Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Eternity® Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Eternity has an attractive design with a intuitive touch-screen interface. It offers a solid assortment of multimedia features and good call quality. It also has impressive battery life.

THE BAD: The Samsung Eternity's virtual keyboard isn't available when entering message recipients. It lacks a camera flash, Wi-Fi and voice dialing and the 3G connectivity could be stronger.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Eternity succeeds as a multimedia device, but without Wi-Fi and full e-mail support, it stops well short of being a business-friendly device.

After Samsung made the carrier rounds with the Instinct, the Behold, and the Delve, it's only natural that some variant of a touch-screen phone would come knocking on America's largest carrier, AT&T. Like its cousins, the Eternity (aka the SGH-A867) offers a vibrant touch screen, a sleek design, and multimedia features. But it also shows its individuality by offering AT&T Mobile TV and a couple of design tweaks. The result is a solid multimedia device but, worker bees needing strong data features will be disappointed. Call quality was satisfying, though the 3G connection was a bit shaky. The Eternity is $149 with a service contract and rebates or $369 if you pay full price.

The Eternity has all the hallmarks of a touch-screen phone. It has a rectangular candy bar shape with a slim profile (4.3 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.5 inch) and a large display. The Eternity is 3.88 ounces, a bit lighter than some of its counterparts, but it retains a sturdy feel in the hand. The black color scheme is simple but attractive; we like the glossy material that surrounds the display and the shiny metal spines. Our only gripe concerns the plastic battery cover; a metal cover is preferable.

At 3.2 inches the Eternity's display falls between the Instinct and the Behold in size. It should make it adequate for most users, whether you're browsing menus or typing on the virtual keyboard. It's also bright and vibrant with support for 262,000 colors (400×240 pixels). Photos and graphics were sharp and the text is readable. You can change the brightness, the backlighting time, and the font type. Below the display sit three physical keys: Talk and End buttons and a back key. They're a tad slick, but it's a minor issue.

Three physical keys sit below the Eternity's display.

The touch interface is responsive and easy to use, though you can adjust the calibration if you have problems. We had no issues selecting items and scrolling through long menus. The vibrating feedback is helpful, and you can adjust its intensity. Like the other Samsung phones in its class, the Eternity shows Samsung's unique and accessible TouchWiz interface. AT&T added some of its own widgets including a shortcut for the Mobile TV application. Check out our Behold review for a full description of TouchWiz. There's a second shortcut bar at the bottom of the display that gives one-touch access to the phone dialer, your contacts list, and the main menu. And speaking of which, the menu comes in an icon or list design. Both are intuitive with a variety of easily accessible features.

The phone dialer has large alphanumeric buttons. You can access your contacts list and send a message with the touch of one shortcut. When on a call, it's just as easy to activate the speakerphone.

The virtual QWERTY keyboard is similar to those on the other Samsung touch-screen handsets. It offers separate keyboards for letters and number/symbols but the Eternity adds a third keyboard for emoticons. Though all keyboards take full advantage of the display, here again the allotted space for typing your message is rather small. But on the upside, the dedicated punctuation keys are handy, and we like how easy it is to deactivate the predictive text and to change to French and Spanish menus. And thanks to the Eternity's accelerometer, you can change to the standard alphanumeric keypad or a graffiti application simply by rotating the phone. Though on the whole it's a user-friendly experience, we didn't like how you're restricted to using the alphanumeric keypad when entering message recipients. That keypad has dedicated shift and space keys, but we don't think you should use a multitap interface unless you absolutely have to do so.

On the left spine of the Eternity you'll find a volume rocker and combination headset jack/charger port. Of course than means you can only use one peripheral at a time, and the included headset uses a proprietary connection. On the right spine are a camera shutter and a key that activates a pop-up shortcut menu for the phone dialer, the music player, the main menu, the Web browser, and the messaging menu. Above those controls on the same spine is a 3.5mm headset jack. Though it's a welcome touch, audio from calls is not routed through this port. At the top of the phone is a dedicated power button/screen locking control. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone affording camera-like ergonomics. Unfortunately, the Eternity doesn't offer a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The Eternity phone book 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mails, and URLs. You also can add a street address, a company name and job title, a nickname, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 11 72-chord, polyphonic ringtones. Though that's a paltry number of included ringtones, you can use your own audio files and MP3 tracks as tones.

Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a task list, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a speakerphone.

For more discriminating users, the Eternity has full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a file manager, a voice recorder, USB mass storage, and instant messaging. That's not a bad assortment, but Wi-Fi and voice dialing are glaring omissions. Also, the e-mail situation isn't ideal for business users. Though AT&T's Mobile e-mail service offers access to a variety of POP3 services, it is a Web-based application that doesn't sync automatically. What's more, IMAP4 is largely unavailable. The Eternity offers basic PC syncing for photos, music, and other date files, but it can't sync with Outlook e-mail, calendars, and contacts. You can exchange contacts with third-party syncing software, but that will require an additional investment.

The full HTML browser is similar to the Behold and the Instinct. Of course, it can't handle Flash animation, but it renders most pages well. The onscreen controls are intuitive, but, as we've said before, we much prefer the iPhone's multitouch interface to using a magnifying button to zoom. Scrolling through lengthy Web pages can take a lot of finger swiping, but it's not unlike other touch-screen phones. Also, it can be difficult to select links on crowded pages, but that's not unusual, either.

The Eternity lacks a flash and a self-portrait mirror.

The 3-megapixel camera has many of the same features as the Behold's 5-megapixel shooter. It takes pictures in four resolutions, from 2,048×1,536 down to a 400×240 "wide" resolution that uses the full expanse of the Eternity's display. Other editing options include four quality settings, exposure metering, a self-timer, an autofocus, six "scene" settings (night, landscape, action, etc.), onscreen gridlines, brightness and white balance, four color effects, and three shutter sounds, plus a silent option. You also can use three shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), 16 fun frames, and a "smile shot" mode that promises to detect when a subject is smiling. If it "sees" a frown it will shoot again. Unfortunately, there's no flash, which is a big miss on a 3-megapixel camera.

The Eternity's 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 1 minute, but you can shoot for much longer in the standard mode. The Eternity has a generous 200MB of internal memory, but you can use a microSD-card slot for more space. The camera menus are simple and easy to use.

The Eternity takes nice photos, even if they're slightly out of focus at times.

Photo quality on the Eternity was quite good. Colors were bright and there was little image noise. Without a flash you will need adequate light at all times, and even then our shots were a bit dim. Also, the focus could be sharper. Videos were fair, better than on many camera phones, but hardly anything for filming special family moments. Getting photos off the phone is easy using Bluetooth, a multimedia message, or a USB cable.

The Eternity supports Assisted GPS and the AT&T Navigator service for turn-by-turn directions. What's more, you can use the Where and the YellowPages Mobile apps. Other services include WikiMobile, My-Cast Weather, and Mobile Banking. On the offbeat side, a Tumbling Device app lets you roll a pair of virtual device right on your display. You'll also get AT&T Mobile TV, which is a live TV service that uses Qualcomm's MediaFLO technology. It brings more than 150 simulcast and time-shifted programs from content providers such as CBS, ESPN, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox, MTV, NBC. Though it's available in multiple cities nationwide, AT&T has yet to turn on the service in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we were unable to test it. Yet, we were impressed with the quality when we've tested it on other phones while in Las Vegas.

As a 3G UMTS handset, the Eternity supports AT&T's Cellular Video service, which offers tons of streaming-video content, and AT&T Mobile Music, which brings wireless song downloads through a variety of partners. The experience on the two applications is similar to that on other AT&T phones; both are minimalist in their designs, but the music player supports a wide variety of file formats and it offers useful features, such as album art, playlists, and shuffle and repeat modes. The Eternity also has a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Radio Mobile, Pandora, MusicVJ, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads.

You can personalize the Eternity with a variety of background colors, wallpaper, and alert tones, and you can type your own greeting message. If you want more options and additional ringtones, you can download them from AT&T's Media Mall service. The Eternity offers demo versions of four games: Block Breaker, Ms. Pac-Man, World Series of Poker, and Monopoly. You can buy the full versions and additional titles from AT&T.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800 1900; UMTS 860/1900) Samsung Eternity in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was mostly satisfying. We enjoyed a clear signal with little static or interference. Our callers' voices sounded natural, but we noticed that the sound became slightly distorted at the highest level. It wasn't a huge deal, but the sound had a muffled tone. Yet, because the volume level was a tad low, we had to turn up the sound pretty high in order to hear in noisy locations. There was also a slight amount of GSM buzz, but it was minimal. Bluetooth headset calls were fine as well.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine most of the time. They also had trouble hearing us at times; a few said the phone picked up a lot of wind noise, but most reports were positive. Similarly, automated calling systems could understand us, but only if we were in a quiet room. Speakerphone calls had about the same audio quality. The volume could be louder and we had to speak close to the phone to be understood. The speaker's minimal low output also is apparent when listening to music. A headset will provide the best experience.

The 3G connection was just above average. When using the Web browser, some pages took more than a few seconds to load, and at times the pages were a tad sluggish when we were scrolling around. Streaming videos also took longer to load than we expected, but they performed well once they were up and running. Our videos never froze or dropped the connection.

The Eternity has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10.42 days standby time. Our tests reveal an impressive talk time of 14 hours and 18 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Eternity has a digital SAR rating of 0.194 watt per kilogram.

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