Sharp 8-MP Camera; Great shots outdoors and indoors; Works with Flickr, Photobucket, and other sharing sites; Integrated GPS; Earbuds and 1GB microSD Card included
No optical zoom; Expensive; Poor Web browser; Lacks Wi-Fi; Proprietary headphone jack
The first 8-MP camera phone for the U.S. is nearly good enough to replace your point-and-shoot, but it's far from perfect.
Imagine being able to take your point-and-shoot camera out of your pocket to answer a phone call. Seems odd, but that's exactly what it's like to use the Samsung Memoir from T-Mobile. This handset is the first 8-MP camera phone to be sold through a U.S. carrier, and it can hold its own against a traditional digicam, even in low-light conditions. Unfortunately, the Memoir's lack of Wi-Fi and optical zoom, slow Flickr uploading, and high price prevent it from being a top pick.
When we first took the 3G-capable Memoir out on the town to put its lens to the test, a friend took a look at it and said, "Wow. Nice camera." When we flipped the device over to show off 3-inch touchscreen (400 x 200-pixel resolution) and said it's actually a phone, his jaw dropped. The Memoir feels sturdy and has a sharp, matte black rear with a protruding lens, a true Xenon flash, and the feel of a real camera.
On the front of the device--where the display is--are send, end, and return buttons. When flipped horizontally into camera mode, zoom in/out buttons double as the volume keys, a screen-lock key, and a shutter button for snapping photos. On the left side of the unit is a microSD Card reader and a proprietary headphone/charger port. The 4.4-ounce Memoir is similar in size and weight to theSamsung Behold; it measures 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.6 inches while the Behold measures 4.1 x 2.1 x 0.5 inches. (TheiPhone 3Gis a bit heavier at 4.7 ounces but a slimmer half-inch.)
The Memoir features the same TouchWiz user interface that the Behold and other newer Samsung phones offer. The TouchWiz UI has an application sidebar on the desktop that lets you drag and drop your programs to and from the home screen. This keeps the display uncluttered, but the UI felt as sluggish as it did on the Behold; considering this phone costs $100 more, we expected it to be zippier. The resistive touchscreen provides a small buzz when an option is selected, but it is nowhere near as responsive as the iPhone's capacitive display. Opening our phonebook took about 2 seconds, the myFaves menu and other menu animations were noticeably laggy.
Three keyboards are available, an alphanumeric one in portrait mode, a full QWERTY in landscape, and a character-recognition option (if you feel like drawing on the screen with your finger). The device's accelerometer alerts the Memoir when it's sideways and automatically pulls up the full QWERTY layout. The keyboard took some getting used to; the keys are small and close together, but we typed accurately as long as we didn't go too fast. The T9 option will autocorrect text; however, suggested options obscured the rest of a sentence we were typing until selecting one.
We tested the Memoir's camera over a few days and were very impressed by the shots taken in a local pub with friends. A host of options are available for shooting, including a fun panoramic mode that stitches multiple images together. Pictures shot in a restaurant looked colorful and sharp, and skin tones were presented accurately, even in darker conditions that required a flash.
On Facebook, most people won't be able to tell the difference between these shots and those from a standard point-and-shoot camera. We took out tests a step further by putting the Memoir head to head against the Samsung Behold and a 12.1-MPCanon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPHset to 8 MP. (See the images and results inthe following pages of this review).
In outdoor shots, it was hard to tell the difference between the Memoir and the SD780, which is a compliment to the Memoir's image sensor. We noted that the blue sky around a skyscraper was as deep and vibrant on the Memoir as it was on the SD780. Shots of a stone lion were equally similar; each represented the pale white stone as well as the other, although the SD780 picked up detail in shadows better.
The Memoir's autofocus didn't work well in up-close shots of a plate of Skittles, largely due to a missing Macro feature. The SD780 stole the show in these pictures; the color of the Skittles was much more saturated and vibrant in the SD780 shots than from the Memoir, and we could even point out small dimples and imperfections in each letter S.
The Memoir offered superior color saturation in its photos than the Behold did, but its autofocus lost again; we were able to shoot the Skittles closer with the 5-MP camera phone than with the Memoir. Shots of the stone lion out in Bryant Park were also comparable--and not, it seemed, $100 better than the photos taken with the ($100 cheaper) Behold.
Digital Zoom and Speed
Compared with the SD780, the 16X zoom of the Memoir wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good. A shot of an Exit sign 17 feet from where we were standing was darker and blurrier with the Memoir than with the SD780. On the other hand, when shooting a zoomed-in picture of a building across the street, the photo remained relatively clear. Lines of mortar between bricks were less sharp than the same image without zoom, but we were able to make out two people standing inside a window that were harder to see before.
The Memoir is slow at firing off shots. After opening the camera application, we were able to take a picture within a second. However, the time between the first shot and the second shot averaged about 6 seconds. The SD780 was able to take 2 pictures in about 3 seconds.
Samsung makes online photo-sharing directly from the Memoir easy, but you'll have to be patient. Choices include Flickr, Kodak Gallery, Photobucket, Snapfish, and your own T-Mobile gallery. Unfortunately, one image took about 5 minutes to show up in our Flickr gallery, even with a 3G signal. We then tested the Memoir with Photobucket; images sometimes didn't transfer at all with resizing turned off. When we resized the images to 300k, we were able to upload them in under a minute to our Photobucket album. We recommend choosing this option if you plan to send images to the Web. For larger shots, choose the 600k setting.
Like most camera phones, the Samsung Memoir can record videos. This device captures footage at a maximum video resolution of 720 x 480 at 30 frames per second. At its default 320 x 240-pixel resolution, a video shot of a friend playing Rock Band came out a bit grainy, and the audio was muffled. Our clip was YouTube-worthy, but we certainly wouldn't want to record a vacation or important event with this phone. A video recorded in a park looked better, thanks to the ideal sunlight conditions, but it was still loaded with artifacts. Both videos looked good on the phone itself, however. When we cranked the resolution up to 720 x 480, the quality was much more impressive; our co-workers moving around the office looked fluid, and their voices matched up well with the video. Colors were also much more vibrant.
While the Behold shot was taken on a different day than the SD780 and the Memoir shots, the three are comparable. Closer inspection should reveal that the Memoir shot was darker than the other two shots, and has less subtlety between light and dark; it also has a bit of a greenish tint. This shows that the Memoir, while good, may not be worth the $100 premium over the Behold in some shots.
The Behold Shot
The SD780 Shot
The Memoir Shot
Here again you can see the similarities between the 5-MP Behold, the Memoir, and the SD780 point-and-shoot. The SD780's image is brighter and has better shadow detail in the background. The Memoir's blue sky is too dark; the Behold had better coloring.
The Behold Shot
The SD780 Shot
The Memoir Shot
The colors of the Skittles when shot with the SD780 are much more saturated than from the camera phones. The Memoir picture is sharper and more colorful than the Behold's, but the lack of a macro function made up-close shots challenging. The SD780's image is the most realistic and has the least amount of compromises; note the details of the Skittles. The Memoir's colors are good, but the candy doesn't appear as shiny. The Behold offers better detail, but the images are frosty and tinny in color.
The Behold Shot
The SD780 Shot
The Memoir Shot
Outdoors in the sun is where the Memoir really shined. Head-to-head with the 8-MP SD780, the difference between the two is very minute. Note the details in the sky from the SD780 photo is a bit richer. The lines along the buildings in the SD780 shot are also sharper.
The ELPH Shot
The Memoir Shot
Messaging and E-mail
Like other TouchWiz phones that came before it, you can message friends using IM services AIM, ICQ, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messenger, and you can even leave those applications running in the background while you do other tasks. The Java-powered e-mail application is much like the application on other feature phones. You can choose to set up an AIM, AOL, Comcast, Compuserve, Gmail, HotPOP, Juno, Mac, or Yahoo e-mail account, and the phone alerts you of new messages in your inbox. Messages were slow to load and the whole experience was more annoying than useful, but if you need your e-mail, you have the option.
Like the Behold, the Memoir has a limited Web browser, even though it's touted as full HTML. The browser defaults to T-Mobile's web2go (formerly T-Zones) portal. Web2go offers customizable news feeds for popular Web sites and downloadable games and other applications.
Using T-Mobile's 3G network, we were able to load the mobile version of CNN.com in 11 seconds, ESPN.com in 13 seconds, and NYTimes.com in 14 seconds. Those times are noticeably slower than with the Behold, which loaded the same sites in 8, 8, and 6 seconds, respectively. YouTube was zippier; it loaded in 6 seconds and a video clip of the Academy Awards buffered in 8 seconds.
Larger "full" HTML sites like Nationalgeographic.com took 30 seconds to load, and we were greeted with an error stating "Page too large, content not displayed correctly," when it finished loading.
Music and Video
We were pleasantly surprised to see that the Memoir came with a stereo headset, but Samsung uses a proprietary headphone jack so you can't easily add your own earphones. The earbuds were plastic and felt cheap, but a track by The Rural Alberta Advantage titled "The Dethbridge to Lethbridge" sounded loud and full and offered the quality of a standard MP3 player. The external speaker sounded tinny, but it's loud enough to leave on your desk for light music listening. YouTube videos sounded louder, and voices remained crisp at high volumes.
Our unit came with a music video for Jodie Rivera's Somewhere Else preinstalled. The video looked grainy and a bit foggy, and colors didn't pop. We would've liked a full-screen option. Overall though, the frame rates were good and we didn't notice any skipping. T-Mobile also includes a 1GB microSD Card and SD Card adapter in the box.
The 3-inch display makes the Memoir a fun and easy-to-use GPS navigator. The Memoir supports TeleNav's GPS software, which costs $9.99 per month. It accurately navigated from our train station to our house. The phone took about 30 seconds to locate us; when we purposely took a wrong turn, it corrected us within 15 seconds.
Call Quality and Battery Life
When we left a voicemail on our landline phone, the recording was clear with no clipped words. We could make out background noise, but it sounded like wind and didn't disrupt the call clarity. Calls to friends were also good, although we noticed that with the volume hiked up, voices were piercingly loud and lost clarity. During one call to a landline, we heard our own voice echoing back to us.
After a full charge, the Memoir lasted a full day and a half being used as a primary camera and cell phone device. If you plan on using the flash frequently, bring the charger along on a weekend trip. Otherwise the Memoir should be able to last a few days on a charge with light usage.
The Samsung Memoir is certainly the best camera phone available in the U.S. It takes very good shots, especially in low light, and Samsung makes uploading images to popular sharing sites easy--even if you need to dial down the image size to do so quickly. That's why Wi-Fi would be some welcome on this device. Also, the sluggish touchscreen interface is a bit frustrating, and the lack of an optical zoom could be a deal breaker for some. Our biggest issue with the Memoir is the price; justifying the $249 cost is rather difficult when the iPhone offers a superior browser, tons of useful apps, and integrated Wi-Fi for $50 less. Unless you want a good flash on your cell-cam, stick with the cheaper $149 Samsung Behold.
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||3 inches/400 x 240 pixels (262,000 colors)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth Stereo|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time||Up to 5.5 hours/up to 12.5 days|
|Size||4.2 x 2.1 x 0.6 inches|