The E720's MP3 and AAC playback, external music controls and multi-featured camera make it a useful little phone -- but there's not much memory for all that media
Getting our hands on the Samsung SGH-E720, our first thought was how thin and light it was. Then we noticed the three buttons under the outer screen and, frowning quizzically at them, wondered if they could really be for controlling music. Well, they certainly are, and along with a 1-megapixel camera and 88.5MB of internal memory, they're why the E720 handset is being talked up as a genuinely multimedia device.
The handset is widely available from UK operators, at prices ranging from free with a £15 per month contract to £280 SIM-free.
Clamshell handsets don't get much smaller than the Samsung E720. At just 91 by 45 by 23mm and weighing a mere 90g, you'd be hard-pressed to find a smaller, lighter model. You can treat this as an any-time handset -- you don't have to have capacious pockets to have access to its punchy features.
One of the great plus points of this phone is that it plays music and provides controls to do so without flipping open the clamshell. Beneath the screen are three buttons that look just like the standard play/pause, forward and back buttons on an MP3 player.
Above the reasonably large TFT front screen sits a lens with LEDs on either side. Around the edges you'll find a shortcut button for the camera on the right and a volume rocker on the left, which is ergonomically placed. We liked not having to hunt around for it during calls.
Also on the left, and protected by a cover, is a mini USB connector for linking by cable to your PC if you don't want to use the built-in Bluetooth and for connecting the supplied stereo headset. It doesn't have infrared capability or a standard headphone jack.
The overall styling is not unlike that of a computer mouse, with the top end deeper than the bottom and a sharp curve towards the hinge of the clam. It's rather pretty and it's comfortable to hold in the hand when it's closed. It feels very solidly built.
Open the clamshell and you see a large numberpad that uses most of the available space and offers large and well-spaced keys. The usual pair of softkey buttons and navigation pad sit above the numbers. For all its size, we found the numberpad unresponsive, and the navigation pad slightly fiddly to use.
The screen is small but extremely bright and clear. Its 262K colours are shown off to good effect by the pair of parrots on the default wallpaper.
Samsung isn't generous with the accessories. You get a lanyard and stereo headset, as well as a power adaptor, but that's your lot. There's no carrying case or PC connection cable.
The days of the phone-as-MP3-player are fast approaching, but if you can't wait for the next generation of phones sporting hard drives (like Nokia's 4GB N91, due later this year), then this handset might catch your eye.
You can use the MP3 player with the clamshell open, but it's much more stylish to do so with the phone closed. Holding down the play button is all that's required to get a list of tracks, and you tap it again to get your music rolling. The rocker on the side of the handset sets the volume.
The camera is a mere 1-megapixel model. Perhaps that sounds a bit old-hat these days, but it's fine for the kind of snaps a mobile is likely to be used for. With the phone closed, pressing the camera shortcut button on the handset's side turns the outer screen into a viewfinder, while the forward and back buttons implement the 4x digital zoom in graded steps and adjust the brightness of your images. Hitting play toggles between the still and video modes, and pressing the side button again takes a photo.
This setup is most useful for taking quick shots of yourself and your mates. If you want to compose a more detailed shot, open the clamshell and the main screen becomes the viewfinder. Close the phone again and the camera is turned off.
To access the rest of the camera features, you need to have the phone open. You can set image resolution, configure the self-timer (three, five and ten seconds), apply filters to your images (greyscale, negative, sepia, embossed, antique, moonlight and fog) and choose from a range of frames for stills. You can also set the flash to be permanently on, allowing the handset to double as a torchat.
There's 88.5MB of memory on board, with 80MB allocated to images, sounds and video, 4MB to Java, 3MB to email and 1.5MB to MMS messages. There is no way to expand this via flash memory, so you can't carry a huge library of tunes around, and if you're thinking of taking lots of images and videos, you'll have to keep deleting the ones you don't want to keep.
Additional applications include a Web browser, calendar and file manager, voice recorder, alarm, calculator, stopwatch and converter for units including length, currency, weight, volume and temperature. Java support enables you to play games and there are four already installed.
The E720 is a very in-your-face handset. There are lots of bright colours, some of which appear in unnecessary ways. For example, dial manually and each number pops up on screen in a different colour. Play some music and an equaliser bopitty-bops around on screen. It's not subtle, and to our taste, these presentation issues detract from the phone's elegance.
We had no problems with call quality during our test.
Given that this is a phone and not an MP3 player, the sound quality through the provided stereo headset is superb, which is just as well, because the connector is a mini-USB type rather than a standard jack, so you can't use your favourite headphones. Output from the handset's speaker is loud, but of poor quality.
The two screens can both be set to power down quickly in order to save the battery. The outer screen shows an analogue clock, which is nice to have on constant display. However, on balance it's probably best dispensed with, in the interests of battery life. We didn't find battery life a problem, but if you are going to use this handset as a music device, you'll want every ounce of power from it, so the external clock will seem like frippery.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide