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Samsung U900 review: Samsung U900

Samsung's official phone of the Olympic games may not look especially sporty, but HSDPA, lag-free performance, and its great 5-megapixel camera help get the U900 out of the blocks and over the line.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
4 min read

Before we had Samsung's latest mobile phone in our hot little hands, advertising for the U900 on bus stands (and on CNET.com.au) had caught our attention, and in our minds we imagined a stunning handset complete with futuristic beams of lights exploding from the touch panel. Now that the U900 sits on our desk it's not as striking as we'd first thought. That's not to say the U900 is unattractive, it's quite the contrary in fact, but it's not exactly eye-catching either. The combination of brushed stainless steel and soft-touch, matte black plastic is subdued, and its slider form factor remind us of the Samsung G600 camera phone; another unassuming Samsung handset.


Samsung U900

The Good

Good 5-megapixel camera. Great HSDPA data speeds. Touch panel is a handy tool. Excellent lag-free performance.

The Bad

Conventional design. Dreadful pre-installed browser.

The Bottom Line

We wish it looked cooler, but then we often wish that of many in Samsung's range. Looks aside, the U900 won't disappoint people looking for a great phone matched with a good camera. HSDPA data speeds are excellent, especially for streaming media like Foxtel TV.

But the real reason you're interested in the U900 is the Adaptive touch panel, right? The 1-inch touchscreen sits within the standard calling buttons and below the excellent 2.2-inch colour display. When switching between menus and applications, the panel morphs to show dedicated touch-sensitive controls for whatever is required in that application or menu. When you break it right down, the touch panel simply replaces the standard five-way navigation button found on most phones, but the fact that it "adapts" is handy in certain apps.

Yet, this still isn't such an eye-catching feature, even though you can change the colour of the panel's icons — to a flaming orange or a screaming hot pink if desired — even then, the U900 remains conservative and conventional in its appearance. A friend of ours made the comment that "[the U900] looks like a TV remote". We're inclined to agree.

Looks aside, the U900 feels very solid and sturdy. The sliding mechanism is smooth and without any of the loose jiggling we sometimes find in slider phones. Below the touch panel, the phone recesses to form a groove to place your thumb in when sliding, keeping it out of the way of the panel.

In the months before the Omnia, the U900 will fill the space of Samsung's flagship model. This pretty much guarantees the U900 will feature a long list of functions and gadgetry. Complementing the touch panel is fast 7.2Mbps HSDPA data speeds, a 5-megapixel camera phone with an LED flash, plus the regular raft of mobile functionality like stereo Bluetooth connectivity.

The handset we've been reviewing is actually titled the U900T and has been released on Telstra's Next G network — the same phone offered through Optus, Vodafone and Virgin is known as the U900. This gives you access to Telstra's services including Foxtel and Bigpond. The U900 is also being advertised as Samsung's official phone for the Beijing Olympics, and when the time comes Telstra plans to offer Olympic video highlights which will be available for customers with the U900, amongst others.

As a Telstra phone, the U900T is also one of the first handsets to come with the new QR code scanner pre-installed. We're not sure whether this will become the next must-have phone feature, or disappear like so many gimmicky extras before (we're looking at you push-to-talk).

The performance of the U900 further cements why Samsung is currently the number two brand in the Australian mobile marketplace. This handset is very responsive and executes menus and applications with almost no lag at all. Equally responsive is the adaptive touch panel which is an absolute pleasure to use, and offers haptic feedback to give extra tactility.

Calling and messaging are also excellent, and media playback is good though the lack of a 3.5mm headphone port means you will be stuck with the bundled headset. Streaming media, including Foxtel, is fantastic with the HSDPA speeds providing more than enough grunt for the streams to continue without interruption.

The 5-megapixel camera is a solid shooter but we did find we had to take extra special care when taking pics. In the right conditions the pictures are stunning, with strong, sharp focus and good colour reproduction. However, the camera was also prone to losing focus with very slight movements during the exposure, and washing out or under-exposing in either high or low light environments.

The camera is one of the phone's functions when the Adaptive Touch Panel really shines, giving quick access to four important settings: flash, macro, timer, and exposure adjustments (gain).

The only below average feature we've come across is the shoddy NetFront Web browser. Viewing Web pages seems slower than other online operations and page rendering, especially when using Smart Fit screen mode, is terrible. Luckily there is other options available to remedy this. We've downloaded and installed the latest version of Opera Mini and have seen dramatically improved performance, particularly in Opera being able to render pages up to three or four times faster. This is a must-have download for owners of the U900.

Samsung's U900 is a fitting flagship model with strong, well-performing features. With the right browser, the HSDPA speeds shine, and streaming media is great. The 5-megapixel isn't class-leading, but is a solid performer, in the same league as Samsung's G600, and better in our opinion than the camera in the Samsung G800.

Telstra's outright price of AU$849 is probably a touch too expensive for the U900T, however, at the time of writing we have found Vodafone offering the U900 "free" on an AU$49 per month contract which seems about right. The difference will, of course, be the absence of Telstra's services.