Increasingly, cell phone manufacturers and carriers are recognizing that a growing percentage of their customers are tweens who use their phones far differently than mobile professionals. Satisfying this younger market is the Samsung SGH-E335 for T-Mobile, a glossy, dark metallic blue clamshell phone in the shape of a rounded oval, only slightly larger than a bar of travel soap. Along with a VGA camera and a Web browser, the E335 includes AOL and Yahoo instant messaging--key communications technologies for tech-savvy kids. With no sharply protruding antenna and a petite keypad obviously designed for still-developing fingers, this is the perfect phone to hang from the belt loop of baggy cargo pants or to tuck into tight front jeans pockets. It's also fairly priced at $179 or cheaper with service. At just 3.3 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and an egglike 3 ounces, the largely unadorned Samsung SGH-E335 flip phone feels like a water-smoothed rock. That said, we did like the blue and silver colors. On the mobile's front flap is a 1-inch-diagonal blue-tinted monochrome display. It shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available), and the reflective off-white text is easy to see. You can't change the backlighting time, but the blue text was readable even with it off. Since the display is monochrome, it's fairly useless as a viewfinder for self-portraits when the camera is on. Speaking of which, the camera lens is just above the display, while below it is a white LED that flashes blue when a message is pending--it's not a camera flash. You can turn the light off if you wish.
Inside the phone, you'll find a 65,000-color internal display. Although it measures only 1.63 inches diagonally, it's bright and readable except in direct light. You can change the backlighting time and brightness, but you can't alter the text size. The directional keys of the five-way navigation toggle double as direct access to varying functions--camera, phone book, messaging, and voice recorder/speakerphone, although the etched function icons require sharp younger eyes for clear identification. Instead of activating the main menu, as on most phones, the center action key brings you to T-Mobile's T-zones wireless Web home page. Menu access is relegated to the left soft key, a constantly confusing state of ergonomic affairs. When you're navigating the user-friendly menus, however, the center button becomes an OK key.
Like most small cell phones, the E335 has tiny, tightly packed keys. Our adult fingers constantly missed the intended navigational buttons, necessitating backtracking through mistakenly activated features. But the bright cool-blue key backlighting enabled error-free navigation and dialing in the dark. The only controls on the outside of the handset are a tiny volume rocker and a headset jack on the left spine and a dedicated camera button on the right.The Samsung SGH-E335 includes a generous 1,000-contact phone book that holds five phone numbers and an e-mail address for each name (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can organize callers into groups, but only the groups can be assigned a ring tone or a picture for caller ID. Keep in mind, though, that pictures aren't visible on the external display. Another complaint was that adding entries to the phone book is somewhat backward. The software prompts you to first choose a communication option--mobile number, home, office, fax, other, or e-mail--before entering the contact's name. More annoyingly, there is no Edit Entry option in the main phone book menu to add info to an existing listing. Nor can you access the phone book from the main menu.
You also get a vibrate mode and text and multimedia messaging as well as by-now de rigueur organizer features such a calculator, a calendar, a to-do list, a stopwatch, a timer, an alarm clock, and a currency converter. There's also a speakerphone, but you can turn it on only after you've placed a call. The multiple messaging features coupled with the camera are the raison d' être of this cell phone. That said, you should keep a couple things in mind.
Since the camera is VGA, the available resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 160x120, and 128x120) are nothing you'd want to print out. Other editing options were satisfactory. You can choose from two shutter sounds (you can't turn them off, though), a 4X zoom, a night mode, a multishot option, five picture effects, a brightness control, a self-timer (up to 10 seconds), 15 rudimentary fun frames, and an image-rotation control. You can send just-snapped photos, which eases multimedia message creation, or save them to the phone's 8MB of memory. Messages flew quickly from phone to in-box, although our e-mail software labeled the tmomail.net multimedia missives as junk.