Samsung has established itself as a manufacturer of thin, yet feature packed phones. Not satisfied with its status however, the company continues to shrink the width of its phones and now, has come up with the stunning SGH-D900 slider phone. At just 12.9 millimetres thick, this phone beats many rival sliders (Motorola RIZR, LG Chocolate, etc.) in the slimness stakes. At the same time, it features more powerful hardware, including a 3.2 megapixel camera with auto-focus lens and flash LED, as well as a QVGA resolution screen with support for 262,144 colours.
All of Samsung’s high-end features, such as email support, document viewer software and TV output complement the standard microSD card slot, Bluetooth and SMS/MMS messaging support. To top it off, the D900 is quad-band GSM compliant with support for GPRS and EDGE data protocols.
I must point out that my test handset came from South-East Asia and had GSM data profiles installed for major carriers from that area. As such, examinations in this review are of that model and the Australian model may differ slightly (although I suspect it will extremely similar to the model sold here).
Now, let’s take a look at this phone.
Samsung’s miniaturisation technology is just amazing. That the company can compress both a 3.2 megapixel camera module and a QVGA resolution screen into a phone just 12.9 millimetres thick is impressive. The camera module also needs room for the included auto-focus lens, which allows the D900 to snap pictures of close-range objects without the need for a macro switch.
The advanced camera may make you consider the D900 to be a high-end camera phone, but in reality the D900 seems more like a multi-function GSM device, thanks to its abundant feature package. As well as quad-band GSM for connectivity around the world, there’s EDGE data speed for fast downloading, a microSD card slot for large file storage, Bluetooth for close-range wireless connectivity, a media player for entertainment and document viewer for accessing important files on the fly.
The D900 is a slider phone with a spring assisted slide mechanism to make opening and closing the handset a simple process. As you probably guessed, this phone is only offered in one colour: black. As I’ve said before, I would love to see more colours offered for Samsung phones than simply black, even if black enhances the phone’s style. The phone’s antenna is built into the casing, which doesn’t allow for exchangeable covers to be fitted to it. As for physical specifications, the D900 measures 103 x 51 x 12.9 millimetres and weighs a paltry 85 grams.
The phone is fairly simple by design. Being a slider phone, nearly everything of importance is on the front of the phone. The 2.1 inch LCD screen is flanked at the top by the phone speaker (which performs all functions: phone calls and ring tone sound output) and at the bottom by two soft keys, a send key, end key and clear button. In the centre of these buttons is a four button directional pad with confirm/internet button in the centre. Opening the slide reveals the 12 button number pad.
On the left-hand side there’s a volume rocker switch and the microSD memory card slot, while on the right is a camera shortcut button and the charger/data/headset cable socket, covered by a rubber insert. The bottom and top of the phone are bare, although the antenna is built into the bottom lip of the phone. The back of the phone is also fairly bare, with merely the Samsung logo and website address engraved into the battery cover and the phone’s own rubbery plastic respectively. Opening the battery cover will reveal the battery and the SIM card slot, which is located to the battery’s side. You still need to remove the battery before the SIM card can be slid into the phone.
User interface & display
The D900 features a top-of-the-range LCD display – a 2.1 inch (5.3 centimetre) QVGA unit with support for 262,144 colours and 240 by 320 pixels of resolution for clarity. Like other screens in Samsung phones I’ve tested, the D900’s screen is bright, clear and has a good contrast ratio for displaying pictures as clearly as possible. The brightness of the screen is adjustable and at the top setting the screen is barely viewable in sunlight. Bring the phone indoors however, and you’ll see the same brightness setting causes the phone to be unbearably bright.
The user interface is a slightly different version of Samsung’s typical one. Samsung calls the new interface ‘uPlus’, and the hallmark of it is the ‘uGo’ feature. Developed jointly with Adobe, uGo customises the standby screen so that the background wallpaper changes depending on your location. For example in Australia it displays the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, while in Hong Kong it shows Victoria Harbour and in France the Arc de Triomphe. The picture will change from daytime to night-time depending on the time of day, and the weather in the picture will turn ugly (with clouds) as reception drops, changing back to sunshine when the weather improves. Finally, events such as flying birds and fireworks occur when the phone receives calls or messages.
As I don’t travel very often, all I saw was the Harbour Bridge, although the changing of the weather was fun to watch. Unless you travel frequently, this feature won’t appeal to you. In addition, the time is displayed as an analogue clock and can’t be changed when the uGo function is running; personally I would have preferred a digital clock. I had to deactivate uGo and restore a normal wallpaper to change the clock type. I was also able to remove the operator name when uGo was turned off.
Samsung’s standby screen functionality differs here to other phones. The contacts list is brought up by the right soft key, while the up and down arrows are reserved for customisable shortcuts (by default set to ‘My Menu’ and the media player). The centre button won’t bring up the main menu (the top-left soft key does this), but instead loads the WAP browser.
Moving to the main menu, there are nine icons organised into a 3 x 3 grid. There are no text labels on the icons, but instead the highlighted icon’s function is shown in the title bar. Once you select an icon, you can still jump to a different function (for example from ‘Messaging’ to ‘My files’) using the left or right arrow keys, thanks to tab support. There are two skins that change menu colours between black and white only. Numerical shortcuts can be used to select menu options, and they are labelled with their numbers for quick memorisation. Finally in some menus, small breakout boxes will appear listing the options that can be selected for a sub-menu, further speeding up operation. Selecting options is lightning-quick – I experienced no delay moving between menus.
My only complaints were the lack of colours selectable in the skins menu and the size of menu text. I find it too big, although I appreciate many people will prefer the large size for easy viewing. An option to customise the text size would be ideal here. As it stands, the screen displays six menu options at once.
As my test handset was a South-East Asian model, the languages included were English, Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Thai, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. T9 predictive text dictionaries for quick text entry were also included for these languages, including Pinyin and Stroke entry methods for Chinese character entry.
Making and receiving calls
The D900 is still a phone after all, so it’s expected to be capable of connecting phone calls reliably and with good voice quality. I can safely say that the D900 is up to the task, able to perform calls with loud volume and little dropouts. I tested it on Vodafone’s GSM 900/1800 network in Sydney, and particularly in the shopping centre nearby, which is a notorious black spot, the D900 still held on to 1-2 bars of signal, which was sufficient to place and receive calls.
Calls can be made normally (with the phone’s earpiece), using a speakerphone, with the included stereo handsfree earphones or with a Bluetooth handsfree earpiece. Speakerphone works like other Samsung phones – it’s enabled merely by pressing the confirm button during a call and then the top left softkey to confirm the decision. Speakerphone works well too – my caller came through at a loud volume and he was able to hear me clearly as well.
The included stereo earphones were trouble-free for me – they connected to the phone’s multi-function socket and clearly transmitted the call. I also tested the Bluetooth handsfree system with the built-in Bluetooth receiver in a Mitsubishi Triton pick-up truck, as well as my Motorola HS801 headset. Both methods worked without any problems.
The D900’s phonebook stores 1000 contacts and will attach multiple details to a single contact. Fields include five numbers, a single email address, caller group, birthday, unique ring tone, ID picture and miscellaneous notes. There’s also speed dialling included for up to eight phone numbers and the voicemail shortcut.
Samsung has included a variety of polyphonic SMAF ring tones with the D900. They’re played by a 64-tone polyphonic synthesiser and they sound great. However, there are no profiles to allow you to set different ring tones or ringing methods for different situations – only a silent mode that can be set from the standby screen. This is fine for me, but I’m sure many of you will prefer to change profiles depending on the situation you’re in. You won’t be able to do this with the D900.
The D900 supports all the major messaging standards – SMS, EMS, MMS and email using POP3 or IMAP4 servers.
Standard SMS messaging support is bolstered by the inclusion of the EMS standard, which allows simple pictures and monotone sounds to be attached to SMS messages. The D900 can string 12 messages together for a total of 1836 characters, and if you feel the need to type such a large (and expensive) SMS, you’ll be glad to know that the user interface stays fast and efficient even down to the last letter. Up to 200 SMS messages can be stored in the phone’s memory (in addition to the SIM card’s memory capacity), while up to six lines of text can be previewed at once during composition.
MMS messages support the attachment of proper pictures, sound and video, with the data limit adjustable between 100 and 300 kilobytes depending on your provider’s messaging support. Multiple slides can be added each with a new picture, sound or video file.
On the email side, both POP3 and IMAP4 standards are supported. Provided you have an email address to use with the phone, you just need to plug in the server details for it and you can then access your email on the D900. Any type of file can be attached to an email, and typical functions such as automatic server email checking and header-only download are supported.
T9 predictive text dictionaries are used to speed up text entry. The T9 dictionary can learn new words, with the phone offering to memorise one after trying all the different word candidates it already knows. T9 dictionaries are included for the languages supported by the phone, and in the case of my test handset, they were English, Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Thai, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.
For wide area connectivity, the D900 has quad-band GSM support, which allows it to connect to all types of GSM networks world wide. The only places you won’t be able to use the D900 are in Japan and Korea. For data transmission, the D900 boasts EDGE download speeds of up to 236.8 Kbps, although average download speeds are usually slower (around 120Kbps). If you don’t use an EDGE-capable network, there’s still GPRS for up to 48 Kbps download speeds. Only Telstra has an EDGE-compatible GSM network in Australia, so the D900 will revert to GPRS on Optus and Vodafone’s networks.
My D900 was an overseas model but it wasn’t carrier branded. It carried all the MMS and WAP profiles of overseas carriers, but using Vodafone’s online utility, I was able to download the needed profiles to access WAP internet and MMS messaging. The standard text portal appeared on Vodafone live, but nonetheless data transfer was smooth across Vodafone’s GPRS-enabled network.
Flight mode is accessible from the phone’s settings menu and can be used to turn off all radio functions. It’s a handy feature if you travel, as you can still use the camera, music player and other hardware features while inside a plane.
Locally speaking, the D900 only supports USB and Bluetooth. Samsung continues to shun infra-red connectivity, preferring to use Bluetooth for all wireless connections. Connectivity works much the same way as other Samsungs. USB and Bluetooth can both be used for connection between a PC, and both methods perform the exact same functions. Bluetooth can also be used to hook the D900 up with other handheld devices such as phones, PDAs, headsets and stereo headphones for music listening.
The Bluetooth radio is version 2.0 compliant, and EDR is supported for fast data transfer with other EDR devices. USB on the other hand is only version 1.1 compliant, even though the faster version 2.0 has been available for quite some time.
The phone retail package is bundled with a CD containing Samsung’s PC software – Samsung PC Studio 3. It contains multiple programs allowing you to transfer data between a phone and PC; edit images, sound and movies for tailoring to the phone; synchronise PIM data between Outlook/Outlook Express and the phone; create a dialup connection to use the phone as a modem for the PC; and manage phone contacts and messages directly from the PC.
The software was robust and didn’t present problems during installation and operation. As the retail kit came with a USB cable, I chose to use it as installation is easier this way than attempting to pair with a PC’s Bluetooth adapter (the cable has the added bonus of transferring files far quicker as well). Finally, the USB cable can recharge the phone’s battery even without the software being installed on the PC.
Samsung’s build quality sits at the top of all phone manufacturers today. The D900 is well built and everything is connected tightly. The spring mechanism is solid and doesn’t rattle, creak or feel loose at all. The battery cover attaches to the phone casing durably and also doesn’t wobble. Repeated attempts at bending or straining the phone didn’t produce any flex or creaking whatsoever. The D900 should last many years through multiple opening and closing operations.
The D900 ships with an 800mAh battery, which is adequate for a GSM phone. Official battery figures cite a maximum talk time of three hours and standby time of 250 hours. In my mixed test run of 30 minutes of voice calls and mild usage of messaging, WAP and the camera, the phone lasted a little longer than two days. I keep the phone turned on overnight in case of an emergency call, so it had to endure this extra amount of operating time. Considering the bright, QVGA screen that it powers, the D900 passed the battery test adequately. Recharge time is approximately 90 minutes.