When Samsung introduces a new cell phone in the United States, it's often the case that we've seen it somewhere before. And that's definitely true with the new Samsung Solstice for AT&T. Also called the SGH-A887, the Solstice sports a touch-screen design with few physical controls. It shows characteristics of several previous Samsung models, but its closest relative is probably T-Mobile's recent Samsung Highlight. The low-end multimedia feature is functional, but performance was mediocre and the Solstice doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before. You can get it for $100 with service.
Like the Highlight, the Solstice offers a trim design with rounded corners. It's not quite as angular as the Samsung Behold or the Eternity, though it lacks the Highlight's color choice and patterned back side. We wouldn't call it stylish, but it's not unattractive either. It measures 4.3 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.5 inch and weighs 3.3 ounces, which gives it a comfortable and sturdy feel in the hand.
The 3-inch display is just big enough, though we wouldn't want it to be any smaller. With support for 262,000 colors and 400x240 pixels, it has a pleasant resolution that shows colors and graphics well. It won't knock your socks off, but it's suitably bright and vibrant for phone of this caliber. Samsung's TouchWiz interface gives you instant access to a variety of features, though we wish its customization options were more extensive. The icon-based menu interface is simple and intuitive. Permanent touch icons on the bottom of the screen open the dialpad, the phone book, and the main menu.
The dialpad and QWERTY keyboard are unchanged from previous Samsung touch-screen models. The dialpad features large alphanumeric numbers for calling and sending texts using T9 predictive text. We prefer to use the full alphabetic keyboard, however. The keys are somewhat small, but you can use T9 here as well. Basic punctuation is surfaced on the primary keyboard, but you must click through to a second keyboard for numbers and symbols.
The Solstice's accelerometer works across many applications. As with other Samsung touch-screen phones, you can switch between the keypad and keyboard by rotating the phone to the left (rotating it to the right will result in an upside-down keyboard). The handset also offers a motion-detection feature that will automatically mute a call or an alarm tone when you turn the phone and place it face down on a surface.
The display is responsive, whether you're selecting icons or scrolling through long lists. You can adjust the intensity of the vibrating feedback and change the display's calibration. As for other customization options, you can change the display's wallpaper, brightness, backlight time, font type, and greeting message.
Three physical buttons sit below the display: a Talk button, a back control, and the End/power key. The calling controls are flush, but the back button is easy to find by feel. The volume rocker rests on the left spine while a combined headset/charger jack and camera shutter sit on the right spine. The jack is proprietary and you can use only one peripheral at a time. Also on the right spine you'll find a control that opens a shortcut menu for the browser, the games menu, the music player, the messaging app, and the dialpad. There's also a command to end any open application. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror rest on the phone's back side and the memory card slot is inconveniently located behind the battery.
The Highlight has a generous 2,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers, four e-mail addresses, three instant-messaging handles (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), a URL, a birthday, a company name and job title, a nickname, two street addresses, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo, an alert tone, and one of 25 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. We like the handy scroll bar that lets you move quickly through a long list of contacts.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a memo pad, a task list, a tip calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a speakerphone. You'll also find speaker-independent voice dialing and commands, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a file manager, Web-based POP3 e-mail, instant messaging, a voice memo recorder, GPS support with AT&T Navigator support, and full Bluetooth with a stereo profile. Instant messaging is not included, unfortunately.
The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 pixels down to 320x240 pixels, and you can choose from four quality settings. Other editing options include four color effects, exposure metering, four white-balance settings, an adjustable brightness, a night mode, and a self-timer. The Solstice also features three shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), 20 frames, and a "smile shot" option that promises to detect when a subject is smiling. Photo quality was excellent, with bright colors and little image noise.