When it comes to phones like the Samsung SGH-S300, the rules of relatively are broken almost immediately when you realise the amount of power that it has hidden inside its little silver clamshell. In most cases, it’s either small and chic and only able to do basic things like make/receive calls - or it can be larger than you would prefer it to be, but under its bonnet is the works.
The S300, ladies and gentlemen, follows no rules, and is one hell of a mobile phone. Alike all mobile phones, it is not for everyone - but it would certainly cover (and possibly overlap) a number of differing segments of users which wants both style and functionality.
Looking very much alike the SGH-A800, which was also recently reviewed, the S300 is as compact and only a fraction (2 grams) heavier. While the outer display may seem like a mirror to you when it’s off, turning on the phone will result in the 256-colour STN display showing off its true potential. The primary (internal) 65,535-colour UFB (Ultra Fine and Bright) display is as impressive.
On the inside, certain features have been upgraded - including support for 40-tone polyphonics, a slightly revised menu system, and various customisable features which aims to make life easier for its user. Previous “S” series features (i.e. IR/data cable connectivity, GPRS, Java support) are also part of the S300.
There’s no getting away from the classical silver finishing of virtually all Samsung clamshell phones (apart from the odd exceptions of course!) But this time, I must compliment the Korean manufacturer on getting the sizing right for their latest “S” series model. It is small, but not ridiculously - it just fits comfortably in the palm of my hand (those people who prefer to use a phone that they can feel while in their pockets, the S300 may just fail you here).
With the clamshell opened, I actually found the buttons sufficiently sized for me to operate the phone. Although the layout of all the keypad buttons are exactly the same as the A800’s, the flatter surface and its finishing - very similar to that of the casing - made it slightly harder for me to get a good “touch” on which button I was actually depressing. Interestingly, the gap space between each numeric key were less than that on the A800, possibly contributing to the same cause.
Alike other similar models, the S300 has a service light located on the external side of the top clamshell. The A800 had this as a sleek “smiling” light located below the external LCD, while the S300’s one is located above it but taking on a simpler, more basic shaping. Is it bright enough? In a dark room, you bet!
And lastly, the S300’s volume up and down buttons has been moved down slightly and also a tad larger than those of the A800. I found this to be more easily accessible (subconsciously) whilst on a call. This is possibly due to the where the earphone plug is located, being on the corner of the top left-hand side.
User Interface & display
It may not be a TFT display that’s used on the new S300, but Samsung’s own UFB display comes very close. But when you consider its battery saving capabilities (where it uses virtually the same power consumption as a low-end STN colour screen), sacrificing a minute amount of quality is well worth it!
But a downside to the S300’s UFB display is its poor readability under very bright lighting conditions. It is virtually impossible to depict the content displayed when using the S300 under the sun, for example, or any sort of direct lighting when the surrounding light is also bright. Enabling the LCD’s backlight does not help the situation. Unfortunately, it is one downside that S300 users will have to live with.
On the outside, a 256-colour STN makes the S300 the first dual colour LCD clamshell model for Samsung. “Did you say 256 colours?” Sure I did, and it’s probably very sufficient already - considering that it is in colour (and not boring black-and-white) and is used only to display simple graphics (that is, caller group icons, incoming call and message notification icons).
One thing about the S300’s STN display is that you are unable to see anything displayed without the help of its own backlight. All you get is your own reflection in the display instead. To see what’s displayed without opening the clamshell (usually it’s the time/date and battery/signal indicators), hold down either volume buttons to turn on the backlighting - which will turn itself off after a short period of inactivity.
As for the menu system, Samsung is quite consistent in this area. But for its top-level menus, the S300 has a choice of two styles to pick from - a “folder” and “page” style. The “folder” style is pretty standard, and is also used on the S100 predecessor - while the “page” style is a new design that uses most of the screen to depict a particular menu set while also listing the previous and next main menu items on the top and bottom lines respectively. Once the main menu item is selected, the traditional one-line-per-item setup is used.
I personally prefer the menus used on the “S” series model phones, but find those on the T100 (Samsung, of course!) and T500 to be slightly more difficult to get around on.
Making and receiving calls
The best clamshells are probably made by Samsung. In most cases, they get it right for the angling used when opened - which results in the phone resting comfortably on the face during calls. When I took my calls on the S300, there was no discomfort or difficulty in finding a suitable “hold posture”. However, I must say that the A800 sister model seems to provide a slightly more comfortable “hold and feel” - which I would not be too fussed about, but thought was worth mentioning… :)
Audio quality was brilliant - calls were loud and clear, and reception was a no-doubter! But if you’re a right-hander and should have the phone too close to the face, you may end up blocking the microphone located inside the rubber below the “hash” keypad button. This situation usually happens when you have no hands for your phone and resulting in the use of your shoulder for a temporary hold.
And in the ringtones department, the 40-tone speaker is not something to be overlooked. As many may know, one of the inherent problems with having such ringtones is their inability to catch the attention of our ears - especially at time when we’re at noisy places like bars and discos. Setting it to the highest volume does help - but usually doesn’t provide the effect required due to the lack of high-pitched tones.
On the S300, this problem has been significantly reduced thanks to two things. Firstly, a change from the traditional 16-tone to 40-tone polyphonic capability means more detail of a ringtone piece can be played out than before resulting in much better clarity. The second thing is the volume level, which outputs ringing tones at ridiculously high volumes when set to the maximum setting. One can consider this a major “plus” if missing calls was because you “couldn’t hear the phone go off”, I suppose…
Don’t get the wrong idea - I love the polyphonic ringtones on the S300! But at times, these sometimes-deafening ringtones can get kinda problematic. One perfect example is the start-up/shutdown tones - I had to virtually hold my thumb on top of the polyphonic speaker when turning the phone on in an environment where banging your ringtones isn’t so appropriate.
Again, the S300’s keypad design is indeed small - but it is actually large enough for most people to do good amounts of typing on. With T9 predictive text input, keypad usability becomes quite important once you master where each letter is located subconsciously. This is probably true also if you “multi-tap” instead (or tap each letter out individually).
However, one of the important aspects of T9 that was not included on the S300 was the ability to add new words to the dictionary (will talk more about this in the “Problems/issues” section of this review later).
Again, consistency in the build quality of Samsung phone never seems to disappoint me. The S300 keeps up the legacy of having a very strong and solid construction all round. This means no creaks in the casing, no movement by the external battery when properly fitted into its slot, and feels extremely solid when held in the hand with the clamshell either opened or closed. Its clamshell hinge, which joins the upper and lower parts together, shows no sign of loosening or giving way after huge amounts of opening and closing operations.
Remember what I said about the S300’s UFB and its ability to save energy consumption? Well, I feel this is one of the biggest strengths of the S300, and was very impressed with the amount of talk and standby time I was able to attain from it.
On average usage, the S300’s standard battery was able to provide for up to three hours of talk time and approximately 4-5 days of standby. While I was able to get the phone to go on a consistent standby time of up to 7-8 days, a higher usage of the phone can mean a significantly shorter standby time.
The slim battery (slightly thinner than the standard battery, which makes the back of the S300 lay flat on the table) provides approximately 25% less battery power than that of the standard type.