Samsung F400 review: Samsung F400
Samsung has teamed up with AV specialist Bang & Olufsen once more to create the F400, a stylish music phone with a simple trick -- slide down the screen and you reveal quality B&O speakers. Importantly for a music phone, it has a 3.5mm headphone socket and can play protected music formats
Remember the £600 Samsung Bang & Olufsen Serene handset? So do we, and not because we ponied up the cash to buy one -- it was preposterous. Bangsung, as we like to call the joint entity, now has a slicker, more affordable music phone on the market: the F400.
It's out now with deals from O2 and several other networks, from free on contracts from £25 a month, and around £220 SIM-free.
One of the most important aspects of the F400's design is the native 3.5mm headphone socket -- there's no need to use any bundled cables to connect your favourite 'phones to the handset. This may seem like a given, but even some of the highest-end music phones lack this simple feature.
Playing host to this headphone socket is a generally solid-feeling dual-slider chassis. It's not the most slimline of phones, or the lightest, but it's well-built and pretty rugged. What it isn't is a cute phone designed for life in your skinny jeans' pockets, unless you really want to feel that it's there.
This is partly to do with the integrated Bang & Olufsen mini-speakers, located behind the screen and revealed by sliding the screen downwards. Slide it upwards and there's also a terrific chunky keypad that's dead easy to text on at speed -- we were up to our usual texting pace within a day of getting used to it.
The 56mm (2.2-inch) 240x320-pixel screen is clear and easy to read, but its glossy plastic coating makes it a poor performer outdoors when the sun's out.
Behind this distinctly average screen, aside from the cute speakers, is a microSD slot for expanding the 20MB of internal memory up to 2GB. This helps store pictures and MPEG-4 video captured by the 3-megapixel camera, itself backed up with an LED flash.
The most common audio formats are supported by the F400, including MP3, unprotected AAC and WMA. Purchased content from online stores should be compatible, and we had no problem playing songs purchased from Napster. Built-in stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) will beam these files to wireless headphones.
Videos enjoy less usability, not only because they're less accessible than music within the phone, but because strict file formats, bit rates and resolutions of video files must be obeyed. To make things easier, Samsung includes a fairly usable bit of software that allows novices and advanced users to tweak the video conversion setup, but it's not a particularly friendly process for anyone. To be fair, very few phones make this rigmarole easy.
With 3.2Mbps HSDPA data connectivity, browsing the Web is reasonably speedy. And although the built-in browser is pretty basic, installing the terrific -- and free -- Opera Mini browser turns the F400 into an enjoyable device to browse the Web with, even if the average screen quality somewhat hinders the readability of small text.
The usual phone applications are included as well, such as a calendar, voice recorder, world clock and calculator, and Java games and apps are supported.
As a portable music player, the F400 falls short of competing with the likes of dedicated players from Apple, Creative and Sony. Compared to music phones, both the iPhone 3G and Motorola Rokr E8 offer dedicated 3.5mm headphone sockets and the former certainly offers greater audio quality.
One thing we noticed is a not-too-subtle distortion with bass. During Ingrid Michaelson's beautiful track Masochist, there was a distinct distortion, or 'rattle', that accompanied the bass-heavy kick drum.
We compared the F400's sound quality with the iPod classic's, with the same lossless-encoded tracks, and through the same studio-grade reference headphones, and felt the F400 was definitely the weaker performer. The classic offered a slightly cleaner sound and an improved sense of spaciousness.
Normally we wouldn't compare a music phone to a £250 dedicated music device, but the F400 is pitched as offering "breathtaking sound quality" and features audio by Bang and Olufsen, so we felt it necessary to give it a real run for its money.
We genuinely believe most people will be more than happy with its performance however, and indeed most sub-£60 earphones aren't good enough to convey the F400's shortcomings anyway.
Though while the phone is generally easy enough to use, we never particularly enjoyed it -- certain oversights reek of unfinished software design. For example, there doesn't seem to be any easy way of browsing your music library without stopping the song currently playing.
Finally, call quality is certainly above average, but has a slightly dull tone -- clearer call experiences do exist.
The F400 excited us so much before we got to test it, but let us down once we started. It's still a good phone on the whole, but it feels at times almost unfinished, with occasionally annoying usability and no features that stand out from the crowd. And it's certainly no competition to dedicated MP3 players.
The Motorola Rokr E8 and Samsung F400 gave us similarly mixed feelings, but the Motorola has the edge as a music phone. The F400, on the other hand, has a better, flash-equipped camera, a friendlier design and improved usability in terms of texting and navigation.
Care about music in particular but nothing else that much? Choose the E8. Like music and usability equally? Choose the F400. You should also consider the Sony Ericsson W760i, an excellent phone despite its lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket.
Edited by Nick Hide