Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Strive™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Strive has a comfortable, user-friendly design. Performance is agreeable, and you get a fair number of features.

THE BAD: The Samsung Strive's camera lacks a flash, and the phone's internal memory is low.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Strive is one of Samsung's better messaging phones. And it offers a few new features.

Samsung got an early start on CTIA 2010 when it introduced the Samsung Strive and Sunburst a week before the show began. The two handsets take a different approach to the still-hot messaging-phone trend. The Sunburst has only a touch screen, but the Sunburst offers traditionalists a physical QWERTY keyboard. On the whole, the Strive has all of the features you'd want in a midrange device plus decent performance. You also get access to AT&T's new cloud-based services. The Strive is reasonably priced both with a two-year contract ($19.99) and without ($169.99).

The Strive, aka the SGH-A867, fits the definition of a messaging phone. Much like the Samsung Flight it has a chunky (4.17 inches long by 2.15 inches wide by 0.58 inch deep) slider design. Common it may be, but we still think it's a relatively attractive device and we're pleased that it makes good use of its real estate. The Strive has a plastic shell and it almost feels a little too light in the hand (3.99 ounces), but the slider mechanism clicks into place on either end. You can get the Strive in black or purple; the features are the same on both models.

The display measures 2.6 inches, which is about as large as Samsung could go on the Strive. It's also bright and vibrant with support for 262,000 colors and 320×240 pixels. You can change the wallpaper, display theme, backlighting time, background color, and the type, size, and color of the dialing font. The menu comes in list and grid style; both designs are user-friendly.

The Strive's navigation array is well-designed with spacious, easy-to-use controls. You'll find a four-way-toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a control that opens a pop-up shortcuts menu, the Talk and End/power keys, and a Back button. The toggle doubles as a user-programmable shortcut to four features, but we don't like that the OK buttons opens the Web browser in standby mode rather than opening the main menu.

The QWERTY keyboard may be too small for some users; indeed, we were nervous once we first saw it. But after we used it for about 30 minutes, even the small, flat keys became relatively comfortable. Four rows of keys mean that letters share buttons with numbers and symbols, but that's hardly unusual on a messaging phone like the Strive. We like the dedicated shortcut for the messaging feature and the location of the space bar, which is in the center of the bottom row. Also, the top row of keys isn't squashed next to the bottom of the slider.

Remaining exterior features include a volume rocker on the left spine, and a camera shutter and Micro-USB port for a charger and syncing cable on the right spine. The camera lens sits in the top left corner of the Strive's rear face. The handset doesn't have a flash or a self-portrait mirror, and the memory card slot is located behind the battery cover.

The Strive has a large 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, a nickname, a birthday, a company name and job title, two street addresses, and notes. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 11 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. New on the Strive is the AT&T Address Book feature, which allows you to back up your phone's contacts to an online address book. You also can send text messages and import contacts from the Web-based account.

Essential features include an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a unit and currency converter, a tip calculator, a world clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. More-demanding users will find Bluetooth, PC syncing, USB mass storage, and a voice recorder.

As you'd expect from phone with a keyboard, the Strive also comes with text, multimedia, and instant messaging. And along with the Sunburst, it's the debut device for AT&T's next-generation messaging service, which adds a reply-all feature for up to 10 recipients. AT&T Mobile E-mail service is also onboard. The service allows you to connect to Yahoo, Gmail, and other popular POP3 service, but you'll need to use a clunky Web-based interface.

The Strive's camera doesn't have a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other settings include a night mode, three color effects, an adjustable brightness tool, four white-balance modes, a self-timer, geo-tagging, 20 fun frames, and modes for multishots, panoramas, and mosaics. The Strive also has a digital zoom, but you can't use it with the largest photo resolution. Photo quality is fine, but nothing special. Colors are a bit muted.

The Strive's photo quality is decent for a 2-megapixel shooter.

The camcorder shoots clips in just one resolution (176×144 pixels), but it offers a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 30 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in Normal mode. The Strive also supports AT&T's Video Share feature, but your friend also will need a compatible phone if you want to use this. For storage the Strive has 90MB of user-accessible shared memory. That's rather low, but you can used a microSD card for more storage.

The Strive supports AT&T's 3G network so you can access the carrier's full set of broadband media services. There's Mobile Video for streaming-video content like news recaps and weather reports and AT&T Mobile Music for wireless song downloads through partners. It also has a selection of music-related features including XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, an app for creating ringtones, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads.

As mentioned, the Strive and Sunburst offer new cloud-based features like AT&T Mobile Share. It lets you share photos and videos with contacts and upload the files to a PC, social networking site, and Web-based storage locker. After storing the files you can access them from your computer or your handset at any time. Though you get 250MB of online storage at no charge (with additional storage available for purchase), file transfers aren't free. You can pay either 35 cents per transfer or $10 per month for 50 transfers. Also, there's a 10MB cap on file size.

The Strive includes direct access to AT&T's AppCenter and offers a number of integrated applications. There's AllSport GPS, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Social Net, Loopt, Mobile Baking, Yellowpages Mobile, MobiTV, MobiVJ, Mobile IMDb, WikiMobile, My-Cast Weather, and Where 2.1. For gaming, the Strive comes with demo versions of five titles: Ms. Pac-Man, Diner Dash 2, Tetris, and Bubble Bash 2.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Strive in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was relatively good. Some of our callers sounded a tad robotic, but for the most part the signal was clear, the volume was loud, and voices were natural. We also detected the slightest hint of "GSM buzz," but none of the problems was significant.

On their end callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, and some of our friends said the audio cut our briefly on a couple of occasions, but complains were few. Speakerphone calls were more distorted, but not excessively so. Bluetooth headset calls were fine, but quality will vary by headset model.

The Strive's streaming video quality is quite good. Videos loaded quickly and there was little pixelation, though some colors and details are lacking. We're glad, however, that the video frame takes up the full size of the display in landscape mode. Similarly, music tracks loaded in less than a minute and the music quality is passable. Of course, a headset will offer a better experience.

The Strive has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time, which is quite low, and 19.41 days standby time. However, the Strive had a talk time of 5 hours and 47 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Strive has a digital SAR of 0.58 watt per kilogram.

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