Although new smartphones are raining down every day for major carriers, the prepaid market is one of the fastest-growing segments in the mobile handset industry, and feature phones like the Samsung SGH-T369 for T-Mobile make up the bulk. You could do a lot worse than the T369, too. It has a compact design and a sturdy sliding mechanism on the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It also packs in more hardware goodies than the simple shape and stock black color would suggest. By this we mean the camcorder, the music player, and the microSD card slot, of course.
Yet, there are also some forehead-smacking design flaws. The shared Micro-USB charging port/headphone jack is a no-no in our book, and we've gone blue in the face stating our preference for expandable memory slots to live anywhere but behind the back cover, where the T369's microSD card slot is located.
Still, the $79.99 price tag isn't bad for all you get with this prepaid phone, and usability is good. In addition, you get T-Mobile's playful carousel interface and access to its responsive customer service.
"Bland" was the first word that came to mind when we laid eyes on the Samsung T369 for T-Mobile. The phone is matte black with rounded corners, with subtle matte gray and metallic gray accents. If you peer closely, you can see fine ridging on the black face. There's also an understated design on the back cover. "Compact" was our second impression. Not that the slider phone is the most petite we've ever seen. In fact, at 4.5 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, it has the exact same dimensions as Samsung's Gravity family, and in particular the Gravity 2. Yet there's a certain efficiency that the T369 conveys, with very little wasted space. There's a 2-inch LCD display that supports 240x320 pixel resolution and 262,000 colors. We had no problem with the brightness or color saturation, though we wouldn't recommend viewing it in direct sunlight if you're outdoors and have the option to step into the shade.
Below the screen is the navigation array with the Talk and End buttons bookending two soft keys, a Clear button, a shortcut button that you can program to one of four functions, and a central OK button that's also surrounded by a four-directional control. The buttons are on the small side and a bit cramped; those with thicker fingertips may have a harder time making precise selections. Apply that sentiment of smallness to the numbered dialpad as well. The backlit keys are wide and narrow. While fully separated, we find them overly slim and sometimes difficult to get around.
On the right spine there's a dedicated camera button and a shared port for both the Micro-USB charger and the headset jack. We have two complaints with this setup. The non-standard jack requires a converter for most headphones, and the shared port means that you can't listen to music while you charge your phone. The volume rocker is on the left side, and on the back is the 1.3-megapixel camera that also doubles as a camcorder. There is a microSD card slot beneath the back cover, with room for up to 16GB expandable memory. As we've mentioned above, we find the placement inconvenient, and also perplexing given the T369's uncluttered spines.
Sliding open the phone pops out the QWERTY keyboard. You also can program the sliding action to trigger a communication function, like opening the text message composer. The sliding action itself feels sturdy and tightly constructed. Although the phone's keyboard buttons barely rise above the surface, the keys are wide enough to get around comfortably, and the button response is mostly accurate. However, typing wasn't as fast on the T369 as it is on other QWERTY devices. As on many of Samsung's keyboards, there's a dedicated emoticon button and four directional arrows surrounding a central selection button.
At 3.9 ounces, the Samsung T369 weighs enough so it doesn't feel cheap, although it always feels on the light side when we first pick it up. It's also comfortable in the hand and on the ear.