On the one hand, you have phones such as the Razr 2 that try to give good old button-interface phones a shot in the arm, with slick design, intuitive interface and a premium feel. On the other, you have the iPhone and all those iPhone clones that have done away with buttons altogether (well, almost), and reduced user interaction to mere stylish swipes on touch screens.
Contact sport: The square touch pad is both fun and functional.
And on the third hand — and this is the last hand, we promise you — you have phones such as the Sony Ericsson P990i or Palm Centro that crunch both touch screen and tiny little elf keyboard into one messy device.
All this mixing and matching of interfaces is a frantic attempt by phone makers to strike the perfect balance in their phones: tempting to the eye, yet sensitive to the nimblest of fingers. And as of now, Apple-haters kindly excuse, the iPhone is winning. Can anything match that wonderful moment when you flip the phone over, reposition that photo and then zoom into it with two fingers? Sheer gadget bliss.
Samsung, then, has decided to muddle the waters with yet another configuration of touch and push. The SGH-U900, or Samsung Soul, is a beautifully designed and manufactured phone that looks like a normal premium slider phone till you spot the little square under the screen.
Where you would find a normal five-way button you have a lively little touch screen. This may seem like a puny innovation (the touch screen works exactly as the five-way button would in most cases), but it actually improves the user experience significantly.
For one, the touch pad is context sensitive. When you watch a video in landscape mode, the touch pad symbols flip to one side too — a nice touch. And the touch pad reacts to your touch with tiny animations that not only confirm your input but also make the whole phone seem lively and interactive. Haptic feedback (the phone vibrates when you touch it) newbies will find themselves at home in no time.
Besides the cute touching and feeling, the phone also has one of the most juiced up cameras we have ever seen on a phone. The Soul houses an excellent 5 megapixel camera with anti-shake and ISO control options. If you are serious about using a camera to shoot pictures, the Soul is absolutely the device to go for. Our test pictures came out perfectly.
The 2.2-inch QVGA display is top-notch. Even though the onboard Web browser was nothing to write home about — install Opera Mini without hesitation — the crisp screen made browsing the Web enjoyable.
Samsung doesn’t position the Soul as a multimedia platform, so the video and music experiences are not much better than average. A couple of the TED.com videos we used for review lost audio sync when we went full screen.
The only serious issue we had with the phone was the buttons. For a phone that flaunts its touch interface, Samsung could have made the regular buttons a little easier to use. They were a little too stiff and had to be pushed too much.
In the looks department, the phone is gorgeous in a unisex way. It would look as much at home nestled in a Bottega handbag as it would in the breast pocket of an Armani suit.
Samsung Soul SGH-U900
Display: 2.2 inch, 262,000 TFT
Camera: 5 megapixel, auto focus
Internal Memory: 100MB
Expandable memory: microSD card slot
Talk time: up to 6.9 hours
The Samsung Soul is a slightly pricey but feature-heavy phone that looks and performs commendably.