There's also the full mobile Web with the preinstalled Opera Mini app, hooks into Facebook and Twitter, and VZ Navigator ($9.99 per month, $4.99 for a week, or $2.99 for a single day). For communications, you have your choice of text and multimedia messaging, plus mobile e-mail if you want to subscribe for $5 per month (you get a free 10-use trial). The e-mail app looks and feel pretty primitive by today's standards, but you can add attachments--a real bonus--and the app will alert you of incoming mail. It was an easier feature to turn on than it was to disable, a minus. Basic tools include voice commands, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, and a stop watch. There's a notepad as well, plus a document viewer that can read Microsoft Office documents off a microSD card, like Word and PowerPoint documents, as well as PDFs. You can also search your phone and download other apps via the online Verizon store.
Chances are, you're also going to want to add a few contacts or place a few calls. I like that there's an In Case of Emergency (or ICE) entry on the phone. Contacts are easy to add when you use the physical keyboard; otherwise the extrememly cramped virtual keypad gives you all the worst of T9 and predictive text. There are fields for all the numbers, e-mail addresses, notes, and birthday reminders that there should be, plus support for group contacts and the option to choose among 21 ringtones and a silent tone.
Multimedia is a little slim on the Brightside, but there is that 3.2-megapixel camera/camcorder. Frankly, it offers up a pretty bad user experience. First off, every time I pressed the physical button on the side of the phone, it opened the camera in camcorder mode and I had to switch to camera mode--a real nuisance at the very least, and a time-wasting bug, at least on my review unit. The software interface itself was fine, requiring just a finger tap to switch among modes and scenes, and choose white-balance presets and effects.
Photo quality was mostly poor, with indoor and outdoor shots of people and objects lacking in definition, accurate color, and detail. There's also no autofocus, and the camera poorly dealt with changing light as you're setting up a shot. It's good enough to pictorially get the message across, but I've seen higher-performing cameras at this megapixel level.
As with most phone cameras, you can adjust the video's duration: short for sending in a message or longer for replaying some other way. Video quality matched the camera quality in my opinion, which is a shame.
I tested the Brightside in San Francisco using Verizon's network. The overriding trait I noticed was that voices sounded machine processed at times throughout several calls, and even when they weren't tinged with a robotic quality, there was faint whispering when the caller spoke. Other than that, calls were pretty clear overall, and I didn't have any volume complaints. I also didn't hear any other background distortions or blips.
On their end of the line, callers said I sounded a little muffled, but remained clear on the whole. They reported good volume and a fully natural sound, without distortion or background noise.
Samsung Brightside call quality sample
I tested speakerphone by holding the Brightside at waist level. I immediately had to crank up the volume, and voices sounded very tinny and robotic. There was a perceptible buzzing sound every time the caller spoke. Despite the distracting voice quality, the caller's voice retained some natural warmth. From the caller's perspective, volume was adequate, and although I was a little hard to hear, we could still carry on a conversation. The telltale sign of speakerphone echo was alive and well, but not beyond the realm of normal.
As a 3G phone, the Brightside's data speeds are fine, but compared with Verizon's blazing-fast 4G LTE speeds, the EV-DO Rev. 0 will seem pokey. However, some sites, like The New York Times, choose to optimize for mobile, so their pages will load quickly even with slower connections. Others will take closer to 30 seconds or longer to fully load.
Internal performance was sadly lacking. There was noticeable lag time when it came to opening and closing certain apps, particularly those that connect to the Web. Opera Mini and the Verizon app store are just two examples.
The Brightside is a bizarre little feature phone, mostly because it reminds me of a throwback device more than it does a new entrant to a highly cutthroat device market. The fact that today, entry-level smartphones (and better) can cost less than Verizon's full-retail $100 asking price for the Brightside illustrates just how quickly the feature phone market is shrinking--a real disadvantage to those who just don't want to be saddled with a recurring data fee. Still, my lingering impression of the Brightside that it was an afterthought. To me, it's a sore thumb in Verizon's stellar premium lineup.
Yet to be fair, that position may suit some people just fine, and there absolutely should be feature phone alternatives to smartphones. In terms of features, there's very little that this phone can offer a Verizon customer that one of the Android sale phones or BlackBerry Curve cannot--except, of course, escape from a recurring monthly data fee and more features than a flip phone. If you place more of a premium on simple tasks and on avoiding that data plan, you might be drawn to the Brightside's admirable keyboard and some of its abilities. Besides, call quality wasn't at all bad. However, the Brightside is far from a slam dunk, and if your heart is set on a feature phone, I encourage you to shop around Verizon's options for the interface and build you most prefer.