Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Take the Samsung SGH-T309: Although not unattractive by any means, this T-Mobile phone's humdrum style won't win any beauty contests. So if you are one of those cell phone users who view your phone as an expression of your personality, you'll pass up this handset in favor of more cutting-edge designs, such as the . If that's the case, it's probably best that you leave the SGH-T309 on the store shelf, as poor battery life and a lack of features will have little appeal to high-end users. And while its great call quality may appeal to users who just want a phone, the performance overall wasn't up to par. Priced at $149 (or less with service), the Samsung SGH-T309 is on the costly side. The Samsung SGH-T309 has a simple, no-frills design that largely resembles the . But rather than incorporating the SGH-X495's gray and white color scheme, the SGH-T309 replaces the white with black. Other exterior features are basically similar. With a nicely curved top edge and an internal antenna, the compact SGH-T309 is a bit sleek, and its size is almost the same as its predecessor, at 3.25 by 1.75 by 0.90 inches and 3.1 ounces. Overall, the phone is easy to hold in your hand, and it enjoys a relatively solid feel.
The external display on the Samsung SGH-T309 is a decent size (1 inch diagonal), but the grayscale screen means there's no picture caller ID, and its usefulness as a viewfinder for self-portraits is limited. The display does show the time, battery life, the date, signal strength, and caller ID (where available), but the backlight setting is not adjustable, and we could not display a picture or wallpaper. The lens is in a good central location on the flip, but unfortunately, there's no flash. The headset jack is located conveniently on the top left of the side spine and includes a cover, while just below is a volume rocker that also acts as a zoom for the camera and activates the external display backlight when the flip is closed. Finally, there's a dedicated camera button on the right spine.
The interior 64,000-color display measures 1.75 inches diagonally, but with a lackluster 128x160-pixel resolution, it falls considerably short of expectations. The backlighting is adjustable, and you can control the contrast, the brightness, the font size, and the font color.
The Samsung SGH-T809's five-way navigation toggle is small and prone to misdials, which caused a significant distraction when making calls on the road. The toggle shortcuts, which cannot be changed, prove one-touch access to the camera, the voice memos, text messaging, and the contacts list. Moreover, the large OK button in the middle of the toggle, which doubles as a shortcut to T-Mobile's T-zones, is also much too small; we accidentally hit it a few times. The left soft key is the default main-menu button, and the right soft key accesses the options for the phone book. The keypad buttons benefit from a bright-white backlighting and are relatively easy to read in the dark. Yet, the oval buttons are small and flat with the surface of the phone. That made dialing by feel more difficult.The Samsung SGH-T309 has a large phone book that stores up to 1,000 unique contacts. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names. Phone book contacts can hold up to five separate numbers, along with an e-mail address. You can organize contacts into predefined caller groups or pair them with one of 15 polyphonic (40-chord) ring tones or one of 15 MP3 tones. There's also room in each entry for a picture, but pictures show up only on the internal display. A vibration mode is included, but settings are limited to vibration only, ring only, vibration then ring, or silence. You can activate and deactivate the silent mode by holding down the # key. Other features include text and multimedia messaging, AOL instant messaging, e-mail support, 1-minute voice memos, a memo pad, PC syncing, a calculator, a datebook, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, a stopwatch, and an alarm clock.
Connectivity is limited on the Samsung SGH-T309, which lacks Bluetooth and an infrared port. One of the highlights of the handset is the robust speakerphone. We were impressed with the sound quality and the volume of the speakerphone, although we wish there were a dedicated button for this feature. Instead, the speakerphone is activated by the soft key once a call is in progress. The Samsung SGH-T309 also allows conference calling for up to six people.