Though you'd expect the Messager III to offer a solid update over its predecessors, the reality is a bit different. Its 1.3-megapixel camera is actually a downgrade from the 2.0-megapixel shooter on the Messager II, and it doesn't offer any features that we haven't seen before. Fortunately, its design is changed, but that's not enough to make it stand out. We also had some performance complaints, but it's not a bad device by any measure. And it's just $89 after a $30 mail-in rebate and without a contract.
We're glad that Samsung at least made an effort to alter the Messager III's design. It's not quite as blocky as the earlier handsets, though it lacks some of the sturdiness that we found on the Messager II. The result is a reasonably slick and easy-to-use device with a spacious keyboard. It's not flashy, but it works.
The Messager III measures 4.59 inches long by 2.11 inches wide by 0.57 inch thick and weighs 3.7 ounces. The black-and-blue color scheme is simple, yet pleasing, and the smooth lines give it a comfortable feel in the hand. As we mentioned, the Messager III doesn't feel quite as sturdy as the Messager II, but it should stand up to regular bumps and bruises.
The QVGA display measures 2.5 inches and supports 262,000 colors (320x240 pixels). The resolutions won't blow you away, of course, but most everything--from the graphics to photos to the user-friendly menus--shows up well. Also, though it lacks the touch screen we found on U.S. Cellular's Samsung Messager Touch, we don't mind at all, considering we weren't fans of that models' resistive display in the first place.
Below the display is the large navigation array, which consists of square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone control, a clear key and the Talk and End/power buttons. Fortunately, most of the controls are raised above the surface of the phone. The numeric keypad also is raised, though the individual buttons are smaller than we'd like. The backlit numbers on the keys are small as well, so people with visual impairments should test this phone before buying.
Slide the Messager III to the left to reveal the full physical keyboard. As phone keyboards go, it's not our favorite, but it's won't make our reject list as well. On the upside, the layout is wonderfully spacious and we appreciate the conveniently placed space bar and the blue allow keys. Four rows of keys mean that letters double up with numbers and symbols, but that's not uncommon on phones of this class.
On the downside, however, the keys are flush, which makes it difficult to text by feel. And even when you're typing, the buttons have a plastic feel. What's more, we'd like to see some shortcut keys that would let us access popular features without going through the menus.
The display automatically switches to a horizontal orientation when you open the phone. At that point, you also can take advantage of the two soft keys that rest just above the keyboard. Completing the exterior are a large volume rocker on the left spine and a 3.5mm headset jack and camera shutter on the right spine. The Micro-USB charger port is up top and the microSD card slot rests behind the battery cover.
The Messager III's phone book holds 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers and an e-mail address. As you'd expect, you can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 18 polyphonic ringtones. The carrier's MetroBackup feature will store your contacts for safe keeping if you lose your phone.