Reviewed May 5, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
For those of you who really liked the Samsung Eternity but pined for a hardware QWERTY keyboard, here's Samsung's solution: the Impression SGH-A877. The Impression features the same responsive touch screen and TouchWiz UI as the Eternity but ups the ante with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a stunning AMOLED display.
The Impression matches the Eternity's features minus the mobile digital TV tuner (Qualcomm MediaFLO broadcast TV). It has 3G HSDPA on AT&T's bands and is quad band GSM. It has Bluetooth with a full set of profiles including A2DP stereo, a GPS with AT&T Navigator, 3 megapixel camera, a music player, CV streaming media player and a large 3.2" resistive touch screen. Sorry, it does not have WiFi, which is mostly found on smartphones rather than feature phones.
Keyboard and On-screen Typing
The Impression is a large phone that's just a tad smaller than the HTC G1 on T-Mobile and it's bigger than the HTC Fuze. At 5.3 ounces, it's considerably heavier than the 3.88 ounce Eternity. Alas, these are the tradeoffs for the ultra-roomy side-sliding hardware keyboard. The backlit keyboard is indeed excellent with large keys, good spacing between keys and nice tactile feedback. For those with smaller hands, the large keyboard might slow you down since it requires a good deal of reach (large-fingered fellas should love it though). The keyboard has 4 rows with an embedded number pad. You don't need to hit the Fn key to dial numbers-- you only need to do that when entering text.
The Impression has an accelerometer that handles automatic rotation from portait to landscape modes. Sliding open the keyboard also switches to landscape orientation. Both orientations are available in all applications except some 3rd party Java applications like games. That means you have access to the large, on-screen full QWERTY in landscape mode as well as the T9 style portrait keypad, just as with the Eternity. The landscape-anywhere support and full on-screeen QWERTY make for a distinct advantage over the also recently released LG Xenon, LG's direct competitor to the Impression. While the Xenon's user interface feels a bit cobbled together and inconsistent, the Impression's is rock solid.
The Impression's 3.2" AMOLED display (active matrix organic LED) with haptic feedback steals the show. It's incredibly color-saturated and bright. The Eternity has a nice display, but it literally pales in comparison to the Impression's. Like the Eternity, it's very responsive to touch and is one of the best on the US market. Though it uses resistive rather than the capacitive technology found on the iPhone and T-Mobile HTC G1, it doesn't feel like a let down in comparison, as do some other touch screen phones when compared to the iPhone. The display is the perfect venue for photo viewing and video playback. The Impression does an excellent job of playing CV, AT&T's streaming video service that's included with their $15/month unlimited feature phone data plan. There's an on-screen button that switches to full screen playback, though this doesn't maintain proper aspect ratio for 4:3 content. Even with half bars of 3G, CV plays back with no pixelation or artifacting and looks very sharp. The Impression really handles video well and AT&T's CV has come a long way in terms of quality, surpassing both Verizon and Sprint's offerings.
Samsung's TouchWiz user interface is nearly identical to that on the Eternity, Samsung Behold and Samsung Memoir. The Impression gains several useful widgets (the Eternity's selection is a little lame). These include widgets to launch the web browser, use AT&T Navigator, speed dial (yes!), several clocks and favorite contacts. Just as with prior TouchWiz phones, there's no way to download and add more widgets. What ships with the phone is what you get. The phone's screen and buttons lock automatically and the right side unlock button is much too fiddly. The phone's curved sides and slider make it hard to get a grip and the button is very small and recessed.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Samsung Impression that includes a walk around the device, hardware keyboard, CV streaming video playback, the user interface and more.
Phone and Data
Again, there's little different from the Eternity here. The Impression, like the Eternity, has above average earpiece volume and has clear audio for both incoming and outgoing voice. Reception is just average on 3G and the phone sometimes drops to EDGE when it's held against the head for a call (having started with 1/3 of full signal on 3G). Reception isn't atrocious by any means, but 3G isn't wildly robust in weaker coverage areas. That said, the phone hasn't dropped a call, even when switching between 3G and GSM during a call.
The Impression has speed dial via a homescreen widget and there's no voice dialing.
The Impression features the same NetFront 3.5 web browser that's found on the Eternity. By feature phone standards, this is a very good HTML web browser that also handles WAP sites. It does a good job of desktop rendering, loads pages quickly and supports scrolling by dragging the page with a finger. If you want a good web browsing experience but don't want to move up to a smartphone, the Eternity and Impression are the winners on AT&T. Alas, the phone does not support Flash.
Email support is the same as other AT&T feature phones. Their Mobile Email Java client (located under "Games & Apps") handles a selection of popular personal email services like Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, Earthlink, Bellsouth, Mindspring, NetZero and Juno. You can't add MS Exchange accounts, nor POP/IMAP accounts from domains other than those listed. The Instant Messaging client is integrated with the SMS/MMS application and it supports AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo. IM can run in the background thanks to the Impression's multitasking capabilities.
GPS, Camera and Music Too
The Impression uses the same 3 megapixel fixed focus camera as the Eternity, and image quality is the same. Photos are decent with pleasing colors and reasonable exposure for both indoor and outdoor shots, though sharpness isn't as good as an autofocus lens camera phone. As with the Eternity, the camera can shoot photos and video and you can send these via MMS or save them to a card for transfer to a PC.
The media player is quite capable and handles MP3, AAC, Real, WAV and WMA formats including protected WMA sold through AT&T's music store. The Impression supports MTP mode for music transfer over USB, as well as mass storage mode. Unlike the Eternity, there's no 3.5mm stereo jack, just Samsung's blade connector that handles USB, charging and headsets (a headset isn't included). Thank goodness for A2DP Bluetooth stereo.
The phone's video player can play content stored on microSD cards. We tested it with several MP4 format files originally encoded for the iPhone and iPod at 320 x 240, 600kbps. These played fine and filled most of the screen, though we noted occasional frame drops. The speaker is surprisingly loud and clear for a phone.
The GPS works with AT&T Navigator, powered by TeleNav. This subscription service costs $10/month and you can stop and start it at any time with no contract ramifications. It offers very good spoken turn-by-turn directions, a very good POI database with location and phone number info and on-screen maps and directions. The speaker is loud enough to be heard in a sedan and the GPS locks onto satellites quickly.
The Samsung Impression is a powerful and fun feature phone. Its strong suit is multimedia thanks to the fantastic 3.2" AMOLED display, excellent CV streaming video playback and local video playback. The web browser, as with the Eternity, is one of the best feature phone browsers on the market for full HTML site support and the phone has good messaging and IM support, though email support is limited. The keyboard is large, roomy and easy to type on even if you have large hands-- and we're thrilled with the on-screen keyboards for those times one just needs to enter a few words or enter text one-handed. The only drawback? This is a large and heavy phone.
Pro: Fantastic looking, large touch screen that's responsive. Excellent keyboard, strong video playback performance, good GPS. TouchWiz is fun to use and very easy to learn. Samsung's latest widgets make the phone easier to use. Very good HTML web browser.
Con: Large and heavy phone by feature phone standards. Reception is middle of the road. Limited email accounts supported. No 3.5mm jack.
Display:262,000 color resistive
AMOLED touch screen with haptic feedback. Screen size diagonally: 3.2". Resolution:
240 x 400, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1000 mA. Claimed talk time: up to 3 hours. Claimed standby: up to 10.4 days.
Performance:Approx. 200 megs internal memory. Address book can hold up to 1,000 records.
Size:4.48 x 2.28 x 0.61 inches. Weight: 5.3 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz. 3G HSDPA 3.6Mbps on the 850/1900MHz bands.
Camera:3.0 MP with self-portrait mirror but no flash. 3X digital zoom. Can shoot still photos and video with audio.
in speaker, mic and Samsung blade stereo headphone
jack. Has voice recorder and music player that supports MP3, AAC, WMA (including protected WMA), WAV and Real formats.
Bluetooth, profiles include headset, handsfree, A2DP stereo with AVRC, serial port, FTP, DUN, basic printing, and Obex.
Software:Netfront 3.5 web browser, Java-based email client, SMS/MMS messaging, Instant Messaging (AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo), calendar, contacts, tasks, notes, voice recorder, music player, video player, world clock, stopwatch, timer, Netfront MS Office and PDF document viewer, file manager, Yellow Pages, AT&T Navigator, alarm clock, calculator and unit converter. Subscription services and pay-for apps: Music ID, XM Radio, MobiVJ, My-Cast Weather, WikiMobile and Where.