Review: Samsung Intensity

The latest entry-level messaging phone for Verizon. (October 18th, 2009)

The Intensity is one of Samsung's truly entry-level offerings for Verizon but is designed to make messaging a real option for everyone. With an effective price tag as low as $30, it may be one of the best deals at the carrier. We hope to learn whether that's true or else if the device still carries the stigma of low-cost cellphones.

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Product Manufacturer: Samsung

Price: $30 (with contract and rebate, Verizon)

The Good

  • Low price.
  • Comfortable keyboard; number pad on top.
  • Good call quality and battery life.
  • Solid build quality.

The Bad

  • Archaic, overly child-oriented operating system.
  • Not as inexpensive as it should be for the features.
  • 1X data only; very slow Internet access as a result.
  • Only a 2.5mm headset jack.
  • Small screen.

hardware and design

When closed, the Intensity has the form factor of a standard candy bar phone and a surprisingly solid feel to it; this is not a hollow-feeling piece of plastic like so many competitors. The almost-QWERTY slide-out keyboard is solid, large and comfortable, too. We found it easy to acclimate to typing text messages on the keyboard. The number pad on the outer shell is an appreciated convenience, and Samsung notably left the T9 and ABC functionality on the main keypad for those who prefer to send text messages through a conventional method, especially one-handed.

The screen on the Intensity is nothing special compared to many of the phones in the $50-100 price range we have been reviewing as of late, but it achieves its intended goal. The back of the phone is relatively mundane and has a simple 1.3-megapixel camera, a speaker, and a faceplate hiding the removable battery as well as a microSD slot. The left side of the phone is familiar and has volume controls and a charging port. Regrettably, only a 2.5mm headset jack exists, though few phones in this class ever have a 3.5mm jack or are intended as media phones.

software and apps

The operating system on the Intensity feels like the standard Verizon-influenced platform that has been around for years and is more serviceable, but with a more childish feel to it. Many of the colors and animations can only be described as juvenile. The main menu is a graphical scene that resembles a school room as opposed to a text menu or traditional icon list. All in all the user experience feels dated and childish; it may reflect some of the intended audience, but it's also slightly condescending to those who want a "serious" device.

The camera software tries to provide users with some advanced controls for exposure and other common camera settings. Unfortunately, the archaic operating system makes these controls cumbersome to access and use in practice. The issue is further exacerbated by a disjunction between hardware and software controls: the camera software is designed for use in landscape mode, but the button mapping makes more sense with the phone held upright.

The Intensity doesn't focus on mobile web or mobile video content, nor would we expect it to for the price, but it does carry Verizon's very basic in-house browser. Such a lack of attention is perhaps a virtue of the screen: even if it were to have a perfect browser, viewing websites on the 2.1-inch, 176x220 screen is nearly impossible. There's also Verizon's navigation service, mobile e-mail and basic media playback functionality, though these are more nice-to-have options on a handset like this than important features.

call quality and usability

Voice quality on the Intensity during a private call is good, with reasonably clear input in both directions; speakerphone quality is merely average, however. The CDMA calling signal was strong and we had little issue maintaining a connection during testing. Data access is very slow due to the absence of 3G, with only 1X RTT as an option. If you plan on using any Internet feature more demanding than basic e-mail, be prepared for many slow-moving progress bars.

Battery life on the Intensity is respectable. We charged the phone only a few times during an extended period of testing. We do appreciate the USB-based charging system. The ability to sync music and charge the phone simultaneously is appealing to many, and phones in this category are more likely to have little or no computer involvement at all.

wrapping up

The Intensity would likely be better positioned as a truly free-on-contract phone rather than simply an inexpensive phone. While it's decidedly less expensive than a smartphone, there are enough devices that are only slightly more expensive that add features most would appreciate, such as 3G or a 3.5mm headset port. Between the aged OS and the childish interfaces, the Intensity just doesn't feel like a mature product -- figuratively and literally. The Intensity is built well and the slide-out keyboard is great, but the poor user experience, small screen, and slow data connection really keep this phone from being an attractive value-priced mobile device.

by Kelcey Lehrich


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