Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Comeback™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Comeback SGH-T559 has plenty of features, including quad-band support, 3G, a full HTML browser with Flash Lite support, and GPS. It also has very good call quality.

THE BAD: The Samsung Comeback has a clunky design, plus the microSD card slot is behind the battery. The keyboard is on the small side.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you don't mind its bulky appearance, the Samsung Comeback is one of the most feature-packed messaging phones T-Mobile has to offer.

T-Mobile hasn't been quite as aggressive as other carriers in rolling out messaging-centric phones, unless you count smartphones like the Sidekick. The only messaging phones in its stable have so far been the Samsung Gravity SGH-T459, which looks a lot like the Samsung Rant from Sprint, and the Samsung SGH-T349, which only has a partial keyboard. Samsung and T-Mobile have partnered again to come up with yet another messaging phone, dubbed the Samsung Comeback SGH-T559.

Similar to the LG enV3, it has a flip design, dual displays, and both a keypad and a QWERTY keyboard. But the real surprise lies in its features: it has a 2.0-megapixel camera, a HTML browser with Flash Lite, 3G support, stereo Bluetooth, and a music player. Though we're not wowed by the design–and we're not crazy about the name–we're overall pleased with the functionality and performance of the Comeback SGH-T559. It is available now for $129.99 with a two-year service agreement with T-Mobile

Even though the Samsung Comeback has a similar design to the LG enV3, they couldn't be more apart in style. While the enV3 struck us as sleek and stylish, the Comeback is definitely wide and clunky. Measuring 4.33 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 0.73 inch thick, the Comeback has the aesthetic of a cheap kitchen appliance, with its plastic body, curved sides, and blocky corners. One of our co-workers commented that it looked like a cross between a Storm Trooper and a George Foreman grill. Weighing in at 4.6 ounces, the Comeback is not too heavy and feels comfortable when held in the hand. The hinge feels sturdy when opening and closing the phone.

The Samsung Comeback has a rather wide and chunky design.

On the front of the Comeback is a 1.0-inch PMOLED display with 65,000 colors. Though the screen looks a bit dark even at its brightest setting, the images look sharp and the text is bold and legible. You can adjust the brightness of this display separately from the main display. All other display settings–the backlight time, the dialing display (where you adjust the color of the background and the type and color of the dialing font), and the color theme–are the same for both the external and internal displays.

By default, T-Mobile's MyFaves (also known as your five favorite contacts) are shown on the display's home screen. You can press the End key to minimize the MyFaves display, and then bring them up again by hitting the OK key. You can also add a MyFaves contact directly from the home screen by selecting an empty slot on the MyFaves carousel.

Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a square toggle with a middle OK key, a dedicated camera key, a Back key, and the Send and End/Power keys. The up and down directions on the toggle double as shortcuts to the Call Log and the Contacts list. The right and left directions on the toggle double as shortcuts to a new text message and a new audio postcard respectively, but only when MyFaves is minimized.

The navigation keys felt easy to use for the most part, since they're raised above the surface of the phone. The same goes for the number keypad, which is directly beneath it. The keys are well spaced and it felt easy to dial and text with a reasonable amount of speed. Still, we would recommend using the QWERTY keyboard for texting. The volume rocker and charger jack are on the left spine and the camera lens and external speaker are on the back. The microSD card slot is inconveniently located behind the battery.

If you turn the phone 90 degrees to the right and flip the phone up, you'll reveal a bright 2.7-inch display plus a full QWERTY keyboard. The display has 262,000 colors and a 240×400-pixel resolution, which results in crisp and colorful graphics. Right on the home screen of the main display are five shortcut icons that lead to MyFaves, the message in-box, the Web2go Web browser, the apps menu, and a link to your T-Mobile account page.

There are two soft keys underneath the horizontal display, and a navigation array sits to the right of the keyboard. The navigation array consists of a dedicated text messaging key, a camera key, a square toggle and a middle OK key, the Send and End/Power keys, and the Back key. The toggle has the same dual functions as the external toggle. The messaging key can be mapped to one of five messaging shortcuts–create a new message, the message in-box, a new audio postcard, e-mail, or instant messaging.

The Samsung Comeback has a full QWERTY keyboard for easier texting.

We wanted to like the Comeback's keyboard; the keys are all raised above the surface, they have a nice give when pressed, there's a dedicated www.com key (which helps a lot when entering URLs), and even a dedicated emoticon key. However, we wanted more room at the sides of the keyboard–it felt a bit enclosed when we were typing, especially with keys on the far left and right. The keys themselves are also quite small, requiring us to use our fingernails most of the time. We imagine those with larger digits might find it more difficult to use. It's not a terrible keyboard by any means, but it might not be for everyone.

The Samsung Comeback has a 1,000-entry phone book, with room in each entry for four numbers, four e-mail addresses, three instant-messaging usernames (one each for AIM, Windows, and Yahoo), a birthday, an anniversary date, a street address, a Web URL, and notes. You can also add the entry to a caller group; assign it an image for photo ID, or one of 22 72-note polyphonic ringtones. Other basics include text and multimedia messaging, a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, a calendar, an alarm clock, a unit converter, a time, and a stopwatch.

Beyond the basics, you also get stereo Bluetooth, voice command, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), GPS with TeleNav support, USB mass storage, and even an RSS reader. You can send Audio Postcards, which are essentially framed photos that come with an accompanying voice message. You can also send and receive e-mail from a variety of e-mail providers, like AIM Mail, AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail, Comcast, and Gmail. You can try receiving e-mail from an unlisted provider if you enter your e-mail address and password, but bear in mind that you don't have the option to enter in your own POP3 or IMAP server name, so this might not work.

Perhaps most surprising in the Comeback is the addition of a full HTML Web browser. We found it easy to enter in URLs, and we liked that we could use the volume rocker to move up and down pages. Still, to zoom in and out and resize a page, we needed to dig through the Options menu, which was a pain. Also, because of the Comeback's small screen size, we had to scroll a lot more than usual. Aside from those issues, though, we actually quite like the browser. Not only does it support JavaScript, it also has a form of Flash Lite that supports video playback. We were able to watch streaming video from YouTube, for example. We also managed to download a video clip from the CNET TV Web page and saved it to the Videos folder for later viewing.

As for multimedia, the Comeback has quite a comprehensive music player. It organizes tracks by artists and albums, and you can create and edit playlists on the fly. You can set the music to play in the background while you multitask, and toggle the sound effects on or off. Other music settings include the capability to set the music on repeat or shuffle mode, eight preset audio equalizer settings, a Surround sound mode, and you can even do the iPod thing by ranking a song with one-to-five stars (you do this by pressing the 1 button a few times). You can also set a particular MP3 to be used as a ringtone, an individual ringtone, an alarm tone, a message tone, or a calendar reminder. The music player supports MP3, AAC/AAC+, WMA, MPEG4, WAV, MIDI, and Real Audio formats. The Comeback comes with 75MB of internal storage, but you also have the option of up to 16GB of external storage in the form of a microSD card.

The Samsung Comeback has a 2.0-megapixel camera on the back.

Even though the Comeback has only a 2.0-megapixel camera with no flash LED, we were impressed with the array of settings and editing options available. You can take pictures in four resolutions (1,600×1200, 1280×960, 640×480, and 320×240 pixels), five white balance presets, five color effects, and three quality settings. Other settings include shooting modes: Panorama and Smile shot (the latter automatically takes a photo when it detects a smile), night mode, three photometry modes, a self-timer, two preview modes (a square indicator or a gridlike guideline), and three shutter tones. You can also arrange for the 1, 2, 3, and # keys to be camera shortcuts for different settings. After taking a photo, you can add a short voice recording to the image to add context if you wish.

The Samsung Comeback took decent pictures.

Photo quality is quite good. Colors look bright and vibrant and not at all washed out, though we would've liked the overall image to be a tad sharper. The Comeback also has a built-in camcorder that can record video clips in two resolutions (320×240 and 176×144), in either normal or for MMS length, and with or without the audio recording. The camcorder has similar editing options with the still camera. Video quality is mediocre at best: video clips were shaky even when we tried hard to hold still, and there was quite a bit of pixelation and blurriness as well.

You can change the wallpaper on the Comeback as well as change the ringtones and alert tones. You can purchase and download more options using the Web browser. The Comeback also comes with a few games like demo versions of Need for Speed Undercover and Monopoly Here & Now–you'll need to buy the games to get the full versions.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900; UMTS Band IV) in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. We found the call quality satisfactory for the most part. On our end, we heard our callers very clearly with plenty of volume. Their voices sounded good and natural, though we did encounter a bit of static at times.

On their end, callers said we sounded very good as well. They said our voices sounded quite natural, as if on a landline, but they did hear the occasional crackle and interference. Automated calling systems could recognize our voice prompts without an issue. Speakerphone quality was also surprisingly decent. There's plenty of volume, albeit a bit tinny. Callers did say we sounded just a tad more muffled, but nothing too distracting.

The audio playback quality on the Comeback is average. The speakers didn't do justice to the music's bass, and songs generally sounded quite harsh, though the different equalizer settings do help in abating that somewhat. We would recommend using a stereo headset for a better experience.

We were quite impressed with the 3G speeds on the Comeback. We loaded full HTML Web pages quickly–the full CNET page loaded in less than 20 seconds. When we tried streaming video from YouTube, we experienced very little buffering time. Also, it only took about 1 minute and 10 seconds to download a 5.1MB video. The only problem is that both the downloaded and streaming video looked very choppy and blocky, which is mostly an issue with the video encoding.

The Comeback has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Comeback has a digital SAR of 1.35 watts per kilogram.

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