When Samsung introduces a new cell phone in the United States, it's often the case that we've seen it somewhere before. And that's definitely true with the new Samsung Solstice for AT&T. Also called the SGH-A887, the Solstice sports a touch-screen design with few physical controls. It shows characteristics of several previous Samsung models, but its closest relative is probably T-Mobile's recent Samsung Highlight. The low-end multimedia feature is functional, but performance was mediocre and the Solstice doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before. You can get it for $100 with service.
Like the Highlight, the Solstice offers a trim design with rounded corners. It's not quite as angular as the Samsung Behold or the Eternity, though it lacks the Highlight's color choice and patterned back side. We wouldn't call it stylish, but it's not unattractive either. It measures 4.3 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.5 inch and weighs 3.3 ounces, which gives it a comfortable and sturdy feel in the hand.
The 3-inch display is just big enough, though we wouldn't want it to be any smaller. With support for 262,000 colors and 400x240 pixels, it has a pleasant resolution that shows colors and graphics well. It won't knock your socks off, but it's suitably bright and vibrant for phone of this caliber. Samsung's TouchWiz interface gives you instant access to a variety of features, though we wish its customization options were more extensive. The icon-based menu interface is simple and intuitive. Permanent touch icons on the bottom of the screen open the dialpad, the phone book, and the main menu.
The dialpad and QWERTY keyboard are unchanged from previous Samsung touch-screen models. The dialpad features large alphanumeric numbers for calling and sending texts using T9 predictive text. We prefer to use the full alphabetic keyboard, however. The keys are somewhat small, but you can use T9 here as well. Basic punctuation is surfaced on the primary keyboard, but you must click through to a second keyboard for numbers and symbols.
The Solstice's accelerometer works across many applications. As with other Samsung touch-screen phones, you can switch between the keypad and keyboard by rotating the phone to the left (rotating it to the right will result in an upside-down keyboard). The handset also offers a motion-detection feature that will automatically mute a call or an alarm tone when you turn the phone and place it face down on a surface.
The display is responsive, whether you're selecting icons or scrolling through long lists. You can adjust the intensity of the vibrating feedback and change the display's calibration. As for other customization options, you can change the display's wallpaper, brightness, backlight time, font type, and greeting message.
Three physical buttons sit below the display: a Talk button, a back control, and the End/power key. The calling controls are flush, but the back button is easy to find by feel. The volume rocker rests on the left spine while a combined headset/charger jack and camera shutter sit on the right spine. The jack is proprietary and you can use only one peripheral at a time. Also on the right spine you'll find a control that opens a shortcut menu for the browser, the games menu, the music player, the messaging app, and the dialpad. There's also a command to end any open application. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror rest on the phone's back side and the memory card slot is inconveniently located behind the battery.
The Highlight has a generous 2,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers, four e-mail addresses, three instant-messaging handles (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), a URL, a birthday, a company name and job title, a nickname, two street addresses, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo, an alert tone, and one of 25 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. We like the handy scroll bar that lets you move quickly through a long list of contacts.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a memo pad, a task list, a tip calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a speakerphone. You'll also find speaker-independent voice dialing and commands, USB mass storage, PC syncing, a file manager, Web-based POP3 e-mail, instant messaging, a voice memo recorder, GPS support with AT&T Navigator support, and full Bluetooth with a stereo profile. Instant messaging is not included, unfortunately.
The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 pixels down to 320x240 pixels, and you can choose from four quality settings. Other editing options include four color effects, exposure metering, four white-balance settings, an adjustable brightness, a night mode, and a self-timer. The Solstice also features three shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), 20 frames, and a "smile shot" option that promises to detect when a subject is smiling. Photo quality was excellent, with bright colors and little image noise.
The camcorder shoots clips in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with sound. Editing options are similar to the still camera, though somewhat less extensive. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 1 minute, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode. When finished with your shots and clips you can save to the phone, send them to a friend in a multimedia message, or transfer them to a computer via a memory card, USB cable, or Bluetooth. The Solstice also supports AT&T's Video Share service.
As a 3G (UMTS) phone, the Solstice offers the full set of AT&T's wireless broadband multimedia services. You'll find AT&T Video (streaming-video content) and AT&T Mobile Music (wireless song downloads through partners). The experience with the two applications is similar to that on other AT&T phones; both are minimalist in their designs, but the music player supports a wide variety of file formats (MP3, AAC, eAAC+, and WMA) and it offers useful features, such as album art, playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and an airplane mode.
The Solstice follows its 3G predecessors by offering a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Mobile, a Music ID app, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads. You also get an application for creating your own ringtones and saving music tracks as ringtones.
The Solstice's full HTML browser is workable, but nothing special. It's relatively easy to enter URLs using the virtual keyboard and save bookmarks, but we can't abide the magnifying glass zooming method and the display is just a bit too small for comfortable viewing. Scrolling around the display was easy most of the time, but there were occasions where it felt slightly jerky. Also, since the Solstice defaults to a WAP version of a Web site when one is available (which is usually the case), there should be an easier way to switch to the full HTML version.
The Solstice offers a large number of apps, most of which are subscription-based. They include My-Cast Weather, WikiMobile, Yellowpages Mobile, MobiVJ, MobiTV XM Radio, and Mobile Banking. Gamers can play Tumbling Dice and test demos of Block Breaker, Diner Dash 2, The Sims 3, and World Poker Tour Hold Em 2. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play. You also can download additional wallpapers and ringtones and you can create your own tones using an integrated app.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality wasn't the best we've heard. The volume was low, and the audio quality was patchy with audible static. We also had audio fade-outs during most conversations. It didn't totally ruin our calling experience, but we can't say that we enjoyed it.
On their end, callers also reported problems. They had trouble hearing us at times, particularly when we were using the phone in a noisy place like an airport departure lounge. Most of our friends also mentioned the static and audio fade-outs. Speakerphone calls were loud, but suffered from the same troubling audio quality. Bluetooth headset calls were about the same.
The Solstice is a 3G phone that supports AT&T's wireless broadband (UMTS 850/1900) network. Browser speed was slower than we've seen on comparable AT&T phones. A couple of times our connection timed out before we could get the browser started. And even when we did connect, the speed was rather slow. CNET's mobile site, for example, took almost a minute to load.
Video quality was average. As the AT&T Video interface is browser-based, we did experience the same connection problems that plagued the standard browser. Once we were able to get a video playing there was moderate pixelation, especially during action scenes. The audio was fine, and some videos paused midway through. Music quality was mixed as well. Though the external speakers have decent output, the audio isn't anything that you'd want to listen to for long. Headphones will offer a better experience.
The Solstice has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 8 hours and 58 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests the Solstice has a digital SAR of 0.85 watt per kilogram.