Samsung Eternity II SGH-A597 (AT&T)
When Samsung feels that it has a good idea, it's not shy about sharing it among U.S. carriers. The company certainly is doing that now with the various versions of the Samsung Galaxy S, but we also saw it spread the love back in late 2008 with four similar models of a midrange touch-screen phone. Sprint's Instinct, T-Mobile's Behold, Alltel's "="" rel="follow">Delve, and AT&T's Eternity each put its own spin on the concept, but at the time we liked what they had to offer. And now, more than a year and a half later, Samsung is hoping to repeat that success by hitting up AT&T again with the Eternity II.
Though we have no problems with the concept of cell phone sequels, they must follow certain rules like their cinematic counterparts. They must continue, rather then repeat, the story, and they must improve on their predecessor in some way. Sadly, the Eternity II doesn't do either. Sure, it's a tad prettier than the first handset, but it retains almost the same feature set. And for one feature, it even takes a step back. Though a handset like the Eternity II would have been fine two years ago, it's just looking dated now. You can get it for $69.99 with service.
If you prefer a physical keyboard, you might as well stop reading this review now. Like a handful of other Samsung devices, the Eternity II is all about a touch screen. Of course, there's nothing wrong with going that route, but we realize that some people like to feel buttons beneath their fingers. At 4.41 inches long by 2.11 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep, the Eternity II is relatively compact, though it is a tad heavier than you might think (5 ounces). Just remember to be careful and not drop the handset on its plastic cover. The royal blue color is unique and attractive, and we like the kooky 3D effect of the bubble design on the phone's rear side.
Of course, a smaller phone means a small display. Though that can be problematic on any phone, it's especially troublesome on a touch-screen device. Indeed, the Eternity II's screen measures just 3 inches diagonally, which is about a quarter of an inch smaller than our minimum. Fortunately, the Eternity II offers three home screens so you're not constantly scrolling to find what you need. Also, we have to commend Sammy for giving the display a decent resolution (262,144 colors; 240x400 pixels).
The Eternity II uses Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Its primary feature is a collapsible bar on the left side of the screen that holds icons for various features. When you drag the icons out to the main screen, you then get one-touch access to the corresponding feature. After a couple years of using TouchWiz, we're not completely in love with the interface--mainly because we'd like more customization--but we appreciate what Samsung tried to do. The shortcuts are convenient and we like the widgets for the music player and calendar.
The touch interface is relatively accurate, though you'll need a firm deliberate press for your command to register. You can calibrate the display if needed and change the intensity of the vibrating feedback. The Intensity II has an accelerometer and a motion detector that will silence the ringer if you flip the phone face down on a table. What's more, the "smart unlock" feature lets you unlock the phone by drawing a shape on the display with your finger.
The dialer interface has a standard design, and we approve of the larger numbers and letters on the touch controls. The QWERTY keyboard feels rather cramped given the display's size; we fumbled around during our first few minutes of use because the keys are small. Also, you'll need to switch to alternate keyboards for numbers and symbols. You even can use handwriting recognition, but the display isn't big enough or accurate enough for that feature. Luckily, the main menu feels a bit better, and we like that you can customize some menu icons and add multiple menu pages for more room.
At the bottom of the display are three touch controls for the phone dialer, your contacts list, and the main menu. Below them you'll find three physical controls: a back button and the Talk and End/power keys. On the left spine there's a volume rocker, and on the right spine you'll see a display lock key, a camera shutter, a Micro-USB charger port, a camera shutter, and a control for accessing a pop-up shortcut menu. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone, and the microSD card slot is behind the battery cover.
The Eternity II has a 2,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mails, and URLS. You also can add a street address, a company name and job title, a nickname, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. Fortunately, you can use your own audio files and MP3 tracks as tones.
Organizer essentials include a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a task list, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a tip calculator. You'll also find a speakerphone, full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, PC syncing, a voice recorder, USB mass storage, speaker-independent voice commands and dialing (via Nuance), and a sketchpad. Wi-Fi is one feature we were hoping for, but you won't find it here.
Besides the usual text and multimedia messaging, the Eternity II offers instant messaging and AT&T's Mobile E-mail app. The full HTML browser is nothing special. Though it should default to the mobile version for most sites (if one is available), it's still rather tedious to browse on such a small display. Also, at times it was difficult to accurately click links on crowded pages, and it can't handle Flash animation.
Though the original Eternity had a 3-megapixel camera, the Eternity II gets only a 2-megapixel camera. Granted, that's not a huge change, but we can't fathom why Samsung felt the need to downgrade that feature. As we said earlier, a sequel should improve on the original product rather than come up short. The camera takes pictures in five resolutions, including a special 400x240-pixel "wide" resolution that uses the full expanse of the Eternity's display. Other editing options include four quality settings, exposure metering, a 2x zoom, a night mode, brightness and white balance, a self-timer, four color effects, and a multishot mode. You also can use three shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), 12 fun frames, and a "smile shot" mode that promises to detect when a subject is smiling. If it "sees" a frown it will shoot again. Unfortunately, there's no flash, but photo quality is decent.
The Eternity II's camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 pixels and 176x144 pixels). Camcorder options are fewer than on the still camera, but it's a decent assortment. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 45 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in the standard mode. The Eternity has a generous 512MB of internal memory, but you can use a microSD-card up to 16GB for more space. The camera menus are simple and easy to use.
Armed with Assisted GPS, the Eternity II includes an AllSport GPS app, and AT&T Navigator and TeleNav services for turn-by-turn directions. Other carrier-specific applications include AT&T Social Net, AT&T Mobile Music (wireless song downloads through a variety of partners), AT&T Mobile Video (streaming video content), AT&T Family Map, AT&T Video Share, and AT&T Mobile TV (live TV service that uses Qualcomm's MediaFLO technology).
The Eternity II also comes with a variety of third-party apps like Where, YellowPages Mobile, Loopt, Fun Screenz, MobiVJ, WikiMobile, Power Chat, My-Cast Weather, and Mobile Banking. Two unusual apps are Tumbling Dice , which lets you roll a pair of virtual dice right on your display, and Pic Dial, which shows your contacts' Facebook and MySpace profile pictures and status messages during calls. Keep in mind that some apps do require data use, which results in extra charges. Gamers also get a fix with demo versions of four games--Brain Exercise, Bubble Bash 2, Diner Dash, Luxor Quest, and The Sims 3. If you'd like more titles, you can visit AT&T's AppCenter.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Eternity II world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was just average. The volume only gets moderately loud and we heard some static on our end. We also heard the audio cut out on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, voice clarity is good--our friends' voices sounded as they should--but we couldn't escape those few niggling issues.
On their end, our callers also mentioned some static and audio gaps. They also could tell that we were using a cell phone. Though the latter issue would be fine by itself, our friends had trouble hearing us if we were calling from a noisy place. We suggest that you try the Eternity II before buying. Speakerphone calls get quite loud, but the audio was somewhat distorted on our end. Bluetooth headset calls were a bit better, but still not spectacular.
The Eternity II is equipped with multiple 3G bands (UMTS; HSDPA 850/1900/2100) so it will get data service outside North America. When using AT&T's 3G network, however, the connection was somewhat slow. Mobile sites usually took more than 30 seconds to load, and streaming video had its share of hiccups.
The Eternity has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10 days standby time. It had a tested talk time of 6 hours and 11 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Eternity has a digital digital SAR rating of 0.97 watt per kilogram.