Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
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Samsung at MWC Congress
So it happens that our coverages of 3GSM Congress tend to kick off with write-ups on Samsung, which is not due to some agreements we have with this manufacturer, or our sympathies – it is all about editorial savvy. The thing is, before departing for the exhibition, it is always good to take a huge load off our shoulders, knowing that we won’t have to go over the slew of Samsung’s offerings in a hurry, for this requires a great deal of concentration and cool judgment. The company has been using the Congress to roll out as many new phones as possible, year in year out, whereas other makers prefer to lift the veil of mystery step-by-step, in course of the year, although, they still have a lot of things under their belts coming to this exhibition. As far as Samsung is concerned, this approach occasionally leads to debuts of solutions that are still somewhat far off. Last year, one of the most interesting showcased devices had been the Samsung F700, which hit selected markets only by the end of 2007, while handsets clad in wood and precious metals never made it at all. Nevertheless, many handsets have actually garnered much interest on the market, and, what is curious, Samsung has even managed to get through another generation of phones, so that these days it is showing off all novelties it has up its sleeve.
This article will get expanded with photos we have taken at the maker’s booth (supposedly in the evening), and probably churn out some write-ups on the most interesting solutions – one of them, our take on the Samsung G810 is already available at our main page. Stay tuned to get the most comprehensive coverage on the event taking place in Barcelona.
Samsung’s strategy for 2008
A relatively unexpected boon in the form of the second place, in mobile phone global sales chart (all thanks to Motorola), has provoked a revision of the maker’s range and priorities. What is interesting is that, this year’s 3GSM Congress will see the same leitmotif coming from other manufacturers in one way or another – what made the headlines yesterday is taking a back seat today. Imaging capabilities in mobile phones remain vital, although, they are not mind-blowing anymore, as the next big focus is entertainment and services.
Samsung has brought a couple of things to the fore, and the first one is its portfolio that is now divided up into 4 big ranges:
Dismissing the classification Samsung utilizes for its products, you will find another way to categorize them. For instance, they are rolling out the La Fleur 2 collection (three phones) for women at 3GSM. La Fleur aside, the maker has demoed a couple of other models designed exclusively for women and comprising the L-series. An in-depth review of the La Fleur 2 range is coming up shortly, and for now, let’s move on to other solutions.
Touchscreen-enabled phones represent another promising branch of development for the company. In this field, they are rivaling LG, although Samsung has assumed the role of the runner-up (which we investigated in our review on the Samsung F490). By the way, we got our hands on a commercial edition of the F490 and will be updating the review later this week – they have slightly altered the design, sales package and some other minor things.
Without going into detail, Samsung is planning to extend the basic segmentation with more sub-groups and specific ranges, which will make for more precise positioning, and allow for an easier target audience based marketing of phones. Now, let’s look at the maker’s main offerings and their strengths/weaknesses.
The Flagship – Samsung U900 Soul
If you ask me which form-factor will be Samsung’s favorite when it comes to designing a new flagship, I will snap answer - slider. Having initially banked on clamshells, the company has gotten really into slider-type phones as well. The Samsung U600 was so successful that even with the negative feedback regarding its touch-sensitive buttons in mind, the maker is now rolling out a follow-up to that handset – the U900, which will be its flagship solution for the year to come. Furthermore, they want it to sell at least as well as the U600/U700, which doesn’t look impossible at all.
The newcomer is dubbed “Soul”, and there is something more than just a regular meaning to it, “Soul” is also short for “The Spirit Of Ultra”, emphasizing that it stands above all models in the Ultra Edition range.
The handset measures up at 105.9x49.8x12.9 mm, being pretty thin for a handset coming bundled with a 5 Megapixel autofocus-enabled camera, although it doesn’t differ much from the unit installed in the Samsung G600, what we mean is that it will shoot in a similar fashion, and for the most part, won’t be able to stand up to the solutions from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. On the other hand, it is a pretty decent camera for an all-in-one device, plus it boasts a couple of software modes, like Face Detection (a self-explanatory feature) and Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) that enhances images taken in low light (sets higher ISO settings, when the U900 finds out it is very dark around). The last thing we need to note is the U900’s image stabilizer, so on paper, its won’t be too far from the imaging-savvy Samsung G810, probably with the only difference being QVGA video recording. But in reality, the G810 is definitely ahead the Samsung U900 on all fronts, as far as photography is concerned, all thanks to its real optics (not a piece of plastic found on the U900). All-in all, it is pretty much in line with the finest imaging-ready offerings from other manufacturers – I managed to do a shootout between one of the Soul's prototypes and a of Sony Ericsson's CyberShot mass-market device, sporting a similar camera, and found them to be nearly identical. So, the U900’s camera is positively one of its fortes, albeit it is not the market’s finest solution. But, this handset is relatively minuscule at that, so this camera will be more than passable, as you can’t squash a stellar unit and a bevy of other features into a very pocketable casing anyway.
The phone’s casing features both plastic and silverish metal accents. I bet we’ll see the U900’s black edition along with other trims very soon – that’s the company’s strategy and it never backed away from it even once. But, why are they showcasing not the most spectacular silver colour scheme first? Simply because they want to focus the market’s attention on the U900’s truly metallic casing and texture. But, the truth is, all these metallic plates are not even 1mm thick, however the user won’t notice that unless he rips the handset apart.
The U900 is the market’s second device (the Samsung E950 was the pioneer) to adopt a touch-sensitive display instead of a navi-button. While it was nameless in the E950, here, the maker’s marketers have come up with quite a title for a flagship device. They call it Magic Touch by DaCP. I have no idea why they spelled the abbreviation wrong (that’s what you will find in the press-release), as it in fact stands for Dynamic Adaptive Control Panel. A multitude of terms in one name doesn’t do this solution any justice – it would’ve been better off with just “Magic Touch” without that awkward “DaCP’, since even some of Samsung’s employees can’t give this technology’s full name anyway. By the way, I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out what “DaCP” meant, and I guess it is a record of some sort.
This display renders task-relevant buttons sitting on the places of directional keys. For instance, if you are managing the music player, you will see music controls, while for browser, the display morphs to offer navigation keys. However, this screen is let down by the lack of any tactile feedback, which is a common drawback among touch-screens. Similar context aware buttons are getting implemented into solutions from other makers as well, for example, you will find a bunch of these in the Motorola ROKR E8, but mind the fact that for these purposes it employs not a dedicated display, but a preset symbol layout engraved on a plastic sub-layer.
The phone’s music department is on par with other offerings, as it utilizes the ICEpower amplifier designed by B&O, which makes for loud and clear sound. On the downside, the music player packs in no bells and whistles and doesn’t have a rainbow of features you can get with Sony Ericsson’s handsets; but it holds its own when it comes to sound. The manufacturer rates its battery life as being good for 15 hours of music, which is pretty good. The U900 also comes armed with an RDS-enabled FM-radio.
Almost forgot to mention that the display is capable of showing up to 16 million colours, plus it hides underneath a mirror-like surface, lending it a feel quite similar to the Samsung U600. All colours seemed bright and vibrant; the screen measures 2.2 inches from corner to corner and sports QVGA resolution. The U900’s display also felt quite sturdy.
The handset’s software is done pretty much in the same vein as other latest-and-greatest offerings from Samsung, though with a couple of features that the maker puts focus on. Specifically, menu themes are settling down in the feature pack, what is more, you will be able to modify them as you please (sounds, wallpapers, menu color scheme). Moreover, you will be allowed to make up your own animated screensavers stitched together from various images or photos, enhanced by a selection of effects. This feature made its first appearance with the Samsung G800 – check out a sample video demoing it in our review.
As regard the rest of the U900’s functionality, it supports HSDPA, comes with quad-band (European) GSM connectivity, carries a microSD memory expansion slot onboard, along with OMA DRM 2.0, RSS, Google Search, support for MTP and hence Windows Media. Also inside are Bluetooth 2.0 and USB 2.0.
On balance, the U900 is a quite decent phone, a true flagship, although not without its own weak spots, in this case – ergonomics of the touch-sensitive buttons. Nevertheless, the example of the Samsung U600’s wild success indicates that consumers aren’t put off but this quirk, so we have no reason to believe the U900 will have any problems in this sense. The phone starts shipping in March, word is it will retail for around 400 Euro.
Samsung F480 – another Armani
They have the Samsung Armani, and here comes the Samsung F480 - a lookalike, yet it has nothing to do with the co-branding hype. Missing name of a fashion designer doesn’t make it worse or less interesting – on the contrary, in many ways it surpasses its predecessor. Measuring up at 97.9x55x11.5 mm, it boasts a 2.8-inch display, capable of 240x320-pixel resolution (QVGA). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that the F480 will come preinstalled with the next version of Croix OS, which is the system the Samsung Armani runs on. Almost all menus offer tactile feedback for every screen tap (the handset starts vibrating a little). What makes this phone interesting is its 3G connectivity, FM-radio and a 5 Megpixel autofocus-enabled camera, with an LED flash. It carries 240 Mb of inbuilt storage, which can be beefed up with microSD memory cards. As far as software is concerned, it comes with themes, RSS, and some other generic options for the latest generation of Samsung’s offerings.
This phone’s release is slotted for April or May with its price tag set to 350-400 Euro, which, however, will greatly depend on how much LG will decide to charge for its similar offering.
Samsung G400 – Dual Touch Chic
The motto they picked for the G400, “Dual Touch Chic” is spot-on, since it stresses that both screens on this handset are touch-sensitive, plus its design is very well described with the word “chic”. Limited number of technologies and edges on the mobile phone market means they will be similar-sounding slogans and product names – for instance, HTC is offering the Touch Dual, which is its latest and greatest offering.
But the foremost thing about this folder is not a pair of touch-sensitive displays, although they seem to be its centerpiece, but its all-metal casing. Samsung has never had phones like this before, and if the G400 gets popular, they might push this concept beyond a single model. The phone’s dimensions are 102.8x51.5x15.4mm, which is what we have come to expect from a folding phone.
Frankly speaking, why would someone need another touch screen, since the only function it can handle is the music player; but it will give it a good run-through at the maker’s booth to figure out whether they have added something with the latest versions of software, or hardware. It may seem that the G400 is Samsung’s reaction to the Motorola RAZR2 V8, however they deliver such different feelings and experiences, that putting them up against one another won’t make much sense. The only thing they have in common is controls, but, that’s about it.
The internal QVGA display measures 2.2 inches diagonally and shows up to 262 K colors. The G400’s specs are no different from other Samsung’s top-of-the-line offerings, plus it retains a 5 Megapixel autofocus-enabled camera, RDS-powered FM-radio, 100 Mb of storage, and a microSD memory expansion slot.
The phone is set to launch in late April or early in May at 300 Euro.
Samsung L310 – glamorous to the core
This handset comes from the La’Fleur 2 collections, and some of our readers are aware of it. We will be putting it through its paces in our review very soon, probably this week already. What about it? Well, the L310 was definitely designed with Nokia’s L’Amour Collection in mind, as it employs the same colour scheme with gold, black and dark-brown. In fact, it doesn’t even have an external display – by folding it open, you activate the floral ornament on the top portion of the phone.
The L310 has every last thing a women could only demand: period calendar, calories counter, shopping list, and other features. Curiously, La’Fleur offerings have never been technologically talented, making up for this with their fancy designs. This handset is no exception, as it comes equipped with a 176x220-pixel display, and a diagonal size of 1.8 inches, a 2 MegaPixel camera, and several welcome improvements in the menu. All-in-all, the L310 is more of a mixed bag, considering its design, functionality and price.
Samsung L320 – Aqua still lives
As far as sales are concerned, the previous edition of the La’Fleur collection was topped by the Samsung E570 (Aqua), plus it turned out to have the longest lifespan. This handset stood out thanks to its quirky design, a bevy of color schemes and women’s love.
It would have been criminal not to roll out a follow up to this device, so Samsung did the right thing. The new phone goes by the name of “L320”, but it is not all that different from its predecessor, primarily in view of having a fully-fledged vertically laid out outer display. As far as other feats and smarts go, these two are pretty much identical, with the L320 sporting a 2 MegaPixel camera, RDS-enabled FM radio, music player, and the ability to bulk the built-in storage up with microSD cards. Aren’t they twin brothers? Pardon me, sisters.
The handset is about to hit the market, and its review will become available on Mobile-Review.com after February 15.
Samsung L170 – inexpensive candy-bar with ambitions
When slim is in, many people start being nicer to you, provided that you are a phone. While Nokia runs with its 6500 Classic, and Sony Ericsson is presenting its brand-new W890i, Samsung picks a different approach. Why do they need to enter the market with an expensive solution, when they can come up with a reasonably priced unsophisticated handset that will have all the makings of a luxury device? That’s the story of the Samsung L170 (given its index, does it aim at women? I suppose no, judging by what it has under the hood). Metallic accents in design, 10.7mm profile, radio and player onboard, but a baby display measuring 1.6 inches diagonally, landscape orientation and a resolution of 220x176 pixels (262 K colors); plus a 2 Megapixel camera added for good measure. All this makes the L170 an appealing solution with a relatively light price tag (175 Euro), and if it will go a few rungs down the pricing ladder, it will make a solid statement as a potential leader of sales charts. Look for it on the shelves in March.
Samsung J150 – The Glitter in Svelte
You thought the L170 was the cheapest candy bar clad in metal around? Well, it is official – you were wrong. In order to congest the market and push Motorola’s SLVR out of business, Samsung is releasing a really cheap entry-level device. While it is only 9.9 mm deep, other specs are little to no different from this segment’s standards – 1.9-inch display (176x220 pixels, 65K , TFT), 1.3 Megapixel camera, FM-radio, Bluetooth and a memory expansion slot for microSD cards. Think of yourself looking at a phone with these feats a couple of years ago – you would have said “wow”, but these days it is a budget handset retailing for 120-130 Euro.
Samsung J700 – The Beauty of Black Perl
Who said that low-end models can’t be charming? Obviously, Samsung has a different point of view, which is the reason they have come up with an inexpensive phone showing off a mirrorish surface, and of course it comes in black. As far as its spec sheet goes, it so short that we could have easily overlooked it – the J700 retains an FM-radio, 1.3 Megapixel camera, 2-inch display (128x160 pixels), microSD memory card slot and a music player thrown in for good measure. The handset is quite compact at 99.5x48x14.9 mm. The J700’s release is scheduled for early March, and 130-140 Euro should definitely be able to buy you one.
Samsung L770 – Mobile Sophisticate
We have just been speaking about a phone decked out in a mirriorish finish, and what do you know – another model sporting this fancy design. There is nothing special to its technical specifications, for it is a UMTS-enabled phone from the previous generation packing in a 2 Megapixel camera, radio and other default features. Basically, it is here just to diversify the maker's range, despite having a pretty high index, which is more likely to indicate the L770’s price tag and the premium its owners will pay for design. This phone will be available in a variety of colors, right from the word go.
The L770 is set to go on sale in April and be freely available for 260-280 Euro.
Samsung E251 – gear up with music
One of the market’s most popular sliders was the Samsung E250, only because it looked so much like the Samsung D900, however it didn’t every try to hide its origins, being an entry-level solution to the bone, yet packed in an FM-radio, memory expansion slot and even a VGA camera. In an effort to prolong its lifespan, Samsung has added 1 to its index, a dedicated music key and.. well, that’s pretty much it. When it hits the shelves, the E251 will go for around 120-130 Euro, which is passable. Those who want to learn more about this phone should probably read our review on the Samsung E250, thankfully, the enhancements introduced in the E251 don’t make all that much of a difference.
Don’t forget to check back to find snaps we took at this maker’s booth.
I won’t be covering the products of this range that have already debuted on the market, and will rather give you a handful of links to our in-depth reviews:
I hope that you have put an eye on the small strange detail in the list above – it includes both music-minded solution and the imaging-heavy G800, while the maker’s new flagship is nowhere to be found. That’s because of Samsung’s new positioning model, although the G810 would have been better off in this category, rather than in the Infotainment range. The Samsung F250 opens the La’Fleur 2 line-up and turns out that it belongs to the Style class as well. This contradiction has been solved in a very straightforward way – they have rolled out two editions of the F250, the one with a fancy pattern on the casing is meant for women, whereas the other one is a music-ready offering. Moreover, to distinguish them in a big way, the maker has put tiny speakers into the F250 music edition’s box.
Samsung F400 –B&O’s music-minded marvel
When the Serenata (or Symphoy), the fruit of Samsung’s collaboration with B&O ,saw release, everybody liked its speakers and the sound quality they delivered, which turned this quirky phone into a potent music box. But given all oddities of the Serenata and it decidedly going against the average consumer’s common sense, it can only dream of becoming widely adopted. Back in September, one of Samsung’s managers said: “Serenata offers marvelous sound, but don’t expect its components to make it to mass-market solutions, they are way too expensive”. Thankfully, his gloomy predictions haven’t come true, as we are now having the pleasure of playing around with the Samsung F400, whose music department has been taken care of by B&O’s engineers.
The F400 employs dual-slider action – sliding it down will reveal two loudspeakers plus the B&O logo. Effectively, two speakers are not a must, for the distance between them is too insignificant to allow for a “stereo effect” of any kind. In the average Joe’s mind, two is always better than one, so the F400 comes with two speakers onboard. Regardless of whether you have earphones on or not, the handset delivers good sound quality.
What about other specs of the F400? It is a 3G device sporting a 2.2-inch display, with a QVGA resolution (262K, TFT), 3 Megapixel camera, with autofocus, slot for microSD memory cards and an RDS-enabled FM-radio. The F400 arrives in late March, with a price tag of 370-390 Euro. All-in-all, it is one of the finest phones Samsung has rolled out at 3GSM – a music-centric flagship in a way.
This range primarily comprises smartphones, bu,t for some reason, the Samsung D880 DuoS has made it into their ranks. I have to confess – the review was composed long ago, but I haven’t had time to publish it so far, and we will definitely make up for that in February. In my mind, the lack of a stand-alone DuoS range, and this phone’s positioning as a one-off solution is a tribute to carriers, who find these solutions no different from a disaster. Why would Samsung tease them for no reason? And Samsung is not teasing them, but still is offering the DuoS at its booth.
As for the rest of this range, below is the list of device we have already reviewed:
Samsung i200 –Windows Mobile gone cheap
There is nothing special about the i200 – it is a threadbare candybar, featuring 3G connectivity, a conventional keypad, 2 Megapixel camera, Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard, and a microSD memory expansion slot. The handset also comes with an unusual screen diagonal of 2.3 inches, and QVGA resolution. The i200 is due this spring, no word on its price, but, it is said to slip below 200 Euro. Probably, some will find this solution of certain interest, as it seems to be a relatively cheap WM-powered smartphone, and its price tag is not of the least importance.
The centerpiece of this range is, undoubtedly, the Samsung G810, but we won’t be writing even a word more on, the reason being that our hands-on impressions are available in a dedicated piece on this handset already today.
This range also includes the Samsung F700 – learn more about it here.
The Samsung F490 has received an update in the form of the SCH-W420, an offering for the Korean market that sports only a 2 Megapixel camera, yet comes bundled with mobile TV (T-DMB). This phone won’t be shipped to other regions, though.
Another phone of note is the folder-type phone, the W350, supporting satellite DMB signal. Curiously, the maker considers this handset’s 2.2-inch diagonal suited for watching videos, and what is more, consumers nod in approval as well. In this sense, beliefs shared by some many people that 2.2, 2.4 or 2.6 inch diagonals are insufficient for video fall apart. Of course, it is always great to enjoy bigger displays, but, if there are no other options, this one will have to do.
The last mobile TV enabled device on the agenda is the P960, boasting support for DVB-H, and housed in the slider-type form factor. At 102x53x16.5 mm, it packs in a diagonal screen size of 2.6 inches, and offers QVGA resolution. Its TV features also include PiP (picture in picture), but as for the rest, it is a typical Samsung-branded offering coming equipped with a 3 Megapixel autofocus-enabled camera, music player and other features. The question remains whether the P960 will see its commercial release, but I, for one, don’t think there is a good chance of that.
Effectively, at 3GSM Congress, Samsung has revealed its plans for 6-7 months to come, which include the new flagship (Samsung U900 Soul), and leaders in specific fields – the Samsung G810 and Samsung F400 (imaging and music respectively). Our avid and savvy readers shouldn’t be confused by the wealth of offerings that re-debuted at this exhibition. In fact, Samsung is the only top manufacturer that is still into CEBIT, held in Hanover. I suppose this maker has a couple of models left in stock for that fair as well, especially as far as mid-tier devices are concerned. All in all, they haven’t introduced a multitude of sliders scheduled for summer 2008, nor have they rolled out the update to the Ultra Edition range (the whole range, rather than a sole flagship), plus a couple of other lesser solutions are yet to be announced. This year should see a ton of touchscreen-enabled handsets, as well as Samsung-branded solutions, running S60, the reason being that the maker is trying to grab a bigger market chunk in Europe, and basically all markets where Motorola’s influence is now fading. It is a sound goal, so let’s wait and see how it turns out.
Don’t forget to check back for more live photos from the exhibition, and don’t miss our preview of the company’s new flagship in imaging – the Samsung G810.
Published 11 February 2008
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