The Samsung Impression may be expensive at $199, but you'll get a lot of bang for your buck out of this slider phone. Messaging addicts will love its keyboard, and the device features a sharp 3-megapixel camera and a brilliant AMOLED display. It's not a true smart phone, but anyone who's primarily interested in making calls, texting, and multimedia will love the Impression.
The most striking feature on the dark gunmetal blue Samsung Impression is its brilliant 3.2-inch, 400 x 240-pixel resolution AMOLED touchscreen--it's the first device on a U.S. carrier to feature the technology. Colors on the screen pop beautifully, and the screen even helps save battery life by turning off the pixels in dark areas of any image displayed. Measuring 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches, the Impression is a bit bigger than theLG Voyager, weighs 5.3 ounces, and felt a bit bulky in our pocket.
Below the display are Send/End buttons and a Return key. On the left side of the unit is a button for accessing open tasks and volume controls. A lock key and a camera launch button are on the right, and the power/headphone port is on the top of the phone. A 3-MP camera is on the back of the unit, as well as a small speaker. A full four-row QWERTY keyboard slides out from beneath the screen.
The Impression's spacious, thumb-friendly keyboard was a pleasure to use. Keys are soft, offer good feedback, and have a soft white backlight for typing in low-light conditions, and the sliding function is sturdy and smooth.
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The on-screen QWERTY and alphanumeric keyboards were better than on most resistive touchscreen phones; dialing a number or sending off a text, without drawing out the keyboard, was easy. But while both were accurate, the hardware keyboard was still preferable for longer messages.
The Impression's colorful TouchWiz interface takes advantage of this handset's beautiful display. TouchWiz is, essentially, a quick-launch bar on the left side of the screen from which you can drag commonly used applications onto the desktop--and back off when you're done using them. Apps range from the alarm clock to a music player, and even AT&T Navigator.
At the bottom of the home screen are three quick-launch icons, for the dialpad, contacts, and a menu. Inside the menu you'll find AT&T's standard-fare offerings, including AT&T Music, Yellowpages, MEdia Mall, and the MEdiaNet browser.
E-mail and Messaging
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The Java powered Mobile E-mail application on the Impression has become an AT&T feature phone staple. You can log into AIM, AOL, AT&T Yahoo, BellSouth, Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and a variety of smaller providers; unfortunately, Google Mail isn't an option. You can set these accounts to alert you when new mail arrives, but it's nowhere near as well rounded as a smart phone's e-mail system when it comes to attachment support, search, and general array of options.
The phone also supports AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo instant messaging accounts. Again, Google Chat is a glaring omission. The chat system works well, however, and the large screen made viewing long buddy lists easy.
But forget e-mail and chat; thanks to its keyboard, general SMS and MMS texts were a pleasure to type. If you're a messaging addict, you'll fall in love with the Impression.
The Impression's Web browsing on AT&T's 3G network was decent. CNN.com's mobile site loaded in 5 seconds, ESPN.com in 10 seconds, and m.NYT.com in 6 seconds with a full signal--all fast times. On YouTube, streaming SNL's "On a Boat" digital short started playing in just 8 seconds. Larger full HTML sites like NationalGeographic.com rendered fully, and while we could swipe around the page, it wasn't very easy to read. As expected, Flash content didn't load.
While the Impression's browser is not as good as the iPhone's by any means, it's one of the better experiences we've had on a feature phone compared with devices like theInstincton Sprint or theLG Vuon AT&T.
You can download tracks from AT&T Music, powered by Napster, for a rather expensive $1.99 per song. We downloaded Ra Ra Riot's "Too Too Too Fast" in less than 30 seconds, and we were impressed by the speaker's volume when playing the song. A few friends even commented on the volume, despite the audio being on the tinny side. Unfortunately, the phone lacks a 3.5mm jack and doesn't come with a pair of earbuds; We tested the audio with our iPod headphones using a Samsung adapter we had in the office, and were pleased by the quality of the playback, which was on a par with our MP3 player.
We wish that the album art was bigger, however, as it's only about the size of a stamp; Samsung could have taken advantage of the display by blowing up the album covers inside the multimedia application.
If you want to play music on the Impression, we suggest picking up a microSD Card (the phone supports cards up to 16GB) and loading your own songs. The Impression comes with its own media manager software; PC Studio Manager lets you organize music, photos, and videos on the Impression from your computer's desktop. The software can be a little tricky at first: to view your phone's content you'll have to Import it by clicking Menu > Import Device File and then selecting SGH-a877 (the phone's model number). It's best to keep your media in the root folder for quick access to it. Thankfully, the phone comes with a USB cable, which makes the process easier.
The Impression has a 3-MP camera, which took impressive shots outdoors on a sunny day. A photo of a stone lion compared favorably with a similar shot taken with theSamsung Behold, which sports a 5-MP camera. The sculpture looked quite clear, with no defects or artifacts, and the sky was a deep blue.
Under artificial lights, close-up shots of a bowl of Skittles didn't look as good. Colors were well saturated, but the Impression doesn't have autofocus so the lettering wasn't as crisp, and the edges of the candies weren't as defined as with theSamsung Memoir(which has an 8-MP sensor and autofocus).
Shots indoors in low lighting weren't good either, even with night mode enabled. They were loaded with noise, and features were hard to make out. The Impression doesn't have a flash.
We recorded a 320 x 240 video of a carousel in Bryant Park and some pigeons in flight. The resolution was too low for our tastes, and it was wasn't quite YouTube-worthy.
The Impression comes with AT&T Navigator, which is powered by TeleNav. You can test the service using a free 30-day trial, after which it costs $9.99 per month. We accurately navigated from a train station to a residential address. The phone was able to acquire a GPS signal in about 15 seconds and create a route after another 10 seconds.
Call Quality and Battery Life
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The Impression had excellent call quality during our tests. We were able to hear our callers at all times without any drop-outs. Friends and family also commented on how clear we sounded to them. Even when we walked into lower coverage areas in our apartment where other phones typically start to lose call quality, the Impression still stayed connected.
Even though Samsung touts the AOLED display as helping to save battery life (since black pixels don't draw power), we found the Impression's endurance a little lacking. Under heavy usage--two-hour-long phone calls, Web surfing, and light media playing--we had to charge it about every 7 hours during our testing period. When we used the phone on a full charge strictly for messaging and brief phone calls, the handset lasted a full 24 hours before having to plug it in again.
Cost per Month
For those primarily interested in calling and text messaging, the Impression makes better financial sense. A basic plan with 450 minutes and 1,500 text messages will set you back just $55 per month; the equivalent for the iPhone (which requires a data plan) would cost $85 per month. If, however, you already have an unlimited data plan--which costs $30 on top of a voice plan--and want a phone that offers better media playback, has a richer Web browser, and a loaded application store, than the iPhone is your best bet on AT&T.
The AT&T Samsung Impression is one of the best messaging phones available on any carrier. Thanks to its beautiful AOLED display, 3-MP camera, and large and comfortable keyboard, the Impression will wow onlookers almost as much as the iPhone. We wish it were a bit cheaper, but the Impression is one impressive device.