When is a 3G cell phone not a 3G cell phone? Apparently, when it's the Samsung SGH-T639. Though the handset has long been rumored to be T-Mobile's first 3G device, Samsung is not listing wireless broadband among the SGH-T639's specifications. But on the other hand, T-Mobile is indeed pushing the handset as a 3G device, which is odd considering that T-Mobile has yet to launch its 3G network. When we asked T-Mobile representatives for a clarification, they responded by saying the SGH-T639 is a 3G-capable handset that is positioned to be among the first devices to take advantage of a future UMTS network. Well, that explains it.
But 3G or not, the SGH-T639 is a megapixel camera phone with midrange features like Bluetooth and a music player. Its flip-phone design is taken straight from Alltel's Samsung Hue (or maybe it's the other way around) and its call quality was decent.
As mentioned earlier, the SGH-T639 shares its design with the Samsung Hue SCR-R500. Both handsets show a two-toned design, though the SGH-T639's replaces the Hue's red stripes with dark blue. The SGH-T639 also shares the Hue's dimensions (3.72 inches by 1.95 inches by 0.66 inch; 3.34 ounces) while its vertical external display, camera lens, self-portrait mirror, and side controls are unchanged as well. See our Hue review for more information.
The 2.12-inch internal display (262,000 colors; 220x176 pixels) remains just as bright, but it allows you a few more editing options. You can alter the font, size, text, and type, and you can change the backlighting. Also, unlike the Hue you can change the font color on the external display. The navigation controls and keypad buttons also show a similar design, though T-Mobile altered the shortcut controls. Instead of a voice-dialing control and a speakerphone shortcut, the SGH-T639 has a Web browser key and a dedicated control button for accessing a user-programmable shortcuts menu. Otherwise, the navigation array is the same. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, the Talk and End controls, and a Clear key. The keypad buttons also show no differences from the Hue. They're large and brightly backlit but equally flush with the phone's surface.
The Hue has a 1,000-contact phone book (twice as large as on the Hue) with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two Web addresses, an instant messaging handle, a nickname, a birthday, a company name and job title, two street addresses, and notes. You can save contacts to caller groups, and for caller ID you can assign a photo and one of 21 polyphonic ringtones. Just remember the photo doesn't show up on the external display. The SGH-T639 also supports T-Mobile's myFaves feature, which gives you unlimited calling minutes to any five numbers on any network, even landlines. And for safekeeping, you can sync your contacts with T-Mobile's servers.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, task list, a notepad, a calculator, a voice recorder, a world clock, a stopwatch, a timer, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. Bluetooth is also onboard, as is a speakerphone, though the SGH-T639 lacks the voice commands found on the Hue.
The Hue's 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1280x1024 down to a 240x1280. You're provided a fair number of photo-editing choices including three color effects, 20 fun frames, a self-timer, spot metering, a night mode, three shutter sounds, four quality settings, adjustable brightness and white balance, multishot and mosaic shot options, and a digital zoom. The camera menus are well-designed and you can select from three shutter sounds, but you can't turn it off completely.
The camcorder offers a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 13 seconds; otherwise you can record for as long as the available memory permits. The SGH-T639 offers 30MB of shared memory, which is less than half of the Hue's storage space. That's not a lot, so we suggest you invest in a microSD card. The camera offers relatively good photo quality. Our only complaint was that the images had a yellow tint.
You can personalize the SGH-T639 with a display wallpaper, a greeting message, and an alert tone. You can always download more options from T-Mobile via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. For playtime you only get demo versions of two games: Platinum Sudoku and Lumnies Mobile. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play. The SGH-T639 also offers a music player, which is close to the player on the Hue. Presently, you'll have to transfer music onto the phone using a USB cable or a memory card, but that might change once T-Mobile activates its 3G network.
We tested the SGH-T639 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was generally solid. The volume level was loud enough and our signal was clear and free of static. Voices warbled occasionally, as they did in the Hue, but it wasn't enough to be distracting. Our only other complaint is that the SGH-T639 has a sensitive sweet spot, which is something we didn't notice on the Alltel handset. If the phone was next to our ear, we could hear well, but if we moved it just a little bit, the sound faded. On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could hear us well, though some said we sounded a bit tinny, and we had no trouble being understood by voice automated systems.
The Samsung SGH-T639 has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. We managed to get a talk time of 5 hours and 22 minutes.