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Samsung Behold (SGH-t919) Review

Highs

  • Touchscreen; good interface; camera; music player

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 5

Lows

  • Voice quality; no 3.5mm earphone jack; piddling Internet acces; image retrieval issues
Behold's touch interface is clever and, combined with all its other capabilities, has a lot of potential.

Summary

Samsung’s Behold is an upgraded Instinct for T-Mobile, which means it offers all of Instinct’s modern cell phone faculties, plus a 5-megapixel camera. But while the Instinct is well-suited for Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A 3G network, the Behold is a Ferrari running on T-Mobile’s mostly EDGE go-kart network. As such, Behold is a phone for T-Mobile’s full 3G future, not its present.

Features and Design

Behold is a slim, stylish touchscreen phone with a 3-inch display and a 5 megapixel camera. It’s piled high with the latest cell phone features: Worldwide 3G network access, AGPS navigation, mapping and voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions, POP3 and IMAP e-mail as well as texting and instant messaging, an HTML Web browser, a full digital music player, and a full slate of PIM apps, games and utilities. Behold also includes a built-in accelerometer so images and Web pages rotate automatically when you turn the phone, and an iPhone-like sensor which knows to turn off the screen when you bring the phone up to your face during a call (and lights it back up when you pull it down). For text input, you get two touch keypads, a traditional portrait alphanumeric dial/multi-touch pad, and a landscape QWERTY keyboard. But while Behold offers cutting edge features, it cheats you on the physical side – there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, and swapping out the microSD slot requires you to remove the battery.

Form Factor

Samsung NeholdThe surprisingly light Behold is unfettered by buttons. Below the 3-inch screen are three physical keys – the usual send and end, which bracket a “back” bar. Your first instinct (no pun intended) will be to assume this “back” key is actually a “home” key. As frequent iPhone users, it took us a couple of days to get over that aspect.

On the right side of the phone (facing the screen), toward the bottom, is the camera activation key-cum-shutter release. Just above this is a screen unlock key. On the left side, toward the top, is the volume up/down toggle and, just below this is Samsung’s proprietary power/headphone jack.

The rear of the phone has both the 5-megapixel camera with flash, and a button-style vanity mirror. The Behold’s battery cover is the easiest to remove of any I’ve used. You slide the raised edge about a quarter of an inch out, which releases the prongs that holds the plate in place. The back then simply lifts off.

It’s a good thing the back cover is easy to remove, since you need to remove both it and the battery swap out the microSD card, which awkwardly slides into a hidden slot below.

Ports & Connectors

As noted, the Behold includes no 3.5mm headphone jack, just the evil multi-purpose Samsung proprietary power/headphone jack. We find it simply beyond understanding that a modern cell phone touting its music player would not include a 3.5mm, or even a 2.5mm, headphone jack.

Samsung BeholdInterface

Samsung has constructed an impressive, if unusual user touch interface that requires a bit of a learning curve, but rewards diligence.

Arrayed across the bottom of the home screen are four iPhone-like access icons – phone, phone book, web and menu. You can use the menu to access functions and applications, or you can use widgets, frequently used applications that can be accessed directly from icons you can transfer to the home screen.

In the “settings” menu, you check off the widgets you want stored in a drawer-like menu that runs vertically along the left side of the home screen. You open the widget drawer by pressing (not dragging, which you’ll be tempted to do) a tab on the home screen. You can then drag widgets from this drawer to a more permanent place on the home screen, then close the widget drawer by pressing on the tab again.

If your chosen dragged widget is active, such as the music player or the photo viewer, you get a mini-view of that application’s current status rather than the plain icon. For instance, if the music player is playing, you get a small widget window displaying the name of the track, and touch transport controls. Tapping on the widget activates the full application, or you can drag the widget back to the widget drawer. It may be a little over-wrought and redundant, but it’s fun, and actually useful once you grasp its internal logic.

The Behold’s touchscreen isn’t as responsive or magical as the iPhone’s. Finger scrolling takes a little more dragging, and sometimes multiple attempts, and lists don’t spin with momentum if you finger swipe them. It’s almost missing multi-touch controls.

A quick-acting accelerometer rotates pictures, Web pages, etc. within a second or two of the phone being physically turned.
As noted, the Behold offers two touch keypads, the traditional alphanumeric dial pad in portrait mode, and a landscape QWERTY. You can toggle between the two by touching the appropriate keypad icon when one is activated – a keypad magically appears when you need to input text – or simply rotate the phone from portrait to landscape to turn the alphanumeric keypad into QWERTY and vice versa.

The QWERTY keyboard also takes a bit getting used to. When you tap a key – and there is haptic feedback through vibration – the letter you tap appears to the left or right of your finger. For instance, if you tap the “F” key, an “F” appears where the “G” key is, which tells you you’re hitting the right key. Seeing an “F” where the “G” used to be is a bit disconcerting and, in our opinion, not necessary, since the letter you tap also appears in the space above the keyboard.

The caps key is even odder. After typing a capital letter, you have to hit the cap key twice to get back to lower case letters. This is doubly odd since most keyboards automatically revert to lower case once you tap a single capitalized letter with them.

Samsung beholdCan a phone serve as a workable PMP?

As with all T-Mobile phones, the Behold has no streaming or downloadable video available to play. However, its 3-inch screen is plenty bright and crisp to serve as a camera/camcorder viewfinder, so imported videos should look fine.

As a music player, Behold would be near-perfect except for the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack.

MP3 or AAC tracks are easy to load via Windows Media Player, or by dragging and dropping the files. Tunes begin to play nearly instantaneously when a track is tapped. The music play screen displays all the vital track info – name, album, artists, album art, time elapsed and time remaining, touch transport controls, and icons for playback settings such as repeat and shuffle modes.

Since your track list doesn’t spin scroll when you finger swipe it, locating a track or artist down in the alphabet can be an agonizing chore. More often than not, as you drag your finger to access additional track names, you’ll accidentally press too hard and start a track playing.

Music can be set to play in the background as you browse other applications, features and settings.

Sound Quality

Voice sound quality is poor – hollow and thin, as if someone is talking down a tube, and there’s not enough volume to compensate.

The Behold has no separate speaker. Voice and music are funneled though the small earpiece, which means sound is weak, without enough heft for conversation or background music listening.

The ringer is loud, however, and you can assign one of your loaded MP3 or AAC songs as the ringer. But Behold doesn’t vibrate and ring simultaneously – you have to choose one or the other.

Phone Functionality

Pressing the phone icon on the home page presents a clean, white screen with a touch alphanumeric dial pad below four icons: one for a phone for regular dialing, one to direct-dial voice mail, one to tap out a text message and one to access your phonebook.

When a call comes in, you have to press the physical send key to accept the call, not the dial pad icon that appears on-screen – in other words, there’s no on-screen touch “answer call” option.

Once a call is connected, icons for speakerphone, headset, mute, call log, hold and phone book are displayed. At the bottom of the active call screen are text controls for making new calls, bringup up a keypad, and viewing more options, which presents a list of seven additional choices: save to phonebook, send message, message inbox, amplify my voice,Web, automatic screen lock, and memo.

Like the iPhone, the Behold’s screen goes blank as you draw it up to your ear to take a call, then reactivates it when you draw it down. The red on-screen “end” icon is actually the smallest control on the screen, which makes hanging up more difficult than necessary.

Entering names and data into the phone book is almost a pleasure. There are clearly delineated blanks to fill in for each bit of information, and there are five tabbed sections for each contact – phone, personalization (picture, ringtone and Web page), e-mail (four e-mail addresses plus four IM IDs), birthday/anniversary, and snail mail.

Web

Most of the Behold’s problems lie in T-Mobile’s infant 3G network, available in “several metropolitan areas,” which is a long way from being built out enough to support this phone’s Web-heavy needs.

Web surfing is far slower than with other 3G phones. T-Mobile’s T-Zones page takes around 15 seconds to load with a 3G connection, and longer using T-Mobile’s far more ubiquitous EDGE network. Some Web pages load in around 5 seconds, but most take 10 to 20 seconds at 3G, depending on the graphics content, and take nearly twice as long in EDGE.
Not all pages load cleanly, either. ESPN, for instance, is a jumble of headlines. Some sites without mobile versions are equally difficult to navigate once loaded.

One of the Behold’s biggest faults lies in accessing POP3/IMAP e-mail. AOL and Gmail accounts took more than a minute to come up with 3G access, and more than two minutes in EDGE, a frustratingly long wait.

Camera

The Behold takes bright 5-megapixel photos in natural colors, especially those taken outdoors in bright sunlight. Indoor shots using the LED flash were out-of-focus though, and sometimes blurry, no matter how stock-still we held the camera.

Getting full-sized 5-megapixel photos out of the camera is a challenge, however. We tried Bluetooth, e-mail, and removing the memory card and using a card reader, but the only way we could get the full 2560 x 1920 images out was via a direct USB cable connection. For some reason, however, the Behold required us to turn off Bluetooth before the USB connection could be established. Images sent via e-mail from the phone arrived only in truncated 1024 x 768 versions.

We were unable to get full-length videos out of the phone, even via USB connection. Those less than 10 seconds sent via e-mail were received, but refused to play.

Battery Life

In our usual unscientific tests, we got 6.25 hours of talk time on T-Mobile’s EDGE network. We were unable to test 3G talk time, but the Behold is rated at 5 hours of talk and 12.5 days standby in 3G.

Conclusion

Behold’s touch interface is clever and, combined with all its other capabilities, has a lot of potential. But its touch sensitivity is poor, otherwise advanced Web and e-mail functions are crippled by T-Mobile’s lack of 3G coverage, its 5-megapixel camera is frustrated by the difficulty in extracting full-sized images, and its music player is marred by the lack of a 3.5mm jack. The Behold needs a little more interface refinement and a more robust 3G network.

Pros:

• Touchscreen phone
• Clever touch interface
• Bright 3-inch screen
• 5-megapixel camera
• Excellent music player

Cons:

• Hollow voice quality
• No 3.5mm earphone jack
• Slow Web and e-mail access
• Difficult to extract full-sized camera images