The Samsung Beat is a sleek clamshell with an onboard music player, quad-band GSM/EDGE support, and a 1.3-megapixel camera for a reasonable $99. A music-friendly accessory bundle and external playback controls make the Beat a capable music phone. It also has useful extras, including a Web browser (despite its lack of 3G), instant messaging, and over-the-air contact sync, but the interface could use a lot more polish, and the keypad is tricky for thick fingers. As long as you can live without over-the-air downloads, the Beat is a decent choice.
This handset measures 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.7 inches, and it weighs just 2.7 ounces--small but cheap-feeling. On the outside of the glossy black shell is a 96 x 96-pixel OLED display, as well as iPod-like playback controls ringed by a lime-green speaker. The camera lens (with 4X digital zoom) is just above the screen, but there’s no flash. On the right side is a covered microSD slot for up to 2GB of expandable storage, as well as dedicated camera and music player buttons, the latter doubling as a Hold button. On the left are the proprietary headphone/sync connector (also covered) and volume buttons. The battery compartment on the back is secure but easy to remove.
Inside, the color LCD is bright but low-resolution at 128 x 160 pixels. The keypad is mostly smooth, which makes no-look dialing impossible, and keys are close enough together to stymie large fingers. One nice touch is an assignable shortcut key. The included 1GB microSD card comes loaded with tracks from Anisha Nicole and Natalie Williams, and you get an SD adapter, too. Also in the package is an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 3.5mm headphone adapter with built-in mic and call button, and Samsung’s own phone-friendly earbuds.
Startup time was a respectable 15 seconds, and navigation through the interface was mostly speedy, though we noticed a lag when accessing content on a microSD Card. While the menus are simple enough to navigate, the graphics are about as advanced as an old Atari, and the fonts are blocky. Options are presented clearly but not very attractively. The directional pad and Select button offer precise navigation for the most part, though we did have the occasional misstep because of their small size. On the bright side, there was no noticeable lag between menus or while texting.
Supported music formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, and AAC+--no DRM here. You can transfer files in Windows via Windows Media Player or drag and drop them onto the drive for Mac and Windows systems. Copying a 50 Cent album (about 80MB) to the memory card took nearly three minutes, which is on the slow side; you’re better off using a card reader. The phone works with stereo Bluetooth headphones, but you can also transfer files and print pictures via Bluetooth. Other extras include a world clock, a calendar, a calculator, an alarm, and a stopwatch. The Beat also does voice dialing and recording, though the former didn’t work so well in our testing. It had a tough time recognizing names that we spoke, succeeding about a quarter of the time. A few basic games come preloaded, but nothing special.
Music sounded very good through Samsung’s earbuds as well as through our own high-end Shure SE420 earbuds (via the adapter), with rich, clear sound marred only by some system noise between tracks. The external speaker is more useful for speakerphone than music listening, since bass was nearly inaudible. The music automatically stops when you receive a call, and it picks back up where it left off when you hang up. Unfortunately, neither the button on the included earbud cable nor the one on the headphone adapter can pause music; they just answer and end calls, but the music stops automatically when a call comes in.
Pictures and videos captured with the Beat looked pretty bad on the screen, so we wouldn’t necessarily bother uploading them wirelessly to my.t-mobile.com for online sharing. Our favorite feature is the ability to sync contacts wirelessly online--even with Outlook--via my.t-mobile.com. Web browsing was reasonably speedy for an EDGE device; CNN’s mobile Web site loaded in about 15 seconds.
The Beat’s call quality was acceptable, but T-Mobile’s reception is quirky. The phone showed four bars of service out of five, yet when we called repeatedly from our Verizon phone, the Beat failed to register the call about half the time. Voices were loud and clear through the included earbuds, and our own voice came through the hands-free mic clearly on our test calls. The Beat’s battery life is rated at about 6 hours of talk time and 360 hours (15 days) for standby, which is about average. For typical use, this phone needs to be charged about every other day; if you use the speaker and music player regularly, you can expect to charge the Beat daily.
If you opt for this phone, don’t expect the attractive speaker on the front to replace your boombox, and be sure to carry a real camera with you if you want to take clear pictures. Other than that--and yesterday’s user interface--this music phone offers a decent music player and some handy Web features that will satisfy bargain hunters.
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