Samsung calls the 20-key alphanumeric keyboard on its newest T-Mobile phone "QWERTY-like." But the messaging-centric Blast slider ($99.99 with a two-year contract) is an awkward compromise, even compared with SureType-enabled devices like the BlackBerry Pearl. And while the preconfigured e-mail and instant messaging clients for AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo make the Blast attractive on paper, the experience fell short of our expectations.
The Blast's expanded keypad doesn't make it physically expansive. It's nearly the same size as the original RAZR, just a quarter-inch taller, thanks to its bright 2.1-inch screen. Below the screen is the usual navigation and control array, including a direct T-Zones Web-access key. On the right spine is the 1.3-megapixel camera activation/shutter button and the proprietary AC-headphone jack; on the left are the volume toggle and the microSD Card slot (view photo gallery).
Under the slider is the flat keypad. Thered number keys highlight the white backlit numbers for dialing. Typing, however, is only marginally easier than standard multi-tap typing, and in some cases, such as proper names, typing is harder. Four input modes toggle through in sequence: T9 predictive text, regular multi-tap, numeric only, and symbols. When you move from T9 to multi-tap for proper names, you then have to toggle through numeric and symbol modes to get back to T9. You'd never use T9 for entering e-mail addresses, but you still have to toggle through it. The frequently used @ sign, easy to find by toggling through the 1 key on any standard cell, is buried in the symbols menu, as are such frequently used punctuation marks as commas and apostrophes.
Signing in on the preinstalled AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo e-mail accounts requires only your e-mail address and password, but we frequently encountered annoying "Invalid user or password" error messages even during initial usage, then intermittently while trying to download, read, or send messages. And our Yahoo e-mail messages never synched for us, even though Yahoo instant messaging worked fine. Setting up a POP3 account was anything but intuitive, and unfortunately the manual didn't help. On a brighter note, once you're signed into your AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail account, you stay signed in; you won't have to re-enter your user name or password.
Access to T-Mobile's EDGE network in New York City was spotty. In locales where AT&T's EDGE network had five bars of coverage, T-Mobile gave us two bars. Unfortunately, there's no icon to indicate EDGE or GPRS modes. When we had access, WAP Web service was surprisingly smooth and swift. The main T-Zones menu page loaded in less than ten seconds, and subsequent news and information pages such as ABC News, CNN, and ESPN loaded in three to eight seconds.
The Blast includes an MP3/AAC music player, but there's no direct music button; it takes three clicks to get to the player from the menu. Unlike other musical cells, the phone offers true random play, where a different song starts each time you activate the player. We like that you can access paired stereo Bluetooth headphones directly through the music player rather than via a separate menu.
The 1.3-MP camera took bright, clean, pictures up to 1280 x 1024 pixels, as long as you hold the phone steady; QCIF videos (176 x 144 pixels) are too tiny and pixelated to recognizably render anything but large objects in bright light.
Voice and ringer volume were loud enough at their upper levels, but the choice of ringtones lacks imagination. Voice quality never rose above mediocre on our tests. Other callers sounded hollow and thick, as if they were conversing through a tube. Battery performance was exemplary, however; we got 10 to 15 minutes more than the rated five hours of talk time, and standby time is rated at 8.3 days.
If your T-Mobile priorities lean more toward messaging, the Sidekick ID is a better choice for your money, even though we're not big fans of that device, either. On the other hand, the Sidekick isn't as svelte as the Blast, and it lacks the Blast's MP3 capabilities. If talking, listening and shooting pictures are as important to you as e-mail and messaging, we'd recommend spending $50 more for the BlackBerry Pearl.
Suggested Stories: Five Great Mobile Widgets for Your Cell
Widgets aren't just for your desktop. Now you can pocket them in your cell phone.
Bargain Phones from Every Carrier
Not all cell phones cost a fortune. Find the one that fits your needs, no matter what carrier, at a steal of a price.
More Cell Phone Reviews
Check out all our cell phone reviews, complete with star ratings.