The slide-out phone is a much rarer beast than its clamshell and standard rectangular brethren, and perhaps with good reason; the often awkward design makes it difficult to achieve a balance between looks, functionality and ergonomics.
Samsung has stepped up its slider phone tilt with the E820T, whose predecessor, the E800, appeared late in 2004. Available only on Telstra, it is a model of mixed virtue which may delight or disappoint, depending on usage needs.
Let us begin with a paradox: The slide-out design of the E820T is both its niftiest quality and its downfall. On the positive side, the phone is ready for dialling or texting action with one deft flick of the thumb, since sliding back the spring-loaded cover also unlocks the display. It is also possible to navigate menus without having to open the handset, which is handy for covert in-pocket SMS reading.
On a more negative note, the fact that the TFT display and the keypad are stacked on top of each other means that the E820T creates some serious pocket bulge. The placement of the navigation and alphanumeric keys on different levels is also annoying; this model won't be winning an award for ergonomics any time soon.
On the subject of keys, it's worth mentioning that all of them are set very closely together. The four-way navigation key is also quite compact, and we were a little perplexed by the decision to place a WAP shortcut key smack bang in the middle, when a general selection key would have been more convenient.
If you look back fondly on the Japanese sticker photo craze, you may be enamoured of the photo options offered by the E820T. Like the cartoon camera booths of yore, the phone has a selection of colourful frames that can be selected when capturing happy snaps with the VGA flash camera. There is also an assortment of visual effects you can apply, such as sepia, sketch and emboss. It's not exactly Photoshop-in-a-phone, but as far as gimmicks go, it's a novel inclusion.
The "Fun Box" menu option sadly does not live up to its name -- unless your idea of a wild time is organising multimedia files and awaiting the download of Web pages with broken images and oversized text. The two Java games, SnowBallFight and BubbleSmile, are quite cute and vibrant however, and provide enough entertainment for a train ride home.
Sound-wise, the E820T is pretty impressive, with the 64-chord polyphonic ring tones being free from distortion even at higher volumes. The alert tones and "I just slid open my phone everybody!" tones are also funky and crystal clear, but sadly can't be used as message alerts or incoming call sounds.
At times, the sparkling tones of the E820T can be unnerving -- the alarm clock is so clear and otherworldly-sounding that not only will it rouse you from a deep slumber; it may have you convinced that an alien invasion is in progress.
Despite being rated for three and a half hours of talk time or two hundred and fifty hours for standby, we found the E820T's battery life to be disappointingly short. We averaged two days between charges, despite battery-extending tricks like reducing the screen brightness.
Sending multimedia messages is an easy process, with the option to list multiple numbers or email addresses a great inclusion.
In addition to relatively poor ergonomics, the E820T is also let down by a lacklustre user interface. While a bit of poking around will uncover standard features like the camera or phone book, attempting to set up the push-to-talk functionality, which is arguably the phone biggest selling point, will soon have you radioing for help.
Once you do have PTT set up, it works well. Voice clarity is excellent, and the whole system is pain free. However, we did struggle to adjust the volume in order to not miss important announcements whilst avoiding embarrassing catcalls being broadcast around the office.
While the E820T is not a bad phone, you'll find better models with more features for this price. Once the novelty of PTT wears off, there's not a lot to write home about.