Samsung t159 (T-Mobile) review:

Samsung t159 (T-Mobile)

Samsung t159
Large dialpad keys are one of the phone's best assets. Josh Miller/CNET

Support for T-Mobile's visual voice mail is a great addition for the t159, especially on a handset that centers on verbal contact. In addition, you can listen to music and play assorted games on the phone to kill time. More apps, wallpaper, and extras are waiting for you in the T-Mobile Mall shortcut.

It may not sound like much, but the Samsung t159's 1.3-megapixel camera/camcorder is a step up from previous phones in the "t" series. Pressing the physical button on the right spine launches the camera. Photos look tiny on the small screen, and are a little lackluster. Outdoors shots look more saturated than indoor pictures, and there's no flash, which means that the more natural light on hand, the better the result.

Samsung offers a fair amount of photo choices, including several shooting modes (single, continuous, and smile shot;) night mode; and three resolutions (1,280x690 pixels down to 320x240.) There are five white balance modes as well, five effects, and three focus options (spot, center-weighted, and matrix.) In addition, there's a self-timer option, and a settings menu. After taking a picture, you can save it to your online album, send to someone via Bluetooth or a picture message, or set it as your wallpaper or as a photo ID.

Samsung t159
The 1.3-megapixel camera now comes with a camcorder, but don't expect expert quality. Josh Miller/CNET

Some similar settings apply to the camcorder, but the resolution tops out at 320x240 and you can opt to limit the video length for MMS, usually about 30 seconds. Video quality is on the poorer side, but that's to be expected for the low resolution and for the inexpensive type of phone. You wouldn't buy a flip phone like this for the camera or video quality.

Samsung needed to nail call quality on a phone like this, and it does. Tests on the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz) Samsung t159 in San Francisco on T-Mobile's network yielded even results on a variety of calls. Volume was strong and voices were warm, though not quite crystal-clear. I could still tell I was speaking over a cell phone. I found no traces of distortion or any breaks or interruptions. Overall, I had few real complaints.

My testing companion said the t159 sounded "way better than just about any smartphone I can remember." Audio was loud and clear without noise or discernible distortion. He said I came across naturally, with little to no high-frequency clipping that he usually detects on other phones I review.

Samsung t159 call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was also a pleasant surprise when I held the phone waist-high. Volume was pretty strong, though my caller sounded more distant. The line also remained clear. On his end, my test partner said I was slightly harder to understand, although he also heard me loud and clear without any breaks in the audio.

During our battery drain test, the t159 had a rated battery life of 5.72 hours on its 800mAh battery. Five hours may not seem as long-lived as other phones, but if you mostly use it for phone calls, it'll last longer on a single charge than some other multitasking handsets will. According to FCC radiation tests, the t159 has a digital SAR of 0.63 watt per kilogram.

Sometimes you just need a good, solid device for making calls, and the Samsung t159 is it. The humble flip phone doesn't offer much in the way of style, but it gets the calling basics right, and for the right price. (It also makes you wonder why every phone doesn't sound this good.) Although extra features like T-Mobile's visual voice mail and voice commands give the phone more verve, Samsung stopped short of some other helpful mainstays, like a separate headset jack, a larger, higher-resolution screen, and a more nuanced OS menu.

What you'll pay

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