Until recently those who wanted to sign up for T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home Wi-Fi calling service had three options: The low-end Nokia 6086 and Samsung t409 (both $49.99) or the popular high-end BlackBerry Curve ($249). With the release of the $79.99 Samsung Katalyst SGH-t739, users now have a stylish midrange option that includes an MP3 player. It's not perfect, but the Katalyst is a good choice for those looking to kick that landline to the curb.
The Samsung Katalyst is an attractive gunmetal blue with silver accents. Its sliding action is smooth and sturdy, and was perhaps one of the best aspects of the unit as a whole. The large 2.3-inch display stands out, but its paltry 220 x 176 resolution is far from impressive. Volume keys and a headphone/charging jack are on the left side of the unit, and a button for snapping photos with the unit's 1.3-megapixel camera is on the right-hand side. All of the keys on the Katalyst are spaced far enough apart so that you don't accidentally press them. The keyboard felt comfortable during our texting sessions, but the keys were a bit flat for our tastes.
We're disappointed that the Katalyst has only 5MB of memory, but even more frustrated to see that it's used inefficiently. The myFaves menu, for example, rotates incredibly slowly, and applications launch even slower. Likewise, loading t-zones is like watching an old man jog.
Wi-Fi Calling on the Katalyst
As with other HotSpot @Home phones, you can make unlimited calls on your home Wi-Fi network with the Katalyst for a reasonable $9.99 per month. You can also make Wi-Fi calls at thousands of T-Mobile HotSpot locations, from airports to Starbucks. The Katalyst did a fantastic job switching between Wi-Fi networks and its native GSM network. The only noticeable difference was decreased volume once we'd returned to T-Mobile's GSM network. We didn't lose a single call during our tests.
The included single-bud wired headset has a microphone, so it can be used to chat with friends during calls. The Katalyst also supports Bluetooth (though not stereo), and callers told us things sounded clear on their end. However, we experienced some popping and fuzziness on our end. The Bluetooth connectivity wasn't always reliable; sometimes pairing the unit required multiple attempts.
The Katalyst is best suited for simple online tasks. It supports AIM, ICQ, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messaging. We wouldn't recommend using the browser for much more than checking sports scores. Over GSM we loaded CNN.com with pictures in 11 seconds, and NYTimes.com loaded in 31 seconds. Using Wi-Fi, CNN loaded with pictures in 5 seconds, and NYTimes.com loaded in 10 seconds. You can download games and ringtones from t-zones, but you can't download music. We downloaded Call of Duty 4 in 23 seconds; game play was good enough to pass a few minutes on the bus.
Katalyst Music Playback
You can load MP3s on the Katalyst using a microSD card, but you have to take out the battery to insert the card. Considering we weren't expecting much from a phone that wasn't centered around multimedia, music sounded surprisingly crisp, although it lacked bass. The audio playback interface is satisfactory; switching among songs is easy, and you can choose between two visualizations. Music plays over the phone's external speaker or through an included single-bud wired headset.
Dual-ear listening requires a proprietary wired headset from Samsung for $20 (T-Mobile doesn't carry them and they aren't included), but it isn't true stereo sound; it's just pumped into both ears. The Katalyst doesn't support stereo Bluetooth.
The Katalyst's 1.3-megapixel camera took decent photos, but they were washed out and lacked sharpness. When we took a picture of a tree with lights on it, each tree light flared up, blurring the shot entirely, as if it were taken in motion.
The Katalyst is rated at up to 5 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of idling. We left the phone on standby for a solid 12 hours without seeing a drop in battery life, but found that the power drains quickly with normal usage. Expect to charge the Katalyst at least once every two days--although we'd suggest doing so every night if you have Wi-Fi enabled.
Samsung Katalyst Verdict
The Katalyst does a fine job replacing a household handset, and does so for a very reasonable $79.99. Call quality was clear enough that you could leave your landline behind. Just don't expect much else from this slider.
T-Mobile HotSpot @Home
Innovative but inconsistent Wi-Fi service provides very good in-home reception and cheap and clear calls on the go for those who want to use only one phone.
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