Samsung Impression (AT&T) Cell Phone
At a Glance
The Samsung Impression ($200 with a two-year contract as of 5/1/09) has an extraordinarily bright and clear display--the first commercially available AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screen. Throw in a roomy full QWERTY keyboard, an intuitive touchscreen interface, and some advanced features, and the Impression is one of the best midrange messaging phones I've ever seen. It has a few quirks, however, as it lacks voice dialing, a camera flash, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The price is also a bit high for a midrange messaging phone.
At 4.5 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches and 5.3 ounces, the Impression is a little larger and heavier than most candy-bar phones. Its smooth round edges give it an attractive look and an ergonomic feel. The gorgeous 3.2-inch AMOLED display takes up the majority of the handset's face.
The keyboard slides out easily and feels sturdy in the hand. The keys, large and well spaced out, were comfortable to press. I could easily tap out a long e-mail without feeling cramped (a common issue with messaging phones). One tiny gripe is that the keys could have been a bit more tactile and clickier. I also wish that Samsung would have thrown in a few more shortcut keys; though the device has a messaging shortcut key, shift and function keys, and arrow navigation controls for scrolling, it offers no browser or music-app shortcut keys. The keys are brightly backlit, though, so you can type in any environment.
The Impression also has an on-screen touch keyboard, as well as a handwriting-recognition tool. The touch QWERTY keyboard has generously spaced keys and vibrating feedback. I didn't notice any lag between when I typed and when the results appeared on the screen (a problem I've experienced with some other touchscreen keyboards).
Like the Behold and the Omnia, the Impression runs Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Overall I really enjoy using TouchWiz: It's intuitive, zippy, touch-friendly, and fun. The Today screen--the Impression's home screen--has a widget bar running along its left side. You can arrange the widgets in any order, as well as drag one into the main part of the screen to launch its respective app. To end the application, you slide the widget back onto the bar. Available widgets include a calendar, a phone book, a music player, and a clock. But other than rearranging widgets and removing them, the interface doesn't have a lot of room for customization; you can't add new widgets to the bar.
The Impression has a dedicated multitasking button on its left spine--a very helpful feature that gives it smartphone-like functionality. If you're doing one task and want to switch to another, pressing the key brings up your options: Call, Messaging, MEdia Net (AT&T's browser), Music Player, and Games and Apps. You can also choose to end all tasks.
Web browsing is full-featured on the Impression: The device has a full HTML browser, an uncommon addition for a non-smartphone handset. Unfortunately, I found the browser difficult to use on occasion, because scrolling through pages wasn't as smooth a process as on other touchscreen browsers, and getting the hang of navigating took time. For example, to zoom in on a page, you must touch the magnifying-glass icon at the top of the browser and then select the page size to view. I prefer the iPhone's pinching gesture for zooming in and out of pages.
Various multimedia apps are preloaded on the Impression. You get the standard AT&T music player, which supports MP3, AAC, eAAC+, and WMA and does all the usual tricks (shuffle, playlist creation, airplane mode, album art). You also get XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, music videos, and a community section where you can socialize with other music fans.
As you might expect, video looks great on the Impression's AMOLED screen. Video played over the run-of-the-mill Cellular Video, AT&T's streaming video service, loaded up quickly and exhibited very little image distortion or pixelation. Motion rendered smoothly as well. Both audio and video sounded flat and quiet through the external speaker; over headphones of a better quality than the included pair, the sound improved. Unfortunately the Impression does not have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so you'll have to use a clunky adapter.
I found the call quality very good overall. Voices on my end were loud enough, with no static, hiss, or crackling. Some voices had a tinny quality to them, but for the most part I was very satisfied. The majority of callers on the other end reported similar results and were pleased with the quality.
Regrettably, the Impression's 3-megapixel camera disappoints, which is a shame since photos look so fantastic on the AMOLED display. Because the Impression lacks a flash--a surprising omission given its other features--the snapshots I took in low-light environments appeared grainy and blurry. The shots I took in the sunny outdoors looked good. You can browse your photo gallery by flicking your finger or rotating the phone.
If you're looking for a less expensive phone on AT&T that has a full QWERTY keyboard and strong multimedia features, I recommend the Nokia E71x. No, it doesn't have an eye-catching touch AMOLED display, but it does offer a great slim design, full QWERTY, and strong specs--and it costs $100 less than the Impression. Still, if you prefer a touchscreen and are willing to pay a little extra, the Samsung Impression won't disappoint.
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