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Review of GSM/UMTS-handset Samsung i560
Live photos of Samsung i560
The Samsung i550/i560 duo, the senior offering is not a counterpart to the junior device, albeit they appear similar on the face of it. Originally the Samsung i560 had been intended solely as a carrier-branded solution, but due to certain reasons and circumstances, the maker veered from this course and rolled it out for free retailers as well. And this has had some profound and surprising consequences.
For example, the i560’s inferior camera and display, as compared to the Samsung i550, aren’t all that crucial as long as it is a carrier-branded phone, since it gets subsidized and thus consumers don’t see its real price. In their turn, operators acquire a mid-range slider running on the S60. The whole point about the i560 was to diversify the slew of Nokia-branded products dominating this segment and make for richer portfolios of carriers. However the normal retail market exercises a different approach, when a slider always goes for more money than a functionally identical candybar. That’s how it has turned out that the Samsung i560 is 100 USD more expensive than the i550.
Who this device caters to? That’s not an easy question, since there is no definitive answer. Those looking for a well rounded-out slider spec-wise won’t fall for the i560, as there are other Samsung-branded offerings, although not of the smartphone breed, out there. The Samsung i560 obviously takes a back seat against the backdrop of these solutions, for the competition within the maker’s own line-up is way too tough, plus it retails for more than its counterparts.
Let’s image for a moment that this model will appeal to consumers fond of sliders, need GPS navigation and on top of all that are extremely loyal to Samsung. Given this background, we may well omit women from the i560’s target audience – 99% of them will never need GPS capabilities in their handsets. So, there are only men looking for a smartphone, since if it was a handset, then, like we have said a few lines above, they would have a better selection of offerings to pick from. The smartphone segment is jam-packed with Nokia’s solutions, while Samsung seems weaker, although they are not without own unique feats. But they have no history to back up the loyalty of the audience, that’s why not many are really into Samsung’s smartphones. The maker’s great mistake is that he considers all owners and users with experience of using Samsung-branded solutions as prospects for his smartphones. However, that’s not the case. Effectively, as far as Samsung is concerned, the segment of smartphones is totally cut off from its feature phones, as they have almost nothing in common. One could buy a Samsung’s smartphone on impulse (design seemed appealing, got offered/persuaded to buy right in a shop); don’t discount the youth either, although they are driven by other stimuli (they are basically eager to try everything, including Samsung’s products). This way, the Samsung i560’s potential target audience is by no means wide – undoubtedly, it will see some sales, but nothing too out of line, and the future doesn’t hold much for it as far as retail networks go. Had Samsung rolled it out at the price point of its mind-range sliders, and like 20-25 percent cheaper than its closest rival from Nokia, the 6110 Navigator, the i560 would have made a statement with its sales, got some new meaning. Nevertheless, for the time being it is a niche model that does nothing more than diversify the range. In 4-6 months’ time, after making a short appearance on shelves, it will vanish without a trace, much like many other similar products before it.
The slider measures up at 103x53x16 mm and tips out scales at 110 grams, which is slightly bigger than the average dimensions for this form-factor as far as feature phones are concerned, yet pretty much in line with similar smartphones. It is quite palm-friendly, but the i560 is somewhat wide at that, and probably won’t fit every hand.
The Samsung i560 comes only in black with the front face’s trimming made of chromed dark metal. The faux-metal navigation key adds extra visual appeal to the device.
The build quality is perfect – the halves feel very sturdy, all parts sit tight in their slots. The slider action is nothing to complain about either, all thanks to the spring-loaded mechanism. But the handset’s bulky constitution leaves its trace on the way the i560 zips open – the halves don’t seem to spring open, so to speak. This device is what they often call a “masculine phone” – chunky casing, sizable keys, and relatively big display.
The grill of the earpiece is made of metal. Sitting on the left is the front-facing camera for video calls. The upper edge of the i560 houses the 3,5 mm audio jack covered by a flap attached to the casing, and holes for a carrying strap.
The left-hand side features the volume rocker and the charger/headset connector, also protected by a flap. Flipping over the right side, you will find the microSD memory card alongside the camera button. The camera lens together with its LED flash is mounted on the rear side. In order not to inflate the casing’s size they have elevated the lens so that now it stands above the surface. It also doesn’t let the underside of the i560 touch flat surfaces, which serves another purpose – they wanted to make the speaker, placed on the rear as well, sound louder. Had it laid flat, it would have sounded muffled.
The device employs a 2,4-inch TFT matrix (2,6 inches in the i550), capable of 262 K colors and a resolution of 240x320 pixels (36x48 mm). The picture produced by the i560 is juicy and vibrant, it gets somewhat washed out in the sun, but remains readable.
The display can accommodate up to 12 text and 3 service lines. Even with the default font size you will be able to get up to 16 lines of text in some modes.
Take a look at our face-off photos, where the i550 goes head to head with the Samsung i560, whose diagonal is smaller, and the truth is, despite all similarities there is a ton of things setting these two apart.
The i560 enjoys a conventional number pad, which is easy to use, being made of a plastic slab with key rows separated by tiny notches.. All keys are lit in white, which makes them well-visible in the dark. No ambient light sensor is available in the i560.
The navigation array is quite handy, the good thing about it is that has a dedicated music key (starts up the player, radio, RealPlayer). Unlike the Samsung i550 there is no GPS button.
Following in the footsteps of the Samsung i550, this phone is interesting primarily for being very different from already bog-standard Nokia's S60 devices. Samsung is free to pick any solution it sees fit, that’s why the Samsung i560 is vastly different from any other S60-powered offering. Take, for example, its radio module based on the Qualcomm MSM6260, whereas Nokia doesn’t use it at all.
Unlike the Samsung i450, the i560 utilizes the TI OMAP 2430 chipset with bundled 2D/3D-accelerator, however we couldn’t find out which mode made any real use of it (probably it is engaged only in the camera app).
Since the smartphone department of the i560 and its radio part are driven by two different chips, this phenomenon has brought about a quite unusual solution, to be really specific, they have divided the phone's memory up in to stand-alone blocks. Essentially, the handset packages RAM for the radio module and the smartphone part (SRAM type for both, 32 Mb and 64 Mb respectively).
The i560's CPU (ARM1136) runs at 330 MHz.
Finally, it is time to take note of the IceMobile amplifier responsible for sound in this phone (works for headphones only, the sound you get from the i560’s loudspeaker is processed by TI’s built-in module). It turns out that this is only a deeply integrated solution, but that is hardly required in this very case. Of course it gets a tad bigger because of the variety of components (however the users will remain oblivious to this fact, since the i560's dimensions are perfectly okay), and generally hungrier for battery power (compared to single-CPU systems). However having dedicated modules and components do particular tasks gives all specs of the i560 a significant boost, in theory at lest. As you see, there are both pros and cons to either of the approaches.
We were thrilled to put this phone head to head with the Nokia 6110 Navigator. It turned out to be speedier in some ways, and in other tests didn’t fare much better than the 6110. All in all, these two are pretty much equal speed-wise, which is noticeable in real life as well.
The handset comes installed with 150 Mb of flash memory available to user, and 85 Mb of RAM (volume after first start up, no extra applications installed). The i560 handles microSD cards (hot-swappable) for bulking up the default storage (up to 2 Gb). Furthermore, the phone also managed to read 4 Gb units that we used with it during our tests.
USB. The handset comes in with USB 2.0 support, upon a successful PC connection you can choose one of the following modes:
Bluetooth. The smartphone sports EDR-enabled Bluetooth 2.0 alongside the following profiles:
The top speed you can get with the i560’s Bluetooth connection is around 100 Kb/s. We also tested its A2DP profile in pair with the Sony Ericsson DS970 headset, which worked just fine – we managed our play list, skipped within tracks and adjusted volume seamlessly, however we couldn’t make current track’s title show up on the i560’s display.
The i560 employs a higher-capacity battery - a 1200 mAh Li-Ion cell, which, as the manufacturer claims, can keep the handset up and running for 250 hours in standby and be good for 2,5 hours of talk time. In Moscow the phone lasted roughly 2 days at 5-6 hours of music and around an hour of calls (total), other features and abilities of the i560 were given short shrift. We also managed to squeeze 9,5 hours of pure music playback time out of it (bundled headphones, highest volume settings).
The GPS-navigation mode drains the battery clean in 2 hours 25 minutes, that’s while if you are intending to use it for in-car navigation, you better get a portable charger, otherwise using the i560 on the might may well become problematic.
Because of us hitting the dedicated navigation button by pure accident, the i560 would occasionally turn off after a day of use, as it got very power hungry in that mode. Full charging time – 2 hours, give or take.
The i560 employs exactly the same chipset as the Samsung i550. We didn’t feel it was any different from the former experience-wise, saving for the lack of a dedicated GPS button on the casing.
Since the i560 runs the S60 platform, the first thing you expect of it is Nokia Maps or at very least Smart2Go inside, which is in fact the same application. However over at Samsung they have decided to bind their devices to only one app - for Symbian it is Navigon. This means you won’t be able to install Smart2Go on the i560, as there is no application with the required security certificate. We found only Google Maps 2.0 among all available programs that could actually deal with the bundled GPS receiver - nevertheless, we failed to make it work, as we were getting the "Searching for satellites” prompts for ten minutes straight and then a poor signal notification, and that was about it.
These issues aside, the i560 comes packaged with Navigon 6.27 or newer, however the end-user won’t notice any discernible differences between 6.xx versions. To make use of the handset’s navigation department, you will have to connect the i560 to a PC in the USB Mass Storage mode and then install both maps and the applications, which don’t come preinstalled with the phone, unlike Nokia-branded solutions. This is utterly inconvenient, so many may well overlook this step in the installation process and I have no idea how the maker could possibly turn a blind eye to this matter.
After getting the app and maps onboard, you can manually pick a file with voice tips and directions (Russian also available), but again, it is all manual, so this is another letdown to the i560’s software.
Basically, all those familiar with S60 applications and how they have to be installed, the i560 will be an easy walk, but all novices will run into certain difficulties.
The GPS application is in fact very different from Nokia Maps and we can't call it comfortable to use by any means. Firstly, it is not a full version that you get along with the i560 - all you get is a two-week trial, and then to employ voice tips and route calculation features you will have to pay around 60 Euro. For instance, Nokia offers free route calculation, but charges for voice functions and navigation.
Secondly, having entered the map mode you will see that the device starts trying to find satellites, meaning that you won’t be able to view the map or do anything else without having your location tracked. And it is hard to say how much does this thing hamper the application’s ergonomics – for instance, you can’t calculate a route from A to B when the battery is low. I, for one, think it is one illogical and crippled way to build the application.
Another thing of note about the maps is that all locations are given in transliteration, although the interface can be switched to Russian. The map of Moscow seemed to be fairly detailed for every day use, although had no bells and whistles, being in line with Nokia Maps or a inbuilt car navigator. The i560’s voice for directions sounds loud, but what we are really concerned about is that there is no car cradle, which made us throw it on the dashboard, where the display wasn't really visible.
The navigation mode drains the battery in no time – to be more specific, in around 2 hours. The good thing about the i560's GPS is that the cold start time in car makes 5 minutes or so – after linking up to the satellites, the handset never loses the signal and offer fairly good positioning accuracy.
Among the application’s screaming letdowns is that you can't zoom in and out on the map in real time - you will need to enter the menu first. Other abilities of the app include 2D/3D-graphics, night mode, but these are no bells and whistles.
The POI search with the i560 is nothing out of the ordinary – we found the number of points provided quite okay for Moscow, albeit not great. For example the navigator missed a couple of gas stations we drove past when we asked it to give us the nearest station, so it seems the database is the most comprehensive out there.
Routes can be calculated with speed and other limits, nothing to shout about, though. The route simulation mode, however, seemed nowhere to be found, which somewhat puzzled us.
Undoubtedly, we could turn this rundown of the i560’s GPS department into a lengthy write-up, but we don’t see any point in doing so. The fact of the matter is that Navigon is not the best offering available in this class, as it comes with a truckload of limitations, two of which are critical, so this is why are not going to focus on it in particular. Take a look at the interface snapshots; I guess they will do the talking from this point on.
The i560 packages a typical S60 player with no extra options or plugins tacked on, not even a single equlizer. And the reason doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out – they dumped them in this phone so as not to put it up against the Samsung i450, since these two are very resembling sound quality-wise and technically the Samsung i560 outputs slightly more natural sound. I won’t make any secret of this – I was extremely pleased to bump into this level of sonic experience in this device (as well as in the i450 and the i560, basically these three are very good at music quality).
However software-wise the i560 is quite bare, and extra options aside, it doesn't even have a remote control. All up, we doubt you will have comfortable music sessions with this phone.
Alexander Dembovsky’s take on the i560. The i560’s headphone jack and a fairly good audio section design had a very positive impact on its performance in the tests. As the diagram suggests, its lows are slightly down, while the highs don’t seem to be evened out. As for the rest, the Samsung i560 is a very good performer with all its figures and marks almost exactly the same as those of the i450 known for its music prowess. The Samsung i560 will have to do without equalizers, although it doesn’t seem to be that much of a loss in my opinion – the handset still can render music as well as the MP3 format can only allow, and what is more, the i560 ships with a pair of fairly good headphones.
Rounding out this array of musical merits are the noise and IMD values, which are unexpectedly good for a phone - any dedicated music player wouldn't mind having these results.
General performance: Good
Samsung i560 versus Samsung i550:
FM radio – this application sports standard interface, with the ability to save up to 20 stations. When tested in city, the radio worked in its usual way. No auto-tuning is available with the i560, so that you will have to find all stations manually.
The handset comes armed with a 3 Mpix CMOS ?-inch camera (no auto focus). Picture quality is pretty much average and clearly can’t compete with the Samsung i550.
There are three image quality settings, and a slew of available resolutions:
The rest of the settings pool is nothing to shout about: white balance, a couple of effects (Normal, Sepia, Black&White, Negative, Aqua), etc. The i560’s LED flash is no help at all most of the time, although on a rare occasion it can lighten the things up.
From the samples below it is easy to see that the camera doesn’t fare exceptionally well for the most part.
Video. You can capture video in two resolutions – 352x288 and 176x144 pixels at 15 FPS (sound may be disabled). The quality you get with the i560 is not mind-blowing, basically your clips will look fine on the phone’s display, but won’t be as good on a PC screen.
The handset doesn’t come preinstalled with a host of applications. The standard suite only includes Adobe PDF, QuickOffice for reading documents (you can edit them as soon as you buy the program’s full version).
Flash Player – allows opening flash clips outside the bundled browser, packed by the i560 as a stand-alone application
Voice Signal – a voice recognition package, one of the market’s finest as of today. While at the standby screen you can call up voice commands by tapping and holding “0”. With this application you can dial a number from your contact book, bring up some menu items and other commands. No prior voice training is required, the handset assumes your current menu language for the needs of this app. Compared with a similar app from Nokia, found in its smartphones, this package is well superior and on top that makes fewer mistakes when dialing a number.
Standby controls. The i560 not only the standard shortcut bar for the Active Standby mode, but also a quick launch panel with 6 contacts in it, displayed as thumbnails of images assigned to them (if any, otherwise you will see Samsung’s logo). Picking an entry will allow you to make a call or send a message.
Another application that goes beyond the standard suite of features found in Nokia’s S60-based phones. There are three modes available with this Video editor – the first and the least sophisticated one allows you to edit video clips (clip length, start time, sound track, sound recording etc).
The second mode is more a valuable addition to the default functionality of the system. With a bunch of photos on your hands, you can create a CIF, QVGA or QCIF clip. In a word, you pick all photos you will need, set the background music and then tweak transition effects. There is a multitude of options available in this mode, but it doesn’t get too complicated – on the contrary, everything is pretty intuitive. Naturally, you will need some skills and taste for this, but it’s worth your time. And this is by no means a replacement for the slide-show mode, you just get a short video that can be shared right away.
The last mode you can find in this Video editor is ‘StoryBoard’, that is quite similar to the previous one, however here you can throw photos and video into your clip. All other settings have been left intact.
One of the i560’s indirect rivals is the Samsung i550, as these two have a ton in common, yet the i550 trumps it functionality-wise. As for direct competition, the Nokia 6110 Navigator fits this role very well, but it is a better deal both in terms of price and functionality.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Nokia 6110 offers more punch for less money. Camera could have been the Samsung i560’s forte, but it isn’t, and the lack of Wi-Fi is the chink in Samsung-branded S60 products’ armor. That said, had it been priced at 250-260 Euro, it would’ve been competitive, but as it stands now, the i560 is no real force on the market.
The volume level produced by the loudspeaker is pretty high, being in line with those Nokia-branded smartphones equipped with stereo-speakers. We also liked the i560’s solid vibro alert. In terms of voice calls and microphone sensitivity, its performance is up to par, nothing that we would whine about.
The i560 starts shipping early in February with a price tag of 380-400 Euro (in Europe). It only aims at a very narrow niche, having no real edges over the competition, including its direct rival, the Nokia 6110 Navigator. Keeping in mind that both the Nokia 6110 and the Samsung i450 enjoy quite modest sales, we can’t expect anything else from the i560 in this sense. The maker should revise its S60 strategy, otherwise its products will remain mere niche products.
Published 27 January 2008
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