The Apple iPhone started the touch screen craze. Other phones have followed suit – some with touch screens alone and some with touch screens and physical keyboards. Now, Samsung has introduced a touch screen phone that utilizes their new Smart Wiz technology along with many multi-media features. We were curious to see just how much these new features added to the usability of the phone, so we were happy to review the Samsung Eternity SGH-A867, which is available through AT&T.
The Eternity is one of a whole family of phones with the same type of design. Each is tied to a certain cellular provider. So the Samsung Behold is a similar phone which is available from T-Mobile. The Instinct is available from Sprint. Each of these is similar, but each has their own unique features.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the orange and white box contains the charger, a small quick start guide, and an interactive tutorial CD, the Samsung Eternity itself, featured in Figure 2, is also included.
The included CD contains an interactive tutorial and a copy of the user’s manual. The tutorial, except for a minor error that will be noted later, was quite informative.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
The Eternity has a smooth candy bar design. The phone is encased in an attractive glossy black plastic. The chrome metallic surround give the phone a substantial look. At 4.3 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches (11 x 5.6 x 1.3 cm), the Eternity is slightly smaller than the iPhone. At 3.9 oz (110 g), it is also lighter than the iPhone.
Although only slightly smaller and lighter than many others, the Eternity is an excellent size. It feels a lot lighter in your pocket and fits quite comfortable in the hand. The Eternity’s 3.2” touch screen has a resolution of 240 x 400 pixels and 262k colors. It is clear and crisp and like many other phones of this type will rotate automatically when turned on its side to a landscape position.
The Eternity has a built-in light sensor that adjusts the brightness of the screen based on the amount of ambient light coming in. The screen was viewable in all light situations, even direct sunlight. This automatic adjustment is an excellent feature. In fact, it works so well that it may not even be noticed, but it adds to the functionality of the phone.
The touch screen is very responsive and emits a vibration to give a tactile confirmation that your input was received. Another nice feature.
As seen in Figure 3, there are 3 buttons below the vertical touch screen. The Talk/Send key allows you to make or answer a call and to access your call history. Press and hold this key to access voicemail not to add a new contact as stated in the interactive tutorial. The Back key goes back to the previous menu, screen, or webpage. The Power/end key – ends a call. It also returns the phone to the main menu. You can hold this key for three seconds to turn the phone off. You can also double press it to get to the background screen.
On the top of the phone is a hold button, as seen in Figure 4. This key is used to lock and unlock the touch screen. It is easier to use than the iPhone method of sliding your finger across the phone to unlock it because you can unlock the phone without having to look at the screen. It is easier to press a button than to put your finger on a certain spot on the screen when you are in a hurry.
The left side of the phone, as shown in Figure 5, has a volume key for ringer volume or voice volume during a call. When a call is coming in pressing this key mutes the ringtone, which is a useful feature. In Figure 5 you also see the interface connector that lets you connect a charger or other optional accessories. Samsung uses its own proprietary port for this connection.
The other side of the phone has a dedicated camera key that allows you to snap a picture quickly. The 3-megapixel camera has some nice options including continuous shooting, panorama, smile shot, mosaic, and frame. It also takes videos. The camcorder options include white balance adjustments and presets for daylight, incandescent light, fluorescent lighting, and cloudy day. You can change the quality of photo as well as settings such as brightness. The camera has a timer but lacks a flash. Pictures are useable, but not exceptional.
Above that camera key is the Quick Access Key that launches a mini menu that controls some of the phone main functions, as shown in Figure 7. The choices on the Quick Access menu are: Call, Music Player, Main Menu, MediaNet (Internet), Messaging, and Back. After using the phone for awhile, we really wished that we were able to customize this menu, but we could not. There is a standard earphone jack at the top of this side of the phone.
The back of the phone sports the camera, as shown in Figure 8. The back slides off very easily to allow access to the battery, SIM card, and microSD slot. In fact, the back slid off so easily that we worried that it would open inadvertently. However, in several weeks of testing, the back stayed in place with no problem. One thing to note is that the battery must be removed to insert or remove the SIM card and/or the SD card. This is not explicitly explained in the instructions. Also it is a great inconvenience if you like to transfer music and/or photos to your computer using the SD card.
The call quality of outgoing audio was excellent, however, occasionally incoming audio was very slightly garbled. We could not pinpoint whether this was caused by the people on the other end, poor connectivity, or the hardware itself. However, this happened only rarely. The sound quality of the speaker phone was adequate. Samsung says that the phone gives 5 hours of talk time. We felt that we got even more than that when using the slower AT&T Edge network, but got less when using the faster 3G network. The Eternity has a higher-capacity battery than the Samsung Behold, 1300 mAh vs. 1000 mAh, so battery life was good. This was, however, in part because the phone has no Wi-Fi connectivity, which is a feature that we would have liked to see included.
[nextpage title=”Menu System & Touch Wiz”]
As noted earlier, much of the functionality of the phone is controlled by the physical keys on the front, top, and sides of the phone. The Main Menu, as shown in Figure 9, consists of a commonplace screen of icons.
In addition to the Quick Access menu, this phone has the Samsung TouchWiz interface that gives you widgets that you can move around the screen. The TouchWiz is accessed from the phones main background screen. It is hidden until you place your finger on the small tab on the left side of the screen and drag it to the right. The TouchWiz screen is shown in Figure 10. You can drag any icon from the TouchWiz bar to the main screen. It is a great idea, but unfortunately it is not terribly useful in its current state. First, the icons expand into small widgets when you drag them to the main screen. While this is a great idea, two or three widgets fill up the whole screen, making it impossible to put as many widgets as you might like on the main screen. Also, icons on the TouchWiz bar did not include many that we would have liked to see and you can’t customize or add widgets. Perhaps, Samsung will add more functionality and customizability in the future.
The Eternity has a few features not found in many other phones. First, the telephone-type keypad in the vertical mode changes to a QWERTY keypad when in landscape mode. There is also handwriting recognition available. So if you take the time to learn it, you can actually print the letters with your fingers. There is a dedicated screen of punctuation keys as well as a screen of emoticoms. It is easy to deactivate the predictive text and also easy to change to French and Spanish menus.
The Eternity is really a not a smart phone, strictly speaking, in that it does not have an operating system like the iPhone or the G1 or the Blackberry. Instead, it relies on the AT&T services, which make it strong in the multi-media area. It has the Cingular Video, AT&T Navigator service, and the AT&T music player. Most of these are useful, but not overly impressive. For instance, the music player is easy to use, but has no advanced features. With an optional microSD card you can add quite a bit of music, but you have to manage it yourself.
Also, in many cases, you must pay AT&T extra fees for additional services. For instance, the Eternity has AT&T Mobile TV service. If you subscribe to the service at an additional cost, and if you live in one of the large cities that currently has the service, you will find that the television picture is wonderful. The Eternity also does Pandora Internet radio and XM radio, but each requires their own additional monthly subscription.
Email will work on the Eternity only if you use certain email services. It supports AOL, AIM, Windows Live Hotmail, AT&T Yahoo!, Bell South, Comcast, EarthLink, Juno, MindSpring, and NetZero. While this covers a large number of people, business users and those who use other services like Gmail will not find this phone useful.
The Eternity has the usual address book, calendar, calculator, notepad, task list, alarm clock, world clock, timer, stopwatch, and currency and unit converter. It cannot, however, sync with Outlook. The Instant Messaging works well, but you are limited to AOL, MSN or Yahoo. The Bluetooth has a stereo profile that works quite well. It also has a voice recorder, but unfortunately has no voice calling.
Surfing the Internet on the Eternity is an okay experience, but not all web pages are rendered properly. You can zoom in and out using the volume control, but this is not as easy as it is on some other phones.
Samsung Eternity SGH-A867 cell phone main specifications are:
- Network: GSM Quad-band phone capable of global roaming (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), UMTS dual-band American 3G (850/1900 MHz)
- Dimensions: 4.30 x 2.20 x 0.50 inches (10.9 x 5.6 x 1.3 cm)
- Weight: 3.88 oz (110 g)
- Battery: Li – Ion, 1300 mAh
- Talk: 5 hours of talk time,10 days stand-by time
- Touchscreen: 240 x 400 pixels
- Camera: 3-megapixel, video
- Music Player : MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, RA
- Memory Slot: microSD/microSDHC
- Bluetooth: 2.0, Stereo Bluetooth
- More information: https://www.samsung.com
- Price: It will depend on the package you buy. For example you can get the phone for free if you sign up for AT&T Nation 900 w/Rollover plan (USD 59.99/month).
The Eternity has an excellent look, feel, and response. It has good call quality, a useful camera, a music player, and can even display television. So it is a good multimedia device, but without Wi-Fi and with only partial email support, it will be lacking for many.
- Attractive design
- Excellent size and shape
- Clear responsive touchscreen
- Good music player
- Good camera & camcorder
- Good battery lifePhysical button to lock and unlock phone
- Easy to unlock
- No voice dialing
- TouchWiz and menus not customizable enough
- Limited email and instant messaging support
- No Wi-Fi
- No camera flash
- Many services require additional monthly fees
- SD card is not easily removable