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Hands on with the Samsung Soul

Samsung's new Soul offers a unique navigation touchpad, a 5-megapixel camera, and a music player. CNET gives you a hands-on look from the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona.

The Samsung Soul is eye-catching Kent German/CNET Networks

You'd be forgiven if you thought for a moment that the new Samsung Soul was the only cell phone on display at GSMA in Barcelona. Indeed, Samsung Electronics has peppered the city with countless signs promoting its slick new handset. And in its press release, Samsung called the Soul its "flagship product" for 2008.

As my CNET UK colleague Andrew Lim said on Friday, the Soul (aka the SGH-U900) is the newest edition to Samsung's Ultra Edition line. Sporting an all-metal silver casing and measuring just half an inch thick, the Soul has a decidedly sleek slider design. Though its overall shape isn't terribly different from comparable Samsung handsets like the SGH-G800, it's quite attractive and it has a solid and comfortable feel in the hand.

When the camera is active, the touchpad shows only the relevant controls. Kent German/CNET Networks

Yet the Soul's most remarkable feature is its navigation touchpad. Sitting just below the display is a black square with a series of lit icons that give you one-touch access to various functions. In standby mode, the icon in the center of the toggle opens the main menu while the other icons act as shortcuts to the messaging menu, the recent calls list, the music player, and the Soul's Google-related functions. I gave the touchpad a test-drive and I was pleased with my overall experience. Though you have to press each icon a bit longer than I'd prefer, the touchpad provides vibrating feedback. That's a big plus on any touch screen in my opinion; I like knowing when I actually press something.

Yet there is much more to the touchpad. As you move between different applications, the icons on the touchpad change to perform different functions. For example, when you're inside the main menu, arrows appear on the touchpad to help you find your desired function. When you're in camera mode, you see camera controls, and when you're using the music player, only music controls are visible. The concept is similar to the Motorola Rokr E8, which we saw at CES last month, except that the Soul's numeric keypad never goes away.
The Samsung Soul shows its numeric keypad Samsung

The Soul's display is bright and colorful, and it rendered pictures and graphics well. The keypad buttons were mostly flat with the surface of the phone but raised ridges between the individual rows made dialing by feel not too difficult. The other controls were decent as well. The two soft keys and Talk and End buttons surrounding the toggle were easy to use, and the side-mounted volume rocker was fine. I wasn't pleased, however, that the Soul uses a proprietary headset jack.

Other features on the Soul include a 5-megapixel camera, a music player, Bluetooth, a speakerphone, 100MB of internal memory with room for a 6GB memory card, messaging and e-mail, and various personal organizer functions. Though the Soul is quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900), it's optimized for European 3G bands only. As such, I wouldn't expect it in North America anytime soon.