Reviewed January 13, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
As you might guess from the name, the Samsung Highnote is a music phone, and it’s available on Sprint. The Highnote has a slide-out speaker, 3.5mm stereo headset jack and a touch-sensitive control wheel for music playback along with all the services that come with Sprint’s EV-DO phones including Sprint TV and GPS with Sprint Navigation. Performance on these services isn’t the best we’ve seen compared to recent Sprint feature phones. For example, the LG Lotus beats out the Samsung Highnote on multimedia and GPS performance. The Samsung also comes with Bluetooth with A2DP stereo audio support, a 2 megapixel camera and a microSD card slot.
The Samsung Highnote is a CDMA digital dual band phone sold by Sprint exclusively in the US. It supports EV-DO for fast data and currently comes in blue and red.
The Samsung Highnote has typical music phone design elements. A circular d-pad and control buttons sit below the 2” display, and the d-pad supports both touch control and click control. Not all applications support touch control, but most common apps like Sprint’s One Click User Interface, music player and web browser do support it. In applications or games that don’t support the touch controls, you can use the d-pad like a traditional one by clicking on it. A thin sliver of circular controls wrap around the d-pad and these controls (talk and end call keys, back and shoulder keys) are very thin and not easy to press.
The Samsung Highnote is a two-way slider phone that slides out a number keypad one way and the stereo speakers another. The speakers are loud and have good audio quality by mobile phone standards for music playback. The number keys are flat but wide with bright backlight.
Side buttons abound, the Samsung Highnote packs buttons for the music application, camera, volume rocker and hold key. Ports include the 3.5mm stereo headset jack, microSD card slot and charge/accessory port.
Phone and GPS
The Samsung Highnote doesn’t have particularly good reception on Sprint, but in its favor, it didn’t drop a call. Call quality is good and the phone comes with most common call management features including very good voice dialing software. The speakers sound good for voice calls and volume is loud. The Samsung Highnote also is one of the first Sprint phones to offer Sprint’s One Click interface which puts most used applications and services in a single line where you can navigate them or launch them quickly.
Like many recent Sprint feature phones such as the Samsung Rant and the LG Lotus, the Samsung Highnote comes with GPS and has support for Sprint Navigation and Sprint Family Locator. The GPS didn’t perform well compared to the LG Lotus and other higher-end phones on Sprint such as the HTC Touch Pro. It takes a much longer time to get trip routing started and the position fixes are not terribly accurate. In our road tests, re-routing sometimes wasn’t logical and it often didn’t know we were on a parallel road to the one it thought we were on (e.g we were on the highway access road, but it thought we were on the highway). On roads in or under a complex highway overpass systems, the phone couldn’t figure out where we were. If GPS and navigation are important to you, wait for a bit and see if these issues get addressed in future updates or get the LG Lotus. Voice guidance on the Samsung Highnote has good volume thanks to the loud speakers.
Multimedia and Camera
The Samsung Highnote is a good music phone with access to Sprint’s Music store that sells songs for $.99 each. The loud speakers are great for music playback either on the road or at your desk (assuming you won’t derange others around you). The audio is a bit tinny through the built-in speakers, wired headset and via Bluetooth stereo headset. The Samsung Highnote comes with a 3.5mm stereo headset that works well with the phone, and we tested Samsung’s own SBH-500 Bluetooth stereo headset with the Highnote and it sounded better than the phone’s speakers and better than the wired headset. Volume is loud via the wired headset but you can really pump up volume via the Bluetooth headset. The Highnote can store music on microSD cards and it comes with a 1GB card to get you started. We also tested SDHC high capacity cards which worked well with the phone.
Thanks to the EV-DO, the Samsung Highnote supports Sprint TV for streaming video, movie rentals and more. But the lower resolution screen (176 x 220 pixels as opposed to QVGA on other high end feature phones) and the video/movie playback performance hobble the experience. Video playback is very blocky and slow to refresh, and audio isn’t always in sync with video. Sprint has tons of channels and we like their streaming TV service, just not on the Highnote. Movies via Sprint TV movie rental services usually play better on most phones, and it does look better on the Samsung Highnote as well. Still it doesn’t look as good as on the LG Lotus.
Gaming is fun however, and there are a wide selection of games suited to the Highnote’s screen resolution and processor capabilities. The loud speakers are also great for gaming; music and sound effects sound great. Most games don’t support the touch control jog wheel, but that’s not a problem since the d-pad also responds to clicking.
Like the Samsung Rant and the LG Lotus, the Samsung Highnote has a built-in 2 megapixel camera. But still photos don’t look as good as those taken by the Rant or the Lotus. Outdoor shots are overexposed with whiteout, though colors look mostly balanced. Indoor shots have some white haze around subjects that reduces clarity and color saturation. Perhaps a software update might improve image quality.
The camera offers 4 resolutions, 3 quality levels and settings for white balance, color and more. The camera can also take video with audio. Video quality is actually not bad with smooth motion and good color saturation. Audio is also in sync with video.
The Samsung Highnote comes with a 960mAh rechargeable battery that’s user replaceable. The battery life isn’t very good for a music phone. The claimed talk time is 5.8 hours which is longer than our tests showed. And the standby time is less than a week. The good news is playing music doesn’t drain the battery like crazy, but accessing data via EV-DO (like watching Sprint TV, doing GPS navigation and downloading content) does.
A phone with huge potential to become a great music phone, the Samsung Highnote needs some work to get there. While most of the music, multimedia and GPS features are onboard, their performance left something to be desired. If you’re just looking for a phone plus an MP3 player, the Samsung Highnote is worth a look. But if you want great Sprint TV and GPS experiences in addition to the music, then look elsewhere.
Pro: Effective double slider design and good music features such as the 3.5mm audio jack, slide-out stereo speakers and included music accessories such as wired stereo headset and 1GB microSD card for storing music.
Con: Weak performance on Sprint TV and GPS with Sprint Navigation. Battery life is a bit too short.
Price: $99 with 2-year contract after savings mail-in rebate.