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Samsung SGH-T439 - black (T-Mobile) review: Samsung SGH-T439 - black (T-Mobile)

Samsung SGH-T439 - black (T-Mobile)

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
6 min read


Samsung SGH-T439 - black (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Samsung SGH-T439 offers good call quality and a decent selection of features including Bluetooth, world phone support, and a megapixel camera.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-T439 has a low-resolution internal display, and its keypad and controls are poorly designed. It also has a flimsy battery cover.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung SGH-T439 offers satisfying call quality, but it's held back by some noticeable design flaws.

Though we've said it before, we have to say again that Samsung must be trying to drown lately. It's been a busy autumn season for the manufacturer as it has introduced nine new models in the last two months alone. Three of the hose handsets--the SGH-T639, the SGH-T539, and the SGH-T429--landed at T-Mobile, and now the carrier gets yet another Samsung mobile with the SGH-T439. With a plain, thin design and midrange features, the SGH-T639 doesn't offer anything other T-Mobile phones don't already have. It didn't do badly in the performance department, but its usability is hampered by a low-resolution display and unintuitive controls. The SGH-T439 is $169, but you can get it for free if you buy it online. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.

In a world where so many cell phones look alike, it's not surprising that the SGH-T439 bears a resemblance to another model. In this case, it's AT&T's Samsung SGH-A517. Though it certainly sports its own unique touches, the SGH-T439 has a similar shape and dimensions (3.7 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.65 inch) even if it's slightly heavier (3.2 ounces). It also shows the same basic black color scheme as the AT&T phone but it's offset of a band of metallic blue around the handset's edges. The glossy front remains minimalist but not unattractive. Just be aware that fingerprints and smudges show up very easily.

On the whole, the SGH-T439 has a comfortable feel in the hand and the hinge mechanism is sturdy. Yet we couldn't help but notice that the back battery cover is made of a cheap plastic. It felt pretty flimsy, and it popped off by accident a couple of times. Front and center on the phone is the postage-stamp size (0.78 inch) external display, which shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. Though it's monochrome, in standby mode it reverts to color so you can use it as a viewfinder for the camera. Also, it will show photo caller ID. The camera lens just above the display doesn't have a flash. It doesn't have a full self-portrait mirror either, but you can use the phone's reflective face to take vanity shots.

Unfortunately, the SGH-T439's internal display is disappointing. With a resolution of only 65,000 colors (128x160 pixels) the 2-inch display is pretty poor when compared with 262,000-color displays. Colors were muted and graphics were far from sharp. Though we wouldn't complain on a basic phone, a phone with a megapixel camera deserves a better display. It didn't do justice to the photos. Even the simple menus look pretty dull. You can change the display's brightness, backlight time, and the dialing font size and color.

The bad news continues as we travel down to the SGH-T439's navigation array, which consists of a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a Clear control, and the Talk and End/Power buttons. Though the array is quite spacious, the controls are flat with the surface of the phone and rather slick. Dialing by feel is almost impossible save for a slight raised ring around the toggle. We didn't have many misdials, but it wasn't fun to use just the same. Also, we didn't like how the OK button doesn't open when the phone is standby mode.

We have a few gripes with the keypad buttons, as well. Though they're large with big text and a bright backlighting, they're also completely flush. The middle column of keys has a bit of texture, but on the whole the keys aren't very tactile. It's not a keypad for fast texters. Completing the exterior of the SGH-T439 are a volume rocker and the microSD card slot on the left spine, and a camera shutter and a combined headset jack/charger port on the right spine. Of course that means you can use only one accessory at a time.

The SGH-T439 has a 1,000 contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups or pair them with a photo or one of 10, 64-chord polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, call timers, a calculator, a task list, a notepad, a speakerphone, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, and a tip calculator. On the higher end, the SGH-T439 offers Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a voice recorder, a stopwatch, instant messaging, PC syncing, and USB mass storage.

The SGH-T439's camera doesn't offer a flash or a self-portrait mirror.

The 1.3-megapixel camera on the SGH-T439 can take pictures in seven resolutions (from 1,280x1,024 down to 128x96). Other features include brightness and white-balance controls, a night mode, ISO, metering exposure, multishot and mosaic-shot modes, a self timer, five color effects, 26 fun frames, and a digital zoom. There are a few shutter and camera-function sounds, as well, but you can't silence the shutter completely. When finished with your shots you can use the simple image editor to add clip art, an emoticon, or one of 29 fun frames.

The SGH-T439 has just passable photo quality.

The camcorder takes clips in two resolutions (160x120 and 128x96) with sound and a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 1 minute, 10 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the phone's available memory permits. Photo quality was good, but not great. Images were a tad blurry but color looked natural.

The SGH-T439's music player isn't too exciting. The minimalist interface offers you a choice of two visualizations, but it doesn't support album art. What's more, features are limited to shuffle and repeat models. Loading music on the handset is relatively easy, however. You can transfer tracks from a PC using a USB cable or a memory card.

You can personalize the SGH-T439 with a variety of wallpaper, background color, and alter sounds. You can download additional options and more ringtones via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The SGH-T439 comes with demo versions of four games: Forgotten Warrior, Freekick, Arch Angel, and Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man. You'll have to download the full versions for extended play.

We tested quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-T439 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was quiet for the most part. Voices sounded natural, and we enjoyed enough volume. We also had little trouble getting a signal, and the connection wasn't interrupted by static or interference. The phone had a slight tendency to pick up surrounding noise, such as on a busy street, but it wasn't a big problem. This isn't a phone for anyone who works in construction, however.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but they could understand us clearly the vast majority of the time. They did tell us the SGH-T439 picked up some wind noise, but that wasn't a deal breaker, either. Automated calling systems could understand us without any problems, and we had a good experience with the speakerphone. The clarity was quite good and the volume level was high.

The Samsung SGH-T439 has a rated battery life of 6 hours talk time and 12 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-T439 has a digital digital SAR rating of 0.92 watt per kilogram.


Samsung SGH-T439 - black (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 7