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Samsung Smiley

November 13th, 2010
Samsung tries to move up the entry level in messaging phones.

The Samsung :) (Smiley) is the first cell phone we’ve reviewed with an emoticon for a name, and right away comes across as a device that doesn't take itself too seriously. However, this entry level slider for T-Mobile comes with a modest price tag and a decent list of capabilities. We'll learn if owners can still have their respect with that name or if a more soberly-named phone is in order. Hardware and design

The Smiley weighs in at a fairly average four ounces, and there is nothing especially striking about its design other than the (increasingly common) vertical portrait slider form factor. Exterior volume and camera buttons are right where you’d expect them along with a micro USB port and a microSD card slot. The Smiley regrettably doesn't have a standard headphone jack and instead relies on headphones with micro USB connections, which aren't proprietary but are fairly rare. The front of the phone has a few menu buttons as well talk, end, and back buttons plus a single customizable button that defaults to the phone’s messaging menus.

The QWERTY keyboard on the Smiley has closely spaced keys. Although the keyboard looks like many others, these keys are much narrower than normal and the keyboard feels cramped overall and not especially quick to type on. We'd have a better time with a still-small but more intelligently designed keyboard like that of the Palm Pixi Plus. True to the name of Samsung's phone, there is a dedicated emoticon button which launches an emoticon menu -- this button is of course is identified with a smiley face.

In spite of being a budget phone, the Smiley still uses 3G on T-Mobile's HSPA network. Bluetooth is expected, but it unusually has Wi-Fi; that's very rare for the category and a definite help for a phone where cost savings are important. The screen on the Smiley is nothing to write home about, though, with an average brightness, so-so color quality and a 240x320 resolution. In an age of high resolution LED-lit LCD and AMOLED touchscreens on even mid-range phones, the display on the Smiley just feels lackluster.

Calling, interface and extras

Simply making phone calls is where the Smiley really shines. This phone has both good voice quality and very good speakerphone volume and clarity. The phone is rated for 5.5 hours of battery life during talk time and our testing would seem to confirm that figure; it's a bit on the short side for a non-smartphone but will work for most users. We'd note that the phone does feel easier to hold when talking when the keyboard is extended; with the keyboard tucked away, the Smiley almost feels too small to hold comfortably.

The overall look and feel of the OS on the Smiley feels dated. The menus are mostly lists of white text on black backgrounds. Navigating the lists with the D-pad in the center of the phone is easy enough, but the whole experience feels like a trip down memory lane back to when phones had monochromatic screens. We know basic feature phones often have similarly basic interfaces, but Samsung's implementation goes a bit too far back in time with only a few exceptions to the rule.

The Web2Go web browser on the Smiley provides a functional but underwhelming mobile Internet experience. Any websites not formatted for mobile browsing simply don’t load properly. On the other hand, some of the web applications for social media sites perform admirably. Mobile videos load quickly on the T-Mobile 3G connection, but viewing them on the phone’s small screen makes for an uninspiring video experience. While on the topic of multimedia, it's worth noting that the phone is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, but picture quality is predictably disappointing given the camera’s low resolution.

On a positive note, the GPS functionality was far more impressive than the phone’s media features. Google Maps loads fairly quickly, and we were impressed with the accuracy and detail of the maps and instructions, even if it won't replace Android's Google Maps Navigation anytime soon.

Wrapping up

For only $10 with a two-year contract, the Smiley certainly delivers a lot of features with a small price tag, but we can't help but feel conflicted about its design. As much as Samsung has managed to fit into such a simple device, the user interface has a dated feel about it, and a few of the features come across as dubious. The keyboard is a bit cramped and the multimedia and internet experiences are sub-par, too. Still, at this price, the Smiley may be worth the leap if you're looking for a basic handset where calling, ostensibly the main reason for a phone, comes first -- just as long as you're willing to put up with a name aimed at teens.

- Very inexpensive.

- Good voice quality.

- Wi-Fi a rarity in the class.

- Decent GPS app.

- Capable social networking and e-mail.

- Cramped keyboard.

- Archaic menu layout.

- Mediocre camera.

- Name may put off adults.