Increasingly, cell phone manufacturers and carriers are recognizing that a growing percentage of their customers are tweens who use their phones far differently than mobile professionals. Satisfying this younger market is the Samsung SGH-E335 for T-Mobile, a glossy, dark metallic blue clamshell phone in the shape of a rounded oval, only slightly larger than a bar of travel soap. Along with a VGA camera and a Web browser, the E335 includes AOL and Yahoo instant messaging--key communications technologies for tech-savvy kids. With no sharply protruding antenna and a petite keypad obviously designed for still-developing fingers, this is the perfect phone to hang from the belt loop of baggy cargo pants or to tuck into tight front jeans pockets. It's also fairly priced at $179 or cheaper with service. At just 3.3 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and an egglike 3 ounces, the largely unadorned Samsung SGH-E335 flip phone feels like a water-smoothed rock. That said, we did like the blue and silver colors. On the mobile's front flap is a 1-inch-diagonal blue-tinted monochrome display. It shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available), and the reflective off-white text is easy to see. You can't change the backlighting time, but the blue text was readable even with it off. Since the display is monochrome, it's fairly useless as a viewfinder for self-portraits when the camera is on. Speaking of which, the camera lens is just above the display, while below it is a white LED that flashes blue when a message is pending--it's not a camera flash. You can turn the light off if you wish.
Inside the phone, you'll find a 65,000-color internal display. Although it measures only 1.63 inches diagonally, it's bright and readable except in direct light. You can change the backlighting time and brightness, but you can't alter the text size. The directional keys of the five-way navigation toggle double as direct access to varying functions--camera, phone book, messaging, and voice recorder/speakerphone, although the etched function icons require sharp younger eyes for clear identification. Instead of activating the main menu, as on most phones, the center action key brings you to T-Mobile's T-zones wireless Web home page. Menu access is relegated to the left soft key, a constantly confusing state of ergonomic affairs. When you're navigating the user-friendly menus, however, the center button becomes an OK key.
Like most small cell phones, the E335 has tiny, tightly packed keys. Our adult fingers constantly missed the intended navigational buttons, necessitating backtracking through mistakenly activated features. But the bright cool-blue key backlighting enabled error-free navigation and dialing in the dark. The only controls on the outside of the handset are a tiny volume rocker and a headset jack on the left spine and a dedicated camera button on the right.The Samsung SGH-E335 includes a generous 1,000-contact phone book that holds five phone numbers and an e-mail address for each name (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can organize callers into groups, but only the groups can be assigned a ring tone or a picture for caller ID. Keep in mind, though, that pictures aren't visible on the external display. Another complaint was that adding entries to the phone book is somewhat backward. The software prompts you to first choose a communication option--mobile number, home, office, fax, other, or e-mail--before entering the contact's name. More annoyingly, there is no Edit Entry option in the main phone book menu to add info to an existing listing. Nor can you access the phone book from the main menu.
You also get a vibrate mode and text and multimedia messaging as well as by-now de rigueur organizer features such a calculator, a calendar, a to-do list, a stopwatch, a timer, an alarm clock, and a currency converter. There's also a speakerphone, but you can turn it on only after you've placed a call. The multiple messaging features coupled with the camera are the raison d' être of this cell phone. That said, you should keep a couple things in mind.
Since the camera is VGA, the available resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 160x120, and 128x120) are nothing you'd want to print out. Other editing options were satisfactory. You can choose from two shutter sounds (you can't turn them off, though), a 4X zoom, a night mode, a multishot option, five picture effects, a brightness control, a self-timer (up to 10 seconds), 15 rudimentary fun frames, and an image-rotation control. You can send just-snapped photos, which eases multimedia message creation, or save them to the phone's 8MB of memory. Messages flew quickly from phone to in-box, although our e-mail software labeled the tmomail.net multimedia missives as junk.
Composing AOL and Yahoo instant messages presents its own challenges, mostly because of the always tricky T9 predictive text input (when will it be able to tell the difference between on and no?), the tiny, hard-to-read keys, and an often annoying lag time between key presses and their results. You can build buddy lists, and the phone conveniently lets you know who's online and who isn't. Messages bounce sprightly back and forth over the network with no more discernable lag than when using a broadband PC.
Voice recording isn't designed for memos or reminders but for actual voice messages. However, making your recording might take two hands. One-handed recording requires you to first hit the Record button, then the left soft key with your thumb. This is fine if you're left-handed, but if you're holding the phone in your right hand, part of your palm covers the mic when you stretch your thumb across to press Record. A dedicated spine key would be less ergonomically awkward.
The phone has five integrated MegaTone ringers and 30 electronic HiFi ringers, all polyphonic. Unfortunately, the volume toggle on the spine does not also control the ringer volume when the clamshell is closed--you have to drill down into the menus to silence the ringer. You can personalize the E335 with a choice of wallpaper and sounds, and you can compose your own greeting message. Two Java (J2ME) games, SnowBallFight and BubbleSmile, are included, and you can download more titles. Ringer downloads from the T-zones store were among the easiest and fastest we've experienced.Our tests of the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900; GPRS) Samsung SGH-E335 took place on the streets of New York City and in a Manhattan top-floor apartment directly below a roof-mounted T-Mobile antenna array, which may account for our fast GPRS service. On the one hand, voice quality was thin, and to hear clearly, we had to ask, "Say again?" more than a few times, even in mildly noisy environments. Conversely, reception was excellent, even far from our rooftop antenna, with only minor hiccups as we rode city buses.
Speakerphone sound quality through the earpiece was loud but also thin, and the people we talked to complained of background echo and even the slightest ambient noise. Ringer volume was loud enough and the vibration violent enough to hear and feel from our loose pants pocket.
VGA photos were expectedly awful--fuzzy, out of focus, and bleached of color--when compared to megapixel digital camera stills. But they were no worse than those of any other VGA cell cam we've used, and they're fine for fun flashing or for use as phone-screen wallpaper.
A full battery charge requires a whopping 200 minutes--or 3 hours, 20 minutes --when most phones today take only an hour or so. Once charged, battery life is rated at 4.4 hours of talk time--a little stingy for a small phone with so few power-sucking amenities. We were able to beat that time, however, be eking out a full 6 hours of talk time. On the other hand, we fell a day short of the promised six days of standby time. According to the FCC radiation tests, the E335 has a digital SAR level of 0.92 watts per kilogram.