“The Solstice is tough to recommend since most will be better off with one of Verizon's recently discounted rivals.”
- Speedy downloads; overall feel of handset; best virtual QWERTY keyboard we've tested
- Incompatibility with most third-party apps; no native Gmail support; 2.0 MP camera; AT&T Social Net integration; lack of pack-in accessories
Haven’t sifted through enough smartphones this summer as is? Meet latest contender the Samsung Solstice SGH-A887, which uses a Java-based operating system capable of handling some applications and programs without the hassle of learning how to use Windows Mobile. But is the handset worth your time and money? With the Samsung Widget Bar in tow you might just think so… until you realize just how unfriendly the device is towards third-party apps, that is. Oh, and if you should happen to be a Gmail user, you’re out of luck as well – the onboard email client doesn’t support the service either, another annoying ding against the phone right out of the starting gate.
Features and Design
Weighing in at 3.33 ounces, the Solstice feels surprisingly solid in your hands. Wrapped in a gunmetal bezel, we thought it was odd though that the 3-inch screen didn’t take up as much of the handset’s façade. There’s over 1/8th of an inch between the edge of the screen and bezel on the sides and over a 1/4th an inch between the top of the screen and earpiece.
The Solstice features a TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 240×400, making for vibrant colors and sharp text. The touchscreen is semi-rigid and didn’t play well with other objects – namely, keys – when placed in our pockets, however. Within the first ten minutes of being there, we already had a scratch on the screen. (If you plan on keeping your phone looking like new we recommend a screen protector or belt holster.) That said, the screen lock functions admirably, as once the display dims to save battery power, the phone automatically locks, thereby preventing phantom calls.
The trademark Samsung Widget Bar functions similarly to its counterpart on the Omnia with the exception that you can’t place any app or tool on it that you want – only those pre-selected by Samsung. The Solstice also allows for dragging and dropping tools and apps from the Widget Bar to the screen of the phone, again as with the Omnia. For example: We liked the ability to drag our bookmarked webpage folder onto the screen of the phone, giving us easy access to our Gmail and Twitter accounts.
But when we tried setting up our Gmail account on the Solstice’s onboard e-mail client, we were perplexed to see that an option for Gmail or even a generic e-mail account creation option wasn’t present. Even weirder still, older services that we thought were either dead or near dead like Mindspring and Juno actually were. Nonetheless, we were able to download and run the Gmail app, and while functionality was somewhat hampered on the Solstice, it still beat logging on to our account via the mobile web browser.
AT&T recently released the free AT&T Social Net app that combines RSS feeds, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter status updates into one window. When we could get it to connect, which wasn’t often, speeds were slow to say the least, and when we actually did leave the app open for over two hours, it didn’t receive our friend’s Twitter updates. To get around these issues, we tried using TinyTwitter to sate our tweeting needs, because it’s a small program and generally runs well. Oddly though, the application didn’t perform on the Solstice. Why? Being asked permission by the system to access data services at least once every three seconds made navigating our feed impossible. Long story short: If you’re a Twitter addict, you’re better off sticking to the mobile web version here.
The RSS reader only offers feeds AT&T deems appropriate as well, not your own custom subscriptions, making following the day’s gaming news on a feed from Joystiq, Kotaku, or Destructoid with it impossible. On the bright side, Engadget and CNET were available under the Technology section.
Rounded edges and smooth surfaces make the Solstice a comfortable carry, whether either in-pocket or in-hand. The textured battery cover is highly tactile, too. Around the edges of the phone are the volume rocker, screen lock, shortcut, and camera buttons, all of which are very unobtrusive and have a firm feel to them when pressed. We really liked the shortcut button, which gives you access to any applications you may have running in addition to quick access to mobile Web, games, music, and messaging. Moreover, tapping out a quick text message was simpler than on other touchscreen phones we’ve used because when a letter is pressed, it appears to the immediate right of where your thumb is resting, making it easy to see what you just pressed.
Ports & Connectors
Combining the battery charging terminal, headphone jack, and USB port into one outlet was a bad move because A) How many people own headphones that aren’t the standard 3.5mm jack size and B) Connecting the Solstice to your computer isn’t possible without buying an additional proprietary data cable that should have been included in the box. Also poorly designed is the micro SD slot placement. Being located under the battery is a reassurance that the tiny silicon chip won’t accidentally come out of the device, but if you don’t pony up for a data cable, the only way to get music from your collection onto the handset is by loading it on to a micro SD card. Adding music regularly can be a pain if you don’t own a giant storage card.
Can a Phone Serve As a Workable PMP?
Out of the box the answer is no. One has to buy proprietary wired headphones or pony up for a set of Bluetooth earbuds, because the onboard speaker is wretched for music. Factoring in the lack of a data cable and limited amount of onboard memory (189MB) only exacerbates this fact.
Voice quality was good, but as we mentioned before, the onboard speaker shouldn’t be used for anything other than conversation.
In major metropolitan areas where you would expect full service, it wasn’t there. Most of the time we only had two of the available four bars of service.
Web browsing was also hit or miss. The Solstice is on AT&T’s 3G network, but we encountered many times where the connection would time out. Accessing the DigitalTrends home page took 10 seconds to load, but the Solstice achieves this speed by degrading the quality of images into a pixilated mess. In addition, page layout also was incorrect.
Image quality on a cell phone will probably never rival that of a DSLR or even a point-and-shoot, but the 2.0 megapixel camera on the Solstice is terrible, especially when compared to cameras rated at 2.0 megapixels on many of Verizon’s phones from last year. When taken at full 2 mega-pixel resolution (1600×1200), photos are grainy and pixilated, even when Superfine image quality is selected.
We were impressed at how well the battery held up on the Solstice. Even with heavy Web browsing and downloading and installing apps, the phone lasted over 10 hours.
If you buy a Solstice seeking only a higher-end calling and messaging device you won’t be disappointed, albeit not particularly thrilled either. But it almost goes without saying that those looking for a fully tweakable smartphone in the lower end of today’s price range would be much better off with one of Verizon’s recently discounted rivals. As such, it’s a tough recommendation.
- Solid feel
- Vibrant screen
- Battery life
- No native Gmail support
- Screen unresponsive around extreme edges
- Hit-or-miss Internet connection
- Sub-par camera
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