We're unlikely to discover whether Samsung relies on the slider form factor as an exercise in branding or if there's an element of cost-saving involved in reproducing the same phone over and over. Either way, Samsung's slider is back and for the untrained eye the i560 looks like about half of Samsung's mobile phone releases in the low-to-mid-price range in the last six months or more.
While we might be underwhelmed by its appearance, there's no questioning the functionality of the slider, and by extension its popularity. The i560 sports a 2.4-inch 16 million colour display, which is handy considering Samsung's push for the i560 as a navigating handset. Perhaps it was a minor issue with our review unit but this display seems to be noticeably duller, in brightness and colour, but also in the sharpness of the screen, as compared to other recent Samsung screens with matching specs.
Around the edge of the i560 you will find all the common important inputs; USB charging port, microSD card reader, dedicated volume and camera keys. The same can be said for the top portion of the slider under the screen, which has a standard grouping of navigation and selection keys. Under the slide is Samsung's renowned flat keypad, which we don't love, but at least the keys are verging on huge, so they are easy to find when thrashing out a text message.
Looking back over 2008 it's easy to see that GPS tech in phones is the new black and we're hardly complaining. GPS and phones go together like pickles on a cold lamb sandwich, like Paris and Britney — they belong together. The i560 is Samsung's answer to Nokia's 6110 Navigator, a GPS enabled phone with high-speed internet and a half decent camera.
The i560 handset we've been reviewing comes bundled with Route 66 navigation software and an associated car kit including a mount and arm plus an in-car charger. From what we've been told this bundle will be sold through Optus in Australia, while Vodafone will offer the i560 bundled with its own Compass navigation software.
In addition to the GPS the i560 features HSDPA data speeds for Web browsing, a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera plus an LED photo light, stereo Bluetooth, and runs on Nokia's Series 60 operating platform (feature pack 3.1). Audiophiles will be pleased to know the i560 also features a 3.5mm headphone jack for connecting your favourite headphones.
As mentioned above, we had the chance to test the i560's navigation abilities using Route 66 Mobile8 mapping software. This software is a solid option and offers turn-by-turn directions without a subscription, unlike the offerings from Nokia and Vodafone. The GPS hardware is sufficient but far from the best we've seen. To improve the speed of your connection, the i560 also features Enhanced-GPS which involves a small data download and updates the receiver as to where to find the positioning satellites at any time over a seven-day period.
Similar to the next generation Nokia phones we've encountered recently, the i560 runs extremely well on the Symbian platform. Menu navigation is extremely brisk with very little lag noticeable between pages and when executing applications. The i560 is able to multitask, however, switching between active apps is the same as reopening them anyway.
The 3-megapixel shooter was the surprise performer for us, taking some excellent outdoors shots, and not performing too badly inside some of the dark, dingy bars CNET editors stagger into along their travels. Care does need to be taken to make sure you don't move too much when hitting the shutter, but otherwise the pics we took were colourful and sharp for the most part.
Topping off the generally excellent performance is strong battery life. We found ourselves charging the i560 every third or fourth day with moderate use of all features, with these cycles being shorter on days we gave the GPS a good workout.
If you can get past its uninspiring exterior, indeed, if you can find the i560 amongst the samey looking handsets in your local phone shop, then you'll discover a powerful phone with some excellent features. If you prefer your navigating phone to have a bit of physical panache then it may be worth waiting another few months for Nokia's new 6210 Navigator which does sport sharper design and Nokia's own mapping software.
For the asking price of AU$599 the i560 is reasonably good value, especially when bundled with the Route 66 software and the car kit.