Before backing away from the $299 sticker price, you should consider that the Samsung SGH-E715 for T-Mobile is a slick, feature-rich camera phone with plenty of storage for photos and contacts. We like this handset's look and its wealth of picture-taking options, but we were disappointed by a few performance glitches. Samsung loves its sleek, silver flip phones, and the SGH-E715 is no exception. Measuring 3.5 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and weighing 2.9 ounces, this gray-and-cobalt-blue mobile has no external antenna, but its highly streamlined shape gives it a compact and pocket-friendly profile. In addition to the camera lens, the Samsung SGH-E715's simply designed front flap has a bright LED light and a postage stamp-size external display showing signal strength, battery life, and caller ID (when available). Though it is monochrome, the screen's blue text on a black background makes for a cool sci-fi look. Overall, the phone is comfortable to hold, and the hinge mechanism feels solidly constructed.
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Strike a pose: The Samsung SGH-E715 looks sharp.
The SGH-E715's 65,000-color, internal TFT display measures almost 2 inches diagonally and is among the richer and more vibrant screens we've seen to date. The icon-driven menus are easy to navigate, and you get one-click access to a variety of common features through the well-spaced navigation keys. When the phone is in standby mode, the four-way toggle activates the camera and three other user-assigned shortcuts; you'll find another dedicated camera button sitting on the handset's right side.
We had some complaints, though. The button in the middle of the navigation key provides instant access to T-Mobile's T-zones Internet service rather than functioning as an OK button (the left soft key serves this purpose). Also, the dial pad could use a brighter backlight, but we really appreciate the large font for dialing numbers. The Samsung SGH-E715 has a 1,000-entry phone book, which can hold three phone numbers and one e-mail address for each contact. Unfortunately, you can't scroll through a list of names; instead, you must use a search feature to access contacts stored in the phone book. Other features include text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a to-do list, a voice-memo function, 25 (40-chord) polyphonic ring tones, a vibrate mode, and four Java-enabled (J2ME) games (Bubble Smile, Fun2Link, Ultimate Golf Challenge, and Mobile Chess). The E715 provides picture caller ID, though the images do not appear on the external LCD, and ring tones can be assigned to contacts in a caller group.
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Beam me up: The E715's well-placed camera lens sits above the Star Trek-like screen.
Picture-phone aficionados will be impressed by the cell phone's extensive set of camera features. You can snap shots in four sizes, from 128x120 to 640x480 pixels, or four quality modes (Economy to Superfine) and choose among four color tones, two rotation effects (mirror image and vertical flip), and a number of frames for added fun. You can zoom in on a subject or adjust the brightness level, and though it isn't a flash in the strictest sense, a small bulb on the Samsung adds extra light to darker subjects.
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Bright light: The Samsung's camera comes with a small flash, but it doesn't add much to the picture.
The multishot mode lets you take up to 15 pictures consecutively in high or normal speeds, and the phone includes a self-timer. You can store up to 4MB of images, and the E715 includes options to save photos to an online album or journal offered by T-Mobile.
On the downside, the E715 requires too many clicks to send a photo. After you take and save a shot, you then click Next, choose Send, enter a subject heading, decide on a sending option (as a message, to your album, or to your journal), and select a recipient. Occasionally, we encountered problems with viewing stored pictures on the phone, with nothing but a distorted image filling the screen. If you encounter similar problems, return the mobile for another model.
The E715 can be personalized with different wallpaper, menu styles, images, sounds, and ring tones, all of which can be downloaded from the carrier's T-zones service. Also, an infrared port lets you wirelessly sync information between the mobile and a laptop or a PDA. If you want to surf the wireless Web using the GPRS data networks, there's a WAP 2.0 browser. We tested the dual-band (GSM 900/1800) Samsung SGH-E715 in the Chicago and San Francisco areas using T-Mobile service. We had no problem getting a strong signal, and callers said we sounded clear. For our part, we could hear them just fine.
The phone's battery performance was mixed. We reached 5 hours, 39 minutes of talk time, easily beating the rated time of 4 hours. Standby time, however, reached 4.5 days, falling short of the maximum rating of 7 days.