“Don't even think of buying the Highlight unless you live in one of T-Mobile's 3G cities.”
- 3-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback; long battery life; quality 3MP photos and HVGA video; speedy 3G Web access; excellent music player
- No 3.5mm headphone jack; no threaded messaging; limited T-Mobile 3G availability; microSD slot behind battery; awkward to unlock
Essentially a low-cal version of its Omnia, Samsung’s 3G Highlight is a compact, full-touchscreen phone – no physical keyboard or dialpad – with all the multimedia and messaging features you’d expect from a modern cell. The otherwise-fun Highlight for T-Mobile could live up to its name if not for two lowlights having nothing to do with the phone itself: T-Mobile’s limited 3G network, and coming competition from the cooler MyTouch Android phone.
Features and Design
The Highlight includes the usual stable of modern cell phone horses: full email and messaging capabilities, 3G HTML Web browsing, A-GPS navigation, and music and video capabilities. The camera captures heftier-than-usual 3MP camera and HVGA video, and since this is a T-Mobile phone, you get the MyFavs one-touch frequent contacts app. It’s also equipped with a quick-reacting accelerometer.
All these apps and functions come encased in a pretty oval-ish enclosure (in either orange or blue) behind a 3-inch touchscreen, with a rubberized battery cover in back. Under the screen are three physical buttons: send, back and end. The left perimeter sports a volume toggle, while the right has a lock/unlock key. It’s flush to the surface and difficult to locate by feel, which makes Highlight hard to unlock with alacrity. Below this is Samsung’s proprietary power and headphone jack, along with the camera shutter release. There’s a mono speaker on the rear, adjacent to the camera lens.
Ports & Connectors
Please, please, please, Samsung – enough already with the proprietary power and headphone jack. A multimedia phone at this price without a 3.5mm headphone jack (and a now industry standard microUSB jack) is just insulting.
The microSD slot, which can support up to a 16 GB card, is awkwardly buried under the battery.
Can a phone serve as a workable PMP?
Other than the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, the Highlight’s music player is excellent. It includes large touchscreen transport keys and volume controls, displays showing time elapsed and remaining, album art, and playback settings options including six EQ presets (rock, classical, etc.). But you’ll have to use the included headphones – Samsung includes no adapter to use standard 3.5mm headphones. The rear-mounted speaker pumps out enough volume to provide a personal soundtrack in a quiet work environment.
Our biggest interface hang-up was the process to keep music playing in the background. You have to counter intuitively hit the end key to return to the home screen with tunes still playing.
T-Mobile doesn’t offer video streaming, so you have to sideload videos, which play colorfully and smoothly on the Highlight’s 3-inch, 240 x 400 pixel screen.
Using the T-Mobile network in New York, voice calls sounded hissier and rougher than we’re used to on 3G, and the Highlight could use a little more power to overcome even moderate ambient noise. The full duplex speakerphone produced far more volume, but voices drift from the rear speaker and away from the ears.
Highlight’s touchscreen strikes the perfect balance of sensitivity, although touch-scrolling isn’t as smooth as, say, an Android phone or the iPhone. Touches are confirmed with a gentle haptic feedback.
Turning the phone horizontal automatically produces a widescreen keyboard. Unfortunately, the “a” key sits too close to the unnecessary “portrait dial pad” key. Turning the phone vertically produces the dialpad. Tapping the dialpad key when you meant to hit “a” happens far too frequently. And to shift to lower case, for some reason you have you to hit the caps key twice.
Annoyingly, pressing the physical send key does not produce an on-screen dialpad, but the call log instead. When a call comes in, you can’t tap the screen to answer it, just the send key. Once answered, the screen locks, which means you have to unlock it before you can mute, activate the speaker, or touch the other in-call options.
You don’t get threaded text messages and, for some reason, incoming replies to text messages from an email address are labeled as picture messages.
In New York, T-Mobile’s 3G network isn’t as swift as other major carriers. However, considering the sludge that is AT&T’s current 3G network thanks to the mob of 3G iPhones clamoring for connections, T-Mobile’s network is actually more consistent.
The Highlight loads most mobile-optimized Web sites, such as CNN and ESPN, in around seven seconds. Subsequent pages from these sites load in a snappy three seconds; non-optimized sites need twice as much time to load.
The Highlight’s 3.0 MP camera takes big, bright, clear and colorful pictures. But like most Samsung cellcams, the Highlight suffers from elongated shutter lag, which means you have to hold the phone stock still for a few long seconds to make sure your shot doesn’t blur, especially indoors.
The volume toggle – which in camera mode acts as the zoom control – is on the bottom of the phone when held horizontally in camera mode, an arrangement that isn’t bad, it merely requires getting used to. This minor ergonomic hiccup is compensated for by being able to zoom while snapping at the top resolution settings for both still photos and video, a rare capability.
Half VGA videos (320 x 240) are relatively free of digital artifacts. The sample is actually shot at the top 3x digital zoom setting, which produces more artifacts.
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Rated talk time battery life is listed at a hefty 6.5 hours, but in our admittedly unscientific tests, we got an even more whopping 8-plus hours.
Don’t even think of buying this phone unless you live in one of T-Mobile’s 3G cities, and then, only if you don’t travel, except to Europe. Otherwise, the Highlight is easy to carry and fun to use, but it’s hard to justify the investment when the edgier and more adroit Android-endowed MyTouch 3G will be available next month for just $50 more.
- 3-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback
- Long battery life
- Bright, colorful 3MP photos and HVGA video
- Speedy 3G Web access
- Excellent music player
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- No threaded messaging
- Limited T-Mobile 3G availability
- MicroSD slot behind battery
- Awkward to unlock
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