Although a tad heavy in the hand, the Soul's sturdy build suggests a quality of craftsmanship. It looks striking and if you're not happy with the choice of wallpaper, menu interface or font, choose another from the huge range on offer.
A five-megapixel camera with the useful face recognition feature, HSDPA internet speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps and a music player endorsed by Bang & Olufsen. The ‘Magic Touch' navigation pad changes according to what feature you're using.
The ‘Magic Touch' navigation pad both looks and feels the part with a haptic response acknowledging a key press. It can take some getting used to moving from the touch-sensitive navi pad to the hard keys that need a firmer press.
While all the phone's key features - camera, music player and ultra-fast internet speeds - perform to an excellent standard, the Soul's call quality fails to reach the same standards, and the video-recording capabilities also appear to have been neglected.
Considering slider phones tend to have a shorter battery life than their candybar and clamshell peers, the 360 minutes talktime and 280 hours standby is more than adequate.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:52:23 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
The Samsung U900 Soul is one of the most customised handsets available. Change the menu, wallpaper and font to suit your own particular tastes.
The call quality is not quite what it should be on a handset of this dimension.
It's exciting times in the mobile phone world. Powerhouse handsets that were announced at Mobile World Congress back in February are finally starting to be shipped, meaning we can get our grubby mitts on them. Billed as their flagship ultra-edition handset for 2008, we managed to curtail ourselves from drooling long enough to see if the Samsung U900 Soul lived up to its hype.
Samsung is quite fond of its slider design, something they have mastered with the likes of the ever popular G600 and U700 handsets. The ‘Soul' continues this fine tradition with a secure sliding mechanism that gives a satisfying sharp clicking sound when it's popped open. Despite the handsets relatively slim chassis, the Soul has a robust feel, and while heavier than both the G600 and U700, it adds to the craftsmanship of the device, rather than feeling too weighty. The bodywork consists of a rubber-like plastic with a brushed-metal finish. It looks phenomenal and could hold its own alongside any fashion phone.
Despite the 2.2-inch screen taking up the core, the centrepiece on the front of the handset is undoubtedly the ‘Magic Touch' touch-sensitive navigation pad. When idle, this pad resembles a fingerprint recognition scanner. However, slide the Soul open and the blank navigation pad becomes illuminated with four icons - shortcut keys to some of the phones various features - surrounding a fifth icon, the menu key. Press one of these keys and you will be greeted with a slight vibration (haptic) response as well as a tinny-sounding tone to inform you that your command has been recognised.
Touch-sensitive controls are notoriously hit and miss. An accidental nudge of a key can result in an unwanted phone call or camera shot. Thankfully Samsung has combated this by deactivating the pad when you are making a call, and also allowing you to alter how sensitive the ‘Magic Touch' pad should be. With a choice from one to three, one being the least sensitive and three needing just a slight brush, we found setting two to be responsive enough without proving too sensitive. Furthermore, when the Soul is left idle for too long, the ‘Magic touch' pad becomes inactive and can only become rejuvenated by hitting one of the four surrounding hard keys, and sliding the phone shut will automatically lock all the keys. So an accidental brush of the ‘Magic Touch' navigation pad (more of which later) should be pretty hard to achieve.
It's not just the touch sensitivity that can be adjusted to your tastes. In fact, the Samsung U900 Soul is one of the most personalised phones we have come across. Changing the background of a phone from a selection of wallpapers, images or your own photos is nothing groundbreaking. However, the Soul also lets you alter the display by changing the colours and contrast of the images. The display is simply gorgeous with a range of 16-million colours and 240x320 pixels. Change the menu interface from grid form to a list, choosing what colour icons you want in the process.
You can even select how your dialled numbers (incidentally the Soul will give you the option to auto-complete a number as you're typing it in, based on previous numbers called) appear from a variety of fonts, ranging from the bog-standard block numbers, to a quill-written style. Our personal favourite was the sticky note format that entails each number being pinned on a board, with different coloured sticky notes for each number. In fact, if there's one criticism about the customising of the Samsung Soul, it is that there is perhaps too much choice, meaning you will have your work cut out to get to grips with all of the options, but that is a minor gripe. And if you have a sudden attack of confidence with your artistic creations, simply enter *, #, 8, 2, 7 and # to automatically restore the phones settings.
There's plenty more to the Samsung Soul than its customisable backgrounds and fonts. Beneath the Soul's fancy exterior is an array of features just as exciting. Let's start with the five-megapixel camera. Despite its multiple-pixel capability, compared with the Samsung G800, the Soul's camera features appear a tad lacking. Unlike its bulkier brother, the Soul has no optical zoom and there's only an LED flash rather than the more superior Xenon. However, this needs some perspective. At present the Samsung G800 is the only handset available with optical zoom, while the benefits of a Xenon flash as opposed to an LED will only be truly appreciated when taking night-time shots. So although the Soul may lack some of the G800's oomph, it still compares favourably with other high-specced camera phones.
As has become the norm with Samsung's sliders, the handset needs to be slid open to utilise the camera. This means that the handset affectively becomes a third longer when using the camera, which is not ideal, but the Soul is designed in such a way that the camera is used in a horizontal position giving it an authentic camera feel. There is a dedicated camera key found on the right-hand side of the phone that acts as a shortcut key and doubles up as the actual snapper key, and the volume keys found on the opposite side of the phone are perfectly positioned to allow you to zoom in and out of your shots. However, remember that old ‘Magic Touch' touch-sensitive navigation pad we mentioned, well it's with the phone's various features that it really comes into its own.
Depending on what feature you are using, the pad's icons change accordingly. For example, when in the camera mode, the four icons change to represent four camera functions, such as the flash or timer. Move to the music player and these icons will once again change to the media players controls. It works flawlessly and oozes real novelty value.
One camera feature we really were taken with was the face recognition. Aim the lens at an individual, and the Soul will automatically identify the face optimising the focus and brightness to enhance the quality. We tried it a number of times, with some occasions with more than one person in shot. It worked every time, both identifying each face and improving the quality of shot. It's a feature that Samsung includes in its dedicated digital cameras, so to find it on a mobile phone speaks dividends of the quality of camera the Samsung Soul possesses.
While we're big fans of the Soul's camera, we were brought back down to earth by the distinctly average video camera. At only 15 frames per second (fps) this may explain why video playback appeared juddery.
Samsung has had a long withstanding relationship with Danish audio manufacturer Bang & Olufsen. The Samsung Soul uses the same ICEpower amplifier found on the bizarre Serenata handset. The result is a music player that provides an immense quality of sound, which is good news considering there is no 3.5mm headphone jack to plug in your Sennheiser's or Bose's. Your music can be listed in a whole manner of formats including artists, genres, most played and even composers for all you classical buffs.
You can continue to rock to your music while using all of the Soul's other features apart from the camera. However, there is an issue in that Samsung has made the decision to double up the volume keys as a scrolling bar. This is great for scrolling down web pages or through the menu icons, but it does mean that you are unable to change the volume which proved a tad frustrating. When a new track starts to play, the name of the track pops up briefly at the top of the screen, a thoughtful touch. The phone only comes with 128MB of shared memory, but there is a microSD card slot to boost up your storage content. The Samsung Soul can also be synced with your PC's Windows Media Player, making transferring music from your PC to your phone a cinch. What's more the Soul can play the following music formats; MP3, AAC, eACC+, WMA.
The Soul's FM radio was excellent, finding all the major stations in one fell swoop, while the reception was void of any unwanted static. Although the accompanying headphones need to be plugged in, the radio can be played over the phone's loudspeaker, once again making the most out of that ICEpower amplifier.
More and more handsets are boasting HSDPA these days. Yet those that are capable of ultra-quick 7.2Mbps data speeds remain a minority. Thankfully the Samsung Soul fits into this category. Webpages appeared almost instantly while downloads were equally quick. For a phone that houses great music abilities, such speeds are a real blessing for music downloads. To give you an idea, a 30-second ringtone took about fifteen seconds to download.
The Samsung U900 Soul does have its shortcomings. The call quality was not what is expected from a handset of this magnitude, with the ring volume being quite low and even some static occurring on occasions. Furthermore, if you receive a text message while surfing the net, you will have to come out of the WWW before you can read it, rather than the text message appearing over the webpage. In addition, as great as it is, moving from the ‘Magic Touch' navigation pad to the hard keys can be a tad confusing as one requires a forceful press and the other a mere touch, though this probably just requires a bit of familiarity.
Despite these grievances, it's near impossible to dislike the Samsung Soul. When a handset is described as being an all-rounder, it tends to mean that the phone is competent in all areas without excelling. The Samsung U900 Soul however, is an all-rounder with above average capabilities. Everything from the cracking camera, to Bang & Olufsen enhanced music player, to the ultra-fast internet speeds screams class. And as for the design, well it's not often that a phone can be so readily customised that you could change your background and user interface everyday for a year and still have more choice.