Simple flip phones like T-Mobile's Samsung t159 remain relevant for one primary purpose: placing and taking calls. Lacking the pomp of smartphones packed to the gills, they had better at least get call quality right. Thankfully, Samsung's $20, stripped-down t159 passes the audio test with flying colors.
Design and OS
There are flip phones with more sheen and style than the Samsung t159; in fact, almost all of them offer some graceful line or polished accent. Not so in the case of this stock phone. Its all-black form looks boring and cheap, the only interesting part is a fine-grain diamond pattern on the back panel. At least the finishes fit the $19.99 price tag. On the plus side, the t159's slim dimensions -- 3.8 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick -- fit it easily into pockets. At 2.9 ounces, it's also pretty light; a hair too light for my tastes.
A standard clamshell design puts a 1-inch external display out front for checking the time, and for viewing signal strength and alerts, like awaiting messages or missed calls, at a glance. Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel camera lens with camcorder capability. Inside, the 1.8-inch screen is too small; it could easily stretch to 2 inches. Flipping open the phone instills confidence in the thick joint. The rubber stopper protecting the top of the phone isn't attractive, but it is effective.
Beneath the screen is a large navigation array that includes two soft keys, a Send and End/Power button, and a Clear button, all surrounding the four-directional toggle with central OK button.
The phone's volume rocker is on the left spine, and on the right you'll find the camera shutter button and the shared Micro-USB slot and headset jack. That means that you'll unfortunately need an adapter if you're planning to listen to music or messages from the t159 through a wired headset. There's no microSD card slot on the t159, which isn't necessarily a drawback for this type of entry-level device. Extra storage is always nice to have, but since the hardware design doesn't place a premium on photos or music, it's understandable why expandable memory didn't make the cut.
A proprietary operating system runs the t159 and unfortunately, its oversimplicity isn't easy on the eye. I know, I know, that sounds counterintuitive, but the default menu screen is plain white and the icons are a little simplistic. The 128x160-pixel QVGA resolution is poor, and it shows in larger lettering and in the icons. You can customize elements like the wallpaper, dialing display, and brightness and backlight times, but you can't change other graphical elements, or the font size.
Placing and receiving calls is the phone's principle function, and despite the unpolished interface, the address book gives you the space you need to store contact information, including multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, a birthdate, a note, and even extra fields. You can also add a group ID, set a photo ID, and select from one of 18 ringtones. In addition, you can set the phone to silent mode, with vibration only.
Although the t159 is anything but a feature phone, it does do more than make calls. There's texting and multimedia messaging, assisted by predictive text modes. There's also Bluetooth support, and a personal organizer with the usual tools: a calendar, a calculator, an alarm, a to-do list, and a memo. There's a tip calculator as well, plus a world clock, a converter, a timer, and a stopwatch. An RSS reader and voice commands through Nuance are two extras. 3G connectivity helps the Web2Go browser load up content, but it isn't always easy reading on the 1.8-inch screen.