Reinventing the wheel is generally considered a bad thing, but Vodafone and Samsung have had a go anyway. The result is the Vodafone 360 Samsung H1. We have to applaud the fresh, social-networking-focused user interface, but it left us slightly dazed and confused. This isn't just a phone -- it's a vehicle for the whole service, and you'll have to get all your friends on-board to get the most mileage out of it.
The H1 is available exclusively with Vodafone, from free on a £35-pound-per-month, 2-year contract.
The Samsung H1 has been built for the free Vodafone 360 service. Like a biscuit and a cup of tea, they're fine independently, but they're best when served together. In other words, unless your friends use Vodafone 360, you won't be able to get the most out of the H1, but, even if you can't twist their arms and get them on-board, it's still a phone worth having.
The H1 offers an innovative user interface based around your address book, rather than a traditional home screen covered in alerts and icons. The phone has three buttons beneath the screen, but they aren't the usual fare for making and ending calls and so on. Instead, they launch the three main areas of the phone's user interface -- events, contacts and apps. This system can take some getting used to. But, if you're willing to clear your mind of questions, Jedi-style, and you love social networking, the H1 offers a fresh way for you to keep up-to-date with your peeps.
When you unlock the phone with a swipe of a finger on the capacitive touchscreen, the first screen shows little cards with your contacts' pictures and names, pulled from the phone's address book or your Facebook account (it also shows their Facebook status). The cards appear to be floating around on the screen, and swiping up and down shows more of them, while swiping left and right shows groups of contacts, such as friends or family. It's a fun system, but, once the fun's worn off, you're likely to resort to the search function, group and list view simply because of their practicality. Happily, all of these are easy to access and use. You can also organise your contacts on the Vodafone 360 Web site.
Once you've found the person you're interested in, a tap on their smiling face brings up a menu so that you can quickly text or ring them. Alas, several of the menu options, such as sending your location, only work if your friend is also using Vodafone 360. We also found the user interface confusing at times. It isn't always clear what each icon represents, and there aren't many text labels to help.
The phone's behaviour is unpredictable at times, too. For example, we attempted to send an MMS message to a contact without a phone number in our address book. Instead of alerting us to the problem, or not offering MMS as an option, the H1 sent it to their email address instead. It's not a bad solution, given the circumstances, but we'd rather be told whether we've messaged or emailed someone.
Also, it may be that our friends don't update their Facebook status often enough, but we didn't always find it helpful to have such information put front and centre every time we looked at the phone.
The H1 handles applications differently from other phones too, merging apps with menu options in one big grid of icons, which you can see by pressing the button on the far right of the phone's front. We like this feature, since it means that you don't have to go trawling through menus to get to the camera or music player, for example. We also like how some apps have expanding icons, so you can see live news feeds and Twitter updates without opening the relevant app, for example.