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Samsung Memoir T929 Cell Phone Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Up until recently, the highest megapixel camera phones to grace U.S. carriers have been 5-megapixel shooters like the Motorola Zine ZN5. If we wanted to play around with higher-performance camera phones, we had to get our hands on unlocked versions like the 8-megapixel Samsung Innov8 from our friends in Europe.

But that has all changed with the 8-megapixel Samsung Memoir, which is now available from T-Mobile USA for a much more affordable $249.99 (compared to the $700 or so for the Innov8). Indeed, this makes the Memoir the highest-performing camera phone with a U.S. carrier, though we’re sure this accolade won’t last long. The Memoir definitely delivers in the photo quality department, with great photos and camera features that rival even those on a standalone point-and-shoot camera. The Memoir even offers direct uploads to online photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket.

Of course, the Memoir wouldn’t be much of a phone if it didn’t have other features, too. It comes with Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz interface, a full HTML browser, support for T-Mobile’s 3G network, GPS, a music player, and more. $249.99 is a little pricier than most other U.S. camera phones, but we think the Memoir’s design and feature set more than make up for it.

Design
The design of the Samsung Memoir certainly walks a very thin line between camera and phone. The ergonomics are uncanny–the shutter button and zoom controls are on the top, the camera lens and flash are positioned in a way so that your fingers are unlikely to block them, and the touch-screen interface acts as a giant viewfinder–all like a regular camera. That small area where you would wrap your right-hand fingers when taking a photo? It’s clad in faux leather separate from the rest of the phone, presumably for better grip. If it were not for the telltale call keys and the T-Mobile branding, we would’ve thought the Samsung Memoir was a camera and not a phone.

Is it a camera or a phone? The Samsung Memoir mimics a camera very well.
Be it camera or phone (or both), the Memoir is one svelte, elegant device. Measuring 4.2 inches long by 2.1 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Memoir is clad in black with silver on the sides, and it’s one of the slimmest high-end camera phones we’ve seen. Dominating its entire front surface is a 262,000-color 2.6-inch touch-screen display that looks simply stunning. The display is vibrant with vivid colors and sharp-looking graphics. You can adjust the backlight time and brightness, and you can personalize the display with wallpaper and a greeting message. While you can adjust the font type, you can’t change the font size.

Like other Samsung touch-screen handsets, the Memoir has haptic feedback, meaning the phone vibrates to let you know your touch has registered. You can adjust the intensity of the vibrations if you want. The touch interface is pretty responsive and intuitive, but it did take us a little while to get used to the sensitivity of the screen, even after calibration. We would occasionally launch a program when all we wanted to do was scroll through the menu. We imagine this is something you learn to adapt to with time, but newcomers to touch-screen handsets might find it frustrating. Also, the Memoir has an internal accelerometer that automatically changes the display’s orientation from portrait to landscape mode when you hold the phone horizontally. This only happens with certain applications like the Web browser and the messaging interface, and it only rotates clockwise by 90 degrees.

On the default standby page, you’ll find four icons at the bottom row of the display. They represent the phone dialer, the phone book, the Web browser, and the main menu. The phone dialer has a virtual keypad with large alphanumeric keys, plus there are also shortcuts for the call log, voice mail, the messaging menu, and the phone book.

The Memoir features Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz interface, just like on the Behold and the Omnia. It consists of a tray of widgets along the left side, which lead to various applications like the clock, the music player, and so forth. You can also drag and drop them to the main screen for easier access to your favorite applications. But some of these widgets are more than just shortcuts. For example, the Weather widget will display the city you’re in as well as your local weather report right on the main screen, and the music player widget allows you to control your music without having to open up the application.

You’re unfortunately limited to the widgets that are preloaded to the Memoir, but Samsung did include a camera-focused widget. It allows you to upload your photos to online sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket directly, without having to use e-mail or a third-party program. This is definitely one of the highlights of the phone, which we’ll mention again in the Features section. Aside from dragging and dropping the widgets to the main screen, you can also drag them back to the tray. To close the tray, just touch the little arrow icon.

The Samsung Memoir has a virtual QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode.
For texters concerned about the lack of a physical keyboard, the Memoir does have a virtual QWERTY keyboard. After you create a new message, you can tilt the phone horizontally to reveal the landscape QWERTY keyboard that spans the length of the display. The keyboard is roomy and the haptic feedback helps to ensure accurate typing, but it’s not quite as smooth as using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. We like that you can type messages with the T9 alphanumeric keypad if you wanted to, and the dedicated punctuation keys are nice (You still have to switch to a different keyboard for symbols and numbers). When in the Web browser, the QWERTY keyboard even has a .com key, which is certainly helpful when entering URLs.

There are three physical keys underneath the display; the Talk, Back, and End/Power keys respectively. The microSD card slot and headset/charger jack are on the left spine. On the right are the camera shutter button, a screen lock key, and the volume rocker that also acts as the camera’s zoom controls. On the back is the aforementioned 8-megapixel-camera lens with a built-in retractable lens cover. There’s also a Xenon flash, but no self-portrait mirror.

Features
The Samsung Memoir’s camera is the primary reason to get this handset, despite the fact the Memoir comes with a whole host of other advanced features. We’ll get to that shortly, but first we wanted to let you know a few essentials before we delve into the main course. The Memoir has a large 2,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers, four instant-messaging usernames, a Web site address, birthday and anniversary dates, a street address, and notes. You can save callers to groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, plus one of 23 polyphonic ringtones.

Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a task list, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a stopwatch, and a currency and unit converter. It also has voice command, PC syncing, Web-based e-mail for a variety of providers (AOL, Yahoo, GMail, Comcast, etc.), instant messaging, GPS support, and stereo Bluetooth. The Memoir is also one of the few phones to support T-Mobile’s 3G network. News junkies will also like the built-in RSS reader. Though there’s 3G, there is no Wi-Fi, which is quite a disappointment seeing as there’s a full HTML browser and photo upload capabilities.

The Samsung Memoir’s camera is similar to the Innov8 in terms of features. The 8-megapixel camera can take pictures in up to seven resolutions, from a large 3,264×2,448 to the smallest 320×240. Some of the more typical camera settings include color effects, white balance presets, 8x digital zoom, a self-timer, three quality settings, a mosaic-shot mode, three shutter sounds with silent option, and nine fun frames. You will even find more advanced camera settings like an adjustable ISO and exposure metering.

You also get 12 preset scene settings for certain conditions like portrait, landscape, sports, indoor, beach, sunset, backlight, and more. If you’ve ever had problems with jerky photos, you’ll like the Memoir’s antishake mode. Smile-shot helps you to snap a photo only when the people are smiling, and blink detection lets you know when someone has blinked. We’ve tried both smile and blink detections, and it worked flawlessly. For business travelers, you’ll like the ability to use the camera for capturing business cards, so you might never have to carry a bunch of business cards home with you again. There’s even a panorama mode that lets you auto-stitch photos after shooting seven photos in quick succession from left to right (or vice versa).

The camcorder is impressive as well. The Memoir can record clips in two resolutions (640×480 and 320×240) in one of three modes: normal mode, picture message mode, and slow-motion video mode. Videos in normal mode are kept for however much storage is on the phone. Picture messages are capped to 30 seconds, and slow-motion video capture is shot at 120 frames per second. The settings are similar to the still camera.

Photo quality is simply amazing. We’re very impressed by the sharp images, accurate colors, and little to no image noise. After you’re done shooting photos, you can store them in the phone or up to a 8GB microSD card. You can also e-mail them, send them to a friend, plus you can upload your photo directly to one of four online sharing sites–Flickr, Kodak Gallery, Photobucket, and Snapfish. You just log into your preferred site, and upload directly from the phone–no need for a special e-mail address or a third-party application like Shozu. We really like this feature, since you do not need to resize your photo down to a more Web-friendly resolution and can instead upload the full original photo if you like. The Memoir also supports geotagging if you want your photos to be tagged with the location where you took the photo.

The Memoir has a pretty simple music player. It supports album art, you can create and edit playlists, there are shuffle and repeat modes, plus six equalizer settings. You load music onto it with a USB cable by dragging and dropping into it. You can set the player to play in the background while multitasking.

Thankfully, the Memoir also offers a full HTML browser. It is similar to other Samsung browsers–you can scroll through pages by dragging your finger across the page. You can use the camera’s physical zoom controls to zoom in and out of Web pages, which is very nice. And as we said above, the virtual QWERTY keyboard on the browser has a dedicated .com button, which helps in entering URLs. You can save bookmarks easily, and you can get rid of the surrounding controls for full screen mode if you want. It’s not quite as good as the iPhone’s browser of course, but it compares favorably with other proprietary Web browsers.

You can customize the Memoir with wallpaper, alert tones, and more. If you want more options, you can download them from T-Mobile’s t-zones store. There are no included games.

Performance
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Memoir in San Francisco using T-Mobile. We were impressed with the call quality. Callers sounded loud and clear, with natural voices, and nary a sign of static. On their end, callers said we sounded fine as well, though they did complain of the occasional background noise. Speakerphone calls performed admirably as well. Callers could still hear an echo, but it wasn’t that bad. We could certainly hear them loud and clear, though with a slightly tinnier voice quality.

Music quality was pretty good. The external speakers give out a rather hollow sound with not a lot of bass, but the overall sound is fine. We would recommend using a headset for better audio quality of course.

The Memoir supports T-Mobile’s 3G network (UMTS 1700/2100). It is very fast. We connected to Web pages in seconds and were able to upload a 2.2MB photo in just under a couple minutes.

The Samsung Memoir has a battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 5 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Memoir has a digital SAR rating of 0.618 watt per kilogram.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.