Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Glyde™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Glyde offers great call quality, a broad selection of features, and a full alphabetic keyboard.

THE BAD: The Samsung Glyde's display is too small to do its touch interface justice. Also, the photo quality is poor, and the e-mail support isn't easy to use.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Glyde is a powerful cell phone with decent performance, but its touch-screen design and controls don't complement its features.

Ever since we first played with the Samsung F700 last year at CTIA, we've been waiting for it to come to America. And starting today, it finally has arrived on our shores–at least in a way. The new Samsung Glyde SCH-U940 for Verizon Wireless offers the same slider design that attracted us to the original F700, but in making the transition to CDMA, the phone has been thoroughly revamped to a Verizon device. The weighty feature set includes Bluetooth, a full HTML browser, GPS navigation, a 2.0-megapixel camera, and 3G. You can also bang out messages quickly on the full QWERTY keyboard. It's a powerful and well-performing handset by most accounts, but the display is too small to do the touch-interface justice. As such, we prefer the LG Voyager VX1000 and even AT&T's iPhone. The Glyde is $249 with service.

You could say the Glyde resembles the iPhone, but to do so neglects the fact that the Glyde's GSM cousin, the Samsung F700, was born before Apple's device. But even so, the similarities between the handsets are obvious. At 4.09 inches by 1.97 inches by 0.7 inch and at 4.13 ounces, the Glyde is slightly smaller than the F700, but they both rely on a touch screen with a single button just below. Touch-screen handsets certainly are "in" these days; in the past year we've seen not only the iPhone and the Voyager, but also the LG Prada, the LG Glimmer, the HTC Touch, and the LG Vu. And coming up shortly, Sprint will start selling its attractive Samsung Instinct.

Though the Glyde has the added benefit of a full alphabetic keyboard, when you compare it with the rival handsets listed above, it's the least successful at integrating its touch interface. Though the 262,000-color display is bright and beautiful, it measures only 2.75 inches, which is pretty small as touch screens go. It left us feeling a bit cramped, and at times we had to take care to avoid hitting the wrong selection. Nimble-fingered users and those with small hands probably won't have a problem, but anyone with decently-sized digits will need to practice. Normally we hate a big clunky cell phone, but bigger really is better on a touch-screen device.

On the upside, we were glad to see that the Glyde's touch screen offers haptic vibrating feedback, and we like that you can adjust the length of the vibration. The adjustable touch sensitivity is another plus, but even on its highest setting, the display felt a little sluggish. It wasn't a huge problem, but on a few occasions we needed to press a selection twice. Also, there were other times, particularly when we were touching the edge of the display, where the display wouldn't register our choice correctly. From the home screen you're offered a few selections. At the top of the display are three touch controls for the dialpad, the main menu, and your contacts list. The dialpad has a traditional 12-button design, plus dedicated Talk and End controls, a clear button, and shortcuts for your contacts and recent calls lists. This is the best way to dial numbers, as the QWERTY keyboard lacks dedicated numeric keys. Fortunately, the touch dialpad is easy to use. You also can use it to type messages, but we're not sure why you'd want to.

The main menu shows the new Verizon design that uses icons instead of the confusing tabs seen on other Verizon handsets. Unfortunately, the convoluted organizational system remains. We still don't get why the camera is under the "Get it Now" menu. On the other hand, we like that on the main menu page, intersecting blue bars show where you're pressing. And even better, the bars will follow your finger around the display as you swipe.

In the center of the Glyde's display is a small blue square. Though it's not marked as such, it takes you to a shortcuts menu with 12 user-programmable icons. Though we like having everything at our fingertips, this is one menu where we felt a little crowded. You can choose from a variety of wallpaper including two options that are interactive. One allows you to move stars in constellations around the sky, while the other lets you interact with a two-dimensional graphic of a Rubik's Cube. The former is fun, but the latter is enough to drive you crazy. At the bottom of the display is another shortcut bar that takes you to seven set functions including the speakerphone, the message in-box, the missed calls list, the calendar, and the alarm clock. It's a nice feature, but we wish that the bar was a little bigger.

To expose the alphabetic keyboard, just turn the phone to the left and then slide up the front face. The slider mechanism is well constructed; you can open and close it with one hand, and it snaps into place. The keyboard is spacious and tactile even if the buttons are almost flush. We had no issues with banging out long messages, but the Glyde doesn't balance well on a table when opened. There's a dedicated button for each letter of the alphabet. As previously mentioned, however, there are no dedicated numeric buttons. Other buttons include a shift key, a function button for typing punctuation and numbers, a back control, a return key, and arrow controls for moving around a typed message. The space bar is well positioned in the middle of the bottom row. You can make calls with the phone open, but they go directly to the speakerphone.

The Glyde offers a full alphabetic keyboard.

In contrast to the Voyager, the Glyde's keyboard does not offer any navigation controls so you must use the touch screen at all times. You can move through a long menu or a Web page by pressing and dragging your finger across the display. That display responds smoothly most of the time (more on that later), but constantly moving your finger back and forth between the display and the keyboard can take a little getting used to. When opening the keyboard, the display changes to a landscape orientation automatically. The onscreen menu options remain the same except that you also get a handy messaging shortcut.

The Glyde's right spine includes a volume rocker/camera zoom, a camera shutter, and a power control. The latter control also locks the display to avoid any misdials. To unlock the phone, just press the icon on the screen. It's an efficient arrangement, except when you're on a call and you need to unlock the screen to hang up, turn on the speakerphone, or mute your line. You can turn the autolock off, but we much prefer how the iPhone's display goes dark when you put the Apple phone next to your ear. Also, when you're on a call and the backlighting turns off, you must press the Home button to light the screen again.

The Glyde's memory card slot is behind the battery cover.

As we said earlier, the Home button just below the display will return you to the standby screen. The camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are on the back of the device. When it's held horizontally with the camera buttons pointing up, the Glyde takes on the ergonomics of a standalone camera. The headset port and the headset jack are (thankfully) separated, but you'll have to remove the battery cover to access the memory card slot.

The Glyde is packed with features, but we'll first start with the basics. The 500-contact phone book is a tad small, but each entry can hold the standard five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo or one of seven, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones (a measly selection, to say the least). Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad. You also get text-to-speech functionality.

More demanding users will find a decent selection of other options. There's stereo Bluetooth, speaker independent voice recognition, a voice memo recorder, and instant messaging. Verizon's VZ Navigator provides turn-by-turn directions and a host of other features. E-mail support is included, as well, but without a dedicated e-mail app, the experience isn't easy. The Glyde supports Yahoo Mail, Windows Live, Gmail, and AOL Mail accounts, but you must log onto the Web browser to use them. Also, you must access each account individually and you can't view attachments. IMAP4 e-mail is an even trickier proposition. The Glyde doesn't offer e-mail MicorsoftActive Sync, so it's not the best option for road warriors. Also, there's no Wi-Fi for times when you're away from 3G coverage.

Streaming video quality was comparable to other V Cast phones. The picture was relatively sharp with decent graphics, but there was some color distortion, and quick movements were pixelated and blurry. Also, small text–like subtitles–was difficult to read. Videos never paused for rebuffering, and the player didn't freeze. Sound quality on videos was rather hollow, but voices matched the speakers' mouths. Fortunately, music quality was more satisfying. The sole speaker provides decent output, but as is usually the case on a music phone, the sound is distorted at the highest levels. A headset will provide the best experience.

The Glyde offers a full HTML browser, which lets you view Web pages as they were meant to be seen. It's a great idea, but the execution isn't as elegant as on the iPhone or even the Voyager. The display defaults to landscape mode (there's no iPhone-like accelerometer here), but the screen's small size means you need to do a lot of finger sweeping to the see a page in its entirety. That's not a problem for simple Web pages, but for busy sites like CNET.com, the pages move rather erratically and the whole thing feels a bit clunky. You can zoom in on a page by using the volume rocker/camera zoom on the side of the phone; tapping the screen or using an iPhone "pinching" motion won't do a thing. The load time for pages depends on how graphics-heavy they are, but most pages loaded relatively quickly thanks to Verizon's EV-DO network. We noticed, however, that you need to let a page load completely before you can click other links. If we didn't wait patiently, the page tended to freeze. Also, because of the display's size, you may need to zoom in to hit small links.

The full duplex speakerphone is easy to use. You can activate it before you make a call by pressing an onscreen button or by dialing a number with the phone open. To activate the speakerphone during a call, you can press an onscreen control or you can slide open the phone. To deactivate the speakerphone, just perform the reverse actions.

As an alternative, you can use Verizon's Optimized Web option, which reformats select sites into smaller pages. We're not fans of this option, however, since you have to scroll through several pages to see what would normally be on one page. Also, not all sites are supported (CNET.com is not). The Web browser main menu offers a selection of dedicated Verizon-branded content including news, sports, and weather. There's also a dedicated Facebook application. When you're done surfing, the Home button will close the browser.

The Glyde's voicemail is somewhat unique as cell phones go. When you receive a voicemail, Verizon will send you a free text notification that includes the number of the caller. The texts end up in a dedicated in-box where you can review them at will. Though it's not nearly as practical as the iPhone's visual voicemail–you can't listen to individual voicemails–it still can be pretty useful.

As an EV-DO phone, the Glyde supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including V Cast streaming video content and the V Cast Music store. When using both applications, the display orientates automatically to landscape mode. Both the V Cast menu and music store interface are pretty much unchanged, but the touch-screen navigation takes a bit of practice. For example, in a long list of songs, the scroll bar on the right side of the screen is tiny. We had to be careful not to select a song by accident. The music player is about the same on other Verizon music phones, but it shows a few changes. You don't get album art but it's there is a scrollable playlist. Player options include the usual limited shuffle and repeat modes, but V Cast Music also will recommend other songs based on your playlist. The Glyde includes an airplane mode for listening to your tunes while aloft.

The Glyde's camera offers a flash and a self-portrait mirror.

The Glyde has a 2.0-megapixel camera. You can take pictures in six resolutions from 1,600×1,200 down to 176×144, and you can choose from three quality settings. Other options are plentiful and include a self-timer, a multishot mode, six color tones, four white-balance effects, spot metering, a brightness control, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). There's also a nifty autofocus option and a 9x digital zoom, though the latter is unusable at the highest resolution. The flash is quite bright, and we appreciate the self-portrait mirror. The camcorder takes clips with sound in two resolutions (320×240 and 176×144). Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot according to the available memory. Camcorder editing options are similar to the still camera.

The Glyde's photo quality was rather poor.

The Glyde offers 45MB of shared internal memory. That's a decent amount of space, but we recommend using a microSD card for maximum storage. The Glyde will accommodate cards up to 8GB. Unfortunately, the Glyde's photo quality was disappointing. Colors were washed out and our images were blurry. Videos weren't much better; our clips were choppy and grainy.

You can personalize the Glyde with a variety of wallpaper, banners, alert tones, and clock styles. Also, you can change the dial font size on the display. More customization options are available from Verizon using the Web browser. The Glyde does not come with any games.

We tested the Glyde in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was quite good on the whole; we encountered little static and had no problem getting a signal. Voices sounded natural, and the volume level was loud. Indeed, we could understand our callers when we were in noisy environments. Our only complaint, and this is a small one, is that there was a slight hiss in the background at times.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were on a cell phone, but that's a common experience. They didn't report the background hiss that we noticed, but they had more trouble if we were talking someplace loud. Similarly, automated calling systems could understand us most of the time, but we had more trouble if, for example, we were outside on a busy street. Speakerphone calls were about the same. There was more distortion, but the volume on our end was quite loud. We had to speak close to the phone in order to be heard, but that's typical with speakerphones.

The EV-DO and data reception remained strong even when we were inside buildings. As mentioned in the Performance section, Web pages loaded relatively quickly but your experience will depend on how cluttered the site is. V Cast videos loaded in just a few seconds, but song downloads took longer than we expected. It took about 2 minutes to download a 3.7MB track.

The Samsung Glyde SCH-U940 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 4.83 hours. You can get an extended battery for more juice. According to FCC radiation tests, the Glyde has a digital SAR rating of 1.08 watts per kilogram.

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