In the race to create compelling Android phones, Samsung is not off to the best start. The Moment for Sprint offered a bold AMOLED display, but it suffered from a bland interface and disappointing slide-down keyboard. The $229 Behold II loses the keyboard but features the same great screen and a sharper 5-megapixel camera. Plus, Samsung is attempting to catch up to the likes of HTC and Motorola by adding its TouchWiz and Cube user interfaces. Unfortunately, these additions feel half-baked and awkward by comparison, making the Behold II the least satisfying Android device yet.
The Behold II certainly feels solid in the hand, but it avoids being heavy. This touchscreen phone measures 4.6 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches and weighs 4.2 ounces. Its gunmetal gray face has a sizeable 3.2-inch AMOLED touchscreen with a 480 x 320-pixel resolution. The AMOLED display offers some of the most eye-popping colors available on smart phones today, and it’s a pleasure to view both photos and Web pages.
Below the display—and encircling a 5-way directional pad—are (clockwise from the top) a return button, a key that launches Samsung’s 3D Cube menu (more on this in the UI section), End, Send, Home, and a Menu button.
On the left-hand side of the device are the volume keys; a 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB port are located on the top of the device. The right side of the phone houses a lock/unlock button and a camera quick-launch key.
The back of the Behold II has a gold colored map of the world painted on it, which adds a bit of flair to the device but will likely be a turn-off to some. Here you’ll also find a speaker and the 5-MP camera, which includes autofocus and an LED flash.
The Behold II does not have a physical keyboard; rather, it has two custom Samsung QWERTY keyboards. Both layouts are easy to type on, but neither are as comfortably spaced as HTC’s custom keyboards on the Hero and Droid Eris, or even the default Android keyboard. The period in portrait mode, for example, is crammed so tight between the M key and the ? that you have to be very deliberate when tapping it. The Behold II also had trouble keeping up with us when we typed quickly; it felt like we were typing on a touchscreen feature phone instead of a smart phone.
The Behold II has three UIs: First, it has the old Android 1.5 operating system, which offers three different customizable home screens. Second, it has Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz user interface. Lastly, it has Samsung’s own 3D Cube menu for accessing your multimedia. The trouble is, none of these work well together.
Android typically makes for an easy-to-use touchscreen experience. You can customize your three home screens with applications, shortcuts, and widgets. Notifications (such as new e-mail and text messages) are displayed along the top of the screen, and to view any of them you simply pull down the notification shade by dragging your finger from the top of the screen to the bottom (to learn more about Android, click here). Usually this execution is pretty flawless and zippy, but we noticed lag on the Behold II. Likewise, Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface is sluggish. As we swiped from screen to screen, we could see a delay as the phone tried to keep up. Also, the left-aligned TouchWiz tab—which reveals the TouchWiz menu—sometimes pops out onto the screen if you’re swiping from left to right.
To access all of your programs, you have to open TouchWiz. On the home screen, there are four icons along the bottom: Contacts, Dialer, Quick List, and Web. Quick List looks exactly like the main menu of a feature phone, and really has no reason to exist. You should be able to access the main menu with all of your installed programs, which is what every other Android phone does.
Samsung’s 3D Cube menu is a fun concept, but with the TouchWiz and Android’s UIs present, it feels like a gimmick. The cube has six sides: Amazon MP3, music, photos, videos, Web browser, and YouTube. Simply click a side to launch one of the programs, and the cube transforms into a card-based menu of your song library, video library, etc. We prefer using a regular media player menu where we can simply choose videos and then the one we want to watch.
The Behold II has Wi-Fi for faster Web surfing, but the setup is awkward. You have to navigate to TouchWiz and click the Wi-Fi button, and then click another large circular button to turn Wi-Fi on. Next, you must go through a setup process to choose your access point and enter any required login key. When we entered the key for our network, there wasn’t a Save button in portrait mode; we had to turn the phone into landscape mode first, which is a bizarre UI bug.
To enter a Web address, you have to click Menu > Go > and then enter the URL. But the default Android UI is more intuitive: You can just click Menu and the URL space pops down. Using Wi-Fi, CNN.com loaded in 4 seconds, ESPN.com loaded in 5 seconds, and Laptopmag.com loaded in a zippy 17 seconds. Over T-Mobile’s 3G network, we loaded the same three sites in 8, 10, and 19 seconds, respectively. Those 3G speeds are about on par with the myTouch 3G, which loaded the same sites in 6, 8, and 30 seconds; the Motorola Cliq loaded CNN.com in 9 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 27 seconds.
MultimediaClick to enlarge
The Behold II comes with a 2GB microSD Card for storing music and videos, which is paltry compared to the 16GB you get with the $199 Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless. We also found that the phone took well over five minutes to scan our 16GB microSD Card for new media. Once all of our songs were available, we played “Down Down Down” by The Expendables. Audio from the speaker was sufficiently loud, but hollow. We appreciated that the album art was displayed as a large graphic on the screen, but it was a bit pixelated. You can view your albums in a fancy Cover Flow-like interface by turning the phone into landscape mode, but it took the Behold II more than a few seconds to load all of the art, and the interface was predictably sluggish.
As mentioned previously, the performance of the Behold II is more on a par with feature phones—not with other smart phones—and that’s not a good thing. While it has a 528-MHz Qualcomm processor (the same as in the Motorola Cliq), the Cliq feels relatively fast and smooth, even with its Happenings UI running. By contrast, the Behold II feels sluggish, partly because it only has 200MB of internal memory to the Cliq’s 256MB of RAM. For example, it took about 2 seconds to switch from the portrait to the landscape keyboard on the Behold II, menus sometimes stuttered during interactions, and we even noticed occasional delays adjusting the volume while listening to music.
The Android Market offers over 10,000 applications (about one tenth the size of Apple’s App Store). Some of our favorites include Facebook, Pandora for streaming music, and Sherpa for finding nearby points of interest. Purchases can only be made using your Google Checkout account, which accepts all major credit cards, and carrier billing is not yet available.
The Behold II has a GPS chip and comes preinstalled with TeleNav’s GPS software ($9.99 per month). TeleNav offers voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and more than 10 million points of interest for quickly finding ATMs, restaurants, and the like. After taking just over a minute to find our location on its first attempt, the software was able to locate us in about 5 seconds on subsequent tries. We correctly routed from our office to our apartment in Manhattan in just 4 seconds. As the Behold II runs Android 1.5, it’s not compatible with Google Maps Navigation (Beta), which only supports versions 1.6 and higher.
CameraClick to enlarge
Like the Motorola Droid, the Behold II features a 5-MP camera with flash and autofocus, but we weren’t impressed with its performance. Shots taken in low light were dark and grainy, and our subjects were lost even with the flash turned on. Indoors, a picture of a coworker came out too bright and washed out in comparison with the Droid, which took a sharper image and wasn’t as sensitive to the glare of a computer monitor. A close-up shot of a flower was also sharper on the Droid than on the Behold II.
Samsung implemented the same touch-sensitive UI that you’ll find on its point-and-shoot cameras, and it’s very easy to use. While you can take pictures up to 2560 x 1920 pixels in size, the Behold II deems them too large to e-mail, automatically downscaling them to 40k files.
Users can choose from 13 different scene modes (such as Landscape, Portrait, and Sunset) as well as shooting modes (continuous, mosaic, panorama, single shot, and smile shot). Panorama was particularly fun, as the camera automatically snaps 8 photos and stitches them together—a green on-screen square even guides you to each successive shot. While the stitching worked well, you’re locked into a max resolution of 480 x 320, which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling final image.
352 x 288 and 30 frames-per-second video shot with the Behold II was mediocre; colors were represented well and action was smooth, but there was noticeable pixelation. Users can record in one of three quality levels: Economy, Fine, or Normal. We found that the Droid’s 720 x 480 resolution video camera was much better than the Behold II. The details of pavement were clear, and the deep blue sky popped with color.
Call Quality and Battery LifeClick to enlarge
Call quality on the Samsung Behold II was generally good. Callers could hear us just as well as we could hear them. However, when we left a voicemail on our landline, we noticed a lot of background noise coming from the passing street traffic in New York City. During our testing, we received a day and a half of battery life under moderate usage; during this time we browsed the Web over Wi-Fi, placed phone calls, and listened to music.
Priced at $229, the Samsung Behold II is the most expensive Android phone on T-Mobile, and it’s far from the best. It doesn’t offer the type of social network integration that other Android phones offer, such as the Sprint HTC Hero and T-Mobile Motorola Cliq, and it’s noticeably slower. While you may miss the AMOLED display, for $199 we recommend you check out the Motorola Cliq with its Motoblur user experience and full QWERTY keyboard. If you don’t need a physical keyboard but you’re still keen on Android, go with the HTC Hero on Sprint ($179) or the HTC Droid Eris on Verizon Wireless ($99.99).