Though a cell phone is only as good as the calls it makes, manufacturers continue to push high-end models as the future of the mobile world. We're not talking about business-centric smartphones here; rather we speak of handsets with snazzy multimedia features and cutting-edge designs. Samsung is no stranger to this trend, as its new Ultra Edition line can attest. The latest model in the series to land on our desk is the Samsung U600. With a thin, attractive design and a generous feature set, the U600 lives up to its Ultra Edition name. It's a solid effort on the whole, but the touch controls could be annoying, and the call quality wasn't always sharp. The GSM U600 isn't available with a North American carrier, but you can get it for $339 from a variety of online retailers, including
Samsung has developed a thin phone obsession in the past couple years, and the U600 doesn't stray far from the nest. At 4.07 inches by 1.95 inches by 0.43 inch, it ranks as one of the slimmest handsets around, though we know such records don't last very long. Its slider design is based vaguely on earlier Samsung models such as the SGH-D900, yet with redesigned controls and a sleeker look. Metal touches give the U600 a solid feel in the hand despite a slight weight of 2.86 ounces. The slider mechanism feels sturdy; we could open and close the phone with on hand and the clicked securely into place. We only wish there were a thumb grip on the bottom half of the front face. Like many Samsung phones, the U600 comes in a variety of colors. We reviewed the blue version, but you can also get it in white, copper gold, garnet red, candy pink, soft black, and platinum metal.
The 2.2-inch (240x320 pixels) shows 262,000 colors. Like most Samsung displays of this caliber, it's bright and vibrant, with eye-popping colors and graphics. You can adjust the brightness and you can alter the font size, color and type. The display is designed to be visible in direct sunlight, and to our surprise it works quite well. The user-friendly menus come in block and list styles. We like that they're stripped of the unnecessary flash that dominated Samsung menus a couple of years ago.
The navigation array is unlike anything we've seen before on a Samsung handset. Instead of the standard trapezoidal navigation toggle, the U600's is four-way circular control. It's raised slightly above the surface of the phone, so it's pretty easy to use. You also can set it to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The central OK button is also tactile, but we'd prefer that it open the main menu when the phone is in standby mode rather than activating the Web browser.
Our biggest issue lay with the other navigation controls, however. The two soft keys and the Talk and End/clear button are touch controls with no tactile definition. As such, they're difficult to use by feel, and you can activate them with even the slightest pressure. You can set the keys to lock when the slider is down, and we recommend that you do so if the phone will be in your pocket or in a bag. Though some users may not mind the touch controls, we found them a bit annoying over time. We just prefer using a control that we can feel and that has a tactile "push" effect when pressed. Also, we didn't like that in default mode the keys lock when you're on a call, which, of course, means you must unlock them before you can hang up. Yes, we realize it's necessary to prevent you from hanging up on a call accidentally, but we still didn't like it.
The keypad buttons are exposed when the slider is up and there's enough distance between the top row of keys and the boom of the slider. Though they're completely flush raised ridges between the rows give them some definition. On the other hand, they're a tad slippery so they don't lend themselves well to rapid texting or dialing. The keys are brightly backlit for dim environments and the numbers on the keys are large.
Completing the U600's exterior are a microSD card slot and a camera shutter on the right spine and a volume rocker and headset/charger jack on the left spine. The power button is accessible on the top of the phone, but we wish it were a bit larger. The camera, flash and self-portrait mirror are on the rear side of the phone, but they're not exposed unless you raise the slider.
The U600 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five numbers, an e-mail address and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID and assign them one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. Essential features include a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a memo pad, a stopwatch, a timer, a unit and currency converter, a calculator, a world clock, and a voice recorder. There's also full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, e-mail, PC syncing, USB mass storage, and a document viewer, but voice dialing is conspicuously absent. We particularly liked the Smart Search feature, which allows you to scan the phone for files as you would on a computer.
The 3.2-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions, from 2,048x1,536 down to 320x240. Other features include a self timer, six color effects, 44 fun frames, a macro setting, multishot and mosaic shot modes, exposure metering, three image quality choices, brightness and white balance settings, an adjustable ISO, and a digital zoom. There's also a selection of camera sounds--or you can turn them off entirely. The camera menus were somewhat quirky. The U600 is unique among camera phones (but not standalone cameras) in that it shows its menus in landscape mode. That's not a minus at all, but it does require an adjustment. Also, some menu items are broken off into a separate area that requires a lot of clicks. Photo quality was quite good.
Criticisms aside, the U600 offers a business-card reader that scans information from a card and saves it directly to your contacts list. It didn't work perfectly, and we wouldn't expect it to, but it's nonetheless useful. There's also an image editor and image stamp for laying text over a photo.
The camcorder shoots clips with sound in four resolutions, from 352x288 down to 128x96. You're awarded a set of editing options similar to the still camera and you can shoot clips in two lengths. Videos meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 1 minute, 45 seconds, or you can record for as long as the available memory will permit. And speaking of which, the U600 offers 60MB of shared memory. That's a decent amount of storage, but we suggest investing in a microSD card.
The U600's music player is pretty basic. The interface is minimalist and doesn't offer visualizations or album art. Features aren't extensive, either; you can use the shuffle or repeat modes, rate individual tracks, create playlists, and adjust the equalizer. Loading on the music is relatively easy using a USB cable but it was disappointing you can't use your own headphones due to the U600's proprietary jack. And better headphones would be nice as the U600's music quality is mediocre both through the phone's speakers and the included ear buds On the other hand, we were grateful for the included FM radio.
You can personalize with a variety of clock styles, background colors, wallpapers, color skins, and alert tones. You can download more options and more ringtones with the WAP 20 wireless Web browser. The U600 comes with a decent selection of Java (J2ME) games. Titles include BobbyCarrot, TimeRider II, Asphalt Urban GT, Midnight Pool, Minigolf Las Vegas, and Tetris.
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung U600 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was acceptable though not spectacular by any stretch. Though we didn't hear much static, the sound output was a little weak. It's not that the volume was too low, in fact it wasn't, but the sound was somewhat hollow, and voices didn't sound quite natural. It wasn't a huge problem but we still noticed it. On their end callers said we sounded fine, and automated voice systems could understand us. The only issue callers reported was that they couldn't hear us unless we spoke close to the phone. Speakerphone calls weren't great. They sounded muffled, and callers had trouble hearing us. Also, it takes far too many clicks to activate speakerphone when you're on a call.
At times we noticed the U600's menus were a tad sluggish. Opening menus and scrolling between options could take a couple seconds. That may not sound like a lot, but over time it can be taxing.
The Samsung U600 has a battery life life of 3.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. The tested talk time went a little longer at 4 hours and 38 minutes.