What's hot: Fun and easy to use, good web browser.
What's not: Doesn't compete well against the Samsung Eternity.
Reviewed August 6, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Samsung's TouchWiz touch screen phones have marched in vast numbers into the US. From the customized Omnia on Verizon, to the Behold, Highlight and Memoir on T-Mobile to the Eternity and Impression on AT&T, they've become a near ubiquitous alternative to the iPhone for those who want a less expensive phone and data plan. They're not just wanna be's though-- the Samsung Eternity, released in November of 2008 on AT&T, has sold like hotcakes because it has a good feature set and a fun and easy to use touch interface. In fact, the Eternity is the Samsung Solstice's biggest problem: since it's been out for many months, it now sells for $49 with contract while the Solstice sells for $99. Yet the Eternity has a larger and slightly brighter display, a higher resolution camera, a higher capacity battery, a 3.5mm stereo jack and support for Mobile TV (broadcast digital TV). Ouch. Unless AT&T discontinues the Eternity, the Solstice will play second fiddle.
Not that all is doom and gloom for the Solstice; it's a little bit smaller and a rounder than the slabbish Eternity, it has an injection molded plastic back with a pebbled finish that helps keep it firmly in even sweaty paws and it features the same fun and intuitive TouchWiz interface as the Eternity and the rest of the TouchWiz crew (so far, only the import Samsung Jet sports the 2.0 version of TouchWiz). It also adds voice dialing by Nuance, a much missed feature on the Eternity.
The Solstice sells for $99 with contract and $299 without a contract as of this writing. It features 3G HSDPA on AT&T's bands, quad band GSM with EDGE, 3" resistive touch screen, Bluetooth, a full HTML web browser, IM, basic email and a 2 megapixel camera. The phone has an SDHC microSD card slot, but you must remove the battery to access it.
Touch screen and UI
As with other TouchWiz UI phones, the touch screen, though resistive rather than capacitive like the iPhone, is excellent. It takes only a light touch to tap on icons and it's easy enough to control long lists like music playlists and contacts. The interface is easy to understand (no manual needed), fun and consistent. Haptic and auditory feedback makes the touch experience better, especially when using the on-screen QWERTY and T9 keyboards, and the list of included widgets has grown since the Eternity. With TouchWiz 1.0, you're stuck with the selection of pre-installed Widgets. You can't download more as you can with the new TouchWiz 2.0 used on the Samsung Jet. All the better to start with a long list of them given that limitation, especially since you can remove (hide) the ones you don't want.
If you're new to TouchWiz Widgets, they're little icons that function as shortcuts to apps, utilities and web sites and they live in the retractable Widget bar on the left side of the screen. Some can be dragged out and they blossom into mini-applications (i.e.: the music player widget has playback controls and the Yahoo widget puts a search box on your home screen). Included widgets are: birthday reminder (Samsung seems to be very birthday-focused, as their phones always have this), a calendar, world clock, analog clock, AT&T Navigator shortcut, alarm clock, web browser shortcut, photo viewer, calculator, Facebook mobile homepage shortcut, MySpace shortcut, photo speed dial, messaging, voice dialing and more.
Right side: camera button, quick launch button and the door covering the sync/charge/audio Samsung blade connector port.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Samsung Solstice:
Phone and Web
The quad band GSM Solstice will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available. It has 3G HSDPA 3.6Mbps on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands. Reception is middle of the road: it's not bad nor is it exceptionally good. It's a just a tad stronger than the Eternity's reception and markedly better than the old LG Vu which was a weak RF phone. The Solstice hasn't dropped a call, and it stays firmly on 3G, though we're in a good 3G coverage area and most phones don't drop to GSM/EDGE. The phone supports AT&T's Video Share service (one-way video calling).
Voice quality is good but not stellar for incoming voice and acceptable for outgoing voice. Callers could understand us easily but they said we sounded slightly digitized and not as sharp and clear as on the Nokia Surge or Eternity. Call volume through the earpiece is good and the phone is loud enough to combat the noise in a big box store. The speakerphone is loud and clear for calls, GPS navigation and video playback. The phone works well with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and we still like the TouchWiz Bluetooth settings interface that represents paired devices graphically as a constellation of tappable paired devices surrounding the Solstice.
Multimedia and GPS
The Eternity has AT&T's usual suite of multimedia goodies including CV streaming video which is included with the $15/month unlimited data plan, XM Radio (requires monthly subscription) and access to AT&T's music store and software store filled with games, ringtones and the like. The phone has a capable music player than handles MP3, AAC and WMA files and the Solstice supports flight mode, so you can play tunes when the phone's radio is turned off. CV streaming video fills the screen and plays in landscape mode. It looks reasonably sharp, though not as sharp as the BlackBerry Bold and a little less sharp than the Eternity.
The 2 megapixel camera has a fixed focus lens and no flash but it does have a self-portrait mirror. Though we've seen a few 2MP phones that take surprisingly good shots recently (HTC Snap, Samsung Comeback), the Solstice's aren't inspiring. Outdoor shots lack sharpness, especially in the corners, and have digital artifacting but reasonable colors. Indoor shots were surprisingly better with less noise than average for a camera in this class. The camera can also shoot video at QVGA resolution and 176 x 144 pixel resolution at approximately 15fps.
The Solstice comes with AT&T Navigator that works in conjunction with the built-in GPS. Navigator (rebranded TeleNav) provides maps, POIs, traffic info and very good spoken turn-by-turn directions. It's a subscription service that you can add or remove from your account whenever you wish and it costs $10/month or $5/month with an unlimited data plan. The GPS gets fixes quickly and even managed to find us when indoors. When driving, it sometimes momentarily lost its fix (in a not terribly challenging suburban environment free of tall buildings or large trees). It did however keep us on track overall with just a few exceptions. Navigator's directions are usually excellent, but the Solstice sometimes acted quirky and told us to get on the highway then take a turn that's only available if you'd stayed on the access road and it omitted the "street"/"drive"/"lane" in street names that we usually get on other AT&T phones running Navigator.
This is the era of cutbacks and it seems even the Solstice's battery has suffered. While the Eternity has a 1200 mAh Lithium Ion battery, the Solstice has a 1,000 mAh battery. The smaller capacity does allow for a smaller phone, and we must admit that the Solstice's battery life is at least as good as the Eternity's if not a little bit better. With moderate use, the phone lasted us 2 days on a charge and with heavy use, included GPS navigation, we had to charge it nightly. Music playback has little impact on battery life while streaming video and GPS use quite a bit. The phone's claimed talk time is 5 hours and we managed about 4 in a 3G coverage area (3G uses more battery power than does GSM).
The Samsung Solstice is a good-looking and fun phone. It's got plenty of features including a very good touch screen (not as good as the iPhone's but that's a tall order), good call management features including voice and speed dial, 3G with CV streaming video and a pleasant music player. It's the little cutbacks from the now less expensive Eternity that make us hesitant to recommend it, at least as long as the Eternity is still available.
Pro:Fun and easy to use, complete set of features including GPS, a music player, Bluetooth, 3G and video playback. Very good touch screen. Not bad looking and feels good in the hand.
Con:Lower-spec features than the Eternity yet it costs more. MicroSD card slot is blocked by the battery. GPS was sometimes quirky. Poor camera.
Display:262,000 color resistive
touch screen with haptic feedback. Screen size diagonally: 3.0". 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 5 hours. Claimed standby: up to 10 days.
Performance:Approx. 90 megs internal memory. Address book can hold up to 1,000 records.
Size:4.3 x 2.1 x 0.5 inches. Weight: 3.3 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz. 3G HSDPA 3.6Mpbs on the 850/1900MHz bands. Phone book holds up to 2,000 records, has 8 speed dials and voice command.
Camera:2.0 MP with self-portrait mirror but no flash. Can shoot still photos and video with audio.
in speaker, mic and Samsung blade connector stereo headphone
jack (headset not included). 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 and Obex.
Software:Netfront 3.5 web browser, Java-based email client, SMS/MMS messaging, Instant Messaging (AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo), Nuance Voice Command, 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, Mobile Banking, MobiTV, MobiVJ, Notifer, My-Cast Weather, WikiMobile and Where.