With its rugged design and built-in call simulator, the Samsung Intensity III from Verizon can survive a physically intense environment, and get you out of socially intense ones too.
The Samsung Intensity III is a simple feature phone from Verizon that is equipped with a sliding QWERTY keyboard. Though it's low-tech (it has a mere 2-megapixel camera and a 2.4-inch screen), it satisfies military specs to withstand extreme temperature changes, fog, humidity, dust, and solar radiation.
Unfortunately, it's not water-resistant, which is something people tend to look for in a rugged phone. And even though it'll only cost you $80 after a $50 mail-in rebate and a two-year contract (the price drops to $50 if you buy online), its unimpressive specs and design flaws set this handset back.
The Intensity III is 4.41 inches tall, 2.12 inches wide, and 0.57 inch thick, and weighs 4.06 ounces. It has a petite frame and lightweight plastic build that make it hard to believe it meets any military specs. Though it's easy to handle and fits comfortably in front and back pockets of jeans, it also feels and looks incredibly cheap, and is one of the more unattractive keyboard phones I've seen.
On the left side of the device is a volume rocker, and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. To the right is a button that activates a voice-dialing feature, powered by Nuance Communications. It also activates a "fake call" feature (more on that later). There's also a microSD card slot that's covered with an attached plastic door, and there's a shortcut camera key. At the very bottom is a Micro-USB port.
The display is 2.4 inches with a 240x320-pixel resolution. It can show up to 262,000 colors, and its color depth is 18-bit. Needless to say, with numbers like these, the image quality is below par. Photos appeared grainy and streaky, wallpaper and icons showed heavy aliasing, and colors captured on video weren't as vibrant as their real-life counterparts.
Above the display is a in-ear speaker and to the left are two soft keys that change function depending on what you're doing with your handset. These are activated when you slide the keyboard out and the screen switches to landscape mode. Below the screen are two sets of keys. The top portion consists of two more soft buttons, and send, speakerphone, center-select, clear, power/end, and navigational keys. The bottom portion is your standard alphanumeric keypad. If you press and hold the pound key, however, you can quickly put your phone on vibrate.
The sliding mechanism of the keyboard is sturdy and snappy. But while the keys themselves are decently sized, they're relatively flush with the surface of the device, making it hard to feel around for them. My hands are already petite enough, and I ended up typing mostly with the tips of my fingers.
The back of the device hosts a 2-megapixel camera. Below it is a small reflective circle for vanity shots, and to the right are two small slits for a speaker. The back plate has a gray, texturized diamond pattern with industrial tablike designs running along its sides. This aesthetic and the strip of rubber that goes along the handset's edges were the only things that let me and other people know that, oh, yeah, this is a rugged device. Using a small indentation up top, you can pry the back plate off with your fingernails to reveal a 1,000mAh battery.
The Samsung Intensity III comes with the bare minimum amount of task management features. When you press the menu button at the bottom of the screen, you'll see nine animated icons for your contacts, messages, recent calls, browser, media center, e-mails, navigator, pictures, and settings.
After you select Settings & Tools, you can access the device's built-in voice command feature, its four calculators (including a normal one, one for figuring out tips, and one for conversions), its calendar, its alarm or world clocks, its stopwatch, and its notepad.
Under the media menu, you can play your stored music, download ringtones, and buy more apps and games. Two games, Midnight Pool 2 and Tetris, have been preloaded.
There's also Bluetooth, picture messaging, an Opera Web browser, VZ Navigator (a map and navigation feature that costs an extra $9.99 a month on top of your data plan), and a mobile e-mail client, where you can add your Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, or AOL account.
In addition, there is the very useful fake-call feature that sounds exactly like what it is -- it simulates an incoming call. To activate it, press the voice command key on the right of the device four times. After a few seconds (or 3 minutes, depending on how long you set the wait time), the phone will light up and ring. You can set it up to make sounds after you take the call, and you can even customize a fake contact to display on the screen. This is perfect for awkward dates, uncomfortable parties, and just about any other situation when you need a quick excuse to jet.
All this is powered by a 480MHz processor. Due to the low specs, it takes a few seconds to open apps like the camera, click through menu icons, and transition to the home screen. Saving a photo or recording takes a noticeable beat and the shutter lags a few seconds after you click the physical button.
Camera and video
The handset's 2-megapixel camera features five shooting modes (including continuous and panoramic shooting), three resolution options, a brightness meter, five white balances, three exposure metering options, four color effects, a night shot, a timer, three photo qualities, and a grid feature on the viewfinder for all you rule-of-thirds enthusiasts.
The video still has the same brightness, white balance, color effects, timer, viewfinder grid, and quality options; however, only two recording sizes are available (one for saving and a smaller size for sending).
Photo quality was understandably low. Pictures taken indoors and outdoors were visibly grainy and had ill-defined edges. There was a lot of digital noise in low-lit environments, objects were out of focus, and colors were heavily muted. However, colors were slightly more vibrant in photos taken outdoors with lots of sun.
Video didn't fare any better. Though focus remained consistent and sharp enough, audio picked up poorly -- a puff of wind, for example, sounded explosive in the recording. Colors weren't as bright as they appeared in real life and the viewfinder for the playback was so small, it didn't even take up all of the screen.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 850, 1900) Samsung Intensity III in San Francisco using Verizon's services. Call quality was impressive -- voices were audible and clear and the in-ear maximum volume level was great. There was no extraneous sound or buzzing, I didn't lose signal, and audio didn't clip in and out. It was reported back to me that my voice sounded clear as well, though when I was outside my friend could hear the sounds of the passing wind.
In comparison, speakerphone was a little disappointing. Voices sounded blended together and muffled, making it difficult to hear individual words clearly. On maximum volume, music came off harsh and tinny, and again, a bit blended. I was told, however, that I sounded fine when talking through speakerphone.
Listen now: Samsung Intensity III call quality sample
The device runs on 1X technology, so don't expect blazing-fast data speeds. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 8 seconds, The New York Times loaded in 10 seconds, and ESPN took an average of 12 seconds. Keep in mind that these mobile sites don't appear like they would on higher-end smartphones. A lot of coding is stripped away, so the site is modified to show only some of the graphics and images.
Watching YouTube wasn't pleasant. Just like recorded video, YouTube videos don't play in the full area of the display and in fact only occupy about a fifth of the screen.
As for its ruggedness, I dropped and kicked the handset down several flights of stairs, and it only suffered a few scratches here and there. The screen stayed intact and the sliding keyboard still felt snappy after the tumbles. However, during one particularly hard landing, the back plate and battery flew off. After I put the pieces back together, everything was still fully operational. Though I don't doubt that the modern fragile smartphones of today wouldn't have fared as well, the Intensity III didn't feel any sturdier than other standard feature phones. Plus, people looking for rugged phones probably want water resistance as well, which this doesn't offer.
During our battery drain tests, the phone lasted 7.25 hours and had a solid battery life. After a day spent talking on the phone, texting, and browsing the Web, only about one battery notch (out of four) would disappear. It can also last a handful of days without a charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.66W/kg.
Unfortunately, the Samsung Intensity III isn't so "intense." Although it can survive the hard bumps of daily (and sometimes, not-so-daily) use, to be worth its rugged salt, it should be water-resistant as well. In addition, its unattractive look and its all-too-flat keyboard surface are two design flaws I can't get over.
Ultimately, even though it makes solid calls and has a great call simulator for bad social situations you want to get out of, its low specs aren't worth it. Instead, consider the LG Extravert. It too is a simple feature phone on Verizon's network that has a sliding keyboard, but it has much more comfortable keys.