Music-focused phones have been popular lately -- we've seen Sony Ericsson's Walkman series, Nokia's Music Express models, and now Samsung's X830, a tri-band swivel phone that sports 1GB of space for your song storage.
The X830's box is emblazoned with the phrase "phone-enabled MP3 player", which does a good job of explaining its looks. When closed, the 84 by 30 by 19.9mm phone resembles a flash-based MP3 player from a few years ago -- compact, but still a little chunky. A skinny TFT display (128 by 220 pixels) occupies most of the front face, with a scroll wheel setting up shop beneath. Unlike the touch sensitive wheel found on devices such as iPods, this version mechanically rotates. To scroll down menus, you either spin the wheel or press the bottom section.
Flicking open the X830 is akin to drawing a switchblade, such is the swiftness of the swivel. The hinge does feel a little loose though, especially compared to more robust swivel models such as Nokia's 7373. With the thin form factor comes a few sacrifices, and the major one is that the keypad has been squished into two columns rather than the standard three. Seasoned texters will be driven mad by the need to overhaul well-established thumb patterns. As a side benefit, the extra thought required when typing an SMS may prevent those late-night impulse texts being sent to inappropriate people.
The earbuds that came with the X830 felt too big for our ears, but as they connect to the handsfree section with a standard 3.5mm plug, you can always replace them with your own. The headphones/handsfree plugs into a proprietary port on the right of the phone, which also serves as the socket for charging and USB connection. All cables plugging into this port stick out at least a centimetre from the socket, which makes the phone take up more pocket space.
One design factor that drove us nuts was the lack of a dedicated shutter button for the 1.3 megapixel camera. To take a photo, you need to flick open the phone and hold down a button at the top of the keypad. This button is perfectly placed as to ensure that your hand will cover the camera lens on the back of the phone.
The X830 plays MP3, WMA and AAC formats, and you can either drag and drop files or use Windows Media Player to load content in a more orderly fashion. Songs can be transferred via USB or Bluetooth and there is 1GB of internal memory, but unfortunately no expansion slot.
Unusually for a music-focused phone, there is no FM radio.
There are some travel-friendly features onboard -- the phone is tri-band, and can be switched to offline mode for air travel. There is also a world clock and all-purpose converter (currency/measurement/weight) for your globetrotting needs.
We do have one big question for Samsung: Why is there a Web browser on this thing? Given the thumb-width screen, teeny keypad and lack of 3G download speeds, it's an odd choice.
Firing up the music player causes the phone to switch to its music interface, and requires that the swivel be closed. The display shifts to a horizontal orientation, and allows you to navigate through your library using the scroll wheel. We found this process rather arduous, becuase scrolling down song lists by rotating the scrollwheel (and indeed moving your way through menus in phone mode) takes a very long time. We ended up ditching this method for fear of developing RSI, and relied instead on pressing the bottom section of the wheel to move down. Oh well -- at least the scrollwheel looks cool.
All up the X830 is certainly a conversation starter due to its dimensions, music player and the super-quick flick motion it opens with, but there have been a few sacrifices when it comes to usability. It's probably best to view it as an MP3 player that had a phone function, rather than the other way round.