You can always count on Samsung do it two things: bury us in new cell phone reviews, and occasionally announce handsets with rather silly names. On that last point, the Innov8, the TwoStep, and the Sunburst are prime examples, and don't get CNET's copy editors started on that whole "Messager" thing. But leave it to Samsung to continue to outdo itself, for just when we thought we've heard it all, the company unveiled a new phone name that launched us into new realms of the ridiculous.
Now our sources tell that one Samsung employee is charged with naming its phones. That's more than believable from a huge multinational firm, but as Nicole Lee, apparently that person has run out of words. Samsung named its SGH-T359 the Samsung :). That's right, it used an emoticon normally reserved for instant messages and text-happy teens. We were appalled when we first heard the news last month and remain so today. In fact, we find it so absurd that we're going to call it the Samsung "Smiley" in this review. That will show 'em.
Names aside, the Smiley is a comfortable and functional texting phone for T-Mobile. It has a respectable midrange feature set and it offers decent performance. And best of all, it will cost you just $19.99 with a two-year contract.
From the outside, the Smiley closely resembles the Samsung Strive. It doesn't come in multiple colors, but it has a similar slider phone design and at 3.9 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, it's about the same size. At 4 ounces, the Smiley is just the slightest bit heavier than its predecessor, but it still feels a little wispy in the hand thanks to its plastic shell. Despite the durability concerns, it's a reasonably attractive phone and we're thrilled that Samsung didn't stamp the exterior with an emoticon.
The Smiley's 2.6-inch TFT display shows 262,000 colors in a 320x240-pixel resolution. Sure, it can't compare with the fancy displays on the latest smartphones, but it's more than suitable on a midrange texting handset. Its colors, graphics, and photos are bright, though the screen is largely unreadable in direct light. The menu interface is typical Samsung, which is to say it's easy to use. The display's personalization options include brightness, backlighting time, and wallpaper.
Below the display is the navigation array. It feels rather cramped, but we suppose users with smaller hands may not have the same problem. There's a square four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, the Talk and End/power control, a back button, and a shortcut for the messaging feature. Most of they keys are flat, though the toggle is raised. We'd prefer, however, that the OK button takes you to the menu from standby mode. Right now it doesn't do anything.
Slide up the Smiley to show the combined numeric keypad and messaging keyboard. Like on the Stride, the keys are small and squashed together. There are only four rows of keys so most buttons serve a dual purpose (numbers and letters, or symbols and letters). On the whole, it's a pretty standard arrangement, though we'd prefer more shortcut controls. A combined "www" and ".com" key will save you some time and, naturally, there's a dedicated emoticon button. All right, Samsung, that is pretty clever.
Remaining exterior features include a volume rocker and the microSD card slot on the left spine. The Smiley gets a point for not hiding the latter behind the battery. Over on the right spine you'll find a camera shutter and Micro-USB headset and charger jack. We welcome the standard charger connection, though that will mean you'll need an adapter to use a 2.5mm or 3.5mm wired headset. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the rear side of the front slider; you'll need to have the phone open to take a photo.
The Smiley's phone book holds a healthy 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for multiple phone number types, a nickname, an e-mail address, a URL, an instant-messaging handle, a birthday, notes, and a street address. As you'd expect, you can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 21, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones.