Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:55:46 PM
Beautiful display, excellent touch-screen, top-notch video and still camera, and surround sound.
No dedicated app store, landscape-only keyboard, and abysmal battery life.
Remember when phones just made calls and sent texts? Of course not, not when every phone launched these days is a bid to one-up every other phone around. Samsung is a mighty contender when it comes to putting out some kind of ‘world’s first’ handset, and the i8910 HD is its most powerful device yet – the world’s first phone to record video in high definition, with an arsenal of top-end media specs to back it up. An AMOLED screen that displays in hyper-clear WVGA resolution, an eight-megapixel camera that produces incredible stills and videos, as well as an excellent music player with 5.1 stereo sound – yep, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
This is an absolutely beautiful machine. It’s a bit of a brute compared with sleeker media phones such as the iPhone 3GS – longer, weightier – but then again, it’s not much heavier than business-class smartphones like the HTC Touch HD. Though it rocks a few too many buttons and flaps along its sides, for zooming/volume control and cable ports, it does feel reassuringly solid.
The chassis is a glossy black with a massive 3.7-inch touch display, and just three silver buttons – call, hang up and home. The touch-screen is capacitive, a la iPhone, and is incredibly fast and responsive. There’s a front camera for video calling, with the main camera on the back. You get a 3.5mm audio jack so you’ll be able to use your own headphones, but Samsung has also bundled in a set of standard (and quite decent) ear buds. The phone comes with its own little stand, attachable to a key ring, so you can prop it up for use as a media player.
The video camera is the most sophisticated we’ve seen on any phone. You can record video at four different resolutions, from a minimum of 320x240 to the highest setting of 1280x720. Only videos taken in the two top settings look at all decent on the high-def screen – but man, video at 1280x720 resolution looks incredible.
You can also pick the auto setting for MMS attachment, slow-motion and fast-motion. Adjust the speed by factors of 2, 4 and 8 for the latter two then simply record as usual, and the phone will automatically play back at whatever speed you selected.
Recording at different speeds means the resolution is automatically capped at 320x420, and as a result, these videos look very grainy on the mobile screen, and even more so when uploaded to a PC.
Surprisingly for a phone touted as a near camera replacement, the zoom function is jerky at all resolutions. Zooming occurs in small jumps that are incredibly noticeable, and you can even hear the clicks of the zoom on playback. If you use it at all, it’s best to zoom before you start recording. However, the mic isn’t bad, and picked up (albeit with some blur) people talking from across the room.
Playback of recorded and downloaded videos looks great on the AMOLED display. The i8910 HD supports DivX, Xvid and MPEG4 video files. We’re big fans of the way the i8910 HD interacts with a PC – connect it up via USB and options immediately pop up to use the device in PC Studio Mode, storage, or (manual) image/media transfer. Drivers download automatically, which is a much appreciated change to some phones that require you to do this manually.
You can also download content directly to the handset from the Samsung Movie Store. An unsung feature on this phone is its still camera – eight megapixel lens, highly competent auto-focus, and a clutch of apps to help even the most shaky limbed, non-smile detecting fool take a decent shot.
Extra points for the exposure and ISO settings – you can adjust exposure just like in a standalone digital camera, while the ISO settings go up to 1600, meaning low-light shots turn out especially well. We’d have liked to see one of those superior Xenon flashes on such a high-end device, but in fact, the LED flash works really well, and portrait shots come out with incredible clarity. Excellent light sensors also mean that putting the camera on the auto-flash setting results in good shots.
Just like in video camera mode, all the camera settings are incredibly easy to navigate, and touching each different setting reveals a pop-out box explaining what the feature does. There’s also a feature called ‘WDR’, which the phone helpfully explains as ‘provid[ing] clear image even under bad light circumstance’, along with blink detection – which didn’t work at all in our tests – and smile detection, which indeed held the shutter until a set of pearly whites were shown. We tested the phone for action, daylight, low light, night time and macro shots, and it performed admirably in all five areas.
Once we move away from its media features however, the phone falters slightly. As you’d expect on a non-business smartphone, there’s no push-email function. However, you can set the phone to automatically check for new emails at regular intervals between 15 minutes to one day. It works well enough, and our only quibble is with setup, as you have to input the POP3 and IMAP4 settings for your email address. These are easily found from your email provider, or simply Googling it if you’re using webmail like Gmail or Hotmail, but it is less user friendly compared with Windows Mobile devices for example, where you only need your username and password (particularly when you consider the stats that claim some 95% of British phone users find smartphones too tough to use).
You’d expect internet browsing to be great on such a large, high definition screen; however, it doesn’t go into full screen automatically. Instead, there’s a menu tab that takes up a good fifth of screen real estate – you have to go two clicks into it to close it down. Zooming in or out in full screen requires a double tap, and this gives you only two options of magnification – normal and way too close. To control the degree of zoom, you have to exit full screen and hit up that menu bar.
We accessed the web via Orange’s GPRS WAP, and loading times were mostly very quick. Mobile optimised sites such as Facebook and BBC News loaded in almost the same time as on a desktop, while streaming videos in YouTube had barely any lag. Pages render perfectly on the phone’s super bright, clear screen.
Cycling through page history is also done very neatly here – thumbnails of each page sit in a side scrolling menu – very useful for getting to older pages in minimum time and download charges. So it’s a pity that the browser isn’t optimised for full screen, as the phone’s massive display would have made it one of the best web browsing devices out there.
The i8910 HD runs the pretty and finger-friendly TouchWiz widget-centric user interface (UI). A toolbar down the left of the home screen houses various widgets that you can drag out – Radio, Calendar, Birthday Reminder etc. There are three home screens you can scroll through, providing a neat way of grouping related widgets. As per our usual issues with this UI, the home screen easily looks cramped even with only two widgets pulled out.
Along the bottom of the screen is a bar with links to the dialling keypad, main menu, contacts and messaging. The menu is somewhat cluttered and its organisation doesn’t always make sense. For example, the music player isn’t in the menu, but hidden away in the Applications folder. You can access it through the media library folder though – select any of the stored songs and you’re automatically taken to the music player. Granted, Samsung is pushing the phone’s video features, and you don’t actually need more clicks to access your music, but it seems an unnecessary deviation from the usual (and expected) route.
One of our biggest issues with the phone is that the QWERTY keyboard only appears in landscape orientation. As the phone is quite large, smaller hands may find typing this way fairly unwieldy. Anytime any sort of text needs to be inputted, say internet or messaging, the phone automatically flips into landscape. If you switch back, you’re relegated to predictive typing on a number keypad and even this excellent touch-screen can’t keep up with the speed of most seasoned keypad typists.
The battery life is also dreadful. We got around three hours’ audio playback, left it on overnight on standby and by morning, the phone was dead. It fares even worse when you’re recording video, and we’re not sure the phone would last a day with media and Wi-Fi if you did. It’s a recurring problem with Samsung devices, and while we understand that such a high-spec device must suck up the juice like crazy, maybe Samsung could at least bundle a spare battery.
The i8910 HD is Samsung’s first handset to run on the powerful Symbian S60 5th edition operating system (OS) – the same as seen on the Nokia N97 – and with a 600MHz CPU (on par with that of the iPhone 3GS), the i8910 is incredibly fast and smooth, and capable of running a few apps at a time. This is great as you can just switch between, say, the music player and camera, without having to quit and relaunch either.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to download apps for the phone as it is for the Nokias running the Symbian OS – while Nokia users can access the Ovi app store for a one-stop shop of compatible software, there remains no dedicated Symbian app marketplace as yet. Finding apps to download is possible, so it’s just not as user friendly (or idiot-proof, depending how you look at things) as the i8910’s competitors.
Samsung’s i8910 HD is a media powerhouse. It has got the specs, the usability, and best of all, it works perfectly even if you just leave it on auto settings. Unfortunately, some minor but key glitches, such as landscape-only keyboard, lack of dedicated app store and a shameful battery life, keep this phone from being a gold-standard device.