Samsung has had quite a sideline in handsets sportin' AMOLED displays as of late, and you know what? We're fans -- that's why we were more than happy to get our hands on the UltraTouch S8300 for some in-depth use and abuse. At first glance it seems to be a worthy successor to the Soul -- we had no complaints with the 8 megapixel camera, the integrated FM radio brought us our tunes loud and clear, and who can find fault with 16GB microSD card support? But that isn't the whole story, not by a long shot. Hold tight as we examine the pros and cons and answer the question: Is this one destined for greatness, or just an average feature phone in a handsome package?

Samsung Ultratouch S8300

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Samsung

UltraTouch S8300

Pros

  • AMOLED Display
  • Support for DivX / XviD
  • Anti-smudge screen actually works

Cons

  • Cluttered display
  • TouchWiz
  • No way to view videos in portrait or full screen
Summary



Design and basic use

You know, if we were judging this handset by the look and feel of the hardware alone, we'd recommend it with few reservations. Although not the smallest of phones, at 110 x 51.5 x 12.7mm this guy finds the sweet spot between comfort and heft. When it's open, it's large enough to feel like a "real phone," but when you slide it closed it's unobtrusive, like a touch device should be. Even the slide mechanism itself is solid, closing with a comforting click. Facing forward, the bottom of the phone features three buttons: call / back / end, and up top is the front-facing camera for webchat, next to an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor (for locking the display when held to your ear). The phone itself is not bad looking, sleek and simple with a red line running along the edge that matches the the color of the keypad when its exposed. As for the keyboard itself, it's solid, it looks good, and it gets the job done. Not tricked out by any means, the UltraTouch is sleek, simple, and altogether "grown up" in appearance.


When it comes to making (and taking) phone calls, we've got no real complaints. What the speakerphone lacked in volume it more than made up for in tinniness, but really -- if you're one of these people that makes lots of speakerphone calls, you should be punished anyways. When using the handset the way nature intended, calls were clear, loud, and had a healthy resonance.

Display and User Interface

Of course, the first thing that people think about when you mention the UltraTouch is that AMOLED display. And you know what? It's as eye pleasing as hyped, with each of its 240 x 400 pixels used to full effect.

And how about that UI? Well, it's a further refinement of TouchWiz -- either you'll get used to it, or you won't. This reviewer never did, to be honest. Our complaint isn't with the capacitive touchscreen, which we found to be extremely responsive, making basic menu functions a pleasure. Sadly, the 2.8-inch screen just doesn't offer enough real estate for a toolbar, widgets, and our fingers (and no, we don't have extra large fingers). And you can forget scrolling around with multiple widgets on the idle screen -- our frustration level ratcheted up to an insane level as we found ourselves flinging widgets all over the place. The best way to handle the idle screen was to keep everything docked and introduce one widget at a time, as needed, placing it back on the toolbar when finished -- defeating the purpose of "widgets" altogether.

Believe it or not, the handset's "anti-smudge" screen seems to live up to its name, better than a lot of other similarly-hyped screens we've seen in the past. The anti-glare qualities, however, quickly fell short in extreme sunlight. Sunlight seems to be AMOLED's Achilles' Heel, so it fits right in with the motif.


Features

What's a feature phone without, you know, some features? The browser, as you'd expect, had the same aura of jankiness that most mobile browsers do, although this was alleviated somewhat by the size of the display. Sliding the phone open allows you to view the screen in portrait mode, while keeping it closes displays things in landscape. Pressing and holding an image in the browser gives you several options: print it via Bluetooth, save it to the phone, or send it to someone via SMS. It's nice to know that those options exist, although we doubt we'll be using them very often. Also related to the browser, we were hoping that the Facebook and MySpace widgets up front were full-blown apps, but alas they turned out to be bookmarks for their respective mobile sites. And if you've ever played with either Facebook or MySpace mobile at all, you'd know that you're usually better off waiting until you can get your hands on a proper browser.

Samsung Ultratouch S8300 sample images

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Just as we hadn't expected much from the browser, we kind of knew what we were going to get from the camera -- at 8 megapixels, the thing was no slouch, performing better than expected in overcast light, while colors in more optimal lighting was crisp and clear. The video camera, too, did its job, and once we got home getting images and video off via the Bluetooth app was quick and painless.


The one place we feel the S8300 has real potential -- and sort of misses the mark -- is as a media player. Surely, in this day and age it isn't too much to ask a handset this sweet to do double duty as a media player. And really, we're not asking for much: instead of confounding us with your widgets, why not include a "media player" button right up front? And instead of making us trod through folders to play video (further driving home the fact that DivX support was an afterthought) why not incorporate videos into the media player? Certainly, with up to 16GB to work with folks will be more than happy to fill those microSD cards up with media, especially useful on those occasions when bringing along an additional device would be overkill. And last but not least, could you maybe let us watch those DivX videos in full screen (or at least, full-er screen) landscape mode? Giving us a display this luscious only to let us watch movies on a postage stamp-sized box is at best a cruel joke, at worst torture.


Wrap-up

OK, maybe "torture" is a little harsh. Anybody who gets one of these guys is going to walk out of the Vodafone store with it for no cash down and around £25 a month ($41) on contract. And you know what? Unless you totally hate TouchWiz (and we know that some of you probably do) you'll be more than happy with your selection. But we can't help but shake the feeling that, as kick-ass as this phone is, it could be much more so. And while the wasted opportunity is a little depressing, in the end it really just whets our appetites for the next Samsung offering.

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