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Samsung SGH-P300 (Unlocked) review: Samsung SGH-P300 (Unlocked)

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Although it looks a lot like a calculator you'd get for free by opening a bank account, the Samsung SGH-P300 can do a lot more than just help you balance your checkbook. Sure, it has a calculator, but inside the small if somewhat plain package, you'll also find a feature-rich GSM cell phone that delivers admirable performance. Granted, the SGH-P300's credit card-size form factor does have its drawbacks--the button layout is odd, there's no external memory slot, and audio quality fluctuates--but with Bluetooth, a megapixel camera, and an MP3 player, Samsung made a serious effort to cram as much as it could into this insanely tiny handset. The SGH-P300 won't be for everyone, and the lack of a supporting U.S. carrier will mean a high price (around $550 on Dynamism.com), but for the cell phone fanatic, it could dethrone the Motorola Razr as an it phone.

7.6

Samsung SGH-P300 (Unlocked)

The Good

The Samsung SGH-P300 offers Bluetooth, an MP3 player, and a megapixel camera in a compact, eye-catching package. It's a solid performer too.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-P300's button layout takes acclimation. It's also saddled by tinny music quality, unintuitive speakerphone access, little memory space, and patchy Bluetooth call quality.

The Bottom Line

Like all other designcentric phones, the Samsung SGH-P300 is not for everyone, but its powerful features, admirable performance, and compact form factor give it a perverse appeal.

You have to wonder exactly what Samsung was thinking when it designed the SGH-P300. In the ever-growing frenzy to shrink the cell phone, the company produced an eye-catching yet somewhat polarizing handset. On one hand, it is one of the smallest phones we've seen to date, and Samsung gets credit for not churning out another blatant Razr imitation, as it did with the Samsung MM-A900. Yet on the other hand, the resulting silver and black design is far from flashy, if not downright dull. Despite our gripes, however, the story here is the diminutive size, and it's in that area where the SGH-P300 blows other phones out of the water.

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The lilliputian SGH-P300 is one of the smallest cell phones around.

If you ever get your hands on the Samsung SGH-P300, a neat trick is to place it behind a standard credit card. You'll notice immediately that at 3.44 by 2.14 by 0.45 inches, the SGH-P300 disappears almost completely behind your plastic. But even more impressive, the phone is thinner than both the Motorola Slvr L6 and the Samsung SGH-T509. You'll have no trouble slipping it into a pocket, though you may find you have to fish around for it in a purse or a bag. Surprisingly, at 2.8 ounces, the SGH-P300 is heavier than it looks. Although that's still extremely light as cell phones go, it weighs a bit more than the trim SGH-T509. On the upside, however, the heft gives the SGH-P300 a sturdy feel, and it was relatively comfortable to hold in our hand while talking. Keep in mind, though, that it's near impossible to cradle the phone between your ear and your shoulder.

We were very impressed with the Samsung SGH-P300's sharp display. At 1.75 inches diagonally, it's large for a phone of this size (it takes up almost half of the total area), and we thought the landscape orientation was a nice change. Also, it shows off its 262,000 colors and graphics beautifully. As with most Samsung phones, the display disappears in direct light, but it was great for scrolling through the attractive menus, viewing photos, and playing games. You can change the backlighting time, the brightness, and the font color, but you can't alter the font size.

As with most slim phones, the Samsung SGH-P300's navigation controls and keypad come with a few quirks. The former group consists of a navigation toggle, two soft keys, a Clear button, the traditional Talk and End/power keys, and an OK/Web-browser shortcut control. You also get a dedicated button for activating the MP3 player. Now you're probably asking what we meant by quirks--trust us, they're readily apparent on closer inspection. The navigation toggle works four ways, which means there's no OK button in the middle. Instead, your finger must trail over to the left soft key or just below it to the aforementioned OK/Web-browser shortcut button. Also, while it is raised above the surface of the phone, the toggle is a bit hard to manipulate; we struggled with it for more than a few minutes.

The Samsung SGH-P300's keypad layout is strange as well. Although the raised keys are tactile, brightly backlit, and spaced far enough apart, both the star (*) and the pound (#) keys are located to the left of the numbered keys rather than below them. The 0 button was also moved to the right of the main keypad. We understand why Samsung made this choice, but the button layout does take some heavy acclimation. Our fingers kept moving to the bottom of the keypad to hit 0, but we got the hang of it eventually.

Completing the outside of the Samsung SGH-P300 are a volume rocker on the left spine and a dedicated camera control on the right spine. Directly above the latter is the port for the charger and a headset. Of course, since they share the same port, you can use only one device at a time. Moreover, while the presence of Bluetooth will eliminate this problem for most users, the SGH-P300 uses a proprietary headset jack. As a result, most wired headsets won't be compatible with the phone, but fortunately, one is included. On the back of the handset is the camera lens and the flash but no self-portrait mirror. The SGH-P300 uses a unique but user-friendly battery-cover mechanism. A small slider control on the bottom of the phone actually locks the battery cover in place. Make sure you set the lock in the correct position, or the cover falls off easily. The SGH-P300 also comes with a nifty leather carrying case that flips open like a book; the bottom of the phone would form the spine. In a cool design touch, the case includes a small James Bond-like hole for taking pictures, and we like the fact that you can place calls when the phone is in the case, which makes the SGH-P300 even more comfortable to hold for long conversations. The case has a razor-thin extra battery that powers the phone if your primary power source runs out. When the phone is inserted, the charger juices up both batteries.

The Samsung SGH-P300 has a generous and accessible feature set that should please most users. But first, we'll detail the basics. The phone book holds an impressive 1,000 contacts, with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes; the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. The SGH-P300 supports caller groups and photo caller ID, and you can pair contacts with one of 30 polyphonic (64-chord) ring tones or an MP3 file. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a stopwatch, a timer, a calculator, a unit converter, an alarm clock, a world clock, and a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Worker bees will get use out of the PC syncing for their contacts, their calendar, e-mail support, full Bluetooth, PC modem capability, and a speakerphone. The speakerphone could be more intuitive, though. While it can take up to three clicks to turn it on after you've made a call, only one click is needed to turn it off. There's also a voice recorder that can record messages up to an hour in length. Alternatively, a multimedia-message setting will limit recordings to just a few minutes.

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The SGH-P300's camera has a flash but no self-portrait mirror.

Multimedia options are impressive. The 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions (1,280x1,024, 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120) and comes with four quality settings, a self-timer (3, 5, or 10 seconds), 30 fun frames, six image effects, and a flash. You can also utilize multishot or mosaic-shot functions, change the image orientation, and choose from five shutter sounds, plus a silent option. In all, the camera is feature rich and user-friendly, and we like the assortment of programmable sounds and shortcut buttons. What's more, the 4X digital zoom is usable at all resolutions. However, since there's no mirror, self-portraits are tricky. Photo quality was decent, with distinct colors and sharp outlines.

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We liked the SGH-P300's photo quality.

The Samsung SGH-P300's video camera films clips in 352x288, 320x240, or 176x144-pixel resolution with sound. Length is determined by how much of the phone's 80MB of shared memory is available. Although we admit that 80MB generally is impressive for a cell phone, we would have liked to see a memory-card slot as well, particularly on such a mediacentric device. When you're done creating your work, you can save it to the phone, include it in a multimedia message, and transfer it either via Bluetooth or the included Samsung PC Studio 2 software and USB cable. And if you still want to do more with your photos, the functional software also comes with an image editor.

The Samsung SGH-P300's MP3 player is similar to the minimalist but serviceable player found on the Samsung SGH-T809. The primary user interaction is done through the toggle, with a few other keys acting as shortcuts to different functions. The interface is pretty bare bones. There's no album art, and only the track name scrolls across the top of the display. You can choose from three skin types, but they're pretty much the same, consisting of an icon showing the toggle's functions (which direction is Play and so forth) and a graphic that waves like a flag when music is playing. It's not ugly by any means, but users hoping for superior graphics will be disappointed. That said, the player comes with a number of functions, including playlists, repeat and shuffle modes, and four equalizer settings, as well as 3D sounds, which didn't seem to make much of a difference. We were pleased to see that getting music on the phone was pretty easy. In addition to transferring them from a PC with the USB cable and software, you can send them via Bluetooth or download them from the wireless Web browser (see Performance).

You can personalize the Samsung SGH-P300 with a variety of wallpaper and skins. You can also turn on a service light to flash during calls, but it's barely visible below the toggle. If you want more personalization options, ring tones, or other files, you'll have to download them with the Web browser or transfer them from a PC. The SGH-P300 comes with two Java (J2ME) games (Bobby Carrot and Freekick), but you can always get more. We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900; GPRS) Samsung SGH-P300 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Call quality was superior, with exceptional clarity and volume. We could understand our callers without any trouble in both noisy and quiet environments, and they reported the same admirable conditions on their end. We also had no trouble getting a signal, and we experienced little interference from other electronic devices. The phone did pick up some wind noise, but we were satisfied overall. Speakerphone calls were enjoyable, though callers did say they had more trouble understanding us. And as mentioned previously, we wish the speakerphone activation process were more intuitive. We paired the phone successfully with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset, but unfortunately, audio clarity wasn't as sharp. We had audible static on our end, and callers reported similar conditions. It didn't render calls indecipherable, but it was noticeable. Then again, it could be due to the headset.

We also paired the Samsung SGH-P300 with the Sony Ericsson W600i, and we were able to transfer pictures back and forth without incident. For downloading music, we first installed the Samsung PC Studio 2 on our PC. Installation was easy and hassle-free, and the software's interface is basic but attractive; plus, it was easy to use and understand. Transfer times over the USB cable were exceptionally slow, however. It took us just more than 3 minutes to download 40.2MB of music. Using T-Mobile's GPRS network, data speeds were speeds pretty poky. It's too bad the SGH_P300 doesn't support GPRS.

Music quality was nothing impressive, but we weren't expecting much form a tiny, monochrome speaker to begin with. Our tunes sounded especially tinny, and the volume, while fine for calls, was too low for music. Still, it does the trick for short spells; just don't buy the SGH-P300 and expect concert-hall acoustics.

The Samsung SIGH-P300 has a rated talk time of 5.5 hours, which we beat in our tests by an extra hour. The promised standby time is 8.3 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the Samsung SGH-P300 has a digital SAR rating of 0.97 watts per kilogram.

7.6

Samsung SGH-P300 (Unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8