Samsung Illusion SCH-I110 (Verizon Wireless)
Samsung may be working hard to polish up its fast-selling line of premium Android Gingerbread 2.3 handsets, but the more budget-conscious set hasn't fallen off the phone-maker's radar. To that crowd it offers up the Samsung Illusion, an inexpensive 3G all-touch handset that, with its curved screen, resembles the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus' more humble, ramen-eating little brother. Instead of dual-core this and 8-megapixel that, there's a 1GHz single-core processor, the Swype virtual keyboard, a 3-megapixel camera, and room for 32GB of storage.
Thanks to Gingerbread's uniformity and a helping of quality hardware, the Illusion is a decent little device.
If you weren't swift enough to get the Illusion for free during Verizon's Black Friday shopping sale, you'll find it for $79.99 on VerizonWireless.com, but it won't materialize on store shelves until January 2012.
The Samsung Illusion is classic Samsung: an all-black chassis with a smudge-prone screen, rounded corners, and a plastic black finish. There are two interesting design characteristics, however. The first is the phone's notably thicker, sculpted back that gradually curves to form a tabletop. I like the feel of its textured soft-touch back cover more than others, but it isn't a superpremium feel, and it could be grippier. The second and more eye-catching quality is the Illusion's screen, which curves inward ever so slightly to gently cradle your cheek. (I had no complaints with on-ear comfort.) The phone stands 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick (it turns out that the phone's thickness is itself an illusion; it comes in about average) and weighs 4 ounces. Flimsy it is not.
Now for more on that screen: it's a 3.5-inch HVGA display (that's a 320x480-pixel resolution) that looks a tad petite compared to many other Android phones. The colors look bright and colorful, but the display does wash out in daylight. Android 2.3 Gingerbread works backstage, but the TouchWiz interface is front and center with all the skin's extras--seven customizable home screens, an overview screen, access to system settings from the notification pull-down menu, and more.
There are four touch-sensitive navigation buttons below the display (menu, home, back, search), a power button on the right spine, and a volume control and microSD card slot on the left. A 2GB memory card comes preloaded on the Illusion, which takes up to 32GB total. There's a 3.5 millimeter headset jack up top, the Micro-USB charging port down below, and the 3.2-megapixel camera lens on the back.
In terms of software, the Illusion comes with all the same bells and whistles as Samsung's other Android 2.3 Gingerbread phones. There's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, and text and multimedia messaging. There's e-mail support from multiple Web mail addresses and for corporate e-mail through Microsoft Exchange. On the contacts side, you can import contacts from multiple online accounts, from Gmail to Facebook. Wi-Fi Direct, VPN, and a mobile hot spot are additional features. You can assign a contact a ringtone, a calling group, and a photo ID. The Swype virtual keyboard is onboard by default.
Google services are, of course, a highlight, particularly maps and Navigation with free turn-by-turn voice guidance. Google search, voice actions, Places, Latitude, Talk, Books, and YouTube are other standards.
There are certain apps that Samsung and Verizon respectively preinstall on most phones. Like other phones sold by this dynamic duo, the Illusion features the All Share app for DLNA sharing, Amazon Kindle, City ID, IM, and a Monopoly game demo. You'll find NFL Mobile, Quick Office, Skype Mobile, Slacker radio, and Uno. Verizon's app cache includes the suite of VCast apps, like Music, Tones, Video, and then Verizon Navigator. Essentials include a browser, a calculator, a calendar, and a clock. There's also the music player, which triggers the VCast Music store if you don't have music transferred on the phone.
The camera, while better than expected, has some weak spots, the first being the app itself. Unfortunately, the camera and gallery apps only operate in landscape mode, which is frustrating. There are also fewer options and settings than on other Android phones, including Samsung's. There are six shooting modes, including panorama, the fun cartoon mode, and the bizarre "add me" mode, which attempts to combine the contents of one frame with those of another. There are twelve scene modes, like night, indoor, sports, and backlight. There's blink detection and five white balance settings, but just four effects.
Camera quality is getting better and better, and for a flashless 3-megapixel camera, the Illusion's isn't bad, even for well-lit indoor shots. Colors were notably washed out, however, and there is some instance of blurring. Not all edges were distinct. Outdoor shots were usually better, thanks to more ambient light, though they still lacked a lot of sharpness and color accuracy. Video played back smoothly using the same camera lens, without jerkiness or stuttering. It took the camcorder a beat or two to resolve the color profile when panning from one scene to another. There's 2GB of internal storage on the Illusion, with a 2GB card preinstalled and capacity for up to 32GB total.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Illusion in the San Francisco Bay Area on Verizon's network. Call quality was more than fair overall, though there were faults. Volume was very loud, and I heard a high, persistent reverberation whenever I initiated a call. This often echoed in the ringtone, and in the voice on the other line, at least at the beginning of the conversation. The high-tone buzz often disappeared after time. Voices sounded pretty natural, though there were moments when the network distortion kicked in and voices sounded digitized. There wasn't any background noise, however.
On their end of the line, callers said I sounded OK, but not fully natural. Volume was nice and loud, and callers didn't hear any distortion.
Samsung Illusion call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone volume was much quieter, and I had to notch it up a bit to hear clearly. While a little hollow, it also sounded pretty good. Our callers said speakerphone sounded a little muffled, but generally good. While intelligible, they said my voice didn't sound quite natural--to the point that if I didn't identify myself, it might not be clear it was me calling. The Illusion has a 1GHz Qualcomm Hummingbird processor, which certainly isn't the fastest on the market, but it's definitely acceptable. Apps loaded quickly, and there wasn't any navigational lag.
As for data speeds, the phone rides Verizon's 3G network. CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in 9.2 seconds, with the full site loading in 21 seconds. Even faster was the New York Times mobile site, which loaded in about 5.5 seconds. About 16 seconds later, the full desktop site finished loading. In addition to real world tests, I also ran diagnostics from Ookla's Speedtest.net. Speeds ranged from 0.36Mbps down at the lowest to 1.51 at the highest, and from 0.86Mbps for upload speeds to 1.03Mbps. The Illusion has a rated talk time of up to 6 hours and up to 10.4 days of standby time on its 1,500mAh battery. According to FCC's radio frequency tests, the Illusion has a digital SAR of 0.62 watt per kilogram.
The Samsung Illusion is a decent little Android Gingerbread phone that won't cost an arm and a leg. Every aspect, from the design to the hardware features to the call quality, works relatively as it should. However, while there are few surprises, there's also little to set the Illusion apart from its midtier peers. Drawbacks do exist in places like the camera software and the hollow tone I hear when placing calls and speaking, but for me those more negative traits alone won't spoil the soup. However, there may be other phones to consider for the $79.99 price, like the 4G-capable Pantech Breakout, for example.