Though you may think Hollywood celebrities are the group that's most obsessed with being thin, cell phone designers are not far behind. Two years after the Motorola Razr made its debut, the race to make the world's thinnest phone shows few signs of abating, with almost every company out to steal the title. The Samsung SPH-M610 for Sprint PCS is the latest handset to call itself a record-holder, but we won't be surprised if a newer, slimmer, shinier model comes along any day now. Despite our growing desire for a return to big, fat phones we readily admit that the SPH-M610 is an attractive handset with a solid selection of features and satisfying performance. It's $329 if you pay full price, but with a two-year contract it's a more wallet-friendly $179.
Samsung has a knack for copying a popular design trend and making it better. In the past year, for example, the Samsung BlackJack managed to out-wow the Motorola Q, and the Samsung MM-A900 emerged as a more attractive alternative to the celebrated Razr. With its SPH-M610, Samsung again beats the Razr at its own game. Besides being smaller (3.98 by 2.05 by 0.47 inches) overall than the Razr (3.8 by 2.0 by 0.5 inches) the SPH-M610's curved lines give it a bit more appeal. The black coloring is cool, and though the SPH-M610 is a tad lighter than the Razr, it has a more solid and comfortable feel in the hand.
On the other hand, we didn't love everything about the SPH-M610's exterior. The exterior tends to attract finger smudges and the tiny external display (0.8 inches, 96x48 pixels) is much too small for the phone's size. It shows the time, battery life, signal strength and caller ID (where available) but because the screen is monochrome, it doesn't support photo caller ID. We expect more from a phone that has a 2-megapixel camera. The display's brightness level can't be altered, and though the text disappears completely when the backlighting is off, a flick of the volume rocker on the left spine activates it again.
Just above the display is a rotating camera lens that swivels 180 degrees to the rear of the phone. There's no flash, which is too bad, but when the phone is open you can swivel the lens to take self-portraits. The only other feature on the exterior of the phone is a covered headset jack/charger port (you can use only one at a time) on the right spine. Samsung managed to slip a microSD card slot into the SPH-M610 but we didn't like its placement at all. Not only is it behind the battery cover but you also need to remove the battery to pry out the card.
The SPH-M610's internal TFT (thin film transistor) display is stunning to say the least. We love its large size (2.2 inches, 240x320) and 262,000-color resolution. Colors, graphics, text, and images were very easy on the eyes, and the simple but efficient menus (available in a few styles) were a cinch to use. You can change the backlighting time and the dialing font style, size, and color, but you can't change the brightness. Like most Samsung displays, the SPH-M610's is difficult to see in direct light.
Slim phones like the SPH-M610 usually suffer a few pitfalls when it comes to their controls. In order to keep the phones as thin as possible, designers resort to perfectly flat keypads. Though we understand why it's done, it makes it difficult to dial by feel. While this is true for the SPH-M610, we like that its keys are covered in a tactile material that makes them less slippery than keys on other trim handsets. They're fairly spacious as well, and are brightly backlit.
For navigation purposes, the SPH-M610 has a large four-way toggle with a central OK button that opens the menu. For quick access to your favorite features, the toggle directions double as shortcuts to four user-defined functions, the right soft key opens the contacts menu, and the left soft key opens a customizable My Favorites menu. Rounding out the navigational array are dedicated camera and speakerphone buttons, a back control, and the traditional Talk and End/power buttons.
The SPH-M610 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for 5 phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a nickname, and notes. You can save callers to groups or pair them with one of 20 polyphonic or 9 monophonic ring tones. You can assign a photo to contacts as well, but keep in mind that they won't appear on the external display when that person calls. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice commands including voice dialing, instant messaging, e-mail, a scheduler, a task list, a countdown timer, a memo pad, a world clock, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a voice recorder. On the higher end of the feature scale, the SPH-M610 offers Bluetooth, modem capability, a speakerphone, Sprint's wireless backup service for your contacts, and USB cable support.