Slim, stylish and eye-catching, the Samsung F490's touch-screen is the main focal point of the handset. The handset fits well in the hand, and comparisons to the iPhone are to be expected.
Despite the touch-screen making a noise or giving a haptic response when pressed, composing text messages proved tricky.
The Samsung F490 is a powerful internet phone, boasting HSDPA capabilities, and despite its skinny frame the handset also sports a five-megapixel camera that makes the most of the large 3.2-inch screen.
With the touch-screen at its forte, the shortcomings linked to this affect the performance of the phones other features. The camera is capable of some cracking shots, although there's no optical zoom, and the lack of Wi-Fi is disappointing. Samsung has included a decent music player in the F490.
An average battery life of 360 minutes' talktime and 220 hours' standby. Any more and Samsung may have had to compromise on the F490's waif-like body.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:52:19 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
It?s a slim device with an improved touch-screen. It also has HSDPA, a five-megapixel camera and 3.5mm headphone jack.
The screen locks too quickly, there?s no Wi-Fi and the menu is repetitive.
It's slim and sleek, the front fascia is notable for its large screen and there are very few buttons. No, it's not the iPhone; it's Samsung's latest handset, the F490.
The F490 is a stylish touch-screen device with only volume buttons on the left side, and a shortcut key, a camera key and slide control on the right side.
At 12mm thick, it's much slimmer than the recent Samsung F700 with its slide-out, QWERTY keypad. It's also noticeably faster and more responsive than the earlier model, but the lack of a keypad means that the focus is on that magic touch-screen.
Touch-screens are wonderful things: they're fun, eye-catching and futuristic. However, they're not flawless. Back in the old calendar, BI (Before iPhone), expectations were low and shortcomings were forgiven. But now things have changed. From the moment the LG Chocolate phone displayed its cool, touch-sensitive buttons, there have been as many problems as there have been benefits.
First, what do you do when you're making a call? If the touch-sensitive parts react to the presence of your lughole by dialling or hanging up, you're in trouble. So LG set its Chocolate keypad to switch off quickly. However, this means that you need to unlock the keypad to activate the buttons, which can prove an annoyance in itself.
This is a drawback which is solved on Apple's iPhone, which cleverly turns the screen and its touch-sensitivity off and on depending on whether it is held to your ear. So it's a shame that the new and handsome F490 can't compete, in these terms at least. Even as you've finished dialling a number, the on-screen keypad becomes unresponsive and you can't even hang up without first pressing the camera button on the phone's edge. This is highly annoying - for instance, when you realise you've misdialled or want to hang up in a panic.
There are many ways the F490 kicks the iPhone into the long grass. It's 3G and has HSDPA capabilities - the super-speedy data-transfer system, which are incidentally spectacularly faster than on a 2G phone.
The device has slide control, which switches the phone on and off when you slide it up, and it locks the buttons when you slide it down. It's simple and works well, and is a step forward from the slide switch on the F700, which merely locks the keys.
Although there are plenty of two-megapixel camera phones available, Samsung - always a pioneer when it comes to upping the photographic credentials of its phones - has put a class-leading five-megapixel snapper onboard the F490. There's no optical zoom like there is on Samsung's G800, but that would make this a much chunkier handset.
The F490's slim profile is also part of its success. Although its height and thickness are similar to the iPhone, the F490 is noticeably less wide. It's still a phone dominated by an enormous 3.2-inch screen, but it feels much more pocketable than the Apple device.
Some touch-screens, like Apple's, work using capacitance sensors - like a touchpad on a laptop. They work by monitoring changes in electrical current. You don't need to worry about the science, all you need to know is that you can't use the iPhone with a stylus or through thick gloves - it has to be a naked finger.
The F490, however, uses different technology allowing you to use a stylus. What's more, it has the advantage of letting you know you've touched the screen effectively by making a noise - or in silent mode by vibrating slightly. You can even adjust the level of vibration to your taste.
This handset doesn't have buttons, which gives it a great minimalist look, and the phone is still reasonably easy to use; however, sending a text using a screen which doesn't have keys is still quite tricky. A virtual keypad appears and, although this is easier to use than some touch-screen keypads, the absence of a handwriting-recognition system limits your options.
The main screen is quick to learn and intuitive to use. Sweep your finger across the screen to change between time and calendar. Touch the gently flashing square in the middle of the screen to enter the menu displayed in Samsung's increasingly familiar crosshair design of 12 icons. It's an elegant system, although recognising the icons takes a little getting used to.
The five-megapixel camera is activated either from the menu icon or from a long press on the side button, which is mainly used to spring the touch-screen back to life. The large screen works well for taking pictures or shooting video - it's larger than most other dedicated compact cameras. The camera includes an anti-shake feature, although this is software based and not as sophisticated as the stabilisation functions on expensive digital cameras. The flash is bright, but not Xenon bright.
The screen is also good for playing back video. Our review sample was a Vodafone-branded model, which included the network's Mobile TV offering (in the Entertainment section of the menu). The 3G data capability means it can show video without stuttering - something the iPhone can only do when it is using a
Wi-Fi connection. Surprisingly - and disappointingly given the screen's suitability for video - there's no wireless LAN in the F490. That said, the screen is lower resolution than the iPhone's slightly larger display.
Samsung mobiles are known for being excellent music machines, not least because they use a similar setup to the one in Samsung's MP3 players. To access the music player on the F490 there is a music icon on the menu screen. The touch-screen is adequate to use for the music player, except when the list of songs stretches off the screen. If this happens, to scroll down to the tracks you can't see proves challenging - the screen isn't quite sensitive enough to know that you're pressing on the scrollbar and it's hard to control. Once you've chosen the track you want, though, playing it is easy. As always, the speakers on the phone are not high fidelity, and if you start playing a track it takes a few presses of the virtual button to silence it.
However, at least the headphone socket on the top edge of the phone is a 3.5mm audio jack so you can attach your headphones of choice. And the 3G data comes in useful too, with speedy downloads clocking in at reasonable times.
The F490 may lack the iPhone's huge flash memory capacity, but the microSD card slot means there's expandable memory for storing music to build on the internal 130MB.
As well as the main menu screen, the shortcut button on the right-hand side takes you to a smaller menu with options for music player, phone keypad, internet browser and messaging. It feels like an unnecessary screen with all the options easily accessible elsewhere - the phone keypad, for instance, is found in the top right of the main screen.
Other, more basic features are adequately engineered - setting an alarm is easy, and you can even switch off the phone and configure it to turn on at the appropriate time. The calendar function is straightforward and the calculator is simple to use, with its large keypad and screen describing your calculations clearly.
The Vodafone model we tested came with three Java games - all demos unfortunately. The first, Bejeweled from EA, is a puzzler which doesn't take advantage of the touch-screen capabilities. It's a simple but compelling title where you touch a jewel and swap it with a neighbour to make winning combinations. However, instead of actually jabbing your finger at the jewels you're reduced to highlighting with a large tick button and navigating with outsize-direction keys. The other games are the more engaging Block Breaker Deluxe and Kasparov Chess, which was enjoyable enough, but surely with the luxury of actually touching the screen directly it would make sense to develop games that made the most of this.
There's a lot about this phone which is effectively realised and easily accessible. But then there are the quirks, mostly related to the unsatisfying touch-screen interface.
Although it looks great, feels good and fits well in the hand, this phone really feels like an unexplored opportunity. A chance to better the iPhone, or at least escape from its long shadow, has been missed.