When it comes to buying a new handset you don't always have to look at the most expensive options available to get the range of features you need.
Take the SGH-E350 from Samsung, for example. Despite an obvious omission -- Bluetooth -- and an inability to expand the internal memory, this handset has a few tricks up its slider, including a reasonable camera, a nifty MP3 player and a handy voice recorder. It's not going to blow your mind, but it's not meant to be at the cutting edge and it won't blow your budget either.
We found it free on a £20 monthly tariff from O2, for example, or for £120 on Orange pay-as-you-go and £130 on pay-as-you-go from O2.
The SGH-E350 belongs to that rare genus of handsets, the lesser-spotted slider. This means it is relatively small, and at just 45 by 85 by 21mm you should be able to carry it in pretty much any pocket. It's light too: its 75g makes it a real featherweight.
Of course, when you slide the upper and lower parts of the E350 apart to expose the number pad you add to the handset's overall height. Its full 120mm is still not especially lanky, however, and actually is a preferable height for comfortably holding to the ear to make calls.
Physically sliding the E350 into its open and closed positions needs to be achievable one-handed, if you are to be able to look slick and use the handset to its fullest extent while hanging onto bits of a bus for dear life. This is a doddle, providing your hands aren't especially small. The manually challenged can take solace in the fact that you can do a lot without using the sliding mechanism at all, as the soft menu keys, call and end keys, navigation button and cancel key all sit on the front of the handset.
There are a few more buttons and connectors exposed when the E350 is closed. The right edge houses a quick-launch button for the camera and a proprietary connector for the provided stereo headset. On the left edge is an infrared port and a volume rocker. The back is mostly occupied by the battery, but a small space above this provides room for the camera lens, self-portrait mirror and LED flash.
A sure sign that this is a budget handset comes with the screen, which is a little on the small side and offers just 65k colours. It's not too disappointing, given its specifications, and we found it clear and bright enough.
The general design of the E350 is pleasant enough. The sliver-and-black casing doesn't have the extreme solidity and panache of looks that some higher-end handsets offer, but nor does it look cheap or feel plasticky. You get a stereo headset and wrist lanyard as extras.
With an allocation of internal memory for 1000 contacts, plus whatever your SIM allows, all but the most gregarious user should be able to keep everyone they know squirrelled away on the E350.
There is 30MB of memory on board all told, and you can use this to store all kinds of data usable by the handset. Examples include pictures you take with the camera, music (MP3 or AAC) and video clips, voice recordings made using the built-in recorder and diary dates.
Voice recordings are made directly to the handset, but getting them off and transferring other kinds of data from a PC is going to be a challenge.
These days we don't see many handsets without Bluetooth, but the E350 is an example. There is infrared, so sharing data with other devices is possible, but if you want to be serious about it, synchronising the E350's calendar and contact book with your PC, for example, you shouldn't be looking at this handset unless you want to invest in a separate PC link cable and software. Even then, note that the 30MB of internal memory is all you get -- there are no expansion slots for flash memory cards.
The E350's music player outputs to the handset's speaker and to the provided stereo headset, with fairly good volume and quality. There's no equaliser, but you can create a playlist.
There are enough buttons on the front of the casing to make it possible to both make and receive calls without exposing the number pad. The right SoftKey button allows you to access recent calls and your contact list; the left one takes you to the main menu, where you can get to every aspect of the handset, including its built-in calendar, messaging, Web browser and camera.
There's an easier way to start the camera though -- hit the button on the right edge of the casing. Annoyingly, this button only works when the handset is not in standby mode, and to get out of this you first have to press the two SoftKey buttons in turn -- so you need to make three key presses to get the camera rolling.
Once in action, though, you can take a snap by pressing the button in the middle of the navigation pad and then delete, MMS, email or save an image as a caller ID or as wallpaper, all without opening the slider.
There are bizarre plinky-plonky sound effects to accompany using the zoom and fiddling with brightness, and when you apply visual effects like black and white, emboss, sepia and sketch, they appear as you frame the image, rather than after you've shot it. It's all very positive and easy to use, the only real downside being that the camera is VGA. Think of it as a device for quick snaps and MMS pics, rather than as your main camera.
The range of additional software provided is reasonable, but not expansive. There are plenty of ringtones, four colour themes, the ability to use photos as wallpaper and a range of other ways in which you can customise how the phone looks and sounds.
As a voice handset, the E350 performed well, delivering good quality calls and not dropping any connections during the testing phase. We'd have liked more volume on occasions, and that goes for the ringer too.
As a music player, performance is okay rather than outstanding -- and if you are keen on tunes you should steer clear, because you will run out of memory very quickly.
Battery life was a let-down. With just three hours talk suggested by Samsung, we never felt happy unless we were going out with a fully charged cell. And you never know when you'll need to while away a half hour or so of travel time with some battery-diminishing music.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide