What's hot: Easy to use touch screen phone that's durable.
What's not: The Samsung Behold has a better camera and sells for a bit less on T-Mo.
Reviewed July 16, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Samsung Highlight t749 is T-Mobile's third TouchWiz phone and it's the most affordable at launch. TouchWiz is Samsung's touch screen user interface complete with widgets, a full HTML web browser and a design that focuses on ease of use. The phone is available in two colors: Fire (basketball orange) and Ice (blue-green).
T-Mobile's other two Samsung TouchWiz phones, the Behold and Memoir, focus on higher-end imaging and feature slab-like designs that don't feel as good in the hand or as small as the Highlight. Not that we're knocking the somewhat bulky Memoir's good looks-- it resembles a retro Leica camera and that suits its centerpiece, the 8 megapixel autofocus camera. The Highlight reminds us of the first HTC Touch-- the rounded bottom, the elongated and flattened pebble design that was popular in its time. The Highlight also reminds us of the Palm Pre in this regard, though it lacks the Pre's slide-out keyboard and smartphone status.
The Highlight has 3G HSDPA on T-Mobile's 1700/2100MHz bands in the US and has quad band GSM/EDGE making it suitable for non-3G areas and world travel. It has a GPS, 3 megapixel fixed focus camera, music player and a microSD card slot that's unfortunately located under the battery.
As with most touch screen phones, there are few buttons: call send, call end and a large back button in between. There's a dedicated camera button on the phone's right side and the screen lock button is at the upper right. The phone automatically locks the screen when you make or answer a call but it doesn't have a proximity sensor. The Samsung Highlight feels good in hand, and we like the textured back cover that makes the phone more interesting to look at and grippy.
Web and Messaging
The phone has the OZ Java-based email application that handles AOL, Yahoo mail, Comcast, Compuserve, Earthlink, Gmail, HotPOP, Juno, .Mac, SBC and Verizon email. If your provider isn't on that list, you won't be getting email using this application. The app can check email in the background and keep you logged in if you wish. Web-based email of most kinds works through the web browser, broadening the Highlight's horizons.
For instant messaging, the t749 supports AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo IM. The client can automatically sign you in and has basic features like current conversations, emoticons (put a space between each emoticon or it will look like you're cursing rather than smiling), buddy lists (online/offline) and saving conversations.
On the upside, the phone's 3" resistive touch screen is bright, clear and responsive to touch. It has haptic feedback (you can turn this off and set the intensity) and one of the best on-screen keyboards on the market. In landscape mode it's a full QWERTY and in portrait a T9 number pad. The full QWERTY is available in most applications (web browser, messaging, email, contacts and etc)-- just rotate the phone to bring up that keyboard. It's easy to select the phone's large icons with a tap and scrolling through lists and menus is controllable.
Samsung and T-Mobile's selection of widgets are useful: web browser, IM, TeleNav navigation, missed calls, photos, music player Nuance voice command and more. You can remove widgets from the launcher bar that you don't want, but you can't download more. As with other TouchWiz phones, you can drag widgets from the bar to the home screen for an expanded view (the music player becomes a basic player control applet, for example).
Call reception is better than average and is stronger than the Behold's. Call quality on 3G HSDPA (which uses a higher quality voice codec than GSM) is just OK. Outgoing voice is understandable but not nearly land line clear. Incoming quality is good but not stellar, and the volume could be louder. The phone's address book holds up to 2,000 records and has fields for name, 4 email addresses, IM, website, birthday, anniversary, street address, groups and a ringtone.
The Samsung Highlight has Nuance's excellent voice command software that handles voice dialing and a variety of basic commands. To launch it, tap the voice command icon in the home screen widget bar. Unfortunately you must unlock the display and interact with the screen to do this, but it's better than nothing. The phone supports common call management features and works with Bluetooth for both voice and stereo audio. The phone uses Samsung's blade connector for wired headsets, charging and USB data transfer.
The Highlight has a GPS and TeleNav navigation software is pre-loaded (it's a Java application). This $10/month service does an excellent job of giving clear spoken turn-by-turn directions and it provides maps, POIs and traffic info. The GPS had no trouble getting a satellite fix in our car, but we found it lagged behind our actual location when traveling at highway speeds of 60mph or more.
The 3 megapixel camera takes decently sharp photos that are on par with the Samsung Eternity on AT&T. Since it has a fixed focus lens there's no focus lag, but photos aren't as sharp as those taken with an autofocus lens (e.g.: the Samsung Behold). The phone saves 3MP images quickly to internal memory, but it takes about 3 seconds to save them to a card. The entire screen is the viewfinder and a variety of controls line the left and right hand sides. There are scene settings, brightness control, white balance, effects, quality settings, metering (center-weighted, matrix and spot), a self-timer, resolution, save location and mode (video or still). Max photo resolution is 2048 x 1536 and a variety of lesser resolutions are available. You can upload photos to T-Mobile's online photo album if you wish.
Max video resolution is QVGA and there's a 176 x 144 pixel setting for MMS. Video quality is OK but it's a bit noisy and jerky at 15fps. Images have a warm color cast that's most noticeable indoors since low light incandescent shots tend to have a yellow cast with most cameras. With good natural lighting, indoor shots have little color bias though outdoor shots are warm.
T-Mobile's 3G network in the US is still very young, so they haven't rolled out streaming multimedia services or music stores as have their larger competitors. That doesn't mean you can't have some fun: the phone has a capable music player and like most phones these days, the Samsung Highlight can play mobile YouTube videos (not the full Flash version). The phone supports A2DP for Bluetooth stereo and music sounded rich and full through Samsung's own SBH-500 stereo headset.
The Samsung Highlight is a competent, fun touch screen phone. While nothing stands out as remarkable, nothing peeves us either. The screen is bright and easy to read, images look pleasing and the web browser is very good by non-smartphone standards. T-Mobile's 3G speeds are fast and the phone has better than average reception, though call quality is just average. The Highlight's durable and comfy-curvy design set it apart from its close cousin the Samsung Behold on AT&T, but it still faces some stiff competition there since the Behold is now discounted to $20 less than the Highlight with 2 year contract (though the Behold's retail price is higher). On the AT&T front, the Samsung Eternity competes with the same feature set and a lower price tag as well. Once the Samsung Highlight drops in price a bit, it's a worthwhile phone to jump on if you're after some touch screen goodness.
Editor's note: T-Mobile dropped the price of the Highlight $20 with contract to $129 on July 29, 2009.