“Nearly every feature in the Propel feels as cutting edge as its ergonomics.”
- Great form-factor; good camera and music player
- QWERTY keyboard; push email
- No 3.5mm headphone jack; headphones not included; poor LCD screen
Samsung has solved the whole portrait vs. landscape form factor debate with the Propel. The Propel, officially the SGH-a767 and available from AT&T Wireless for the bargain price of $79.99, is a 2.33-inch wide slider – the perfect width for a breast pocket. By making the phone wider, there’s more room for a wider screen, and a wider QWERTY keyboard, without having to turn the phone on its side. This ridiculously simple “duh!” solution makes using the Propel for viewing video, surfing the Web, AGPS maps and navigation, writing email, taking photos or just making calls far more civilized. We can only hope other phone makers copy this innovative ergonomic development.
Features and Design
Nearly every feature in the Propel feels as cutting edge as its ergonomics. A push with your thumb easily slides up the screen to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. Inside the Propel are a fine music player and XM radio, full text, IM and email options, a surprisingly high quality 1.3 MP camera, AT&T Navigation with turn-by-turn directions, a speedy HTML Web browser that uses AT&T Wireless’ 3G network, which also provides access to AT&T Wireless’ music and video offerings. The only fly in this assortment of cell goodies is a poor LCD screen that provides virtually no off-angle viewing, and bleaches nearly completely blank in direct sunlight.
At 2.33 inches wide, 3.85 inches tall and just .58 inches deep, the Propel fits quite comfortably in the hand for any and all apps, including conversations.
Its 2.2-inch screen isn’t really wide – 220 x 176 pixels, 1.75 x 1.5 inches, but feels wide enough.
The Propel’s QWERTY keyboard is nearly identical to a BlackBerry’s, and imitation is flattery. Keys are slight humped, so even though it’s tightly packed, its eminently thumbable as long as you’re careful.
The right spine has a handy menu access button that displays a horizontal line of the most common functions.
Ports & Connectors
All the ports and jacks you need are easily accessible on the outside: Samsung’s proprietary headphone/power jack on the lower right side, and a microSD slot on the lower left side.
The phone comes with a travel charger, period. The phone doesn’t even include a mono earpiece, much less stereo ear buds, which is a shame since you now have to buy Samsung’s awful earbuds with their proprietary jack. AT&T’s doesn’t even list any compatible headsets on their Web site. Great.
Can a phone serve as a workable PMP?
The Propel’s biggest problems stem from its lousy screen. It’s bright enough and big enough, but videos streamed from AT&T Wireless’ CV selection look as if there’s a screen door over them, and images look polarized and/or solarized off-angle.
Its music player is far superior. Tracks load easily via drag-and-drop, or using Windows Media Player. My biggest complaint: You can’t put tracks into shuffle mode until a track is playing, which means you have to choose a track first.
The music player stays active as you shift out of the player to other applications. The active track stays displays on the bottom of the home screen, and the nav array stays active for music controls.
The Propel also provides access to subscription-based XM radio. Signals are received through the cellular network, though, not the actual XM satellites, and you are warned the service eats a lot of data minutes.
The only bad news: the lack of an ordinary 3.5mm headphone jack.
For calls, voices come out clean, but a bit hollow. There’s no real external speaker, just the earpiece, which doubles as one. Voices sound equally clean with plenty of volume, but tinny, as does music.
One drawback to the Propel’s design is the tiny dial pad numbers integrated Blackberry-style into the QWERTY keyboard. You’ll have to be careful while tapping out phone numbers.
Thanks to the QWERTY keyboard and the software’s easy-to-fill forms, new contacts are easy to add. The space for email even has a hard encoded @ sign, saving a second or two of keyboard hunting and pecking.
On AT&T’s HSDPA 3G network, Web pages usually loaded within five seconds. You use the directional pad to easily navigate pages, and the keyboard to input new URLs. If text is too small, you can zoom the page size, too.
There are pre-configured settings for most major email services except, oddly Gmail, and there doesn’t seem to be any way of configuring a non-listed email domain.
You have to slide the screen up – the camera lens is on the rear of the screen – to take pictures. A small, dedicated camera key on the bottom row of the keyboard serves as the shutter button.
The Propel takes surprisingly robust 1280 x 960 pixel pictures both inside and outdoors, which is impressive considering its mere 1.3-megapixel sensor and lack of flash. Indoor pictures must be well-lit, but are relatively well-defined, and crisp outdoor shots offer plenty of color.
Unfortunately, the sun can bleach out the viewfinder.
A sample image taken with our Samsung Propel review unit
Samsung rates the Propel’s battery for 5 hours of talk time and 10.4 days of standby.
The Propel has a great (and hopefully soon-to-be-imitated) form factor, an above-average music player and camera, and plenty of other extras, all for a great price. But a bad LCD screen, missing earbuds and lack of 3.5mm jack nearly ruin an otherwise well-designed phone.
• Great form-factor
• Above-average camera and music player
• QWERTY keyboard
• Push email
• No 3.5mm jack
• No included headphones
• Poor LCD screen
• No Gmail email configuration
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