Update: October 2006, the t509s adds MyFaves support
Is it possible to own a geometric shape? After all, Apple was sued over their "Cube" design. So if Motorola finds a way to claim ownership of the "rectangle" because of their SLVR, then the Samsung t509 by T-Mobile might be in a bit of trouble. However, the resemblance is only skin deep. In fact, the t509 demonstrates impressive advantages, even in some areas where Motorola phones have consistently shown weaknesses.
The face of the phone features a standard layout of buttons and the screen, while the back holds the phone's camera and user-replaceable battery. Two buttons and one connector on the sides of the phone complete a design that is overall fairly simple. At 1.75" by 4.5" by 0.4" and 2.7 ounces, the phone feels thin and light but also a bit wider and especially taller than most users are accustomed to.
Talk Is Cheap (If You Talk Fast)
The Samsung is a tri-band GSM phone, supporting the 850, 1800, or 1900 frequency bands. Those of you who travel to Europe frequently will want to consider a phone which also has the 900MHz band. Audio output was clear with good volume, regardless of whether I used the built-in speaker, the included wired headset, or a Bluetooth headset, and reception was strong throughout the urban areas I tried the phone in.
The phone supports EDGE and GPRS for data. If you go with the basic T-Zones for data rather than a more expensive and full-featured data plan, then you'll have access to the T-zones portal. T-Zones itself provides basics like ringtones and images, and on the t509, T-Zones was responsive and worked correctly, and rendering of T-Zones pages was faster and more accurate and attractive on Samsung's browser than on Motorola's.
Unfortunately, however, like Motorola's phone, entering T-zones on the t509 requires you to watch an overblown splash screen animation for almost ten full seconds, every single time you go into T-Zones. I couldn't tell if the initial connection negotiation, or the page loading process itself was the culprit, but it does detract from an otherwise pleasant experience. If you are in a meeting and need to access some critical data that you can get via T-Zones, a delay this long could literally be the difference between making your ideas soar to the forefront of your company's consideration, or just making the phone soar out the window.
Although T-Mobile does not specify what type of CPU the Samsung t509 uses, the phone's overall horsepower was probably the area in which it shined the most strongly. I had been so accustomed to cell phones with mediocre response times for basic button presses and text entry that I had come to expect this as normal. However, the t509 raises the bar.
Throughout the interface, basic functions like entering and dialing phone numbers or managing the address book exhibit lightning-fast response times, while still having a clear, nice-looking interface on screen and remaining easy to use. Although this is a pretty simple feature, making phone calls is the most important feature of any cell phone, and the impressive, responsive user interface of the t509 provides a less frustrating experience that should ultimately prove to be more productive and efficient than other, slower phones.
Sam-Screen and Sam-Cam
The Samsung's screen measures 1.2" by 1.5" (which would be 1.92" diagonally, for those of you who are Pythagorally challenged) and displays up to 65,000 colors. With a resolution of 176 x 220, the screen is detailed, crisp, and bright. It also works well both indoors and outdoors. Like Motorola's rectangular SLVR, the screen has no built-in protection against scratches or the elements, but other than that, the screen is simply flawless.
The t509's camera is also a standout among cell phones. Although it is only VGA resolution (640 x 480), the camera features a variety of effects and modes rarely found on cell phone or PDA cameras, such as sepia tone, black-and-white, and sketch, which make it possible to create a variety of unique photograph styles. I also found the sharpness of the camera's focus to be above average. Rounding out the camera system is a fairly standard 4x digital zoom.
The camera stores images and movies as JPEGs and 3gp files, respectively, within its 9 MB of user-accessible memory. The bad news is that the phone's connector is a proprietary Samsung design, and that it also doesn't accept any expansion cards. The good news, however, is that the phone features a unified file manager in addition to specific managers for individual file types, a feature that was sorely lacking on some of the other phones I have reviewed.
The t509 supports Bluetooth, which, besides connecting to wireless headsets, can be used to send files to a computer. The interface is simple and intuitive and works consistently. The t509 even gives you the option of keeping it in Bluetooth "discoverable" mode by default, instead of requiring you to turn discoverability back on temporarily every time you want to pair with a new device.
The Endurance Round
The phone's included 800 mAh battery is rated at 3.5 hours of talk time, or 172 hours of standby, and my tests indicate that this is a realistic estimate. Samsung does not currently offer any other battery types for the phone as a separate purchase. Like most mid- to high-end portable devices, the battery is lithium-ion, so there is no "memory effect" to worry about. Although there is nothing truly revolutionary about the battery, Samsung has also avoided making any foolish mistakes to try to cut corners or decrease costs.
Although I was impressed by the phone's web browser and file manager, the remaining software is fairly basic. The contact list allows you to use custom images and ringtones for individual contacts, but it can't sync with any other devices. It comes with four games, but the limitations I encountered with T-Zones made it very difficult to add any more apps, since I couldn't go outside of T-zones to install, say, Opera Mini, and the selection of programs within T-Zones is small compared to the entire Internet. The instant messaging app worked as expected and supports all three of the most popular IM services (AIM, MSN, and Yahoo). In general, the various programs have nice touches like little animations and graphics to keep you informed about what the phone is doing, but in most cases, they don't have substantial functionality beyond the level of features you will find on virtually all modern cell phones.
Sam I Am
If you were to judge the Samsung t509 just from its spec sheet, you might not be very impressed—VGA camera, Bluetooth, and a color screen are features that are available on almost all phones in this range. However, Samsung has paid attention to the details of every one of these features, making the phone more responsive and effective than its competitors and adding nice touches to improve the user experience. If you don't mind the issues with T-Zones and data connectivity (which are also present on other T-Mobile phones anyway), then the Samsung t509 is a great choice.
Pros: Very fast, responsive interface; bright, good-looking screen; sharp camera with visual effects; file manager; Bluetooth well designed; versatile IM program.
Cons: T-zones/data feature very limited.
Price: $199 (list price), $59.99 with 2 year contract