The Samsung Eternity is a relatively affordable yet elegant touchscreen phone that sports a 3-megapixel camera, broadcast-quality TV, and a fun and easy-to-use interface. For $149, this AT&T handset isn’t nearly as versatile as the iPhone but it should please multimedia mavens looking for a beautiful touchscreen phone with a few bonuses.
The Eternity measures 4.3 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches in size, exactly the same dimensions as the LG Vu, and weighs a light 3.9 ounces. Its piano black face is home to a large 3.2-inch, 400 x 240-pixel display, which is bright and crisp; it’s 0.2 inches larger than the aforementioned Vu but has the same resolution. At 3.9 ounces, it’s also 0.6 ounces heavier than the Vu. The phone’s accelerometer automatically adjusts the display depending on whether you’re holding the Eternity vertically or in landscape mode.
The front of the unit has just three buttons: Send, End, and a return button; on the left are volume controls. We like the full 3.5mm headphone jack on the right side of the phone, which sits above a camera quick-launch button and menu key that brings up an on-screen menu for items such as the call log, MEdiaNet, messaging, and music player. The back of the phone has a plastic brushed-metal look to it and a 3-MP camera that lacks a flash. The phone comes with 200MB of internal storage; you can add up to 8GB using a microSD Card (not included).
The Eternity’s touchscreen offers light haptic feedback so you’ll know when the phone has registered a touch. The display was accurate, and we didn’t have to repeat taps to make a selection.
Like the Samsung Behold on T-Mobile, the phone sports Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface, which we enjoyed using more than the one on the Vu. At the bottom of the home screen are three icons: Dial, Contacts, and Main Menu. Along the side, a ribbon houses several shortcut icons for such apps as Calendar, Clock, Calculator, and a music player. When you want to use any of these functions, simply drag the icon onto the desktop to interact with it; when you’re finished, drag it back to the ribbon. We like that the ribbon can be stowed away by clicking a small arrow, too, which gives you more desktop space. The LG Vu, by comparison, had a standard main-menu area where all of the applications were stored, and we preferred the Behold’s TouchWiz method of displaying commonly used apps.
The main menu has the standard fare, including an Address Book, the AT&T GPS Navigator software, and Media Mall. You’ll also find a Yellow Pages application and a shortcut to AT&T Mobile TV.
In landscape mode, the Eternity features a virtual QWERTY keyboard, on which we were able to type easily and rather quickly. You can also use an alphanumeric keyboard while holding the Eternity in a vertical orientation, which is perfect for when you need to dial numbers. We found that this keypad was easy to use both for dialing and for texting using the T9 method. You can use the handwriting feature here too, but its recognition wasn’t very good. For example, when we wrote “h” it returned either “b” or “n” most of the time. Users could get used to the Behold’s keyboard just as easily as they could to the Vu, which also provided a good typing experience.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The Eternity uses a Java-powered e-mail system, and provides options to set up AIM, AOL, AT&T, BellSouth, Windows Live Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail accounts. You can also choose Other Providers to select a Comcast, EarthLink, Juno, MindSpring, or NetZero account. While we wish that we could have set up a Gmail or IMAP account as well, we were able to sign into our AIM account in less than 30 seconds.
AIM, Windows Live, or Yahoo chat applications are available, too. We logged into our AIM account in about 40 seconds after it pulled down our contacts. It even allowed us to minimize the application to perform other tasks without having to sign out.
TV and Music
The Eternity supports AT&T’s Mobile TV service, which offers 13 channels of broadcast-quality video (CBS Mobile, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, FNC, FOX Mobile, Fuel, MSNBC, MTV, NBC 2Go, Nickelodeon Mobile, and Sony Pictures, along with several rotating special-content channels) for $15 per month. We watched The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS Mobile and thought the picture looked very good. However, if you’re primarily interested in Mobile TV, the picture on the Samsung Access was sharper and more colorful. Still, video didn’t skip on the Eternity during our tests.
You can buy music through AT&T Music at a rate of 5 songs for $7.49 per month as part of a package deal, or individually for $1.99. A free copy of each song can be sent to your computer for playback through Napster, too. We were able to download Kanye West’s “Heartless” in just 10 seconds; we were amazed at how quick we had the song playing through our own ear buds (the Eternity doesn’t come with its own), and appreciated that we could minimize the player while we surfed the Web. The music playback screen displays the artist and album name, as well as the album art for each track. Audio sounded clean and was sufficiently loud.
While photos taken with the Eternity’s 3-MP camera were sharp, colors were washed out. We shot a row of shampoo bottles on the shelf of a drug store, and noticed that bright, lime green bottles looked milky pale in our pictures; a shot of neon orange shaving cream caps yielded the same results. The camera also lacks autofocus: Pictures taken of a bowl of Skittles were blurry and had an orange tint. As a camera phone, the Eternity isn’t bad, but if you want something that could replace your point-and-shoot, consider the Samsung Behold from T-Mobile.
The Eternity can record MPEG-4 videos, too. A movie we recorded walking from our office to a nearby store looked decent, even though it was a bit pixelated. The handset was able to adjust to shadows quickly, but our movement took a big toll on the stability of the clip. Unfortunately, the phone didn’t pick up audio in any of our videos until we installed the appropriate Klite codec package. After that, we had sufficient and accurate audio in our videos.
The Samsung Eternity features turn-by-turn directions as part of its AT&T Navigator GPS service ($9.99 per month), which is powered by TeleNav. We were able to accurately navigate a route from our house to a bagel shop in Long Beach, Long Island. The Eternity took less than 30 seconds to plot our route, and another 30 seconds to reroute us when we veered off-course. Overall, we appreciated the GPS performance, but you’ll want to consider a car charger if you’re planning to use Eternity for long trips, as it will drain the device’s battery.
Call Quality and Battery Life
We left a voicemail on our landline phone with the Eternity from a busy street in Manhattan; two words were cut off and the audio wasn’t as clear as we would have liked. We could also hear a group of women chatting as they walked by in the background. The volume was loud enough for our tastes, though.
We used the phone nonstop for 2 hours and 45 minutes and the Eternity dropped two out of five battery bars; that included our 15 minutes of TV viewing, as well as Web surfing, call tests, and camera tests. If you’re planning to use the device heavily, you’ll want to charge the phone every day. AT&T claims the phone has up to 5 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time.
Samsung Eternity Verdict
For those who don’t want to spend the extra $50 for an iPhone, the Samsung Eternity is a sleek and impressive multimedia phone. The touchscreen is accurate, and the Mobile TV experience is good–assuming you’re willing to pay the monthly fee. In addition, the Eternity’s Web speed was satisfactory, and we liked downloading music quickly over AT&T’s 3G network.
For the same price the $149 LG Vu offers similar features, including Mobile TV, in a design that’s a bit lighter and less bulky. And the two devices have many similarities: the keyboards on each are easy to type on, both offer TeleNav GPS, and each offers similar e-mail and messaging apps. Overall, however, we prefer the Samsung Eternity for its fun TouchWiz interface, its better 3-MP camera, and small but important features like the 3.5mm headphone jack.