Reviewed November 25, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's note, 2/25/09: Interested in an 8 megapixel version? Read our review of the Samsung Memoir on T-Mobile.
T-Mobile's feature phone line in the US was less than exciting. But the nation's 4th largest carrier has awakened and suddenly we're seeing some truly cool phones that lead the pack. First we had the first BlackBerry flip phone, then the Moto Zine ZN5 with a 5MP camera for photo buffs, and now the US version of the Samsung Tocco touch screen phone running Samsung's TouchWiz UI. The Behold, and its close relative on AT&T, the Samsung Eternity, have some of the better resistive touch screens on the market. To top it off, the Behold T919 has a 5 megapixel camera and 3G on T-Mobile's US bands. Nice.
The Samsung Behold has a 3" touch screen display that's optimized for finger use (you could use a stylus but there's really no reason to do so). It's a quad band GSM phone with 3G on T-Mobile's 1700/2100MHz bands and it has Bluetooth and a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens. It's an attractive, slim slate-design phone and it comes in two colors; rose and espresso. We pick the rose which has a contrasting silver back that makes the phone look classier and more like a camera from the back, but fellas, we understand if you go for the dark brown espresso version.
The phone has few buttons: on the front face there are call send and end buttons and a somewhat difficult to press back button. The volume buttons are on the upper left side, and the camera button and screen lock key are on the right side. The Samsung blade-style sync/charge connector is located under a door on the left side and sadly, especially for a high end camera phone, the microSD card slot is under the battery door and you must remove the battery to insert or remove the card. As a consolation, the Behold can send images over Bluetooth and it supports mass storage mode for card access using the included USB cable. Though not a smartphone, we're thrilled that the Behold supports syncing to Outlook under Windows if you install Samsung's PC Studio desktop software.
What we're not thrilled with is T-Mobile's new data plan pricing since 3G rolled out. The Samsung Behold is by no means a smartphone, yet it requires their pricey new smartphone unlimited plan (the same one that's required for the T-Mobile G1 Android phone). That will set you back $24.99/month for unlimited data and 400 messages. We never thought we'd see the day when AT&T's data plan pricing was cheaper than T-Mobile's: their counterpart, the Samsung Eternity, requires only a feature phone Media Net data plan priced at $15, and you can optionally add on a text/MMS plan that starts at $5/month. Even more of a bummer is the fact that the Behold is hardwired to go through some sort of proxy or gateway for web page access, which causes occasional glitches loading full HTML sites and makes bookmarking odd because the actual URL is sometimes prefaced with that gateway/proxy IP address. Internet connection settings are stripped from the Behold, unlike the Eternity, so you can't bypass the proxy or change Internet settings. If we're going to pay $25/month for smartphone-style full access to the Internet with the Behold's full HTML browser, we'd like to get it un-proxied and unfiltered.
TouchWiz user interface
Samsung's TouchWiz UI is currently found on the Samsung Behold, Eternity and Omnia. It's a great home screen UI with a collapsible launcher dock on the left that holds "widgets". You can drag these to the phone's desktop and drag them back to the dock as you like. You can select which widgets appear on the dock via settings, but you can't download new widgets as of this writing. We like the Behold's set of widgets better than the Eternity's-- they're more useful. There are widgets for IM, messaging, voice dialing, TeleNav GPS navigation, myFaves, the music player, Bluetooth, various clocks and more. Unfortunately, the Behold lacks the Eternity's quick launch button that brings up an on-screen launcher for commonly used applications. The phone is very fast and responsive; even window animations and opening folders and applications happen instantly. There are on-screen notifications for alarms, calendar events and missed calls. The built-in accelerometer handles automatic screen rotation when the phone is turned. The screen turns quickly, and the accelerometer tuning is good-- it's neither too twitchy nor too slow to turn.
The screen's haptic feedback makes using the touch screen easier and more pleasant-- especially the on-screen QWERTY keyboard and dialer. The device vibrates gently when you touch it, and you can turn on (generally pleasant) sound effects for touch as well. Though like most every other phone, the touch experience isn't as good as the iPhone's, the Behold's is very good. It takes a light touch to tap an icon to launch a program, and a moderate press and hold to drag items on screen or scroll through lists. List scrolling and web page scrolling are very controlled, and don't go flying wildly as on some phones. The phone's on-screen QWERTY keyboard is available everywhere with a flip to landscape mode (except 3rd party Java apps not offered by T-Mobile such as Opera and Google Maps). It's simply a joy to type on-- the keys are large, haptics helps with feel and the layout is customized at times (in the web browser, there are .com and www. buttons and the / is easy to get to). The on-screen dial pad is likewise easy to use and supports T9. For those so inclined, there's also handwriting recognition that works best if you use your finger and write one letter at a time.
The Behold is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE that supports the world's GSM bands (850/900/1800/1900MHz). It has 3G HSDPA only on T-Mobile's US bands which are different from AT&T's. Call quality on 3G is very good and volume is average. The speakerphone sounds a little tinny and is likewise not the loudest and clearest when used for music playback or GPS navigation. But earpiece voice quality is excellent, as is outgoing voice, and the phone worked well with a variety of Bluetooth headsets.
Nuance's excellent voice dialing software is included, and you can launch it by tapping the talking head widget on the home screen. The Eternity on AT&T lacks built-in voice dialing, and since there's no speed dial, we really like having voice dialing-- good going, T-Mobile!
In addition to the WAP and HTML NetFront 3.4 web browser, there's a Java-based email client that handles several popular account types such as AOL, Yahoo mail, Earthlink, Gmail, .Mac, Comcast, Verizon and SBC Yahoo but you can't define your own POP3 or IMAP accounts. The IM client supports AIM, ICQ, Windows Live and Yahoo, and can run in the background.
The music player supports a healthy selection of formats: MP3, AAC (unprotected iTunes format), WMA and Real Player. The phone doesn't support MTP for copying DRM files to the phone but it does support mass storage mode so you can mount the phone's microSD card on the desktop. T-Mobile includes a stereo earbud headset which is handy since it uses the Samsung blade connector. Unfortunately, the included headset didn't impress the heck out of us, so we recommend finding a blade to 3.5mm stereo jack adapter so you can use better headphones or use Bluetooth A2DP stereo headphones.
The Behold can handle mobile YouTube content via its media player. Unfortunately, mobile YouTube is low quality optimized for smaller screened phones with less multimedia power, and the videos look pretty poor on the Behold's large screen. When listening to music videos sound quality is particularly poor, though this isn't the phone's fault, it's due to the low quality audio stream on mobile phone-optimized content. It can also play locally stored content (copy movies to a microSD card and you've got a decent iPod substitute thanks to the large and bright display). We tested it with some MPEG4 files formatted for the iPod and iPhone, and they played fine as long as the bitrate was below 600kbps.
Speaking of that microSD card slot, it's under the battery door and you must remove the battery to access the card-- argh. But we're pleased that T-Mobile includes a 1 gig starter card and that the phone supports SDHC high capacity cards.
We had a terrible time with the Behold's GPS, which surprised us given the Eternity's good performance. Perhaps T-Mobile, whose selection of GPS-enabled phones is very slim, doesn't have as robust an aGPS service as the other carriers. That might explain the seeming eternity it took to get a cold fix (lock onto satellites and get a location after the phone has been turned on). It seemed like it was riding on a weak and unassisted GPS chip. We had to take the phone outdoors with a clear view of the sky to get a fix, and that fix took about 2 minutes, which is quite long compared to other current phones. Warm fixes were much quicker at 20 seconds or less, but the GPS often lost its satellite fix and thus stopped tracking us accurately. This made for some comical directions from TeleNav, a generally excellent turn-by-turn spoken navigation and mapping application that costs $9.99/month and also requires a data plan since maps are downloaded over the air in real time. The GPS would lose location or get it wrong and the directions would thus change several times in a few minutes as TeleNav tried desperately to recalculate the route based on the phone's incorrect GPS information.
A 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens is a relative rarity in the US, and T-Mobile has two out of the three currently on the market (the Moto Zine ZN5 is the other T-Mobile offering and the Samsung Omnia i910 on Verizon is the competitor). So this is a big deal, especially with a camera phone this reasonably priced. Images from the camera were good but didn't wow us like the Nokia N95 or Samsung Omnia. We could see more clarity in details, especially on close-ups, compared to the 3MP fixed-focus Samsung Eternity, but overall the Behold's shots weren't hugely more pleasing and the file sizes were actually smaller despite the higher resolution. We did see better edge clarity (a fixed focus lens can get soft at the edges) and none of the over-sharpening noted on recent HTC Windows Mobile auto-focus cameras.
The camera can shoot video with audio and send MMS. Resolution isn't that impressive at QVGA 320 x 240 and 176 x 144, both at 15 fps and quality is average for a better camera phone.
Certainly one of the coolest phones on T-Mobile, the Samsung Behold is a pleasure to use and look at. We love the responsive and large touch screen, and the phone is easy to understand and use. The Behold looks like an expensive phone; the metal back and well thought-out trim make the phone look classier than its AT&T counterpart as well. Though not the best we've seen in its class, the 5MP camera takes good shots and has a fairly quick autofocus; again a bargain at this price. We only wish for a more robust web experience given the full HTML browser marketing bytes and expensive data plan.
Pro: Very good touch screen-- easy to use and control. The phone is fun and easy to use. Attractive, stylish design. Has 3G for fast data, simultaneous voice and data and higher quality voice calls. Very good voice quality for phone calls. High resolution camera with autofocus is cutting edge for the US market. Can use MP3s as ringtones (files must be under 300k) and any image as a home screen background.
Con: If you wish to have Internet access, the data plan is expensive and T-Mobile's coverage is still sparse since they just started rolling out 3G this year (mid-2008). Internet settings are locked down and the gateway/proxy can get in the way of accessing full HTML sites, even though this phone is marketed as having a full HTML web browser. GPS is weak and couldn't keep up with us when driving.