Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Delve™ Alltel Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Delve has an attractive, sleek design with a responsive and easy-to-use touch interface. Features are relatively plentiful, and the call and photo quality are satisfying.

THE BAD: The Samsung Delve lacks Wi-Fi and an accelerometer. Its volume level could be just a tad louder.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Delve is an attractive, multimedia phone with good performance. It lacks some important features but it's a solid addition to Alltel's lineup.

Alltel may not be the largest carrier in the United States, but it is never one to shy away from a trend. And this time, the trend is touch-screen phones. The carrier's new Samsung Delve is a cross between Sprint's Samsung Instinct and T-Mobile's Samsung Behold. From the outside it looks a lot like the Instinct, but the physical keys below the display are more a sign of the Behold. Also called the SCH-r800, the Delve successfully fills a gap in Alltel's lineup by offering a touch-screen phone with a sleek design and multimedia features. It performed well in our tests and it's offered at a reasonable price of $99 with service.

As we mentioned earlier, the Delve is almost a dead ringer for the Instinct. Both phones are exactly the same size (4.57 inches tall by 2.17 inches wide by 0.49 inch deep), though the Delve weighs slightly less (3.63 ounces). You'll also recognize the silver and black color scheme, the rounded corners, and the comfortable, sturdy feel in the hand. Yet, the Delve differs from the Instinct by including three physical controls below the display. As on the Behold, there are Talk and End keys and a dedicated back button. Fortunately, the Delve's keys are a little larger than the Behold's.

The Delve's 3-inch display is the same size as on the Behold and the LG Dare, but it's smaller than the Instinct's and the Apple iPhone's. It should be big enough for most users, but we felt it doesn't take full advantage of the Delve's real estate. On the upside, it is bright and vibrant with support for 262,000 colors (240×400 pixels). You can change the brightness, the backlighting time, and the intensity of the vibrating feedback. The Delve comes with a stylus but there's no slot for storing it on the handset.

The menu system is quite similar to the Behold–the home screen shows Samsung's nifty TouchWiz interface (see our Behold review for a full description of TouchWiz), while the intuitive main menu comes in an icon or list design. On the top of the home screen display is a collapsible shortcut bar for your messaging in-box, the Web browser, the music player, and the Bluetooth menu. On the bottom of the display is a second shortcut bar with touch controls for the phone dialer, the contacts menu, the messaging menu, and the main menu. Neither shortcut bar is customizable

With separate keyboards for letters, numbers, and symbols, the Delve's virtual keyboard is just about indistinguishable from those on the Instinct and the Behold. The keyboards are responsive, but people with larger hands may find them a bit cramped. Yet, the Delve differs from the Behold in two important ways. On the upside, you can use a handwriting recognition tool in either a full- or half-screen mode. It works quite well, but we still preferred to use the QWERTY keyboard. Of course, you also can use a standard alphanumeric to type your messages, but we can't imagine a good reason for doing so. On the downside, however, the Delve doesn't have an accelerometer. Among other things, that means you can't switch keyboards simply by rotating the phone–bummer.

The phone dialer interface has relatively large keys with a number of shortcuts. You can access your contacts, the groups list, and your favorites menu at the touch of one control. There also are shortcuts for adding contacts and sending a message. An onscreen back control will erase any mistakes when dialing.

The Delve has three physical controls below its display.

The exterior controls are similar to the Instinct's. On the top of the handset is a dedicated power control that doubles as a locking switch for the display. Next to it you'll find a 3.5mm headset jack–nice. On the left spine there are a volume rocker and a combination headset jack/charger port. A camera shutter, voice-dialing button, and microSD-card slot sit on the right spine, while the camera lens and self-portrait mirror (there's no flash) are on the back side.

The Delve has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 18 72-chord polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, you also can use your own recordings as ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a speakerphone, a calculator, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a tip calculator.

Higher-end offerings are plentiful. The Delve has stereo Bluetooth, speaker-independent voice dialing and commands, GPS with support for directional applications, Alltel's TV on Demand, e-mail, PC syncing, a voice recorder, and USB mass storage. Unfortunately, the Delve does not offer Wi-Fi, which is a necessary feature on a phone with a full HTML browser.

The music player is much like that on the Behold. It has a straightforward interface that supports album art. Features aren't plentiful, but you get playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and six equalizer settings. You can drop files onto the phone using a number of methods (a USB cable or a memory card), and you can use Alltel's Nutsie application to play files from your iTunes library. You can send the player to the background while using other functions and select an airplane mode for listening to your tunes while aloft.

The Delve camera has a self-portrait mirror but no flash.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions, from 1,600×1,200 down to a special "picture ID" size. Other editing options include four quality settings, exposure metering, an adjustable ISO, a self-timer, an auto-focus, brightness and white balance, five color effects, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). You also can use multishot, mosaic and night shooting modes, and choose 24 frames. As previously mentioned, the Delve doesn't have a flash. Photo quality was quite good, with bright colors and little image noise.

The Delve offers satisfying photo quality.

The camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions (320×240 and 176×144). Camcorder options are fewer than on the still camera, but it's a decent assortment. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 15 seconds, but you can shoot for almost 10 minutes in the standard mode. The Delve has 150MB of internal memory, but the microSD-card slot will accommodate cards up to 8GB. The easy-to-use menus are taken straight from the Behold.

You can personalize the Delve with a variety of wallpaper, and you can compose your own greeting. You can download more options and more ringtones from the Alltel Shop using the full HTML browser. The Delve comes with one game–Collapse Chaos–and you can purchase more titles from Alltel.

We tested the dual-band Samsung Delve SCH-r800 in San Francisco using Alltel's roaming service. Call quality was quite good on the whole. Voices sounded natural and we enjoyed a clear signal without any static or interference. The volume could be just a bit higher, but it should be sufficient for most users. We like that during calls you have instant access to the speakerphone, a memo pad, and the voice recorder.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, and a couple of our friends reported minimal background noise, but the reports were largely positive. Automated-calling systems could understand us most of the time. Speakerphone calls were decent, though the sound was a little muffled on our end. Callers could hear us only when we were speaking close to the phone. Bluetooth headset calls were satisfactory.

The Delve supports Alltel's 3G EV-DO network, though we were unable to access it in our roaming area. But even over a 1xRTT connection, the browser was relatively responsive. We had no issues scrolling through pages using only our finger. The browser controls and interface are similar to the Behold's.

The music player has minimal output via the phone's sole external speaker. As such, we recommend using a headset for the best experience. We weren't able to test the Nutsie, TV on Demand, or GPS features.

The Delve has a rated battery life of 4.7 hours talk time and 14.58 days standby time. As expected, the tested talk time is close at around 4 hours 21 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Delve has a digital SAR rating of 1.04 watts per kilogram.

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