You can literally talk all day on the new Samsung Magnet (SGH-A257), a slab phone with a full QWERTY keyboard available from AT&T. In our informal tests, we got eight and a half hours of talk time, by far the most battery-powered conversation we’ve ever pulled out of a cell phone. Mind you, extensive talk time is great, but today people do a lot more with a cell phone than just chat. And the Magnet lacks a lot of the basic non-verbal niceties (e.g. 3G connectivity, music playback, etc.) that can be found on Samsung’s own Propel, refurb versions of which are available for the same price ($19.95).
Features and Design
Like the growing number of inexpensive slab/QWERTY phones, the orange and black Magnet may bare a passing similarity to a BlackBerry, but the resemblance is only physical. The Magnet is merely an EDGE phone with a VGA camera offering the usual SMS/MMS and IM texting (sans threaded messaging) and POP/IMAP email services.
In fact, the Magnet is more notable for what it doesn’t include: No multi-megapixel camera, no microSD card slot, no video recorder, no music player, etc. In short, none of the familiar amenities you’d expect in a cellphone in 2009. There isn’t even a wired headset jack.
The tightly-packed keys on the QWERTY keyboard are smaller than those found on most slab QWERTY phones, each key angled up to the right to make it easier to tap the correct one. The unit’s white-on-black letters are easy to read in any light though, especially with its bright white backlighting on.
The Magnet’s 2.2-inch LCD is bright and crisp, but is clearly viewable only from a specific narrow angle. The screen gets darker when you hold it directly perpendicular to your face too – you have to angle it slightly upward to see it as clearly and brightly as designed. But doing so sees you run the danger of catching a reflection from ambient lighting sources like the sun, which can wash out the screen as well. It’s sort of like manipulating a hologram card to see one particular image.
In terms of performance, the handset provides clear, unmuddied sound for your lengthy conversations with plenty of volume. Even though there’s no separate speaker, the earpiece works well as a speakerphone.
Ring tones are also loud, especially if you use the “outdoor” profile, and should be easily heard, depending on the ringtone you pick, if the phone is in a coat pocket, backpack or purse in relatively quiet ambient conditions. Furthermore, the vibrate function is violent enough to feel through a pair of jeans.
As is usual with QWERTY phones, phone number dialing on the tiny keyboard is a challenge. At least the white-on-orange-on-black number keys are easily discernable.
Texting on the tiny angled keys was easier with our adult fingers than we imagined it would be, and shouldn’t pose much of a hurdle to yung’uns with daintier digits. But oddly, you have to double-tap the Shift key to get a capital letter and you can’t hold it or the Function key down to tap out sequential caps, numbers or symbols.
Running on EDGE, Magnet’s WAP 2.0 browser takes between 15-25 seconds to completely fill Web pages, depending on graphics content, but you can start to scroll before a page has completely loaded. Sites optimized for mobile devices such as CNN and ESPN load faster, often in less than 10 seconds. On sites with lots of visual content and no mobile-optimized version such as IMDb, we got an “Error: Document too large” message.
In the box you’ll find nothing but the wall charger – what did you expect for 20 bucks?
One the Magnet’s most glaring missteps is its VGA camera, which is more of an anachronism than useful feature.
A direct-access camera key is located on the bottom right of the keyboard, but you can only use it to activate the camera from the phone’s splash screen. There’s no flash, but there is a vanity mirror.
Framing your picture is the first problem. In direct sunlight, the screen washes out almost completely… To see what you’re aiming at, you have to awkwardly angle the screen at about a 45 degree angle – but then the camera’s not pointed at what you want to shoot.
Once you get your shot, picture quality is average – picture bright colors with high contrast, but a lack of clarity and crispness that gets worse with less ambient light. Regardless, the bigger problem is transferring the photos from phone to PC.
You get only two “Send” options – via MMS or to HP’s Snapfish service. Sending via MMS is a gamble – some shots (seemingly, brightly-lit outdoor shot) got shrunk in half from their normal 640×480 to 320×480 resolution to get transmitted. And photos sent to Snapfish are not only compressed slightly (to 589 x 442), but are also robbed of color and clarity. What’s more, we kept getting Snapfish confirmation texts hours after we uploaded the images.
As noted, using the AT&T EDGE network in Manhattan, we got what could be a world’s record of 8.5 hours talk time – even though the Magnet is only rated at 5 hours (and 250 hours/10.4 days standby).
Samsung’s Magnet is the latest in a new generation of cheap, dumbed-down QWERTY phones – equipped with only the bare necessities for a low price – likely targeted at kids. But we suspect kids are more technically sophisticated and smarter than both Samsung and AT&T think. Case in point: For the same price, your child can get a far more fully-featured (albeit refurbished) Propel.
- Great battery life
- Clear sound, loud ringers
- QWERTY keyboard
- Full array of text, IM and email services
- Slow EDGE Web access
- No threaded messaging
- VGA camera, no video recording
- No microSD card slot
- No music player