Samsung Gravity Smart
Samsung's sub-brand of Gravity messaging phones branches out with the Samsung Gravity Smart, the line's first smartphone. Although the Gravity Smart runs Android 2.2 Froyo, the rest of the specs follow the series' traditional route of providing midtier messaging services with a stylized, slide-out QWERTY keyboard and some flashy colors that might appeal to the younger set--Berry Red, Sapphire Blue, and Lunar Gray in this case. Samsung has actually dialed down the shock factor here, as Gravity phones often come in electric hues of lime, blue, and red. We reviewed the Gravity Smart in Berry Red.
The Gravity Smart is a dense, compact little number, but sturdy and attractive, with just enough features to keep your interest. Powering the phone with Android was Samsung's smartest move, especially when competing with T-Mobile's raft of other budget Android phones. Still, with specs on the lower end of the spectrum, the Gravity Smart is best suited for Android newcomers and a more youthful demographic.
Of all the phones in Samsung's Gravity line, the Gravity Smart most resembles the Gravity T, although it's a tad shorter and slimmer, and has some different design touches. More rounded at the base than at the top, the smartphone stands 4.5 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide and is 0.6 inch thick. Due in part to the built-in QWERTY keyboard, the Gravity Smart weighs 4.6 ounces. As phones go, it's on the short, thick, dense side.
Since the phone's face is smaller, the Gravity Smart's 3.2-inch touch-screen display fits right in. Its QVGA 420x380-pixel resolution is appropriate for the screen size, so icons and text look sharp and colors look pleasantly bright. Still, we wish Samsung had pumped up the screen to at least 3.5 inches--that's the point at which we're most comfortable typing on a virtual keyboard. True, the Gravity Smart's full QWERTY slider will mitigate the need to rely on the onscreen type pad, but if a keyboard shows up in portrait mode, it's got to be comfortable and usable. We also found ourselves having to lean closer to the screen to read Web sites and maps.
Like many of Samsung's Android smartphones, the Gravity Smart uses the custom TouchWiz interface. The main features include up to seven customizable home screens (pinch and zoom on any one of them to manage them all); easy access to Wi-Fi, GPS, and other controls from the pull-down notification menu; a task-switcher that appears when you press and hold the home button; and a certain visual aesthetic on the applications tray.
Below the screen are three touch-sensitive buttons for the menu, the back key, and search. There's also a black central button that takes you back home and helps wake up a sleeping phone. The power/lock button and USB charger port are on the right spine; the volume rocker is on the left. The lens for the 3-megapixel camera resides on the back, along with the flash. Behind the back cover is the phone's microSD card slot. It takes up to 32GB external storage, but comes with a 2GB card to get you started.
Now for the part you've been waiting for: the keyboard. We had no objections to the build quality or the sliding action. The phone opens smoothly and snaps into place when it's done opening and closing. Samsung Gravity phones tend to have four-row QWERTY keyboards with offset, fully separated keys. They also have a futuristic look that involves oblong, slightly tilted buttons. The buttons themselves are fairly flush with the keyboard, but they have a nice, tactile feel and a snappy response. Unfortunately, our fingers didn't align well with the smallish, oblong spacebar, so the keyboard wasn't as comfortable for us as it could have been. Keyboard fit is a subjective thing, so we can't dock the Gravity Smart too many points here, although we will say that in this case we'd rather sacrifice the stylized blobs for a more uniform shape that we'd have an easier time hitting with our thumbs.
The keyboard has a few extra features, like a dedicated key for emoticons, and separate customizable shortcut buttons for snapping open the Web, a social network (Facebook by default), messaging, and search.
One of Android's best features is its ability to import and sync contacts from your various accounts like Gmail and Facebook. It's more or less seamless, but we usually have to manually reassociate some contacts after the fact. After that, you can keep adding contacts until you max out your phone's memory limit, an unlikely event. You can also store additional contacts on the phone's SIM card. There's support for groups, of course, and Android has a neat feature where you can swipe left and right over a contact's name in the address book to call or text.
Another Android trademark is deep hooks into Google services. Gmail, Google Latitude, Maps, Places, Navigation, Talk, and YouTube are present by default. You can also download other apps for Google Docs, Google Voice, Picasa, and others.
Although you can download all the apps your heart desires from the Android Market, there are some essentials preinstalled: a calculator, a calendar, a clock, files, a memo pad, and a task manager. There's a voice recorder and voice search as well. As we mentioned earlier, Swype is the phone's default keyboard input, though you can always change this back to the Samsung standard.
In addition there are all the apps that Samsung and T-Mobile have loaded onto the phone, including AIM, AllShare (DLNA syncing), shortcuts to online app stores, and games like Tetris, Uno, and Bejeweled 2. There are also some useful utilities, like Lookout mobile security, Photobucket, visual voice mail, and Wi-Fi calling. DriveSmart is an app that will route your incoming calls and texts through Bluetooth while the car is in motion (apps of this type use the accelerometer to measure speed), or to voice mail. It will also send a text reply telling your friends why you're not picking up the phone or responding to texts just yet.
We have our old complaints about the basic-but-functional stock music player. It will work with a microSD card filled with songs, and has all the usual support for album art, playlists, and shuffling. Extra effects, though, are few and far between, but at least Samsung's TouchWiz interface makes the module a bit flashier than standard, skinless Android.
Onboard cameras are much more variable, and the Gravity Smart's 3-megapixel camera is hit or miss. The outdoor shots were mostly spot-on in terms of focus, lighting, and color, especially if they were in direct sunlight. Colors looked anemic in one outdoor shot taken in shadow. Inside, pictures bathed with natural or indirect sunlight were much better, while photos taken in artificial light bled the color or tended to lose focus. Although there's a flash, photos taken indoors at night were disappointing. In one photo, the color green stands out while the three subjects look almost black and white.
Video is predictably similar, with better color fidelity outdoors and more washed-out images indoors. As far as audio goes, although we sounded fine as the narrator indoors and outdoors, subjects were very difficult to hear. Indoor videos struggled to focus, and videos didn't play back as smoothly as we've seen with other devices.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS 1700/2100) Samsung Gravity Smart in San Francisco using T-Mobile's network. Call quality was acceptable in our tests. Volume sounded a little low on our end, even at full max. Although the line itself sounded clear, without distortions or breaks, voices weren't crystal clear.
For their part, callers said we sounded sufficiently loud and intelligible, but echoey and slightly distorted. The audio quality didn't detract enough from the call to distract from conversation, but it was enough to note the imperfections.
Samsung Gravity Smart call quality sample Listen now:
On the other hand, the Gravity Smart's speakerphone volume was strong on our end, stronger than the regular call, and predictably tinny--hardly a surprise with the external speaker spraying audio to the phone's rear, the exact opposite direction of your face. Speakerphone calls also sounded OK to our listeners, who told us that volume and fidelity were good, with no off qualities. However, a characteristic room echo accompanied speakerphone.
T-Mobile's 3G connection was speedy in our tests, taking 15 seconds to load CNET's mobile-optimized site, and about 30 seconds to load the graphically rich full CNET.com. Of course, speeds will vary based on network strength where you are, which is influenced by everything from time of day to the kind of building you might be in.
The Gravity Smart does just fine on its 800MHz processor; we didn't experience inordinate lag, although it won't be as zippy as a 1GHz processor.
The Gravity Smart has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby time on its 1,500mAh lithium ion battery. We're continuing to test the battery life internally, and will report our in-house findings here. According to FCC tests, the Gravity Smart has a digital SAR of 0.47 watt per kilogram.
Samsung made the right decision moving the Samsung Gravity line to Android. Although there's a place for feature phones, affordable Android devices are in high demand, and the Gravity Smart, with its $29.99 price tag after some online rebates, fits the bill. (The retail price is a much higher, much lower value $69.99 after a mail-in rebate.) There are some nice touches, like the brushed metal look on the keyboard and the soft-touch chassis, but the more downmarket specs keep the phone affordable. Although the screen is a bit small, the camera could be better, and the keyboard spacing could be improved, we had few serious complaints about the Gravity's features and operation. Those looking for a stylish messaging phone would do well to check this one out.