-adaptive display with tactile feedback. While in a way this aims to give you the best tool for each job (e.g. a "real" 10-pad for dialing blind, a touch-sensitive display for keys where the semantics change a lot, etc.), this takes a few moments to come together: the display and the softkeys push differently, of course, and given that I worked a lot with the touch sensitive display at first, I kept trying to use the same paradigm for the softkeys and press their labels on the main screen, rather than the metal buttons. The good news is, you get used to it on Day One.
The other good news is, there's often more than one way to do it. To dial, there's the obvious 10pad, the phonebook, and the quickdials, but there's also Search as spelling, where 5747 matches KRIS (4+1 keystrokes, where J→K P→Q→R G→H→I P→Q→R→S would be 12+1+1 — of course, from a certain number of contacts on, you'll have to choose from a list of hash collisions). In the music-player and when using the camera, functions can be accessed via the touch-display, or directly via a hotkey on the 10pad. All list-menus can be navigated via the touch-display's arrow keys, or jumped to directly by typing the entry's index on the 10pad. When the main menu is in grid- rather than list mode, the grid mirrors that of the 10pad.
Addendum: Once you enter the first four digits of a number to be dialed, a list with all possible completions pops up. While this is nice in theory, the cursor does not default to the shortest match, so if you just type the complete number and press dial, you might end up dialing the wrong number (because dial confirms whatever is under the list's cursor, possibly a longer match). This is a bug.
The structure of the menus is pretty straight-forward; I found everything out of the box where with the RAZR, I had to "think hard" for certain items even after owning the phone for years. On the downside, Back/Cancel is usually located on the Soul's right softkey. This not only isn't what I'm used to, it also strikes me as somewhat counter-intuitive. "Western" motion after all is from left to right; to go back, you go left. Putting Back on the right key is anti-spacial.
Speaking of handling — there seems to be no voice-dialing? I hope I just somehow missed it. OK, so I haven't actually been using that with the RAZR in a looooong time, but it's still kinda weird for a high end phone not to have it, and it's probably a red flag for the headset crowd.
And a headset it seems to take. The sound is fabulous even with the included wire-bound headset. On the other hand, the built-in speaker is underwhelming. Now I wasn't going to listen to music using the built-in mono speaker, of course, but we're talking "I'm not sure the alarm will be loud enough to wake me" here. This depends largely on your source material, bass will mostly disappear, mid-range sounds (an electric guitar solo as a ring tone, say) can still be pretty loud. This may be a blessing in disguise; the RAZR had excellent sound, and with some of the manly men, the phone's bass-heavy sound turned everything into mumble, mumble, mumble. On the downside, the Soul's mid-heavy performance seems to also boost the other party's background noises to an uncomfortable level.
Addendum: The little speaker that could — in hands-free mode, the phone is certainly loud enough, so my beef is partly with the volume setting being somewhat limited. But then when the sound is loud enough to understand the other party, background noises and hissing sounds are really unpleasant; a de-esser would have been great. On the other hand, I really wish the phone would add some artificial noise in speech-pauses. I'm not sure where the overzealous noise-gating happens, but the speaker characteristics bring it out in a bad way.
Addendum: Airmail Special makes for a funny ringtone, what with the intro sounding somewhat like someone scatting a telephone ringing. Yes, I'm amused by small things.
Addendum: Yazoo's State Farm also makes for a great ringtone.
Addendum: This phone's earpiece looks a bit funky; for all I know, it's usually the nicest-sounding phone in the world, and this particular one is broken.
Speaking of sound, the radio seems OK, the song-player seems OK (and has an equalizer with presets, some of which actually seem useful); even the MIDI-sounds seem OK. The sound via headset is quite satisfying, even great depending on your source material. The player can of course continue sounding while you do something else.
The movie-player seems to play only MP4, and only at resolutions it particularly likes. OK, it's probably not like you really cared to watch an episode of, uh, whatever on that small a screen anyway, but.
My SanDisk 8 GB microSD card works in the phone (though I think I didn't see the 8 GB in the phone's memory report, which first misled me to believe the card wasn't recognised; look out for the microSD icon instead, it's the one that looks like a grand piano . The phone can be set to behave like mass storage via USB (cable included), which means it will show up (as a drive) on Linux with no extra software required. You can then transfer audio, video, and images either way, but not a lot of video will play on the phone (see above), and not all audio will show in the media player (MP3 etc. will; to play WAV or, gasp, MIDI, you seem to have to go to the phone's file-manager instead). Likewise, the USB cable lets you connect the phone to a PictBridge enabled printer (like my Canon, though I haven't test this yet) to print photos without a detour via the computer.
The phone comes preloaded with no games whatsoever, which seems rather weird at the price. I amused myself by trying the Desperate Housewives game at €4.99 which was downloaded in a flash and vaguely amusing. I'm not an avid player, but I suppose it's good to know the option is there if you're stuck in the doctor's waiting room.
Speaking of downloads, this is a 3G phone and will support GRPS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA. I have not yet tried using it as a modem for the laptop. Web-browsing was pleasantly painless in my test and worked out of the box; so did accessing GoogeMail (after entering name and password of my pre-existing account). Going by the menus, the phone also supports POP and IMAP, with and without SSL, but I have not tested that yet.
On a side-note, the phone is a tri-band rather than quad, so it might not be perfect for people who spend a lot of their time in the US. The phone does however offer the frequent traveler the option to update the time automatically or after checking back when crossing timezones, and it lets you set preferred networks, which is particularly handy when living near the border.
The phone is also a 5-megapixel camera with macro, face recognition, image- and video editor, multi-shot (up to 9 photos in a series), flash (yuck), timer, scene presets (portrait, sports, night shot, …), auto focus, secondary camera for video calls, and so much more!
As for the haptic component? The dimensions are similar to the RAZRs (the Samsung might be a little heavier though, I'd have to check). The 10pad looks similar and its keys press nicely, though like pretty much any phone on the market, its keys feel smallish after several years on the RAZR. I actually mistyped a couple of times. The spring of the slide is very nice, somewhere between "could be a little easier" and "just right." The tactile feedback on the touch-screen is actually helpful, particular when you "just grabbed the phone" and weren't fully aware you're touching the panel. The phone is a bit unpleasant to hold during calls, but I initially felt the same way about the RAZR, so I'll give the benefit of the doubt here.
Lastly, the phone has some amusing toy stuff. For instance, the dial-screen's theme can be chosen independently from the main theme (which in turn can be supplement by a wallpaper, fine-tuned in terms of fonts and colours, etc.). Pictured right: the Neuschwanstein-theme — the fountain pen moves as you add digits, and the picture of castle Neuschwanstein at the top has day or night colours depending on local time! : )
As illustrated, the phone has some kinks, so it's not for everyone. If you can live with the aforementioned limitations, it certainly is a very sexy phone for people who want just that: a small and chic state of the art phone (possibly with a high rez camera); no keyboard, no shell/terminal, limited headset operation — a telephone, not a "communicator" brick or a smartphone. Me? I'm … in love, to the extent that you can be with an object. I'm mature enough to accept a few flaws in my objects of desire, so a match is definitely possible. I will however have to find out whether the earpiece in this particular phone is broken, or whether they're all like this — in which case I'm afraid "the marriage is off" …
Apparently, this would add a free (as in both) Java SSH, http://www.xk72.com/midpssh/ though I have not tested that yet. Also see here: http://ngphone.com/j2me/opensource/ssh.htm http://tuxmobil.org/pda_linux_apps_java.html#ToC34