updated 09:50 pm EDT, Fri April 3, 2009
Samsung CTIA Hands On
While at the CTIA mobile expo this week, Electronista has tried Samsung's new lineup of US devices and come away with early impressions. The Impression is undoubtedly the company's flagship non-smartphone for the US and has likely one of the best-looking touchscreens of any device in the country, including the iPhone: while it's a bit smaller at 3.2 inches, the active matrix OLED display is simply stunning. Colors are extremely vibrant and don't exhibit the gradient banding artifacts often seen on mobile LCDs. It's also bright enough to stand out even in the difficult lighting of a show booth.
However, an initial test of the controls doesn't suggest it will challenge Apple in other respects. While we appreciate the TouchWiz interface itself for its relative simplicity, the Impression uses a resistive touchscreen that makes it slightly difficult to use. Accidental inputs and overshoots are unusually common. The keyboard is workable, but it's also not particularly special. At this stage, we would largely recommend the Impression for those who intend to watch a large amount of (compatible) videos or will work often with photos. It ships on the 7th for $200 on an AT&T contract.
Although it's technically more limited than the Impression, we've enjoyed the Instinct S30 more: while it's ultimately just a refinement of the original, it's still a very capable device and has a much nicer, curved design. Sprint's custom interface is still fairly easy to use with large icons and simple lists. We also liked the relatively light touch needed for the resistive screen and the localized haptic feedback. That said, it appears that Sprint may have dropped its hopes that the Instinct series would stand against the iPhone as a rival; even with significantly opened Java app development, the phone has very nearly the same specifications and is now simply a good mid-range phone rather than a "halo" model for the company. It should cost $130 after discounts when it ships on the 19th.
With the Mondi WiMAX tablet, however, we couldn't help but be somewhat disappointed. While it goes to great lengths to produce a tablet-ready interface, certain design decisions and the choice of using Windows Mobile both render it somewhat clumsy: it depends on the stylus and doesn't support gestures or other more intuitive commands; it's telling that the company uses Opera instead of Internet Explorer Mobile for web browsing. Sluggishness is also commonplace in the OS itself. We'd also note that the WiMAX link was slow, though this was an indoors test environment and is hard to gauge as a test of real speeds. The keyboard was acceptable given the size, but the directional pad is too small for a large amount of navigation. Clear
As for Samsung's other new Windows Mobile device, the Propel Pro, we were significantly more impressed. Even though it's superficially an upgrade to the Propel, the combination of a real smartphone-grade OS as well as the new shell do create a much more interesting device. The keyboard is comfortably large, but we particularly liked the use of a joystick in the center instead of a directional pad. It's confusing at first but is subtler and better-built than the inexpensive phone's simple click controls. Samsung won't convert users of BlackBerries or other rival devices, but it should be persuasive to some new users who want a messaging-heavy but still very flexible phone. It ships on the 14th, and early pricing sits at $150 on a 2-year plan.