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Samsung SGH-T609 review: Samsung SGH-T609

Samsung SGH-T609

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

In many ways, T-Mobile's Samsung SGH-T609 is an update of one of the carrier's previous phones, the Samsung SGH-T309. Bearing a similar design--except that it comes in white--the SGH-T609 offers the same basic features but adds Blueotooth, a megapixel camera, an MP3 player, and an expandable memory slot. Although it's a pleasing feature set overall, the design is rather dull, and we weren't impressed with the keypad buttons. For what you get, however, the SGH-T609 is fairly priced at $199, and it's even cheaper with service.


Samsung SGH-T609

The Good

The Samsung SGH-T609 offers Bluetooth, a speakerphone, world phone support, a megapixel camera, and an expandable memory slot. Also, call clarity is admirable.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-T609 has cramped controls and slippery keys, and the call volume is somewhat low. Plus, music quality is poor, and the design is uninspiring.

The Bottom Line

Although the Samsung SGH-T609 offers some useful features and satisfactory performance, there are much better options in T-Mobile's lineup.

Samsung SGH-T609
Although the white color is nice, the Samsung SGH-T609's design is unremarkable.

Unlike most cell phones that come in either black or silver, the Samsung SGH-T609 is styled pleasantly in white. Like Samsung's SGH-T309, the SGH-T609 has the same rounded flip-phone shape, with the camera lens positioned above the postage-stamp-size external display. At 3.59 by 1.81 by 0.88 inches, the SGH-T609 is larger than its predecessor, but strangely, it's also lighter at 2.9 ounces. Unfortunately, the result is a rather dull and slightly bulky design; this is not a handset for the fashion conscious. Also, while the large hinge seems well constructed, the plastic casing feels flimsy. The phone is, however, comfortable to hold while you're talking.

The 1-inch-diagonal external display and the camera lens are set in a mirrored frame. The display is monochrome, but it shows everything you'd expect, including the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). You can adjust the contrast but not the brightness or the backlighting time, and the screen does not show photo caller ID. The display functions as a viewfinder for self-portraits, but the monochrome resolution means it's not very useful.

Inside the Samsung SGH-T609 is a 2-inch-diagonal, 262,144-color display (176x220 pixels). It's a typical Samsung screen, which means it's bright and vivid, but it's hard to see in direct light. It comes with a full range of customization options, though; you can change the brightness, the contrast, the backlighting time, and the font size and color. The enormous hinge means the flip opens and shuts with authority, but it also means the navigation array is located an inch below the display. As a result, during the first few minutes when we were using the phone, our fingers trailed around, trying to find the correct control. What's more, the five-way toggle and the two soft keys felt crowded together. Although it's not marked as such, the toggle gives one-touch access to the contacts list, messaging, the camera, and the voice memo. You can't change the shortcuts, and we thought it was weird that the OK button has no function when the phone is in standby mode. Below the toggle are a Clear button and the traditional Talk and End/power keys.

Like the navigation array, the keypad buttons are raised above the surface of the phone. Although the buttons themselves are big enough, they're too slick, and we found the overall design a bit cramped. We had a couple of misdials, so users with large hands should give the SGH-T609 a test-drive. On the left spine are a dedicated camera button and the Micro SD card slot, while a volume rocker and a covered headset jack sit on the left spine.

Despite some work-friendly and multimedia offerings, the Samsung SGH-T609 is far from being a cell phone powerhouse. On the other hand, it should please low-maintenance users. 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. You can organize callers into groups or pair them with one of 33 polyphonic ring tones. Essential features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice-memo recorder, an alarm clock, instant messaging (Yahoo, AOL, and ICQ), a calendar, a task list, a calculator, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, and a stopwatch. On the higher end, you get voice dialing and commands, a speakerphone (operable after you make a call) and a Micro SD card slot (card sold separately). There's also Bluetooth, and we were impressed with the variety of supported functions. Besides connecting to a headset, you can use Bluetooth to transfer and contact information, and you can hook up with a computer to use the phone as a modem.

Samsung SGH-T609
The Samsung SGH-T609's camera does not come with a flash.

The Samsung SGH-T609 has a 1.3-megapixel camera that takes pictures in six resolutions: 1,280x1024, 1,152x864, 600x640, 640x480, 320x240, and 176x144. Other functions include four shutter sounds but no silent option; a 4X zoom; multishot and mosaic-shot options; five color effects; 24 fun frames; a 3-, 5-, or 10-second self-timer; and a brightness control. There are also a number of camera shortcuts and sounds, and you can play with a photo's orientation as well. The camcorder records clips in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) with sound. Editing options are similar to a still camera's, and clip length is capped at 45 seconds for multimedia messages. You can save as many pictures and videos that will fit on the phone's 25MB of shared memory, or you can store your work on a memory card. Photos were decent but not spectacular by any means. Although most colors were distinct, some objects were fuzzy. Videos, however, were quite grainy, and the sound was barely audible.

Samsung SGH-T609
The Samsung SGH-T609 had average but serviceable photo quality.

The MP3 player is similar to the minimalist but functional version 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 spartan; there's no album art, and only the track name scrolls across the top of the display. You can choose from a couple of animated graphics for when music is playing, but they're not anything special. That said, the player comes with a number of functions, including playlists and repeat and shuffle modes, and you can set music tracks as ring tones. We were pleased to see that getting music on the phone was pretty easy. In addition to transferring tracks from a memory card, you can send them via Bluetooth or download them from the wireless Web browser.

You can personalize the Samsung SGH-T609 with a variety of wallpaper and sounds, though the choice of included wallpaper is pretty limited. If you want more options or ring tones, you'll have to download them from T-Mobile via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Gaming options were plentiful, however. You get five Java (J2ME) titles--Bobby Carrot, AirShip Racing, Arch Angel, Freekick, and Midnight Pool--with the option to buy more.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Call quality was mostly good, but the volume was somewhat low. The Samsung SGH-T609 also has a sensitive sweet spot, so users with hearing impairments should try it out before buying. On the upside, audio quality was satisfactory, and we encountered little static or interference. Callers said we sounded hollow at times, but they could understand us fine overall.

Speakerphone calls were about the same on our end, and callers reported the same. We successfully paired the Samsung SGH-T609 with the Plantronics Explorer 320 Bluetooth headset and enjoyed decent call quality, despite a bit of static on our end. Music quality was mostly bad overall. Songs were bass heavy, and the phone's tiny speakers didn't do our tracks justice at all.

The Samsung SGH-T609 has a rated talk time of 3 hours and a promised standby time of six days; our tests also showed a talk time of 3 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Samsung SGH-T609 has a digital SAR rating of 0.59 watt per kilogram.