Budget Android handsets are a great idea if you want to get started with Android but don't want to spend the big bucks on something like the HTC Sensation 4G or the T-Mobile G2X. T-Mobile's budget Android offerings currently consist of the LG Optimus T and the T-Mobile Comet. Now the family includes the Samsung Dart, an Android 2.2 handset that retails for free after a two-year contract and an online discount. It's an entry-level device that won't wow you with its design or feature set, but it does offer great Android functionality for an unbeatable price.
The Samsung Dart has the look and feel of an entry-level smartphone. Clad in gray lightweight plastic, the Dart is quite compact, measuring 4.09 inches long by 2.39 inches wide by 0.48 inch deep, and weighing only 3.8 ounces. As a result, the Dart lacks the premium feel of more-expensive phones. However, the back cover has a matte textured surface that makes the phone more pleasing to grasp, and we like the rounded corners and tapered chin.
The Dart has a 3.14-inch display, which is rather small by most smartphone standards. Because it's so small, we found we had to scroll a lot more in large Web pages. Also, the virtual keyboard takes up almost half the screen, which significantly reduces the text input area. The keyboard itself appears more compact than usual, and requires a touch more precision when typing. Additionally, the screen is only 240x320-pixel QVGA, so it's not nearly as sharp or crisp as higher-end handsets. We do commend the Dart for the vibrant graphics, however, thanks to the support for 16.7 million colors. You can adjust the brightness, the window animations, and the backlight timer.
The display is made out of plastic, not glass, so it doesn't feel as smooth to the touch. In fact, when we first laid our fingers on it, it had a slightly tacky feel when swiping around. That soon went away, however, and we experienced little delay with navigation because of the capacitive touch screen. The Dart also has an accelerometer and a proximity sensor.
Beneath the screen are the four Android keys--the menu, Home, back, and Search functions--in the form of touch sensor buttons. The volume rocker is on the left spine, the power button, and microSD card slot are on the right, and the 3.5mm headset jack and Micro-USB port are on the top. On the back of the phone is the camera lens.
Though the Dart ships with Android 2.2, it does employ Samsung's TouchWiz UI to differentiate it from other Android handsets. Compared with some other manufacturer skins, the TouchWiz interface is actually not that intrusive. The row of shortcut keys on the bottom of the home screen is laid out in a simple grid, and consists of the phone dialer, phone book, messaging menu, and main menu, respectively.
Aside from that, the home screens are pretty close to stock Android, as is the phone dialer. For text input, you get a custom Samsung keyboard as well as Swype. However, you won't have access to the stock multitouch Android keyboard.
That same row of shortcuts is carried over into the main menu, where TouchWiz leaves its mark in a much more pronounced way. Instead of the "Star Wars" preamble-like scrolling of the default Android interface, the menu on Samsung's TouchWiz is divided into different pages, with 12 shortcut icons per page. Thus, you swipe left or right to navigate through the main menu, which is similar to the iPhone's UI.
The Dart ships with the usual array of Android features, including tight integration with Google apps and services like Gmail, Google Talk, Latitude, Maps, Places, Google voice search, and YouTube. If you would rather not use Gmail, the Dart can also be used with POP and IMAP protocols for use with your own e-mail account. The Dart can be used to retrieve Microsoft Exchange e-mails, too.
As for apps, the Dart, thankfully, does not come with a lot of bloatware. Most of the preinstalled apps consist of the aforementioned Google apps plus default options like the Android Web browser and a voice recorder. You also get Google Music, which lets you access your uploaded music stored on Google's online locker. Aside from that, the Dart comes with Thinkfree Office, which lets you create and edit Office documents. If you want more apps, you can always get them via the Android Market.
On the phone side, the Dart has a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, and text and multimedia messaging. It also has Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi with support for tethering and the ability to act as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot for up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Thanks to T-Mobile, the Dart can also make calls over Wi-Fi with a special Wi-Fi calling app. Calls over Wi-Fi won't take away minutes from your mobile monthly plan, so it works as an easy and affordable way to make calls.
Picture quality is not bad for a 3-megapixel camera. Images are sharp and colors are bright, with only a hint of muddiness. In low light however, images have a grainier texture. The Dart has camcorder abilities as well, but the highest resolution is QVGA 320x240 pixels.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Dart in San Francisco using T-Mobile. Call quality was good on the whole, but it did falter occasionally. On our end, we heard our callers clearly without any crackling or background noise. Voice quality was also decent and natural-sounding.
On their end, callers reported similarly good quality, too. However, there were occasions when the volume would drop and our voice would fade out. It only happened every once in a while, but it was certainly noticeable; you can hear it on our recorded call-quality sample below.
Samsung Dart call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone calls were about the same as regular phone calls, and suffered no further issues.
The Dart works with T-Mobile's 3G network. We experienced decent speeds overall. We used Ookla's Speedtest.net app and discovered download speeds at around 4Mbps and upload speeds of around 1Mbps.
The 600MHz processor is quite dinky compared with the 1GHz behemoths out there, but we didn't experience much lag when switching apps or navigating the phone. We did get a bit of lag when launching certain apps like the browser and the camera, which can get a little annoying when you're in a hurry. There was also an isolated incident when the camera app froze up on us. It only happened once, so we're not sure if it's a regular occurrence, but just be mindful about that.
The Samsung Dart is a pretty simple entry-level Android smartphone with enough features to satisfy the Android newbie. The TouchWiz interface is fun and easy to navigate, and features like Wi-Fi calling are a real asset. It also has a price point that can't be beat. However, it's saddled with a small unsatisfactory screen, and we think T-Mobile's LG Optimus T is a slightly better option for the same price.