Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:54:38 PM
Fun, photo editing apps, mobile TV, and fast, accessible browsing thanks to Vodafone integration.
The media features are ruined by unwieldy, bundled headphones with no adaptor.
Slider format? Check. Three-megapixel camera? Check. Reasonable music player coupled with terrible headphones? Check. It probably says something about the awesome state of technology today that a phone with a camera, music, mobile TV and a host of internet services is so yawn inducing, but the Samsung Steel is exactly that. Given Samsung’s usual innovation in creating the latest all dancing, touch-screen hero handsets, we’re a tad disappointed.
The Steel is a mid-range phone exclusive to Vodafone, with a varied feature set and a low to mid-end specs list. We can get past the lack of originality – a good phone is a good phone after all – but this one is let down by gaps in usability.
The phone has a perfectly acceptable slider format with a smooth open/close mechanism and a central D-pad for easy navigation. At 104.2x48.9x14.2mm, it’s chunky in the hand, but reasonably pocket friendly. The trademark Samsung sleekness takes a slight nosedive with a chassis made of brushed steel and, less sleekly, black plastic.
To complement the miserly 25MB of on-board memory, a microSD card slot sits on the side of the phone, so you can switch memory cards without removing the battery. The phone automatically locks when you slide it shut, and rather annoyingly, none of the buttons will unlock the phone – you have to slide it open and then press the unlock combination.
The user interface is fine – it’s based around a straightforward grid menu with no option to change – and a handy toolbar sits on the home screen displaying your favourite menu categories. It is intuitive in its simplicity, and an extra touch we liked was the inclusion of separate menus for camera, media player and messaging settings – the logical structure is something we’d love to see in other phones.
While neither the camera nor the music player is going to set the camera/music phone world on fire, a dedicated snapping button on the phone’s side and a music player button on the keyboard would imply that Samsung views these as the devices top features. Unfortunately, neither holds up to dedicated phones in the genre, or even to other mid-range handsets of similar specification.
The sound quality on the music player is indeed quite good, though treble is a little tinny and the bass was neither as rich nor full as that of the benchmark – the Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. The music features are really let down by the awful headphones provided by Samsung – we managed to jam them into our ears, but the buds didn’t fit and most head movements resulted in the ‘phones slipping out. What’s more, there’s no provided adaptor and therefore no way of using your own headphones. This also means that the phone’s other media functions such as mobile TV are shot for sound.
The camera holds up a lot better, despite being little more than your basic three-megapixel with auto-focus and LED flash. An interesting addition is the video-call function – often left out of higher end phones. A handy feature is that you can adjust the exposure on the screen before taking your shot.
While the digital zoom is just pitiful and there’s no way the Steel could be a replacement for your actual camera, it’s still a fun casual snapper that produces images with just enough clarity for viewing on a monitor or on online. (No option to upload directly though, only to email or MMS a just-snapped picture.) We particularly liked the photo editing suite, which allows you to warp, blur and filter your images, along with a style option that reverses colours and adds Photoshop-esque effects.
The Steel is HSDPA-enabled with theoretical download speeds of up to 7.2Mbps and a mobile TV function. So far, so specced. But setting up the connections for internet, email and mobile TV is pretty complicated, and you need the nitty-gritty details of the internet connection such as proxy settings and DNS numbers. Given the phone is a Vodafone exclusive, the operator should have been able to set it up so that users can use the phone straight out of the box.
Once you’re online, the D-pad works surprisingly well as a mouse or touch-screen substitute. The arrow keys move you around the browser window in little jumps that somehow manage to always hit the targeted link. Typing into fields is simple too, with the mouse pointer automatically turning into a cursor in the areas when you can write.
Though the phone isn’t Wi-Fi enabled, Vodafone’s 3G coverage is extensive and we managed to get most websites loaded in quick time, even image-rich ones like BBC News. But because the screen is quite cramped, we’d use the phone more for the odd Google search or Facebook fix than for any extended surfing.
The Bluetooth services are great – once you’re paired with another device you can access the SIM card of another phone, share vCard and vCalendar information, print images, texts and personal data, and transfer files. Though not all the services are compatible with all handsets.
Vodafone has integrated plenty of its useful services and you can pay to have news, weather, horoscopes and such sent to you via text message. The Vodafone Live homepage also has links to the most popular email and social networking sites. One of the best features of the phone is its mobile TV page, where you can directly subscribe to and watch different channel packages, so it’s a pity that any media experience is let down by the headphones.
We were most impressed by the Steel’s internet specs. Higher-end handsets have provided a slower, more lag-ridden web experience, so top marks to the Steel and its humble D-pad for getting it so right. But as an entertainment phone, it’s shot by the headphones, and not providing an adaptor that gives the option of using your own is just silly, as stand-out media features like the mobile TV function suffer. The Steel might be an affordable alternative for mobile internet users who only want to check email and social networking sites, but the waste of its media features is a deal breaker.