Like the SGH-T619, the SPH-M500 is slim, but it's certainly not sexy. Thin-phone fans will appreciate the compact dimensions (3.9x2x0.6 inches) and its trim weight (2.8 ounces), but overall this phone isn't very exciting. Other exterior features are the same, including the color internal and external displays, the location of camera lens and charger port, and the design of the navigation control and keypad. Again, we weren't impressed with the latter two as we found them a bit slippery. The external controls are alike as well, except that the headset jack has been moved from the left spine to the right spine with the aforementioned Micro SD card slot positioned just below it.
Though they share many similarities on the outside, the SPH-M500's internal features are quite different from the T-Mobile's. The phone book is smaller, with just 500 contacts instead of 1,000, but there's room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 29 (72-chord) polyphonic ring tones. Other features consist of a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, voice commands and dialing, instant messaging and e-mail, a scheduler, a task list, a countdown timer, a memo pad, a world clock, an alarm clock, a calculator, and a voice recorder. There's also Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and in an unusual twist, a Spanish/English dictionary. All of the information is stored on the phone already, and if you can type fast on the alphanumeric keypad, it'll come in handy.
The SPH-500 more clearly sets itself apart from its sibling when it comes to high-end offerings. While the SGH-T619's data speeds clock out at T-Mobile's 2.5G EDGE network, the SPH-M500 offers full support for Sprint's 3G EV-DO coverage. That means the phone is compatible with the carrier's Power Vision steaming video service and its Sprint Music store for music downloads to the onboard digital music player. The SPH-M500 comes with a respectable 50MB of internal shared memory (more than twice what's on the SGH-T619), but you must use a Micro SD card in order to download music. Furthermore you get Sprint's On Demand service for access to a host of information such as news headlines, sports scores, and weather updates personalized for your zip code.
The SPH-M500's 1.3-megapixel camera also shows some differences from the SGH-T619. The 1.3-megapixel camera allows you to take pictures in four resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 176x220) as opposed to six on the T-Mobile phone. Other camera features include three quality settings, brightness and white balance controls, a multishot mode, a self-timer, seven color effects (as opposed to five), 10 fun frames, and a 4X zoom that's not usable at the highest photo resolution. There are also four shutter sounds plus a silent mode. The camcorder records QCIF clips in 176x144 resolution with sound. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for about 45 minutes. For easy photo printing, the SPH-M500 supports Sprint's PictBridge technology for transferring images directly to a printer. In our tests, photo quality was acceptable for a megapixel camera. Colors were sharp for the most part, and though smaller objects were a tad fuzzy, we weren't bothered by it.
You can personalize the SGH-M500 with a variety of screensavers, menu colors, display themes, clock and font styles, and alert tones. If you're looking for more options or additional ring tones, you can download them through the phone's Web browser. The SGH-M500 also supports MP3 tunes and comes with a generic digital music player (see the SGH-X820 review). Gaming options include demo versions of six Java (J2ME) titles--Midnight Pool, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, World Poker Tour, and Zuma--but you can always download more.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) in San Francisco using Sprint's service. Call quality was a bit improved over that of the SGH-T619. Voices sounded natural and there was plenty of volume. Callers reported no significant problems, but we noticed a slight amount of static at times. It wasn't too bothersome, and speakerphone calls were satisfactory as well, provided we spoke close to the handset. If we moved more than a few feet away, callers had a lot of trouble understanding us. Calls on a Bluetooth headset were fine.
Music quality wasn't the best as tracks sounded tinny and faded over the SPH-M500's sole speaker. We definitely wouldn't want to listen for music too long. Video quality wasn't much better. The picture size was tiny and videos were way too pixelated. What's more, the volume level was variable and ranged from too low to bass-heavy. On the upside, the phone's EV-DO connection was strong and fast, but much better multimedia phones are in Sprint's stable, such as the LG LX550.
The Samsung SPH-M500 has a rated talk-time battery life of 3.5 hours and a tested talk time of 3 hours and 40 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SPH-M500 has a digital SAR rating of 1.44 watts per kilogram.