A frequent complaint about cell phones sold in the United States is that they are far behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. Although this perception is undoubtedly true, the pace of cell phone innovation in America is noticeable. Take, for example, voice features. Though mobile phones with voice commands and voice dialing have been around for a couple of years, translating your speech into words on your display has long been a dream. But thanks to the new Samsung SGH-P207 for Cingular, that dream is now a reality. The P207, the first U.S. cell phone with speech-to-text dictation capabilities, adds an innovative twist to text messaging. Rather than using your thumbs to tap out your words (an especially tiresome process on a standard keypad), you just speak into the phone to compose your greeting. It has its kinks, of course, but all new technologies have to start somewhere. And because it comes with a stylish design, instant messaging, voice commands, and solid call quality, it's worth a thorough look. It's also fairly priced at $179, but you should be able to find it for less with a service agreement. Most Samsung flip phones look as if they were dressed by the same designer. Many are streamlined with a silver hue that, while pleasant to look at, isn't particularly striking. But with the Samsung SGH-P207, the company takes a new design direction. Clad in cool basic black, the SGH-P207 has an eye-catching style augmented by thin silver rings on the front flap and on either spine. Complementary rounded edges and a compact, lightweight form factor (3.4 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and 3.2 ounces) give the phone an overall sleek look. A sizable external display measuring a bit more than 1 inch diagonally shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available), and it supports 65,000 colors. Though the screen acts as a viewfinder for the camera, the Cingular-branded wallpaper and the backlighting can't be changed. As a result, the display is completely black when it turns off. Above the screen is the VGA camera lens but no flash, and a small LED light with seven color choices sits just below it.
Open the phone, and the smart design continues. The black finish is again punctuated by a pair of silver rings, one of which surrounds the 1.8-inch-diagonal display. The internal screen, which supports 262,000 colors, is great for viewing photos, playing games, and using the animated menus, available in three styles. The backlighting time is adjustable, but the display disappears in direct light. For text messaging, you can change not only the font size but also use other editing options such as bold, italic, underline, and strikethrough.
Below the display, you'll find the main navigation keys. In another departure from the usual square Samsung design, the controls take a snazzy circular shape. A four-way toggle acts as a shortcut to four user-defined features. Though it's a bit small in size, it gave us no problems when we used it to navigate the easy-to-understand menus. We have one complaint, though: The button in the center of the toggle acts as an OK key when in a menu, but in standby mode, it's merely a shortcut to the Web browser. That means the menus can be accessed through only one of two soft keys--not the ideal arrangement. In addition to the soft keys, a Clear button, a dedicated voice-command control, and the traditional Talk and End keys surround the toggle.
The keypad buttons are ample and attractively designed. Though we normally don't approve of almost-flush keypads, we like that the P207's keys have a slightly curved design. The backlighting is sufficiently bright, but dialing by feel is difficult. Other controls include a volume rocker on the left spine of the phone and a key on the right side that opens the camera and activates the speech-to-text feature (see Features). The headset port is above the volume rocker, but be advised that Samsung has resorted to a proprietary jack.The Samsung SGH-P207 comes with a solid set of features. Though the voice functions are the top draw, we'll discuss the basic offerings first. The phone book holds 1,000 entries (and 250 more on the SIM card), but because each phone number or e-mail address counts as one entry, the number of total contacts can be significantly less. That said, each contact can hold three phone numbers and an e-mail address. Contacts can be assigned a picture or any of 10 polyphonic ring tones for caller ID purposes, or they can be organized into caller groups. Other features include a vibrate mode, a voice recorder, a calendar, a to-do list, a calculator, a currency-exchange tool, and PC syncing. If you'd rather send a message than make a call, the P207 offers a few options. Support is included for POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail; text and multimedia messaging; and AOL, Yahoo, and ICQ IM. Yet some important features are absent. You don't get a speakerphone, and though the lack of Bluetooth is somewhat understandable, there's no infrared port, either. Because Cingular usually throws an IR port into even the most basic phone, we are puzzled by its absence.
The P207's star attraction, however, makes a few omitted features forgivable. This mobile phone is the first sold in the United States with support for speech-to-text dictation; this allows you to speak, rather than type, your text messages into the handset, which will then transcribe them into text. As with any new feature, we aren't surprised that its first incarnation isn't perfect, but we're excited to see it, regardless. During one test, the phone transcribed the spoken message "I will be late" correctly three of five times. The errors weren't terrible, however. It missed the I once and wrote later instead of late once. Fortunately, in the event of a mistake, you can choose from a list of suggested alternatives--and, more impressively, the voice feature can correct some of its own errors, as when it interpreted I as Iowa. Training the feature, which required us to say 122 words and several numbers, took a bit of time, but that's an infrequent necessity. Be aware, though, that you must pause between each word; as a result (and because background noise will interfere), you should avoid using the feature in a public place. It's not completely hands-free, either. You must hold down the key on the phone's right spine when you speak, so it's not appropriate while driving. And because it doesn't work for multimedia messages, e-mails, and IMs, frequent use is unlikely.
As with some other Samsung phones, the P207 comes with an extensive voice-command menu. By pressing the voice key, you can direct the phone to send a text message or dial the number of a new contact (by saying the phone number) or an existing contact (by saying the name). You also can check the mobile's status, signal strength, and battery life; look up your own phone number; and open the calendar, the ring-tone menu, the to-do list, the phone book, and voicemail. We found the voice commands useful, and the phone usually understood our instructions. And we especially liked that the voice-command key is inside the phone, which keeps misdials to a minimum.
The P207 ships with a VGA camera that takes photos in four resolutions, from 640x480 to 160x120, at any of four quality settings: Super Fine, Fine, Normal, and Economy. It has three shutter sounds but no silent option, and you can adjust the brightness, flip the image orientation four ways, use the 3X zoom at even the highest resolution, choose from nine color effects, and select from 30 fun frames. Other options include multishot, mosaic-shot, and night-shot capabilities, as well as a self-timer (up to 10 seconds). We like that each of the keypad buttons acts as a shortcut to a camera function, but it's annoying that you can't turn off the sound effects for zoom and other functions. The camcorder can record videos up to 1 minute long at 176x144 or 128x96 resolution, with or without sound. You get a choice of effects similar to the camera, plus a timer. When you're done snapping photos or taking videos, you can send them via a multimedia message or save as many as will fit on the P207's 14MB of memory.
You can personalize the P207 with a variety of wallpaper, clock styles, and sounds. Additional options and ring tones are available for download via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. For playtime, five Java (J2ME)-enabled games (Bobby Carrot, Airship Racing: Around the Globe, ArchAngel, and FreeKick) are installed; more titles are available.We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900; GPRS; EDGE) Samsung SGH-P207 in San Francisco using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality was fine on our end, with admirable clarity and sound. Callers, however, could tell we were using a cell phone; we sounded hoarse, with some occasional static.
Battery life was impressive. The mobile is rated for 3.2 hours, and we came away with 4.75 hours of talk time on a single charge. Though it fell short of the promised time of eight days, standby time also was satisfactory at just more than six days. According to the FCC, the P207 has a digital SAR rating of 0.62 watts per kilogram.