The hot trend at CTIA 2009 was messaging phones, and one of the models to debut at the show was the Samsung Propel Pro for AT&T. It looks similar to Samsung Propel, with a slider form factor and full QWERTY keyboard, but the Pro is designed more for business users and adds Windows Mobile 6.1 along with a toned-down look that's more appropriate for the board room. The smartphone delivers good call quality and is packed with a broad range of wireless connections and e-mail capabilities. However, like its nonsmartphone counterpart, we had problems with the design. The Propel Pro is bulky and thick, and when compared with other sleek QWERTY smartphones like the Samsung Epix and Nokia E71x, it loses some of its appeal. However, if you're a fan of slider phones and need one to handle your business, the Propel Pro can do that for you. The Samsung Propel Pro will be available from AT&T starting April 14 for $149.99 with a two-year contract.
The Samsung Propel Pro captures your attention for a couple of reasons, the first of which is its shiny exterior. The smoky mirrored chassis is definitely eye-catching and tones down the Samsung Propel's playful image with a classic and corporate-appropriate look. However, the shiny surface gets dirty pretty quickly, as it holds many fingerprints and smudges; we had to constantly wipe the screen. Also, the back of the handset can feel slick, almost greasy. All these issues sap the smartphone of some of its initial allure.
The second reason you take notice of the Propel Pro is because of the slider phone's squat, squarish shape. Though we've seen more handsets come in this shape, including the LG Lotus and Verizon Wireless Blitz, it's still uncommon; and to our recollection, it's the first smartphone we've seen with this design. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however; it's just different. In all, the Propel Pro measures 3.9 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, and weighs 4.8 ounces, so it's quite a bulky handset. The smartphone feels wide when held in the hand and you might want to put this into your coat pocket, since it's not going to easily slip into the pocket of your pants.
On front, there is a 2.5-inch, 65,000-color TFT nontouch display with a 320x320 pixel resolution. It could stand to be a little bigger and there's certainly room, but overall, we found it sharp and easy to read. Like most cell phone screens, the Propel Pro's tends to wash out a bit in bright sunlight. You can customize the Home screen with various layouts, color schemes, and background images. We particularly like the sliding panel layout since it provides easy access to your information and applications right from the Home screen.
Without a touch screen, the controls beneath the display will be your main way to navigate the phone. You get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Home shortcut, a back button, and a navigation joystick. The controls are fairly easy to use, with the exception of the joystick. It doesn't provide the most precise method for scrolling and selecting menu items. For example, on several occasions, we inadvertently moved the joystick when we were simply trying to press down to select something. It gets easier with more time, but still, it doesn't offer you complete control like a traditional directional keypad or trackball.
To access the full QWERTY keyboard, simply push the screen up. The sliding motion is smooth and the screen securely locks into place. The Propel Pro's keyboard is slightly different from the regular Samsung Propel. The buttons are rectangular instead of oval shaped and there's no spacing between the keys, making it slightly cramped and troublesome for users with larger thumbs. The spacebar was particularly problematic, since it's so short; we'd have preferred it slightly longer (and it looks like there was space to do so). On the positive side, the buttons weren't stiff to press as they were on the Samung BlackJack II, so that reduced some typing errors.
On the left side, there's a power button, a volume rocker, and a microSD expansion slot; and on the right spine, you'll find a camera activation/capture button and Samsung's pesky proprietary power/headset jack. We really hope Samsung considers switching to a more standard Mini- or Micro-USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack in the future, since having to use Samsung-specific accessories is quite annoying and restricting. Finally, the camera is built into the back of the front cover, so you need to slide open the phone in order to use it.
The Samsung Propel Pro comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
While not drastically different from other Windows Mobile smartphones, the Samsung Propel Pro does ramp up the offerings of the Samsung Propel with the addition of Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition--bringing with it document viewing and editing via the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and Outlook synchronization courtesy of Microsoft's Direct Push Technology. The Propel Pro offers other e-mail solutions as well, including AT&T's Xpress Mail and continued support for POP3 and IMAP accounts. In addition, the smartphone comes preloaded with three instant-messaging clients: AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo.
Other personal-information management tools include a PDF viewer, an RSS reader, a task list, voice notes, alarm and world clocks, a unit converter, a stopwatch, and more. You can, of course, download more applications to the smartphone, and there are plenty of titles available for the Windows Mobile operating system. AT&T includes some extras on the device, including MobiTV, My-Cast Weather, eBay, Mobile Banking, and WikiMobile; for more, check out Download.com. For storage, the Propel Pro has 126MB RAM/256MB ROM, but for any personal or media files, we'd recommend sideloading them on a microSD card. The smartphone's expansion slot can accept up to 8GB cards.