After Samsung made the carrier rounds with the Instinct, the Behold, and the Delve, it's only natural that some variant of a touch-screen phone would come knocking on America's largest carrier, AT&T. Like its cousins, the Eternity (aka the SGH-A867) offers a vibrant touch screen, a sleek design, and multimedia features. But it also shows its individuality by offering AT&T Mobile TV and a couple of design tweaks. The result is a solid multimedia device but, worker bees needing strong data features will be disappointed. Call quality was satisfying, though the 3G connection was a bit shaky. The Eternity is $149 with a service contract and rebates or $369 if you pay full price.
The Eternity has all the hallmarks of a touch-screen phone. It has a rectangular candy bar shape with a slim profile (4.3 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.5 inch) and a large display. The Eternity is 3.88 ounces, a bit lighter than some of its counterparts, but it retains a sturdy feel in the hand. The black color scheme is simple but attractive; we like the glossy material that surrounds the display and the shiny metal spines. Our only gripe concerns the plastic battery cover; a metal cover is preferable.
At 3.2 inches the Eternity's display falls between the Instinct and the Behold in size. It should make it adequate for most users, whether you're browsing menus or typing on the virtual keyboard. It's also bright and vibrant with support for 262,000 colors (400x240 pixels). Photos and graphics were sharp and the text is readable. You can change the brightness, the backlighting time, and the font type. Below the display sit three physical keys: Talk and End buttons and a back key. They're a tad slick, but it's a minor issue.
The touch interface is responsive and easy to use, though you can adjust the calibration if you have problems. We had no issues selecting items and scrolling through long menus. The vibrating feedback is helpful, and you can adjust its intensity. Like the other Samsung phones in its class, the Eternity shows Samsung's unique and accessible TouchWiz interface. AT&T added some of its own widgets including a shortcut for the Mobile TV application. Check out our Behold review for a full description of TouchWiz. There's a second shortcut bar at the bottom of the display that gives one-touch access to the phone dialer, your contacts list, and the main menu. And speaking of which, the menu comes in an icon or list design. Both are intuitive with a variety of easily accessible features.
The phone dialer has large alphanumeric buttons. You can access your contacts list and send a message with the touch of one shortcut. When on a call, it's just as easy to activate the speakerphone.
The virtual QWERTY keyboard is similar to those on the other Samsung touch-screen handsets. It offers separate keyboards for letters and number/symbols but the Eternity adds a third keyboard for emoticons. Though all keyboards take full advantage of the display, here again the allotted space for typing your message is rather small. But on the upside, the dedicated punctuation keys are handy, and we like how easy it is to deactivate the predictive text and to change to French and Spanish menus. And thanks to the Eternity's accelerometer, you can change to the standard alphanumeric keypad or a graffiti application simply by rotating the phone. Though on the whole it's a user-friendly experience, we didn't like how you're restricted to using the alphanumeric keypad when entering message recipients. That keypad has dedicated shift and space keys, but we don't think you should use a multitap interface unless you absolutely have to do so.
On the left spine of the Eternity you'll find a volume rocker and combination headset jack/charger port. Of course than means you can only use one peripheral at a time, and the included headset uses a proprietary connection. On the right spine are a camera shutter and a key that activates a pop-up shortcut menu for the phone dialer, the music player, the main menu, the Web browser, and the messaging menu. Above those controls on the same spine is a 3.5mm headset jack. Though it's a welcome touch, audio from calls is not routed through this port. At the top of the phone is a dedicated power button/screen locking control. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone affording camera-like ergonomics. Unfortunately, the Eternity doesn't offer a flash or a self-portrait mirror.
The Eternity phone book 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mails, and URLs. You also can add a street address, a company name and job title, a nickname, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 11 72-chord, polyphonic ringtones. Though that's a paltry number of included ringtones, you can use your own audio files and MP3 tracks as tones.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a task list, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, and a speakerphone.
For more discriminating users, the Eternity has full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a file manager, a voice recorder, USB mass storage, and instant messaging. That's not a bad assortment, but Wi-Fi and voice dialing are glaring omissions. Also, the e-mail situation isn't ideal for business users. Though AT&T's Mobile e-mail service offers access to a variety of POP3 services, it is a Web-based application that doesn't sync automatically. What's more, IMAP4 is largely unavailable. The Eternity offers basic PC syncing for photos, music, and other date files, but it can't sync with Outlook e-mail, calendars, and contacts. You can exchange contacts with third-party syncing software, but that will require an additional investment.
The full HTML browser is similar to the Behold and the Instinct. Of course, it can't handle Flash animation, but it renders most pages well. The onscreen controls are intuitive, but, as we've said before, we much prefer the iPhone's multitouch interface to using a magnifying button to zoom. Scrolling through lengthy Web pages can take a lot of finger swiping, but it's not unlike other touch-screen phones. Also, it can be difficult to select links on crowded pages, but that's not unusual, either.