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Product Review – Mobile Phone – Samsung Impact / Highlight (SGH-T746 / SGH-T749)

15 Aug

A few months ago I posted about my decision making process around the purchase of two new cell phones (Post 1, Post 2). I decided to go with cell phones rather than a smart phones to save on my monthly cell phone bills. I figure by going with that approach I am saving at least 30 dollars a month per phone – that’s over 2 grand in savings over three years, not including the savings on the original phone purchases.

The savings are nice, but admittedly a regular cell phone can’t offer the same level of convenience and utility that a smartphone offers. My goal was to find a cell phone with a pretty rich feature set that made it somewhat smartphone-like. I decided to go with the Samsung Impact (model number SGH-T746) through Bell Mobility – it is now also offered through Bell’s value carrier Virgin Mobile. From what I can discern from the specs and pictures of both models, the Impact is essentially the same phone as the Samsung Highlight (model number SGH-T749) offered by T-Mobile in the United States. With some reservations around differences in network performance etc., I believe this review would also be useful for people who are considering the Highlight.

We have had the Impacts for a few months now so I thought it was time to offer up a review of the device based on my experience with it.

General

As I mentioned above, the Samsung Impact is a cell phone rather than a smart phone. That said, it still comes fairly well equipped.

The Impact is a candybar style GSM/EDGE band phone running on Bell’s new HSPA network. It has a 3-inch screen touch screen with by 240 x 400 resolution with an accelerometer to switch automatically from portrait to landscape mode when you turn the phone. It runs a proprietary Samsung operating system, with widget applet capabilities, and a WAP browser with an ability to show full HTML web pages. It has a 3.0 megapixel camera with the ability to take stills and videos. The impact’s battery is good for 4 hours of talk time and 240 hours of standby time on a full charge.

The form factor is quite small at a 4.34 inches high, 2.14 inches wide, and 0.56 inches thick. It only weights about 3.7 ounces. It easily fits into a shirt pocket or a side pocket of a purse.

The phone only has five buttons on it. On the front of the device are a green call button, a red hang-up/cancel button, and a go-back button that works well with all the the applications on the phone. On the right side of the phone is a button which is used to invoke and cancel the screen lock function – the screen automatically locks after a several seconds of idle time to save battery life and avoid accidental calls, etc. On the left side is a toggle button that is used to control volume and to enlarge / reduce the screen size in the browser (more on that later).

When the phone is turned on or unlocked, the screen displays a scrolling toolbar on the left which includes application widgets to run some frequently used phone functions such as Bluetooth setup, some picture management functions, and the Calendar. There are also a few third-party widgets as well such as Google Search, Yahoo Search, Yahoo Finance, Digg, AccuWeather, etc. The third-party widgets are generally very simple but useful. Although there is the ability to download new widgets, any thoughts I initially had about this being a poor man’s version of the Apple App Store have been put to rest. I have noticed little change in the list of interesting widgets available in the several months since we have had the phones.

On the bottom of the Impact’s homepage are soft buttons for the Phone function, the Contacts function, the Web Browser, and the function Menu. Clicking on the Menu button presents the user with a Graphical menu structure to access all of the phones functions.

Phone

What seems to get lost in the shuffle of the increasing complexity of smartphones is the word “phone”. These devices are supposed to be primarily about making telephone calls, so I think the voice performance of any device of this type is where we should start. I think I should preface my review in this area by stating two things:

  1. The voice performance of any cell phone can often be affected by the performance of the network it is connected to
  2. The particular device I received started having reception issues shortly after I got it and had to be sent in for repairs

With that out of the way, lets get on with the voice review…

Making telephone calls on the Impact works generally as you might expect. There is a telephone button at the bottom of the screen’s home page that launches the phone function. A touch screen phone keypad launches which has large buttons and is pretty easy to use. Above the touch number pad, there are soft buttons for Call History, Voice Mail, Text Message, and Contacts.

When making or receiving a call, the keypad goes away and several function buttons show up. It is necessary to lock out the screen at that point so the user doesn’t activate functions by accident when they are on a call. To enable access to those in-call functions, the user has to click the lock / unlock button first. Personally, I don’t find the whole approach particularly intuitive, and it often takes me a couple of tries to invoke the speaker phone while I am in a call.

The call quality I have experienced while using the Impact I would describe as spotty. My device initially had an issue which caused the call quality and reliability to be terrible for awhile. Although the device was repaired, I am still getting the occasional dropped call and often hearing an echo of my own voice when I am talking. Generally the quality I am hearing when the other person is talking is very good, and I am no longer hearing as many complaints about people not hearing me on their end. Some of these issues may be with Bell’s network rather than the phones, but overall I would say the call quality and reliability with the Samsung Impact has not greatly improved over our 4 year-old Motorola e815’s that ran on Bell’s old CDMA network.

The Impact came with a stereo earbud-style headset that a proprietary Samsung connection – there is no standard 3.5 or 2.5 mm headphone jack. If the headset goes, I will have to buy another Samsung headset. This same port on the phone is what is used to charge the device. What that means is no using the headset when the phone is charging.

The phone comes with an adequate selection of ringtones and the ability to download more. One thing that bugs me about any cellphone is when an actual ring is not an on board option for a ringtone. The Impact unfortunately falls into that category. That said, I was able to find a ring tone that I could easily hear in a crowd and wasn’t particularly objectionable.

As I said, this device is small. At only 4.34 inches high, the phone is at least a good couple of inches away from your mouth when you have it up to my ear. Again, it doesn’t seem to present a problem for people on the other end of the line hearing you. As with all phones of this type, the screen collects a lot of oil from your face when you are making calls. This isn’t a big deal, but it does require frequent cleaning.

As a phone I would say the Impact is good, but not great.

Texting

With my old Motorola flip phone, I really didn’t text that much. Although I know it is an acquired skill, typing a message on a phone keypad is something I find exceedingly painful. Although we weren’t planning to do a lot of texting with these new phones, we did get text packages this time and intend to text more frequently than we had been.

Texting with the Samsung Impact can be done with a standard phone style-keypad when in portrait mode or you can turn the phone to bring up the QWERTY style keyboard in landscape mode – guess which one I use. Texting with the Impact’s QWERTY keyboard is a less frustrating experience than with any phone keypad, but it is still not great.

As I mentioned before, the device is pretty small, and since it’s soft keyboard on a touch screen it is very easy to hit the wrong key. I don’t have very big hands and I still find I am constantly having to make corrections – that might get better if I was a more frequent texter. One of the most annoying things about the keyboard is that the Done button is below the Back button and beside the period button so it is easy to hit “Done” by mistake. If you are going to fast you could easily hit “Done” and “Send”, resulting in an incomplete message being sent. I have done it several times.

One thing I noticed that seems to be a software bug is the volume on text notifications. You have plenty of sounds you can choose and you can select the volume you want to hear it at and test it. That said, regardless of the volume you pick, the notification sounds always seem to be at the lowest volume, despite what it sounded like in test mode. As a result, it is very easy to miss an incoming text.

For texting, I would again give the Impact a good but not great rating.

MP3 Player

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this phone was to get rid of my old MP3 player so I could get down to carrying around one device in my pocket.

The MP3 player application on the Samsung Impact is accessible by dragging it from the widget bar on the left of the main page. When launching by that method, it starts in widget mode which only shows the song name, a progress bar for the song, a back button, a play/pause button, a stop button, and a forward button. If the widget is dragged back to the menu without stopping play, play will continue. Clicking on the widget will launch the full app that is also accessible from the functions menu. This app shows more details about the song currently selected including “album” and artist and offers most of the remaining MP3 functions you might expect. I do find there a few things missing from this application, but for the most part it is perfectly serviceable.

The MP3 Player app generally integrates pretty well with the rest of the phone functions. When a call comes in or is dialed, the music is paused, and it restarts when the call ends. When the music is playing, the volume can be adjusted using the toggle button on the left of the phone. Unfortunately this toggle button is also used to adjust the font size in the web browser so if you are listening to music and browsing, you have to close the browser to adjust the music volume. To skip from one song to the next you have to do it from the widget or the full app.

The MP3 player has a shuffle function, but I have to say that I find it isn’t as random as I would like. It seems to play some songs a lot more than other. The other thing that bugs me is when I use the back and forward buttons when on shuffle is it seems to randomize the results, meaning I can’t easily get back to the song I just played. Maybe its just me and I need to spend some quality time with the manual, but if I have to spend time reading a manual to use an MP3 player, maybe the interface needs some tweaking to clean it up.

Since I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, one of the things I miss is a Genre option. The app doesn’t seem to track it and you can’t play back by Genre.

Sound quality is generally very good. As I said, the included ear-bud headphones sound fine. The Bluetooth integration works pretty well with my Scosche HZ5 tuneSTREAM Bluetooth Headphones. The phone’s onboard speaker sounds better than I had expected. That said, playing music through the phones speaker is something I generally limit to “do you like this song” type activities rather than any serious listening.

The Impact works with the free sync utility that can be downloaded from Samsung’s website (more on that below), but I was happy to discover that is not the only way to get music on my phone. I bought a Micro SD card (necessary since the Impact only has 80K of memory on board) and copied about 900 songs to it using Windows Media Player on Windows Vista. When I slapped the card in the Impact it had no trouble recognizing all of the songs (takes a several seconds) or playing them. The was even some album art included, but I don’t know if the Impact or Windows Media Player was responsible for that.

I am generally pretty happy with the Impact’s MP3 capabilities and use that function on my phone a lot.

Syncing

A key differentiator that made me choose the Samsung Impact over some of the other cell phones I looked at was it’s ability to sync with Microsoft Outlook. I was able to do that with my Motorola e815 flip-phone back in 2006, so I see no reason that I should have to buy a smartphone to be able to do it in 2010.

Unlike with my old Motorola, I didn’t have to spend an additional $90 for a cable and software to add the Outlook sync capabilities to my Samsung Impact. There is a USB charge/sync cable included with the phone and Samsung offers a free download of their New PC Studio software on their website.

I am one of the many people who complains about what a “pig” iTunes is on Microsoft Windows, but whenever I use one of these one-off sync tools like New PC Studio, I realise iTunes is not really that bad. Apple goes out of their way to make the sync function in iTunes simple and easy – it’s the length of time it takes that really bugs me, not the number of clicks.

By comparison, Samsung’s New PC Studio just doesn’t feel as put together. There are sync options for a lot of the apps that let you sync between the phone and the New PC Studio. I am not sure how many people will be interested in managing their data in PC Studio, but I am not one of them. Luckily there is a separate Outlook Sync function that lets you sync Outlook Contacts, Calendars, Tasks, and Notes. Unfortunately the Outlook Sync tool (and all the other sync tools as far as I can tell) is limited by the fact that it can only sync with the memory on the phone. Since the Impact only has about 80K of memory on board, that is a pretty big limitation. I have an 8 Gig SD Micro card on board, but I can’t use PC Studio to sync with it – not even with media files. There is a tool to manage contacts on your SIM card but there doesn’t seem to be any way to sync with the SIM card. Essentially I use PC Studio to keep my phone contacts and my Outlook contacts in sync – luckily for me, that is all I really need. When I try to do sync almost anything else, I get memory errors.

It’s good that I have a freee sync tool with many options, but the on-board memory limitation keeps this software from realising its potential.

Wrap Up

The Impact has several other features that would be of interest to others, but I don’t use them much so I can’t give a lot of feedback on them.

  • It has a 3.0MP camera with video capabilities. I have used them both and they both seem fine.
  • There is a calendar function, but the sync/memory limitations I mentioned above limit my ability to use it
  • There are a few more utility functions that seem helpful.

Based on my comments above, you are probably reading this review and thinking that I don’t like this phone. That’s not actually true. I think the Samsung Impact delivers a lot of capabilities and delivers them pretty well, but some small improvements could make it better.

If I was to rate the phone overall out of ten, with my old Motorola e815 rating a 4.5 and an iPhone 4 rating a 9.5 (sorry, as Steve Jobs said, no phone is perfect), I think I would give the Samsung Impact a solid 7 out of 10. Wow, only 7 out of 10 you say. We’ll lets look at that for a moment.

You can currently buy a Samsung Impact for $149.95 without any long-term commitment to Bell. If Bell would let you buy an iPhone 4 without a three-year commitment (which I don’t think they will), that device would cost you $659.95. We were looking at two-phones, so the total savings without any commitment would be over $1000 dollars. Since I had an older plan and features I was able to keep, I calculated that, with the three year commitment approach, the Impact would save me more than $1000 per phone versus an iPhone over the three years.

The Impact is no iPhone, but for the price, it shouldn’t be. For me, a slightly less feature rich experience for three years is a nice trade off for $2000 in savings. I think I made the right decision this time. Next time the numbers might look different and I might go another way.

I hope you found this review helpful. There are a couple of other places where you will find useful information about the Samsung Impact:

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6 Comments

Posted by on August 15, 2010 in Consumer Electronics

 

Tags: , , ,

6 responses to “Product Review – Mobile Phone – Samsung Impact / Highlight (SGH-T746 / SGH-T749)

  1. James C

    December 15, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    PRICE FIXING?

    Thanks for a very informative review with a good, practical focus. I too am considering getting a smartphone mainly for the added functionality they seem to offer over many cell phones, such as synching Outlook with my desktop, etc. But I also find it hard to justify paying fat data plan fees that go along with smartphones since I can’t imagine needing to access Internet on many occasions while out and about. I currently have a Samsung U740 which I’ve been happy with for several years, and which offers many features including SMS texting, scheduling, email and web access, and GPS should I want to use them. But small screen of course and no Outlook. So I just might go with something like the Impact you reviewed.

    That said, I would love to see the results of some research on the hugely inflated cell & wireless access costs that Canadians continue to be paying, compared with much lower costs in the US and in Europe. I have never seen any reasonable justification for such gouging, particularly given the bloated profits all the big telecom companies are consistently posting. Give the consumer a break, guys!!

    Closely related to this I believe is the historically monopolistic tendency of the Canadian marketplace. This is apparent in areas such as banking, but especially obvious in the telecommunications field (for how many generations did Bell maintain a stranglehold on home phone services?). The supposed’ opening up’ of the cell service provider market in summer of 2009 offered Canadian consumers some hope that through increased competition, lower pricing would follow. However, competitive pricing continues to be strangled in it’s infancy and things actually appear to be taking a turn for the worse.

    Even before CRTC publicly sold more bandwith rights in 2009, the ‘big-3’ – Bell, Telus and Rogers – seemed to be working to maintain their stranglehold over Canadian market pricing by setting up their own sub-companies as some of the main so-called alternative providers of cell phone services: Rogers owns both Fido and Chatr; Bell owns both Virgin and Solo; Telus owns both Mike and Koodo. And the handful of other ‘independent’ service providers have relatively little independence in pricing since most of them lease their access to the physical networks from one of the big-3.

    Sounds a lot like price-fixing to me!!!

    Keep up the good work, much appreciated.

     
  2. Value Canuck

    December 16, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    I hear you on the price fixing in the cell market, but unlike you I feel like things are getting a little better. Although we aren’t seeing the new cell providers here in the Atlantic market yet, I am left with the impression that their presence is creating more competitive pricing overall, even if it is only slightly better.

    I have been researching phones for my daughter and I like the Tab option offered at both Virgin Mobile and Koodo. I can pay $0 up front and pay down the tab for the phone when they credit 10% of my monthly bill to the Tab. If I want to leave, i pay off the remaining balance on the tab and I am done.

    Not perfect, but an improvement.

     
  3. Big Z

    March 10, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    I was pretty happy with the phone when I got it (over a year ago). After few months, the phone started going nuts. It would have no signal in the places where it used to have it, and it would work in underground garage where it never worked before. Often, if you are in the area with no signal for 5 min, the phone will stay in “emergency only” mode until you reset it by removing the sim card. The buttons are way too sensitive, it would unlock itself or connect to the internet while inside holster, or it would turn the camera on and I would have some nice pictures of inside of my holster. Not good for texting and the screen freezes often.
    Just last week my screen started freezing more often than usual and it stays like that for couple of hours. Warranty is expired and I will have to replace just over the year old phone. Will be going back to good old flip phone but definetely not Samsung.

     
  4. Value Canuck

    March 10, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    I must say this phone is buggier than the Motorola flip I replaced. That said, there is a lot more going on in the OS. All things considered I am still happy with my purchase.

     
  5. Nutshell

    July 13, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Nobody has commented about its battery.
    If you are concerned about the battery, don’t buy this phone. You will have to recharge the phone every day.

     
  6. Value Canuck

    July 13, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Actually Nutshell, we have been pretty happy with the battery life on both of the Impacts we have. We certainly don’t have to charge them more often than every three days or so. By default, the OS seems to power down the screen pretty rapidly when it is not in use. I wonder if those settings have been adjusted on your device (not sure if that is possible) or if you have a bad battery.

     

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