Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Haven™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Haven has a bright screen, large dialpad keys, voice command, and useful shortcut buttons. Its reminder alarms and medical info tool add functionality and peace of mind.

THE BAD: Some features, like "healing music" and a photo gallery shortcut, seem out of place. Call quality varies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The basic Samsung Haven makes good use of its design and tools to become an easy-to-use and affordable phone for seniors.

When we first learned of the Samsung Haven for Verizon Wireless, we thought it was a thick, boxy brick of a senior phone. Since then, we've come to better appreciate its usability charms. In the spectrum of cell phones geared toward the silver-haired set, the Haven sits right in the middle. It neither resembles a telephonic calculator like the Just5 J509, nor is it as tech savvy as the PCD CDM8635, with its 1.3-megapixel camera and hearing assistance features.

The Samsung Haven forgoes a camera–not necessarily a detriment–and focuses instead on making the calling features on this flip phone easily accessible. As with many senior phones, the Haven's large font and dialpad keys are desirable attributes, as are the in-case-of-emergency (ICE) numbers and shortcut buttons to key features. The phone isn't without its warts, which include mediocre call quality and some frankly hokey software offerings. However, $39.99 with a new two-year service agreement is a tough price to beat.

For a flip phone, the Samsung Haven is a bit large, at 3.92 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.72 inch thick. Yet, the phone's boxy solidity (3.49 ounces) makes it easy to hold despite a slick backing. The Haven is attractive enough with its dark gray exterior, black pinstripe accents, and muted black interior. Slightly grooved sides create a nice handhold for right-handers when gripping the Haven next to their ears. The indented spines also make it easier to open the phone. On the right spine you'll find the Micro-USB charging port. On the left there's a 2.5-millimeter headset jack and the volume rocker.

The Samsung Haven is boxy, but nice.

On the front is the Haven's 1.07-inch external display, which shows the time in large letters, and also the signal strength and battery life. You can illuminate the display after it fades by pressing and holding on the volume rocker.

The 2.2-inch display is bright and colorful, with a 176×220-pixel resolution and support for 65,000 colors. A large default font makes for easy reading, though you can further enlarge it. The screen shows the phone number, the time, and the date, and you can customize the wallpaper, banner, and backlight time.

As with many phones in this category, the Haven brings several features to the surface with shortcut buttons. Just below the display are buttons for voice commands, the photo gallery, and voice mail. The photo gallery shortcut is a head-scratcher for a phone that comes preloaded with a handful of images but doesn't possess a camera to take its own shots.

Samsung did better with the navigation array and dialpad, which features large, backlit buttons. Surrounding the four-way directional pad and central OK button are two soft keys, and buttons for 911, in-case-of-emergency (ICE) numbers, and speakerphone. There are also Send, End, and Clear keys. The numbered keypad is excellent to use, with the large, domed keys offering an almost bouncy feedback. In addition to fully separated keys, two small bumps on the "5" help callers orient their way around the dialpad by feel. The pound (#) key also doubles as a shortcut to vibrate mode.

The Haven's unique senior-focused features complement the organizational options that are standard to almost every cell phone. There's room for 500 contacts in the address book, including four phone numbers and a customizable ringtone–choose from 20 options or silent mode. You also can assign a picture from the photo gallery. The basic tools include a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world clock, and a stop watch. You can also compose text messages and assign 99 speed-dial numbers. Though you cannot send a picture message, the Haven will receive one.

In addition to the Haven's usual organizational tools are some focused just on seniors.

Voice commands (powered by Nuance) include full-menu readouts. This is a more advanced feature that's also universally useful, especially to those with weaker vision. Four more senior-conscious tools live in the "Wellbeing & Health" submenu. There's a pill-reminder app that accepts up to five reminder alarms you can set to ring daily or weekly. A medical info selection tracks three entries. The Fitness Trainer features a tutorial for 15 static stretches, and four esoterically named ditties comprise Healing Music. We can see the utility in the ICE numbers, 911 shorthand, medical info list, and reminder alarms, but the stretches and healing music selections seem like a reach.

We evaluated the dual-band Samsung Haven (CDMA 800/1900) using Verizon's network in San Francisco. Call quality was nice and strong at times, and variable at others. Though voices sounded naturally loud and true, some calls produced a slight tinny echo. Other times, our caller's voice momentarily cut away. Speakerphone quality was impressive during our tests–for the most part clear and strong.

Call quality also varied on the receiving end. Caller feedback ranged from tinny to clear, but always with high volume and vocal clarity. Callers could tell when we engaged the speakerphone, though that didn't disrupt the call.

The Samsung Haven has a rated battery life of 5 hours, with up to 14 days of standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 4 minutes. FCC tests measured a digital SAR of 0.41 watt per kilogram.

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