Mobile phones have certainly come a long way since the days of the brick. They have evolved from being a big-and-ugly contraption (mind you, they were fantastic back in their days) to something that more humanly acceptable. And in the last year or two is when we’ve seen serious consideration of the “fashion” factor in mobile phones.
The Samsung SGH-S200 is the company’s first clamshell to combine a unique elegant finishing design, dual colour displays (both inside and out), and 40-chord polyphonic ringing tones. Together, they make the S200 a definite one-of-a-kind mobile phone that the market has yet to see (so far).
If you want something to reflect the type of person you are, the S200 is probably a good example of an every-day-use item that can do just that - in addition to all the other stuff that you wear and put on when you’re out and about.
For people who wished for a colour version of the current SGH-A500 model, the S200 model may just have answered your prayers. Having an almost-identical look-and-feel, the main attraction here is - of course - the incorporation of dual colour screens, which means you won’t find a black-and-white screen anywhere on the S200. And the 40-chord polyphonic ringer is literally music to your ears!
If you’re familiar with the current SGH-S300 model, you will find that much of what’s featured on the S200 has been adopted from there. On the other hand, judging from the model number of this model, it may just be the other way round… who knows! But what differentiates the S200 and S300 apart are their very different looks, where the latter tends to uphold a more conservative styling and the other being somewhat more elegant.
At the end of the day, how I see it is “having more choice is always better for the consumer!” :)
There’s no doubt that the S200 is eye candy for many people - especially those who love stuff that have shiny, metallic-based paintwork. On the outside, most of the surface area - including the external antenna - is encased in this fine finishing, while on the inside a traditional non-glossy silver surface attempts to provide a contrasting effect.
In many ways, the S200 is similar to how the current T500 model is finished - from the similar genre of styling adopted, right down to the very-similar “Ruby Red” colour finishing (the S200 uses a “Wine Red” colour instead). But on a physical level, the S200 has a striking resemblance to the black-and-white A500 model, where its design is based from.
What I like about the S200 is the elongated design, which makes the phone quite comfortable to hold and use in almost any situation - whether it’s simply in my hand with the clamshell closed, typing a message or taking a call whilst leaning against my face. Although it takes on a very rectangular design, Samsung has put in some nice curves all around the S200 to give it a more rounded-off look whilst giving its user a less-cumbersome feeling.
There were certainly physical differences between the two models, with the major one being the adaptation of an external display (this was one of my wish list items for the A500). In addition to the internal colour screen, the one on the outside is also colour-enabled - making it one of the very few GSM clamshell phones on the market to feature dual colour screens. I do like how Samsung has integrated the external screen on the S200, although I am also a fan of the A500’s very-clean external design.
An infrared (IR) port is included on the S200, which is located on the left side of the phone just below the “down” volume button. Similar to the S300, you can connect the S200 up to a compatible PC’s IR device and perform certain operations using the provided (in-box) EasyGPRS software (for more information, refer to the “connectivity” sub-section below).
And where’s the good old service light that all Samsung phones have? On the A500, it’s just near the external antenna area. But on the S200, it has been relocated to a more-conspicuous location - but you’ll probably never guess it if you never had the chance to see the phone while it’s turned on! The “Samsung” logo above the external display is, to my surprise as well, the service light, which flashes in a multitude of differing colours across from “S” all the way to “G” when the phone has reception or whilst being charged.
On the inside of the clamshell, differences between the S200 and A500 include a slight modification to the navigational area (the 4-way keys are slightly stretched horizontally), the moving of the CLEAR (“C”) button from the centre of the 4-way key to in between the ANSWER and END keys, and the addition of the “i” WAP access key which replaces the “C” key found on the A500.
User Interface & display
On the outside, it’s the elegance of the finishing that wins it for most people. But what’s within the clamshell is probably as or even more impressive…
Once you turn on the S200 for the first time, you will be greeted with the start-up “GPRS” graphic screen, which kind of shows off how good the screen performs. After the standby screen comes up, the high-resolution wallpaper further proves that 65,535 colours can be so much better than a 4096 one! This is thanks to the UFB (Ultra Fine and Bright) LCD used, which attempts to produce a display quality very close to that of a TFT LCD, while only consuming the same power as the low-end STN LCD type screens.
However, a downside of the UFB screen is that it cannot take high levels of surrounding light. For example, if you try and view the S200’s main display under the sun (or just a room with very bright lights) you won’t be able to see anything except for the bright reflection. Even with the on-board backlighting enabled, it doesn’t help the situation.
The external LCD screen on the top clamshell features a simple 256-colour STN screen, which already means quite a lot since virtually all other phones on the market only have black-and-white or greyscale screens for these. Since it’s designed to display simple graphics only, there isn’t really any point in having something better. Maybe one day these external screens can display the picture of the person calling - that would be a sweet feature to have… :)
As for the user interface, the S200 uses exactly the same menu system as that of the S300, which means a choice of either “folder” or “page” style. These two styles only affect the top-level menu (that is, the main menu) - where the “folder” style shows up to three different sub menus on one screen, and “page” having a single menu item displayed with the previous (up) and next (down) menus displayed at the top and bottom of the screen respectively as text only.
Moving one level deeper, the S200 uses a common display format for the remainder of its menus. A list format is used where up to 6 menu functions and features are displayed. Highlighting a selection for more than a second will display the current option selected where applicable. All in all, I find most Samsung menus to be quite easy to use and get accustomed with - especially those on the “S” series models so far!
Making and receiving calls
Alike most Samsung models, the audio quality on the S200 is crystal clear and the earpiece provides more-than-sufficient volume. The phone offers the traditional two methods of taking calls - either via the phone’s earpiece and microphone, or the included ear microphone headset accessory.
40-chord polyphonic tones mean clearer and more distinct melodies pumped out by the ringer (or speaker). When compared to the current 16-chord-capable handsets, the S200 is able to play a variety of ringtones that includes much more detail than ever before (especially when you compare it back with previous Samsung models with 16-chord poly ringers).
One primary reason for this is the ability for the phone to support and play a greater number of MIDI-based instruments simultaneously. In other words, the S200 is able to play up to 40 different instruments (tones or chords - whatever you want to call them) at the same time.
I also found that the individual instrumental sounds were more distinctive which resulted in a clearer polyphonic ringing tone than a typical 16-chord-compatible phone. This also meant the ringtones could be heard slightly better than those that simply provide minimal polyphonic tones support. However, the S200 did not produce ringtones as loud as those I experienced with the S300 (even though they share many common features both in and out).
The S200 provides all the basic requirements for text messaging, as well as the ability to attach simple graphics, sounds and animations with your text as well (EMS). Should you receive one of these types of messages, you can also save the attached objects into the phone’s memory for your own personal use in future messages.
On-board message storage of up to 50 messages is available in addition to the SMS message memory in your SIM card. By default, all received messages are saved into the SIM card memory, and is possible to move these between the two memory locations via the OPTIONS menu whilst a single message is being read.
T9 predictive text input support is provided on the S200, but unfortunately does not allow the addition of custom words or those that may not be found in its built-in dictionary (refer to the “Problems/issues” section for more information on this).
There are two ways that you can connect the S200 to your PC - either via the IR port (as mentioned previously) or with the provided serial data cable that plugs into the base of the phone.
Included with the sales package is the EasyGPRS CD-ROM, which includes the base software plus necessary drivers to allow your PC to utilise the GPRS capabilities of your phone and network (where available). The base software allows the management of phone book entries, SMS messages, scheduler entries and call records (missed/received/dialled calls) that are existent on the handset. You can also import and/or export phone book entries between the S200 and the Windows Address Book application on your Windows-based PC.
For those people wondering how you can upload images and tones, the EasyGPRS software allows you to do just that. Under the “tool” menu, select either “image to phone” or “melody to phone” option to upload the respective material onto the phone.
Samsung seems to have made improvements in phone/PC connectivity as my experience with connecting the S200 up with a range of PCs was 100% successful. The updated EasyGPRS software, being the same version which was included with the S300, automatically detects the phone once it is connected with the PC. However, you will need to manually select the COM port that the S200 is connected on.
All Samsung phones that I’ve reviewed so far have an almost-perfect track record for having top-notch build quality. The S200 felt extremely solid in the hand, no creaking from any of the joining areas around the phone, and the clamshell hinge open and shut without any unusual sounds or signs of difficulty.
On average use, I was able to get approximately 2-3 hours of talk time out of the extended battery, and up to 4-6 days worth of standby on average use. These times will vary greatly depending on the amount of time you use the phone, where the UFB display and its backlight can drain a bit of power when used extensively.
For the slim battery, expect the above battery times to be around 20-25% less.