Mobile : Expert Review: t109 Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung SGH-T109 is an easy-to-use cell phone with a functional feature set. Call clarity passes the test as well.

THE BAD: The Samsung SGH-T109 has a poor keypad, and its volume level could be louder. Speakerphone quality was average.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung SGH-T109 is fine for occasional callers, but an uncomfortable keypad means that the texting-happy should look elsewhere.

There's not a lot you should expect from T-Mobile's new Samsung SGH-T109. As a basic phone with minimal features, it doesn't offer much beyond the ability to make calls and send messages. Of course, that's not a bad thing–not everybody needs a handset with flashy offerings–but the SGH-T109 is about as simple as you can get. Call quality does the job, and the green hue is undeniably unique, but its keypad design didn't quite cut it. The SGH-T109 is an affordable $69.99 if you pay full price, but you can get it for free with service.

As is often the case with Samsung, we've seen the SGH-T109's look a few times before. The modest flip-phone design takes many cues from handsets like the Samsung SCH-U340. Indeed, you'll see the same clean lines and overall shape. The T109 does make its own mark with its army-green hue, but students of radical design will be disappointed. Like many phones of its class, the plastic skin doesn't feel rock-solid, but the hinge is sturdy. At 3.5 inches by 1.77 inches by 0.78 inch and 3.1 ounces, the T109 is compact and portable.

The T109 shows a unique green hue.

The external display is monochrome and no bigger than a postage stamp. It shows the date, time, battery, life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID. It doesn't support photo caller ID but that's a non-issue on a phone without a camera. You can adjust the contrast only but the time remains visible even when the short backlighting is off. On the left spine you'll find the volume rocker and on the right spine there is the headset jack/charger port. Please note that it is a combined jack that uses the same Samsung proprietary connection for both.

The T109's volume rocker rests on its left spine.

The T109's main display measures 1.75 inches and supports 65,000 colors (160×128 pixels). On most any other phone we'd complain about such a low resolution–graphics look pretty fuzzy–but on a basic handset like the T109 we don't mind. The icon-based menu interface is exceedingly intuitive, and the tiny bit of animation doesn't slow the phone down. You can change the contract, the backlight time, the menu text style and color, and the dialing text size and color.

The navigation array consists of a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a clear control and the Talk and End/power buttons. Though all of the controls are flush, they're arranged spaciously, and they're covered in a faux rubbery material that makes them somewhat tactile. The toggle is silver and it doubles as a shortcut to the call log, the messaging menu, the voice recorder, and the phone book.

Though the keypad is covered in the same material as the navigation array, the keys feel stiff and a bit cheap. The hunt-and-peck crowd shouldn't be bothered, but dialing and texting quickly was the slightest bit uncomfortable. If you're a messaging fan, we'd suggest that you look elsewhere. Dialing by feel is difficult as well, but the bright backlighting is welcome in dim environments.

The T109's phone book is rather small, with room for just 300 contacts but you can store an additional 250 names on the SIM card. Each phone contact holds five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can assign callers to groups, and you can pair them with one of 15 polyphonic ringtones and a photo. Just remember that caller ID photos won't show up on the external display.

As mentioned previously, the T109's feature set is slim, but it holds all the basics. Inside is a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, call timers, a speakerphone, a file organizer, an alarm clock, a task list, a calculator, a world clock, PC syncing, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a tip calculator. You'll also find a voice recorder, and you can save clips as ringtones.

You can personalize the T109 with a variety of background colors, greetings, wallpaper, and alert tones. If you want more options and additional ringtones, you can buy them from T-Mobile's T-Zones service using the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The T109 also comes with demo versions of Bubble Bash and Midnight Pool; you'll have to purchase the full versions for extended play. The handset does offer an airplane mode for playing games while aloft.

We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) Samsung SGH-T109 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was serviceable with good voice clarity and signal free of static or interference. The volume was a little on the soft side. We had some trouble hearing in very noisy environments. It didn't ruin our experience but we recommend that users with hearing impairments test the phone before buying.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They didn't love the audio quality–a few reported some distortions in the audio–but they could understand us most of the time. Speakerphone calls were just average. The speaker output is loud enough, but the audio was pretty harsh.

The T109 has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 10 days standby time. Our tests reveal a talk time of 3 hours and 39 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the T109 has a digital SAR of 0.80 watt per kilogram.

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