Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
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Spillikins - First issue
What do you know about the game of spillikins, or, as they sometimes call it, jackstraws? Even back in the day, when I was young, this word was already barely known to kids. So it is no wonder that these days, its meaning is even more vague, although as of late, this game has been regaining some of its long past fame, especially among grownups. To do away with this, all questions about this series title, I shall allow myself a quick rundown on this game. “Spillikins” is basically a game in which players, one after the other try to pick each spillikin from a heap, without moving any of the others. The goal is very simple – to get the most spillikins without ruining the pile.
But, why would we use the name of a long-forgotten game for the new series? The thing is, a while ago, we forwent our preview articles, as for the most part, we seemed to be wasting time with them. We would usually write our impressions from a hands-on session, then add in some more thoughts, and that’s the recipe for a solid review. I suppose you would agree that reading the same thing over and over again, trying to pick out subtle differences between two articles isn’t the most enticing thing to do – I’m not interested in this: neither as the editor-in-chief, nor as a reader, and deem it questionable as an author on top of that. I think it is unforgivable when someone tries to steal precious time from busy people (and we all are these days). That’s why taking you on a tour through what we are currently working on without going into too much detail was a challenging task. A lot of different ideas were crossing my mind now and then – from incredibly complex, to very easy to materialize. Eventually, common sense and the idea to fill up the gaps left by the bare lines of our reviews have prevailed, that’s why we have decided to play a game of jackstraws with you. The gist is simple – we drop a handful of phones on a table and pull them one by one out of the heap, reviewing our impressions and opinions on them along the way.
All reviews of the phones listed below will pop up on our main page during this week, well, probably some will make it only some time next week, but rest assured it won’t take too long. These are the reviews that are almost done, but their release dates my be postponed due to various technical reasons, so I beg you not to write me something along these lines: “when will the review of “X” will come out, it has already been featured here in “Spillikins”. You are never going to get a reply.
You can view everything below as an announcement of our upcoming reviews, which is still much more interesting than bare spec sheets – after all, we are not soulless accountants, and handsets are not mere toys.
Now, let’s take the plunge.
Spillikins on the desk – my workplace.
Honestly, I tried to free up some more space for a pile of handsets, but I couldn’t talk myself into nudging away the laptop and a great wooden piano that I had been assembling lately (probably 1/50 of its real size). So the only part of my table that wasn’t crowded with stuff was the area locked between the second monitor and printer – that’s where I dropped the first batch of phones for this installment of our “Spillikins” series. Listing them in order of their appearance… before my eyes:
Our rules of spillikins stipulate that not only should we pull a phone out of the heap, but also speak about various associations, stories, thoughts that spring up along the way.
Sony Ericsson G700
First up is my favorite pet that I haven’t been able to part with for over a month already – the Sony Ericsson G700. I have already done to it everything I could only think of, played around with it to the point when I knew its every gear, so now I have it all to myself, with no obligations or deadlines. Without much fuss, it settled down in my pocket, and accompanied me everywhere day in, day out. It even survived a couple of paintball firefights – I got hit hard from 3 meters away or so, and it was the G700 that saved me from getting a wealth of bruises on my body. Amazingly, it didn’t take any damage – no dents, no scratches, nothing. I suppose any another handset would have protected me just the same, but I had the G700 on me that day. Is it fate? I guess.
The other day, me and Sergey Kuzmin got carried away a little by mysticism – he, for one, can’t stand the sight of… actually, I forgot what company it was, has to be either Nokia’s or Sony Ericsson’s handsets. And that’s serious – the phones from that maker in his hands don't ring at all, or he gets only bad news through them, but once he takes his SIM-card to the “right” device, everything returns to normal.
While we were only joking about this, I got to think of the meaning and mission of every model and turned my eyes to the G700. I found out that my love towards this particular handset had grown largely thanks to very few calls I received with it over the month of my quality time with it. No, it doesn’t drop calls whatsoever, on the contrary, it does okay on this front. The thing is, I almost never got occasional calls from strange people preaching the cult of Cthulhu, insurance agents, or kids in search of technical support and so on. But, as soon as I took my Sony Ericsson P1i, all these people with their bothersome calls came out of the blue. That’s another reason to start believing in a phone's karma.
I was a little disappointed to find out that the G700’s keypad couldn’t stand bright sun, in that the tiny captions there just blend together, so it is impossible to figure out what is what. Personally, I didn’t experiance any hardships because of this glitch, but it still somewhat spoiled my impression of the phone. Nothing is perfect in this world, although some things get very close to it.
As far as stability is concerned, the G700 leaves the Sony Ericsson P1i (the version that was available on its release) in the dust hands down. Furthermore, the senior model ends up in a very tricky spot, when it is still not ready to withdraw from the market, yet its attractiveness gets a severe blow. You hear a bell ringing, calling for a replacement in the form of a new super-phone in 3-4 months’ time?
The G700’s touch-based interface makes a strong impression on everyone who tries it. The truth is, it is not flawless in some ways – that is, we would like to zoom in and out on pictures like with the HTC Touch, but this feature is still not there. Next iterations of this interface will definitely boast this ability, but not for a reasonably cheap solution. To make things clear, just think of this – all interactions with the phone are seamlessly carried out without having to pull the stylus out of its nest, which is extremely convenient. Even the G700’s on-screen keyboard is suitable for stylus-less typing, once you get the hang of it (saving for when you are on the move, but, on the other hand, the iPhone’s huge virtual keyboard is no better usability-wise in this case).
Now, as regards as to why I think this phone is one of the best deals out there, especially given my initial scepticism about it. Three reasons, everything by the book – price, edge over the competition in functionality, and unique positioning for all consumer groups.
If you are in the market looking for a phone that you are planning to stay with for a year, then the G700 or G900 are definitely worth a glance. The latter solution is slightly superior thanks to its Wi-Fi and higher megapixel-count, but these things are not all that crucial. I suppose both offerings are already on the list of the most anticipated solutions, and we are eager to get our hands on them too. There will be more additions to this series in the future – some of them are nothing out of the ordinary on paper, yet have what it takes to shake the market in a big way. In fact, these are the devices that Sony Ericsson will be increasing its market share with – the lull of the first half of 2008 will turn into a storm very soon.
Alcatel Mandarina Duck
For me, the brand of Alcatel will always associate with its senior manager in Russia, who then went on to become the company’s director for CIS countries and Italy. Of course, we are talking about Berengere Dutuel. Having come to Moscow right from her previous position in Ukraine, she was so enthusiastic about settling down on this market, that I would often wonder where she got all this inspiration and energy from. The fact is, even with subpar functionality, lack of certain solutions, and their portfolio weighted more towards the entry-level end, Alcatel have done the impossible in Russia – they, or it’d be better to pay a tribute to Berengere here, who is a great friend, managed to talk consumers into buying their phones. The same warm feelings arise inside me when I’m looking at the designs of Alcatel’s, or TCL Mobile if you like (although we all know that it was more of a showoff financed by Alactel) latest and greatest offerings.
Likable casing, quaint shapes, and good materials – all in all, you will never find anything similar in this price-bracket, where many alleged top-of-the-line solutions don’t deliver as far as plastic quality goes. Although there is a big letdown to these phones – while you get oodles of style with them, there is not enough functionality to back it up, as all you get is a set of entry-level features: mediocre internal displays, lack of many welcome feats.
By the way, do you like bags by Mandarina Duck? Personally, I find a few models adorable, especially the bag for Sony Vaio that goes for pretty much the same money as Sony’s branded cases (care to convince me Sony is making them itself?). But for some reason, I haven’t had a chance to get something with the “Mandarina Duck” label tacked on it so far – somehow, I tend to buy Spanish bags in small stores of Seville. You know, it is sort of a ritual when you arrive in some city, then accidentally stumble upon a local shop and then come back year in year out to buy something there.
Mandarina Duck obviously has more followers than Alcatel’s handsets, so this is the phone maker’s rare chance to team up with a big shot. As for the handset itself, it benefits from having a bright casing coming in a variety of different neon hues. The MD phone also comes boxed with a clip for your favorite bag, so you can hang it on the inside with its help. At present, the Alcatel Mandarina Duck retails for around 140 USD, which is almost a steal for a handset like this. On the other hand, so far I have got mixed responses from people who saw me with a neon green gadget in my hands. Some started questioning me where they could buy it, while others, on the contrary, didn’t care to hide their disdain for it. Those who need something lowly, yet packing in the same punch should put the Alcatel C701 on their short-list, for it doesn’t differ from the Mandarina Duck feature-wise.
In truth, if we were to stick to how this article has been turning out so far, it would be a Sony Ericsson-branded phone here instead of the Samsung F250, but in this game my thought process can't influence what I pick out of the heap. Personally, I relegate this phone to the class of “insipid” solutions – the thing is, all its merits and failings are right on top if you only scratch surface and my enthusiasm about went off shortly after I took it in my hands. That’s how come I have dragged the F250 (even different units!) along for the past 7-8 months and couldn’t make myself write a review. The handset in effect has made a trip around the world in my pocket, but every time I thought I was ready to sit down and put my thoughts on paper something would distract me. That is, in Los Angeles I got my head around it, typed the headline, but then we suddenly took off and the next moment I found myself sitting in some celebrity’s villa. The choice between the F250’s review and the chance to meet a local diva was pretty much predetermined. Although it was a great disappointment, now I have more respect for those who handle postproduction movie rendering. The next day I got back to this review, but suddenly felt an urge to spend some time in soft sunlight and headed straight towards the city center for a short shopping session that turned out to be not so short after all – you know how it usually happens, you have something particular in mind, but end up buying a totally different thing, having dinner, watching a movie that has just got to the big screen and that’s it, your organizer informs you that there are other matters at hand.
The next attempt to write the review, this time around in Germany, was a bit more of a success. Oktoberfest was raging right outside my window, but I paid no attention, as I was trying to work hard. Probably it’d be better to put it this way “to Work Hard”, as I even put a sign on my door “Don’t disturb”. But it was one distraction too many – festive voices from a local pub penetrated even the double glass in my room. So I had nothing left to do but dress up and go out along with a bunch of my German friends to see what the “commotion” was all about. Suffice it to say I didn’t come back early, but the review got one paragraph longer.
Then followed a series of trips around different cities and countries, and the F250 review’s length slowly grew up to one page. I truly hope I’m going to finish it some time this week and do away with this burden once and for all.
As far as the handset goes, there is not much to write home about. The Samsung F250 is an entry-level slider with pretty good sound quality – all in all, standard Samsung fare. It has been enjoying pretty good sales thanks to its adequate price tag, but it would be wrong to assume that they will always be at this level. On the other hand, though, there are no direct rivals in sight as of today, so the F250 is pretty much “king for a day”, as it is exactly what the mass market needs.
Sony Ericsson Z770i
The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the Z770i – boxy, had seen something like that before, somewhat ugly. But as it turned out, the handset’s design, as is the case with Sony Ericsson-branded solutions, was unparalleled on the market. After a month of quality time with it I got used to its looks, moreover, I even came to like it in a way. I suppose you have experienced this feeling, when you aren’t really keen on something, but when you start wearing/using it, new facets and features that you overlooked before, come to the surface and then you suddenly realize that you like it. Basically, you can either love the Z770i or hate it. So, if you find its design appealing and need exactly a mid-tier folder, then why not? It sports aluminum finish on the front face, a no-frills 2 Mpix camera, A200 for the platform – no bells and whistles, but feels good, just like your old comfortable pair of shoes. I also liked both the looks of the keypad and how it handled – the credit here goes to Sony Ericsson’s designers who have a knack for materializing emotions in the form of buttons. Design is their trump card, what can you do about it.
Surprisingly, there is a whole lot of things I could say about this phone, but for some reason I feel no urge to. Perhaps that’s not the type of handsets I like. The Z770i doesn’t attract curious eyes of people around you, nor can it tip them towards asking you if they could play around with it. It is a “run-of-the-mill” fashion-savvy offering, whose foremost mission is to appeal to the owner, so it is more of a statement about your own taste. But why not? This point of view has every right to exist. We will expand on this matter in our in-depth review, and for now let us stop right here.
I can help but love it when some phone maker modifies a feature or two in its own device, paints it in a different color and here you go – it is all set to roll out a new solution. Well, the reason I like it is that I spend much less time putting a review together, as all I need to do I carry over most facts to the new review and then run though the differences. The Z8 and Z10 are set apart by a couple of things: the latter’s metallic casing, as well as its 3.2 Mpix camera with autofocus, video editor and applications for sharing photo/video to the Web. Not a wealth of enhancements for 500-600 USD, which is in fact the price they charge for the first kick-slider – the Z8. They will dub the Z10 a “multimedia monster”, as was the case with its predecessor, but the thing is, “monster” is only applicable here if we mean dinosaurs or any other ancient and apparently oversized species – I already image a film by BBC "Walking with Dinosaurs" or something along these lines.
However, the Z10 isn’t that bad – you can literally feel that its creators have put a particle of their soul into it; this handset will definitely find its small numbered audience that will fully appreciate and enjoy it. I, for one, find its keypad too stiff – I twiddled with a couple of Z10 units and none of them improved on this front. Its camera came as a surprise, faring better than I had expected from Motorola. But the Z10 stands so far apart from what is currently available on the market that we can’t say it will be much of a success. It is not even for sure that consumers will get what the Z10 is all about or the manufacturer will be able to convey this phone’s heritage to the market. And it is a pity, as effectively, the future of really enticing UIQ-powered solutions hinges on whether this handset will be a flop or not.
Winding it all up, I think an interesting story is in order. The other day I was waiting for my colleague to arrive in a small restaurant and so happened that I had the Z10 along with Vertu’s latest and greatest offering lying next to me (normally I don’t like pulling out all phones I have). Sitting right next to me was a man of my age, and judging by the ring tone I heard from his jacket, on that day he had some Vertu-branded phone with him too. I couldn’t miss how breaking all rules of etiquette he was staring at the Motorola Z10 and it seemed it just couldn’t let it go. He didn’t approach me after all, but I bet the next morning shop assistants in some store had a great time trying to find a phone matching his description. I have no idea how we classified this handset, but in fact that’s the most interesting twist about the Z10 – it goes very well with luxury, although it is not viewed as a fashion-conscious solution, but rather an offering for tech geeks.
Samsung U900 Soul
Another flagship from Samsung and another slider. In case you are keen on this form-factor, then the U900 is definitely worth a glance, solely because it feels solid in the hand, while being pretty compact at that. It’s standard Samsung fare in every single way – average camera, although it holds its own against the competition, slightly improved feature set plus a fresh touch in the form of a context-sensitive display that shows different icons depending on what menu you are in. This solution has been carried over from the Samsung E950, and make no mistake about that – it will generate some mixed responses in press. Although it can be easily mastered, this touch-sensitive display isn’t all that good while in the sun, getting washed out and forcing you to really focus on what’s up on it. But we are willing to forgive all these glitches to it, for the Soul has an adequate price/quality ratio, and on top of that no other slider can rival it these days, if we overlook the LG KF600. I’m not going to put them face to face here, but will rather note that they deliver completely different experiences –the U900 feels more like a metallic monolith, whereas with the KF600 you won’t get rid of the whole plasticky feel, plus its display attracts more fingerprints and smudge. While they are positioned pretty much in the same vein, the LG’s offspring can’t stand up to the U900 in terms of materials and, to a certain extent, features too.
In fact, it is a quite rare occasion when you can just unpack a phone, charge it up, stuff in into your pocket and just… use it. As a rule you run into a bunch of hardships when you just can’t find a feature or a menu you need, or feel frustrated about some item missing, or contacts being sent over the air in an awkward fashion, although it is your first experience with that phone and what’s worse you are in a hurry. Surprisingly, the Soul doesn’t feel overpacked with features, although its default functionality is pretty decent – you just turn it on and feel right at home. Of course it has some issues here and there, but what phone can do without them these days.
I have been puzzling myself over what word fits the U900 Soul best. Here is what I’ve come up with – authentic. What does this mean? Honestly, no idea, but that’s the association that popped up in my mind. It actually doesn’t make much sense in this context, I know. But all things considered, this phone is exactly what you expect from Samsung and in fact it is the marriage of the strengths of other handsets from this maker.
The U900 will see a ton of adverts and a very heavy promotional campaign. All up, this handset will enjoy a serene life as a flagship, and even with its secondary display’s conditional drawbacks, it has all the makings of a decent milestone product. While it will sell in huge quantities, its owners won’t feel ashamed for having such a ubiquitous solution on their hands, since apart from being a fashion-conscious device, the U900 is also a good business companion. Have you noticed that many view such products in a totally different way? In one of our researches we came across this specific perception of Samsung-branded solutions that looked like pure fashion and nothing else to us, so we investigated this phenomenon and found out that there already were several generations of consumers who took those offerings differently. By “generations” here we don’t mean fathers and sons, but rather those who get new phones once a year.
We will delve deep into the handset’s suite of features, see what they bring to the table and ponder over the U900’s future. It is always great to know that the phone you are reviewing has a lot of goods under its hood that well deserve a closer look. All up, we came out extremely satisfied with the Samsung U900 Soul.
The KF600’s review will come out once all other pieces have been published, if at all – it all depends on whether I will find a headset for it in the company’s local office, or I will need to get this phone from a store and proceed with the review from that point on. Frankly, I just don’t get it why some think headsets are unnecessary for our tests – the thing is, if only the KF600 had a standard 3.5mm jack mounted on its casing, nothing would’ve been wrong with it. But there is none. And how are we supposed to rate its sound quality? Via its loudspeaker? What about the KF600’s radio?
All in all, the KF600 is an average phone all around – it comes with some failings characteristic of LG, plus its ergonomics are’t always well thought out. Take, for example, the touch-sensitive display at the bottom that has been designed in the same way as that of the Samsung U900 Soul. What’s wrong with it I hear you ask? The OK button sits not in the center, where you’d expect it to be, but in the lower left corner, which is totally bizarre, I can hardly think of any other phone that employs this layout. Look at remotes for TV and other things – the OK/Select key is always right in the middle of the navigation pad.
Basically, the KF600 is the kind of phone that on paper appears to have it all, but the deeper you go into its menus the more irritating nuisances you run into. Probably that’s because of my not-so-friendly perception of the brand? After all, LG did a fantastic job in Europe over the past year, so these days it is not the last player over there. Also, after the Mobile World Congress I’m eagerly waiting for the KF500 to arrive – I actually liked it better, and I really crave for a hands-on session with it.
Being a market analyst I always stumble upon the fact that I have nobody to discuss LG with, since basically nobody views it as a promising player. Furthermore, the company hasn’t been generating any rumors on the market of late, which is all another proof of how indifferent other makers are. While previously I could easily approach its competition, asking for some insight on what’s going on inside LG’s labs, today the only source of information about LG is… LG itself. Little has changed over the past two years and this may well spell a disaster for this manufacturer; what’s more, distributors don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about the company either, which indicates that they are not going to fight for the right to retail LG-branded solutions. Although, perhaps it’s just me being too skeptical about the brand, since it does generate some sales after all.
Everything written here are just my notes and personal thoughts and I do hope nobody is offended. Actually, we will do our best to give the KF600 an objective and unbiased review.
Model X. Now that’s a small surprise we have saved for the final part of our first issue – it’s some device that I have been playing around with for a while now, which will be announced some time down the road (25th or 26th week of this year). This time around, hiding behind the mask of “Model X” is a diminutive pocket-friendly slider, whose casing sports aluminum accents and comes in a variety of colors, plus it ships with a 2 inch display and only three buttons on its surface. The maker dubs it as a music-minded offering, but I, for one, don’t think so. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve fallen for this slider, mainly because of its somewhat odd design, and the display that doesn’t seem big enough, on top of that, there are some alternatives to it that are available today for even less money. But in fact, this is the maker’s first attempt to foray into the mid-tier with a touchscreen device; and it is quite another matter that it is rivaled by some high-end solutions that have rolled down the pricing ladder. By the way, I have another slider, this one is really focused on music, c in my pocket from this manufacturer – and the truth is, I like it better. Stay tuned for the announcement that’s scheduled for this spring.
So, that’s about it – our first game is coming to an end. This piece has never been meant as a serious and no-nonsense review, it is rather a write-up where we can put all our associations and thoughts together with a view to giving you a quick tour of what’s coming to Mobile-Review in the next couple of days, showing a slightly different, fresh perspective on the phones we have on our hands. I hope this article has kept you entertained from preface to this point and my spontaneous digressions from the subject haven’t sparked some destructive thoughts in you. Probably all following issues of “Spillikins” will employ the same style as this one. I would be really grateful if you could express your opinion on this write-up’s format in our forums (Materials of site) – after all, it is all up to you to decide whether this series will go on or not. Thank you in advance.
Published 26 March 2008
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