Ever since Motorola sparked a cell phone design revolution with its slim Razr handset, Samsung has been right behind it, producing thin models of its own. In December, the Samsung MM-A900 for Sprint emerged as a viable competitor to the Razr, and now the Korean giant has done it again with the new Samsung SGH-T509 for T-Mobile. Positioned as an alternative to the candy bar-style Slvr L6, the T509 is actually slightly thinner than the Moto phone (as Samsung is quick to point out) and offers a comparable feature package. The T509 is also a bit more attractive than the Slvr and features a better display and keypad. That said, we weren't impressed with the variable sound quality and its overall durability. The phone will run $199 if you pay full price, but you can get it as low as $49 with service. When you have a phone that its manufacturer dubs the "slimmest candy bar phone in the United States," you might wonder if the skinny cell phone craze has gotten out of hand. Without a doubt, slim handsets such as the Motorola Slvr are attractive, but we keep wondering if before long, we'll turn the latest thin handset on its side and it will disappear completely. In the meantime, however, the race to produce the slimmest phone has a new winner with the Samsung SGH-T509. At 5.6 by 1.8 by 0.4 inches, the T509 is taller than the Slvr L6, its main competitor, but it's thinner, and at 2.7 ounces, it's also lighter. Wearing basic cell phone silver, the T509 definitely sports a sleek, sexy look that's a bit more stylish than the Slvr L6.
One of the biggest advantages the SGH-T509 has over the Slvr handset is the bright, vibrant TFT display (1.8 inches diagonally). Though it supports the same number of hues (65,536), the T509's screen has more pixels (176x220), which gives it none of the washed-out effect of the Slvr L6. The display is saturated with color, and the graphics are sharp and crisp. However, it is difficult to see in direct light. Plus, you can change the backlighting time and the brightness as well as alter the dialing font size, style, and color.
Below the display are the spacious navigation controls. A four-way toggle is raised slightly above the surface of the phone, giving it a tactile, user-friendly feel. Unlike with other T-Mobile phones, pressing the center OK button in standby mode does not open the Web browser. Strangely, however, it doesn't open the main menu either--you must wait until you've navigated to the menu for the button to have any use. The toggle also acts as a shortcut to the phone book, the voice recorder, the camera, and text messaging, and the two large soft keys open the menu and the Web browser when in standby mode. None of the shortcuts can be changed. Rounding out the navigation array are the traditional Talk and End/power keys and a Clear button--another component lacking on the Slvr L6. The keypad buttons are also improved over the Motorola phone's. Not only are they larger, they are also raised just above the surface of the phone, making it easier to dial by feel. The keys are amply backlit as well, so dialing in dim conditions shouldn't be problem.
On the left spine is a volume rocker--yet another improvement over the Slvr L6--while a camera button and headset/charger port sit on the right spine. We like that the port has a sliding cover, but since it's for both the charger and the headset, you can have only one plugged in at a time. On the back of the phone are the camera lens and a small mirror (but no flash). We're not fans of rear-facing speakers, but it didn't seem to affect the audio quality.
One final note: we couldn't help but notice that the SGH-T509 felt flimsier overall than the Slvr L6. A couple of drop tests caused no nicks or marks, but when held in the hand and against our face during phone conversations, the T509 felt fragile and almost too light. We were also annoyed that due to three small ridges on the rear face of the phone (used for gripping the battery cover), the T509 did not rest completely flat on a surface. Like the Motorola Slvr L6, the Samsung SGH-T509 has a range of midtier features. You get Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and multiple messaging options, but don't expect too much in the way of multimedia offerings. But first, we'll cover the basics. The phone book holds a generous 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address; the SIM card holds 250 more names. You can organize your contacts into caller groups, pair them with a picture, or assign them to one of 22 polyphonic ring tones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, and a stopwatch. Messaging options include support for text, multimedia, and instant messaging (AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and ICQ). Business features are limited, but there is full Bluetooth and a speakerphone. The speakerphone can be activated only after you make a call.