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Samsung SGH-G800 - silver (unlocked) review: Samsung SGH-G800 - silver (unlocked)

Samsung SGH-G800 - silver (unlocked)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
8 min read


Samsung SGH-G800 - silver (unlocked)

The Good

The Samsung SGH-G800 has a high-quality 5-megapixel camera, a wealth of features, and decent call quality.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-G800 has a disappointing Web browsing experience, and its flash was rather dim.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung SGH-G800 does a lot of things right, but a few underwhelming features left us wanting more.

For more than a couple months, an eternity in the gadget world, the Nokia N95 enjoyed the distinction of being one of the only 5-megapixel camera phones on the market, at least outside of Korea. However, considering that change is the only constant with cell phones, it wasn't surprising when Samsung released a high-resolution camera handset. Besides its powerful shooter, the Samsung SGH-G800 has a lot in common with its Nokia rival. Inside a relatively boxy design is a media-centric feature set that includes: a music and video player, an FM radio, stereo Bluetooth, expandable memory and support for 3.5G HSDPA networks. On the whole it lived up to our expectations. However, the disappointing Web browser, dim camera flash, and lack of Wi-Fi ultimately put it behind the N95. The GSM SGH-G800 isn't available with a U.S carrier, but you can buy it unlocked in the United States and Canada from third-party retailers like Dynamism.com. Much like the Nokia N95, it will cost you. You should expect to pay around $549. To find accessories for this phone, visit our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.

It would be difficult to squash a 5-megapixel camera into a svelte design, so we don't mind that the SGH-G800 is on the hefty side. At 3.97 inches by 2 inches by 0.74 inch, it rivals a standalone camera in size, but it's still small enough to slip into a pocket. Even though it weighs in at 4.9 ounces, it has a comfortable feeling in the hand. On the whole, it has a sturdier feel than the N95, but we noticed the slider mechanism felt a tad loose. It could just be our review model, but it didn't exactly click into place. The silver finish is attractive, but the phone is rather boxy.

The 2.4-inch display supports 262,000 colors (240x320 pixels). It's vibrant, and displays graphics and photos well. You can change the backlighting time, the brightness, and the dialing font type, size, and color. The simple and intuitive menu interface (available in two styles) is classic Samsung; we continue to love the nifty pop-up menus.

The navigation array left us a bit divided. Though it's a bit stylish (if you can call buttons "stylish") it could be more user-friendly. The rectangular toggle is quite large, but it's flush and pretty slippery. Also, though the OK button is tactile, we would prefer it to open the main menu when the phone is in standby mode. The soft keys on either side of the toggle are long and thin, but they're raised above the surface of the phone. Below the toggle, on the bottom of the front face, are the Talk and End/power key and a clear button. Unfortunately, they're also slick, and only the Talk and End buttons are backlit. One final complaint before we move on: we'd prefer having dedicated music controls.

Hidden behind the sliding face is the numeric keypad. Much like the navigation array, it was a mixed bag. The keys are large and brightly backlit, but there is no definition between the individual buttons. Dialing by feel wasn't easy and quick texters may want to give it a test drive before buying.

Like many camera phones of its caliber, the SGH-G800 is designed to look like a camera but offer cameralike ergonomics. A sliding cover protects the camera lens and xenon flash. Opening the cover starts the camera automatically, and closing it turns off the camera. There's no self-portrait mirror, but it's not needed. The SGH-G800 has a second VGA camera just above its display. This second lens is so inconspicuous that we didn't even know it was there until we saw an option for it while scrolling through the camera menus. When you're taking a photo with either lens, and you're holding the phone horizontally, you'll find that the left spine volume rocker and camera shutter are now on the top of the device. It feels just like a real camera. You can use the volume rocker to control the zoom.

The SGH-G800's phone book holds 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for seven phone numbers, five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two URLS, a nickname, a birthday, a company name and job title, two street addresses and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 21 polyphonic ringtones. Other basics include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a world clock, a calculator, a currency and unit converter, a timer, a stopwatch, a notepad, a task list and an alarm clock. Higher-maintenance users can take advantage of the speakerphone, Stereo Bluetooth, e-mail, PC syncing, USB 2.0 mass storage, and a voice recorder.

The SGH-G800 looks like a camera when viewed from the back.

With a 5-megapixel camera, there's no arguing that the SGH-G800's emphasis is squarely on taking photos. As you'd expect, the phone offers a long list of camera options so we'll just fill you in on the highlights. You can take photos in five resolutions, from a full five megapixels down to standard VGA (640x480 pixels), and you can adjust a variety of settings including the image saturation and sharpness. Other features include: three quality settings, exposure metering and ISO, a macro mode, five color effects, an adjustable exposure value, a self-timer, four white balance settings and a 4x zoom (even at the highest resolution). That's an impressive assortment already, and one that's certainly on par with the standalone camera, but the SGH-G800 offers even more for options for your photo pleasure. You'll find 20 fun frames and separate modes for taking panoramic, mosaic and multishots. Auto-focus and antishake and face-recognition settings will help steady your hand, and the Xenon flash even has a red-eye reduction setting. The simple camera menus are similar to other high-end Samsungs, and we like that the toggle functions as a shortcut to the menus for the flash, the self-timer, and the macro setting.

The SGH-G800's camera offers a flash, but unfortunately, it wasn't very bright.

The camcorder shoots clips in a 176x144 resolution with sound. Editing options are similar to the still camera, if slightly less extensive. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 25 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long the available memory permits. The front camera shoots standard VGA (640x480) still photos and 320x240 pixel videos. Editing options for either mode are decent.

The SGH-G800 had very nice photo quality.

Photo quality was quite good with bright, natural colors and distinct lines. Some objects weren't quite as sharp as they could be--white hues in particular looked a little fuzzy--but we were quite pleased for the most part. We give a slight edge to the Nokia N95, mostly due to the SGH-G800's relatively weak flash. On the other hand, we appreciated the antishake functionality. Videos remained pretty grainy, but the camcorder was quite efficient at capturing quick movements.

Despite our camera quibbles, we enjoyed the SGH-G800's image and video editors. The former lets you alter your shots with a variety of tools while the latter lets you hack together video clips and photos. What's more, you can even overlay your work with music. Though neither application can match what find on a computer, they certainly can match the best we've seen on a camera phone. The SGH-G800 offers an acceptable 155MB of internal memory, but we recommend using a memory card.

The music player looks the same as other comparable Samsung phones. The interface is pretty generic, but the player is user-friendly and serviceable. You can organize playlists and use the shuffle and repeat modes. What's more, you can send the music player to the background if you would like to use other phone functions while listening to your tunes. When a track is playing you'll see its name, artist album and rating, the latter of which you can set on the SGH-G800. The handset supports album art as well, but we would have enjoyed a choice of visualizations. However, it's disappointing that, on such a media-centric phone, Samsung didn't install a standard 3.5-millimeter headset jack. You have to use the SGH-G800's propriety headset connection instead. The FM radio is a nice addition, particularly on such a high-end device.

The Nokia N95's wireless Web browser and integrated Wi-Fi were two of its better features, unfortunately we can't say the same about the SGH-G800. Though you can take advantage of 3G networks, it has a clunky interface and doesn't render pages well. It's passable if you keep surfing to a minimum, but it's just not on par with competing devices. The omission of Wi-Fi is yet another disadvantage. Still, not all is lost in the Internet department. The RSS reader is a nice feature, and the SGH-G800 works well as a modem. It also comes with integrated access to Gmail and Google's mobile search.

You can personalize the SGH-G800 with a variety of wallpaper, clock styles, and background colors. Alternatively, you can type your own personalized greeting as well. No games are included, but you can download them (for a fee) along with additional wallpapers and ringtones with the Web browser.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-G800 world phone in San Francisco with AT&T service. Call quality was reliable on the whole. The volume level was solid, and we enjoyed decent voice clarity even when we were in noisy environments. At times we noticed that the audio became a little muffled for a few seconds, but it didn't detract from our overall experience. Speakerphone calls, on the other hand, weren't quite as satisfactory. The sound level on our end was scratchy, and we had to sit close to the phone in order to be heard. On their end, callers said we sounded fine, but a few people reported a slight echo. We didn't have any issues with automated answering systems, but it is best if you place your call from a quiet location.

Music quality was decent, but not spectacular. The audio was a bit tinny, and the external speakers have rather low output. As with most music phones, you'll have the best experience if you use a headset. As an HSDPA phone, the SGH-G800 will support 3.5G networks, but our test model supported only the 2100 band, which is not used in North America. As such, we couldn't test that feature.

The SGH-G800 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests the SGH-G800 has a digital SAR rating of 0.23 watt per kilogram. The SGH-G800 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. We were very impressed with the tested talk time of 7 hours and 45 minutes.


Samsung SGH-G800 - silver (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8