When T-Mobile first launched its HotSpot @Home service in June of 2007, only two phones could support it--the Nokia 6086 and the Samsung SGH-t409. Soon after, RIM released the BlackBerry Curve 8320, which became the third HotSpot @Home device. As the year winds to a close, T-Mobile has released its fourth HotSpot @Home handset, the Samsung Katalyst. Like all the others, the Katalyst is able to make calls via Wi-Fi and can automatically switch between GSM cellular airwaves and preconfigured wireless networks. Aside from that, the Katalyst is a pretty decent mid-tier phone, with a 1.3-megapixel camera, a music player, Bluetooth, and quad-band support. We did have a few design quibbles with the keypad, but aside from that, the Katalyst is a good choice if you wish to get a handset that supports the HotSpot @ Home service. The Samsung Katalyst is available for $79.99 with a $50 discount and a two-year service agreement.
Despite its cutting-edge name, the Katalyst doesn't really look too different from other Samsung sliders we've seen. Measuring 2 inches tall by 4 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, it has an understated gray-and-chrome design, with slightly blocky corners and a soft curve along its sides. It weighs in at a relatively light 4.1 ounces, though it still has some heft when held in the hand. We can open the phone one-handed by pushing the bottom of the slider upward with our thumbs. There's a slight bump underneath the screen that you can use as a thumb grip when sliding the phone down. The sliding mechanism felt solid when opening and closing the phone, gliding smoothly up and down but still providing just enough resistance.
The Katalyst has a generous 2.1-inch, 262,000-color display that shows off graphics and images with plenty of color and detail. You can change the brightness, backlighting time, and the background color, font size, and font color of the dialing display. The Katalyst supports T-Mobile's MyFaves, so you'll also be presented with five contact thumbnails that you can scroll through on the main screen.
Underneath the display is a simple navigation array consisting of two soft keys, a four-way toggle, a middle OK key, and a Clear key that's flanked in between the Talk and End/Power keys. From the standby screen, the top and bottom toggle keys are also shortcuts to call records and the contacts list, while the left and right are for scrolling through your five MyFaves contacts. The keys feel a little slippery and flat, but there's enough textural difference between them that it wasn't too bad. Also, the keys felt easy to the touch, and yielded just enough to pressure.
The alphanumeric keypad is revealed when the phone is slid open. Like most slider handsets, the keypad is pretty flat to the phone's surface, though there are some minor bevels in between each row to help differentiate the keys. That said, the curved keypad provides little to no textural difference between each key, and we wouldn't recommend dialing by feel for this reason. Rounding out the phone's exterior, the volume rocker and headset jack sit on the left spine, a dedicated camera key is located on the right, plus the camera lens and speaker grille are placed on the back of the phone.
There's nothing terribly exciting about the features on the Samsung Katalyst, except for its compatibility with T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home. But before we get to that, let's start with the basics. The Katalyst has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and a note (the SIM card holds about 250 additional contacts). You can save the contacts to caller groups, plus pair them with a photo for caller ID, as well as any of 21 polyphonic ring tones. As with most phones, the Katalyst also comes with several basic features that include vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, notes, a calculator, a tip calculator, world time, unit conversion, a timer, and a stopwatch. Additional functionality include voice command support, voice recording, Bluetooth, instant messaging, a wireless Web browser, and a synchronization feature that lets you sync your contacts with the T-Mobile servers so you can recover them in case you lose your phone.
The Samsung Katalyst also has a built-in Wi-Fi receiver, which is used with T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home service. For a nominal monthly fee, HotSpot @Home customers can use the Katalyst to connect to any wireless network to make, answer, and receive calls, just like a regular cell phone. Except all calls made within a wireless network will not be deducted from your plan's minutes, so you essentially get unlimited calling. Also, you're almost always guaranteed better signal reception when connected via a wireless network, which is great if you tend to have spotty cell service at home or at work. T-Mobile offers a special HotSpot @Home router that is optimized for voice transmission as well. To find out more about the HotSpot @Home service, you can read our review of the service.