While home theater buffs still wring their hands and stock their bank accounts in anticipation of OLED technology big enough to hang in the living room, the age of OLED is already upon the mobile world. Samsung isn’t the first manufacturer to drop a full-color OLED panel into a cell phone, but given the widespread availability and price ($199 on AT&T with contract) of the Impression, it’s the first one you might actually have a shot to own here in the U.S. But do organic light emitting diodes dazzle on phones the same way they do in TVs?
Yes. From the moment you flip open the Impression, it’s quite apparent that something different is firing below the glossy 3.2-inch screen on the phone. The colors – reds and yellows especially – seem more vibrant and lively than those you’ve seen on traditional LCD displays, and Samsung has included a variety of super-saturated backgrounds to really show off what it can do. Boosting brightness to its max ups the wow factor even more without even a hint of washout, and helps shake off sunlight, too. Despite its rich color reproduction, the 240 x 400 resolution on the display is only adequate, giving it less of a crisp feel than more tightly packed LCDs in phones like the HTC Touch Diamond.
Samsung has bedded this glittery diamond of a display into a comparably swank setting: a chrome-trimmed, rounded-edge slider with a full QWERTY keyboard hiding within. The sliding mechanism to kicks out effortlessly, and we especially liked the roomy, rubbery feeling keyboard, which delivers a satisfying click with every press and took almost no time to acclimate to. This is the kind of keyboard you use to idly tap out a page-long e-mail without even realizing it.
Using a capacitive touch screen (the type used on the iPhone) makes the Impression feel more sensitive and agile than clumsy resistive screens, but without preprogrammed momentum, scrolling still feels like a chore that requires you to paw endlessly at the screen. Haptic feedback, which makes the phone buzz when you press an icon, makes a nice (literal) touch, as well.
The call, back and end-call buttons on the face of the phone all make navigating a cinch, but we weren’t as fond of the slender shortcut key and unlock button on the sides, which delivered zero feedback and sometimes required a fingernail to jab. On the other hand, a pronounced shutter key that brings up a ready-to-shoot camera in under two seconds is a definite winner – as are the relatively high-quality shots from the 3.0-megapixel shooter.
If there’s a major catch lurking under all of this, it’s the relatively lame Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system with Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface built over the top. While it clips along fairly briskly, the interface doesn’t make much sense to first-time users, and probably won’t after using it for a while, either. You’ll have to drag widgets from a sliding carousel of them onto a sort of phone desktop, which is a neat attempt at customization, but ends up in a messy clutter after the relatively tight space at your disposal is exhausted.
Connectivity on the Impression comes via AT&T Media Net, which offers a full HTML browser, e-mail, videos from CNN to South Park, and all the other accoutrements you would expect, at 3G speed. (Oddly enough, there is no option for Wi-Fi.) The browser loaded pages reasonably quickly, even if it felt a little clumsy to navigate with, and videos were quick to queue up as well, even if they did have plenty of blocky compression to show for it.
Any phone running at the $199 price point on AT&T becomes an immediate competitor to the iPhone, which makes the Impression a tough sell, even as an otherwise well-rounded device. Why even consider it beside that goliath? If you don’t need all the flexibility provided by Apple’s well-groomed app store, the Impression is smaller, has a much prettier screen, a killer keyboard, and Media Net plans cost $15 a month instead of $30 for a real data plan. That said, we still have our fingers crossed for Samsung rolling out a phone just like the Impression, but with Android on board, rather than Windows Mobile – think the I7500 with a keyboard.
- Gorgeous OLED display
- Sensitive capacitive touch screen
- Well-built, attractive form factor
- Solid QWERTY keyboard
- Hard-to-jab unlock button
- No Wi-Fi
- Unintuitive Windows-Mobile-based interface