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Samsung SGH-T509 - silver (T-Mobile) review: Samsung SGH-T509 - silver (T-Mobile)

Samsung SGH-T509 - silver (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
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.


Samsung SGH-T509 - silver (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Samsung SGH-T509 has an attractive design with user-friendly controls and a great display. It also has a solid feature set, including Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and support for EDGE.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-T509 feels fragile and suffers from mixed call quality.

The Bottom Line

Though some performance issues make it far from perfect, the Samsung SGH-T509 is a step above the Motorola Slvr L6.

The Samsung SGH-T509 has a slim, sexy look.

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.

The Samsung SGH-T509 has a camera lens and a mirror but no flash.

Like the L6, the SGH-T509 has a low-resolution VGA camera. You can take pictures in four resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 176x132, and 128x96) and you get a good assortment of editing options. There's a 4X zoom, a brightness control, seven color effects, spot focus, an ISO setting, 30 fun frames, a self-timer (3, 5, or 10 seconds), a multishot option, and a night mode. You can also flip a photo upside down or produce a mirror image. Sound effects are plentiful, with three shutter sounds and options for when you activate the brightness and zoom controls, or you can have no sound. Unfortunately, there's no silent shutter option. Finally, you can program the navigation controls and keypad buttons to act as shortcuts to various photo-editing options--a nice touch.

The video camera takes clips in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) with sound. Clip length is short at just 15 seconds, but you get an assortment of editing options similar to the still camera's. Though the camera has a lot of features, image quality is about what you'd expect from a VGA camera. Colors aren't very sharp and images appeared grainy. Video quality also is choppy but serviceable for short clips. When finished with your work, you can save it to the phone's impressive 70MB shared memory, include it in a multimedia message, or save it your online T-Mobile album.

The SGH-T509 had average photo quality.

You can personalize the SGH-T509 with a variety of wallpaper, color patterns, and sounds. If you want more options and more ring tones, you can download them from T-Mobile via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Gamers get full versions of three Java (J2ME) game titles: Forgotten Warrior, Freekick, and Arch Angel. There's also a demo version of Midnight Pool. We tested the triband, dual-mode (GSM 850/1800/1900; EDGE) Samsung SGH-T509 in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Call quality was generally good and a signal was readily available. Reception on our end was clear, though the phone picked up a fair amount of wind noise. Also, while the volume was fine for us, we've definitely used louder phones in the past, and on a couple of occasions, sound actually cut out for a split second. As such, users with hearing impairments should test the T509 before buying. On their end, callers said they could tell we were using a cell phone but reported they could understand us overall. They had more trouble in noisy conditions, such as when we were walking along a busy street, but it wasn't particularly bothersome they said. Speakerphone call quality was quite good and we could hear callers plainly even though the speaker faces the rear of the phone. Speakerphone calls weren't as good, however. Though we had no trouble connecting to the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset, call quality diminished significantly. We noticed a fair amount of static and callers had trouble hearing us. That could be due to the headset, though.

The SGH-T509 trumps the Motorola Slvr L6 by including support for GPRS and EDGE networks. We were glad to see the faster data speeds, particularly since T-Mobile's EDGE network is the fastest data coverage the carrier offers at the moment. Data speeds were around 90Kbps.

The SGH-T509 has a rated talk time of 3.5 hours and a promised standby time of 7.2 days. In our tests, we beat the talk time by an hour and measured 5 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Samsung SGH-T509 has a digital SAR rating of 0.74 watt per kilogram.


Samsung SGH-T509 - silver (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7