Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Exec™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Exec offers a sleek design with an easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard and solid e-mail support. The smartphone also has Bluetooth, GPS, and a 2-megapixel camera.

THE BAD: Despite the Samsung WizPro user interface, Windows Mobile is still clunky to navigate. No Wi-Fi.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Exec is a sleek and capable messaging smartphone, but U.S. Cellular customers looking for more power and features might want to wait for the carrier's upcoming Android phones.

U.S. Cellular doesn't have the biggest selection of smartphones, but it's slowly starting to expand its lineup and the latest addition is the Samsung Exec. The Exec is available now for $99.95 with a two-year contract and after a $70 mail-in rebate. It offers mobile professionals a sleek messaging smartphone with an excellent keyboard, a nice mix of productivity and multimedia features, and decent performance. It's certainly a respectable alternative if you're not a fan of the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630. That said, if you're not in a rush to get a new device, we think it's worth waiting to see how the upcoming HTC Desire and Samsung Acclaim devices perform. Both phones finally bring the Android experience to U.S. Cellular customers and also promise more power and enhanced features, so although it's tough to wait, you might be rewarded in the end. The Acclaim is expected to ship in July and the Desire is also slated for a summer release.

When we first received the Samsung Exec, we had overwhelming feeling of deja vu and then it dawned on us that we had seen this device before (at least the design, anyway) as the Samsung Code for MetroPCS. The two share the same sleek QWERTY slate design and 2.4-inch QVGA display with Samsung's WizPro home screen. The Exec also has the same navigation controls, but there are some slight differences between the two smartphones.

The Samsung Exec boasts a slim profile and easy-to-use keyboard.

First, the Exec sports a metallic hunter green color that's subtle enough for the boardroom, but the all-plastic casing makes the phone quite slick and a magnet for fingerprints and smudges. The other variation is that the Exec's keyboard offers a couple of extra shortcut keys on the bottom row; more specifically, you now get quick access buttons for your calendar and screen lock.

U.S. Cellular packages the Samsung Exec with a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page and for more information about the smartphone's design, please read our full review of the Samsung Code.

Though the Samsung Exec and Code might have similar designs, the Exec has the advantage of running Windows Mobile 6.5 Standard Edition instead of 6.1 like the Code. It's no Windows Phone 7, but you get several more features, including an improved Internet Explorer Mobile browser and Microsoft's My Phone backup service,

Of course, you'll find the other standard Windows Mobile staples, including the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and Direct Push technology for real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via an Exchange Server. The Exec also features Bing search and a handful of productivity tools and services, including a MSN Money, MSN Weather, a PDF viewer, an RSS reader, a voice recorder, a notepad, a calculator, a stopwatch, and a measurement converter. You can, of course, download more apps for your phone via the onboard Windows Marketplace for Mobile.

Aside from Outlook, the Exec also supports POP3 and IMAP accounts and includes a wizard to walk you through the setup process. The smartphone also has a Communities tab on the home screen where you can log into several social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube. However, there are no preloaded instant messaging clients, so you'll need to download them from the Marketplace.

As a phone, the Samsung Exec offers a speakerphone, speed dialing, three-way calling, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory and has room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, company information, and so forth. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo, group ID, or custom ringtone.

Both Bluetooth and GPS/A-GPS are onboard. Supported Bluetooth profiles include A2DP for stereo Bluetooth, hands-free kits, audio-video remote control, object push, file transfer, phone book access, basic printing, and personal area networking. Unfortunately, there's no integrated Wi-Fi, but the Code is 3G EV-DO capable. Also, U.S. Cellular offers a location-based service called Your Navigator, but it's not supported on the Exec. You can, however, get text-based directions and conduct business searches using Bing.

Despite having only a 2-megapixel camera, picture quality was quite good.

The Samsung Exec is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera/camcorder. It offers a number of editing options, including various shooting modes, white-balance settings, and effects. There's no flash, but there is a night mode. Despite the lower-end camera, we were pleasantly surprised by the picture quality. Though colors could have been slightly richer and brighter, the overall image was quite sharp and clear.

We tested the Samsung Exec in New York using U.S. Cellular roaming service, and call quality was a bit mixed. Our callers' voices were a bit muffled so we had to really strain to hear every bit of the conversation. It wasn't so bad that it prevented us from carrying on with the call or using an airline's voice-automated response system, but we've definitely heard better. Our friends, however, reported excellent results. They were impressed with how clear the calls sounded and how loud the volume was. Speakerphone quality was mostly good. There was a slightly hollow tone to calls, but the phone offered clear audio and plenty of volume. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Since we were roaming outside of U.S. Cellular's 3G coverage, we had to deal with 2.5G speeds, which made Web browsing and downloading apps a little pokey. Obviously, the experience should be much better in the carrier's coverage area.

Armed with a 667MHz processor, the Exec was able to keep up with our demands with little delay. Occasionally, the handset would pause briefly when we had multiple apps open, but we never experienced a crash or had to reset the device during our testing period.

The Samsung Exec has a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8 hours and up to 18 days of standby time. The smartphone beat the rated talk time by an hour in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Exec has a digital SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram and a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M4/T4.

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