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When I first beheld the Samsung DoubleTime, I did a double take. With its white body, pink accents, dual touch screens, hinged clamshell form factor and a QWERTY keyboard, the DoubleTime looks like exactly the kind of handset to come out of T-Mobile, not its buttoned-up rival and would-be owner, AT&T.
The carrier definitely deserves kudos for going out on a limb, and in fact, it has done so before in introducing the HTC Status Facebook phone. I appreciate the unusual build and the fact that both Samsung and AT&T have reached beyond the same humdrum comfort of plain, thin black phones in an offering as unique as this. Unfortunately, the design is the phone's best element; features-wise, it's serviceable, but offers very little else to entice. Its worse sin is the Android 2.2 Froyo OS it ships with, rather than the more current Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The 3.2-megapixel camera is also mediocre, though call quality is good.
The combination of the interesting QWERTY design with the pink accents and the Froyo OS limit the DoubleTime's audience, though the $49.99 price tag is fair and budget-friendly.
The DoubleTime is a breath of fresh air for those of you (like me) who are a little tired of gazing upon the same tall, thin, black smartphone design. It's all white, with two sturdy hinges that swing open the 3.2-inch touch screen (at two different angles) to reveal an identical screen within, and a four-row QWERTY keyboard. Different, right?
At 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.6 inch thick, it's a relatively thick, compact device, so very different than razor-thin phones such as the Motorola Droid Razr and Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I don't mind the girth, in truth, especially since I enjoy the phone design. The width gives me something to grab hold of, and I was actually able to walk down the street shooting video and taking photos one-handed (while holding my lunch in the other), something I don't necessarily recommend, but something that is also more difficult to accomplish on thinner handsets. You may have to coax it into tighter pockets, but it fits fine in my cavernous purse and wasn't too uncomfortable hitching a ride in the back pocket of my trustiest pair of jeans.
In addition to the bulkier design, the DoubleTime is weightier, too: 5.2 ounces. Again, the heft adds to a sense of durability that you don't always get with plastic phones.
Back to those twin screens. The DoubleTime's 3.2-inchers have an HVGA (480x320 pixels) resolution. Icons look a little small, and Web sites aren't as easy to read as on larger screens, but it looks colorful and bright enough as long as you're not in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, the phone only runs Android 2.2 Froyo, and Samsung says it doesn't have anything to announce just now about upgrades. While it's unlikely the phone will make the jump to Ice Cream Sandwich (at least not any time soon,) those of you who are happy with Gingerbread won't miss too much. The DoubleTime still supports most features, including hot-spot connectivity for up to five devices (when you subscribe to a separate monthly plan.)
A version of Samsung's TouchWiz interface rides atop Froyo. This gives you the ability to see an overview of your home screens (up to seven) when you pinch in, and access system settings when you pull down the notifications bar. It also has a stylized look and feel.
Below the external screen are four physical buttons that are nice and responsive--they pull up the menu, go Home, go back, and launch search. On the subtly textured backing is the 3.2-megapixel camera. You have to pop off the back cover to reach the microSD card slot. Although the DoubleTime comes with 2GB preinstalled (thanks, Samsung and AT&T!), you'll have to remove the battery to remove or replace the card. The phone takes up to 32GB in total.
The other external features are predictable: there's a nice volume rocker on the left spine, the power button and 3.5 millimeter headset jack up top, and the Micro-USB charging port on the bottom.
As I mentioned before, the screen flips open like a book to reveal the keyboard and second, internal screen. The keyboard manages to be both compact and roomy, with space between the squarish buttons. The proportion was just right for my hands, and although the backlit keys don't rise very high from the surface, the rubberized coating and responsive feedback helped me type with confidence. I also like the four physical navigation buttons above the QWERTY. All of the phone's physical buttons sport a bright pink accent, which won't appeal to all demographics.
A Froyo handset, the DoubleTime contains all the standard Android features, starting with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, support for a multitude of e-mail accounts, and text and multimedia messaging. There's contact-importing with rich contact records and group calling. Google services abound, like Gmail, Maps, free navigation with turn-by-turn directions, Google Books, Latitude for location, Google Places, Google Talk, Voice Search, and YouTube. There's also the usual music player, which covers the basics of shuffling and creating playlists.
No smartphone overlooks the basics: a calendar, a calculator, a clock, a memo pad, and a task manager. AT&T adds its own apps, too, including AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Navigator (which will cost about $10 per month), and U-Verse (known here as Live TV), which is another $10 monthly subscription for downloading and streaming TV content. Yellow Pages Mobile and Facebook are also preinstalled.
The camera is one of a phone's most sought-after features. If you fall in this camp, keep seeking! The 3.2-megapixel camera tended to wash out all but the brightest colors, creating images that lack a certain richness and clarity. There's no flash, but there is auto-focus. The camcorder was serviceable, but nothing special. It wasn't as smooth as I would have liked, and I did notice some artifacts.
To worsen matters, the camera/camcorder app itself is on the more simplistic side, with far fewer color and white balance effects than you'd usually see. The various modes to improve images for scenes like landscape, evening, and backlit situations are helpful, though the fact that the camera app remains in landscape mode is not.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS 850/1900/2100) Samsung DoubleTime on AT&T's network in San Francisco. Call quality was good. I thought voices could have sounded a little richer and a smidge louder. While there was thankfully no background interruption, white noise, or other distortion during my tests, voices themselves had fuzzy, frayed edges. On their end, callers liked the volume, but didn't think I sounded quite natural. They said I sounded a little scratchy and hollow. The line remained clear, however, and while the overall experience lacked a bit of oomph on both sides, quality ranks as average.
Samsung DoubleTime call quality sample Listen now:
I tested speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. Voices came out loud to my ears, but not entirely clear. The line remained clear of white noise and distortion, but the buzziness I heard through the standard speaker was much more pronounced. The voice on the other end of the line said I sounded good, if not a little hollow and echoey, but said it was more than acceptable.
As far as speeds go, the DoubleTime felt a little slow with its 600MHz processor. Apps loaded a beat later than I'm accustomed to with today's faster phones, and there was noticeable shutter lag on the camera. Data speeds were better. CNET's mobile site loaded in about 16 seconds, while the full CNET site took 30 seconds to load. The New York Times mobile site loaded in 14 seconds; the full site finished in 29. Using the Speedtest.net app from Ookla, the diagnostic speeds ranged from a low of 0.53 to 1.17Mbps down, and from 0.09 to 0.14Mbps up.
The DoubleTime has a rated battery life of up to 6 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time on its 1200 mAh battery. FCC radio frequence tests measured a digital SAR of 0.54 watt per kilogram.
Samsung and AT&T took the plunge on the DoubleTime's more singular looks, a chancier move since the bulkier, shorter, and pinker form constricts its mass appeal. If, like me, you take a shine to the handset's appearance, dual-screen design, and call-quality bonus, you might (like me) ask yourself if the second screen significantly adds to the experience. It may add little other than bulk to make the keyboard a clamshell design rather than a slider, but to me, it doesn't detract. However, the Froyo OS, duller camera, and slower processor might keep you from committing. The $50 cost is reasonable, but AT&T has other low-cost smartphones for those who aren't set on a keyboard.