Samsung U900 Soul review: That's the spirit
A camera above all expectations
Samsung U900 Soul is equipped with a 5 megapixel camera with a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels. As it turned out, photography is really one of Soul's strengths.
The camera interface very much resembles that of Samsung G800. It is a bit more user-friendly thanks to the four shortcuts on the touch pad but still not really our favorite. However, the available settings are quite a lot so we are willing to forgive the somewhat complicated menu.
Some of the more important settings are picture size, shooting mode (single shot, multi-shot, mosaic, and frame), effects (black and white, sepia, negative etc.), white balance and face detection. The face detection feature itself works pretty well and is even capable of recognizing several faces simultaneously.
The additional camera settings include wide dynamic range, anti-shake, picture quality and ISO settings. Exposure metering is also configurable and the auto focus can be switched off if necessary.
A short video of the camera interface can be found in our Samsung overview from the MWC in Barcelon
The picture quality of Samsung U900 Soul is what impressed us here. We especially appreciated the image processing, which balanced in-camera sharpening, noise levels and scene detail with remarkable results you would hardly see in any other cameraphone. The only noticeable problem we see with the camera is the occasional red tint, which we are used to see in Sony Ericsson and LG cameraphones.
The activation of the wide dynamic range option doesn't help with the highlights, but brings in quite a lot of detail in the shadow areas at the cost of somewhat increased noise. Check out some samples showing what exactly this widely advertised feature does. Our guess is that you can do the same in Photoshop CS with the Shadow/Highlight function, but anyway it's a good feature to have in your phone. We are just not sure that the regular user will know when to switch it on. Having it switched on permanently is not an option since it doesn't bring any good to images in low contrast photo situations - besides it keeps turning off every time you switch the camera off.
Finally, impressed as we were with the U900 camera, we held it against the Nokia N95 8GB in an impromptu shootout. The latter has the best camera we've got to test so far, so there we were - curious if Soul would manage to outperform it.
The results showed that Samsung U900 Soul's camera was really up to the task, producing better pictures than the N95 8GB on most occasions. Samsung U900 showed lower noise levels, more precise exposure metering and better in-camera processing. Nokia N95 8GB strikes back with more reliable color balance and better edge-to-edge sharpness (thanks to its bigger lens). Considering that it wasn't a full-scale shoot-out, we didn't cover all the possible parameters but only the most popular. Announcing a clear winner wouldn't be fair to either contender but we can only say that we did liked the Samsung U900 results better even though it is still in beta.
As far as video recoding is concerned, Samsung U900 Soul didn't really manage to impress us. The highest resolution available is QVGA and this is no longer considered a great achievement. The videos might turn out usable on some rare occasions anyway. We can't help our disappointment as VGA recording would have been the icing on the cake for the U900 Soul's camera.
Connectivity duly covered
With the Samsung U900 Soul you can count on 3G with HSDPA support and GPRS for browsing internet on the go. Leaving that aside, the 7.2 Mbps HSDPA is the quickest there is, so Soul users should count themselves lucky. Not that such speed is actually achievable but maybe in the years to come this will change.
In addition to the network connectivity options, Samsung U900 Soul also supports USB and Bluetooth, both version 2.0. There is also A2DP support.
The phone works seamlessly when transferring data to and from PC. A notable enhancement to the Bluetooth File Browser service is the ability to make certain files or folders visible or invisible according to your needs. The USB connection has PC Studio, Media player and Mass storage modes. Each of them can be set as default or otherwise the user will be prompted for action upon connection.
Browser limited in features
The Web browser of Samsung U900 Soul leaves somewhat mixed impressions. We were glad to see a NetFront 3.4 web browser used, as we know what it is capable of. It turned out though its capabilities were seriously trimmed down in the U900 Soul. There is no landscape view mode and the page resize feature doesn't work that well. When reducing the size, the font isn't handled properly and any text on the screen becomes compressed to being downright illegible.
There is also no trace of the mouse pointer we've been seeing in some of the recent Samsung and Sony Ericsson handsets, that use the same version of the NetFront web browser.
On the positive side, pages are rendered well in both desktop and Smart-fit view mode. However, as mentioned, this only holds true if you are using the default page size.
Organizer and applications
The Samsung U900 Soul's calendar offers three views - daily, weekly and monthly. There are five types of events available for setting up: appointment, anniversary, holiday, important and private. Each of those has its own unique fields and an alarm can be set to remind of it. The Calendar can store up to 100 appointments, 50 anniversaries, 50 holidays, 20 important and 20 private events. Much like with previous Samsung handsets, you can choose which calendar view should be default and you can pick the starting day of the week - the options are Monday or Sunday.
There are five alarm slots on Samsung U900 Soul. Each of them can have its own snooze time, number of repetitions and activation days. The volume can also be different for each alarm and all but one of them can be renamed to the user's liking. The Wake-up alarm name cannot be altered. Furthermore, you can set different tones for each of the alarms and you can choose whether it should trigger phone vibration.
Among the other offerings are the voice memo recorder, a world clock application, a calculator, and a unit convertor. A countdown timer and a stopwatch will probably seem appealing to sports-minded users. There is also a handy to-do manager that can help you organize your time better.
The final application worth mentioning in Samsung U900 Soul is the integrated document viewer. It supports viewing MS Word, MS Excel and PDF files and handles them all pretty well. However, the application is so slow it ruins the whole experience. Both scrolling and zooming on documents does take ages and we find that quite annoying.
Samsung U900 Soul is quite a capable performer and the sleek looks are a well appreciated bonus. Having spent that extra time with it, we can still testify that the first impression holds. The Soul does have its issues here and there, which just couldn't have escaped the scrutiny of a detailed review. But hey, we won't be the one to cast the first stone. So, if you can put up with the small-capacity battery and the handicapped web browser, Samsung U900 Soul can just be your next favorite handset. Even at this pre-release stage, the U900 has a camera capable of remarkable picture quality. You can also enjoy the texting-friendly keypad.
|"...The Soul is supposed to impress with overall performance rather than one-of-a-kind functionality and it does the job, big time..."|
The touchpad of Samsung U900 Soul is not as capable as the InteractPad of LG KF600 but it was never meant to be. The Soul is supposed to impress with overall performance rather than one-of-a-kind functionality and it does the job, big time. With the release date just around the corner (14th April), all we're waiting for is the price tag. It's what stands between promising and bestseller.