In this age of ever-expanding screen real estate, dual-core processors, and 3D cameras, the push to pack more features into every smartphone seems an irresistible force. But this technological ratcheting-up effect isn't absolute, and in fact, there are plenty of people who prefer a more pedestrian device. One that simply gives them access to email, social networks, and apps without forcing them to pay an arm and a leg for hardware they're in no position to appreciate. It's these folks who Samsung's after with its new Gravity Smart, as it gives you a bowl full of Froyo at a bargain basement price. However, the question remains whether Sammy can provide an agreeable Android experience at a sub-century price point. Read on to find out if this budget-minded slider is a worthy addition to the legion of phones powered by Google's little green bots.
Gallery | 27 Photos

Samsung Gravity Smart review

T-Mobile (Samsung)

Gravity Smart

Pros

  • Handsome handset
  • Good battery life
  • Solid screen viewing angles

Cons

  • Laggy performance
  • Sloppy slider hinge
  • No Gingerbread
Summary

Throw in a sub-$100 price and comely exterior, and you've got a recipe for a decent entry-level Android smartphone.


Hardware



Samsung's Gravity Smart is the evolution of the company's Gravity feature phones, and is the first handset in the line to run Android. As such, the device has features that follow its forebears, with a landscape QWERTY keyboard like the Gravity 3, and a capacitive touchscreen like the Gravity T. The Smart's screen is a 3.2-inch, 480 x 320 panel flanked by silver T-Mobile and Samsung logos. Also on its front is a black mesh earpiece, capacitive buttons for menu, back, and search, plus a tactile home button.

The display is neither exceptional nor subpar. Viewing angles are quite good -- similar to the LCD on our daily driver, an HTC Thunderbolt -- but colors appear washed out when compared to higher-end displays, and blacks are nowhere near as inky as what you see on Sammy's AMOLED screens. Additionally, the step down in screen size from the massive 4.3-inch LCD on our Thunderbolt to the 3.2-inch panel on the Gravity Smart was quite an adjustment. We regularly found ourselves wishing for more screen real estate while reading emails and surfing the web.

Inside, the Gravity Smart packs WiFi 802.11 b/g/partial n (meaning it only does speeds up to 72Mbps) and Bluetooth radios, plus quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and 1700MHz AWS antennae -- so no HSPA or globetrotting 900/2100 UMTS radios here. In our experience, that hardware and the phone's earpiece provided good call quality -- the folks we talked to had little difficulty hearing us whether we had two bars of signal or five, and on our end the dulcet tones of friends and family came through crystal clear.

Aside from its ebony face, our phone was appropriately dressed with a rose-colored exterior (it's a T-Mo phone, after all). The metal rim around the screen has a satiny finish, while the matte plastic battery cover and buttons provide a pleasant, grippy feel. A volume rocker resides on the left side of the device, while a micro-USB port and power button sit on the right. Both the volume and power buttons protrude just enough that our fingertips easily found them (but not so much as to negatively affect aesthetics) and provide precise feedback with each press. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack ringed in chrome, and on the back you'll find a 3-megapixel shooter, a single LED flash, an embossed Samsung emblem and a diminutive dual-slotted speaker grille. Although the Smart is priced as an entry-level Android device, we must say it's a handsome handset, pink color notwithstanding -- the chrome accents are tasteful and add a touch of luxury, and its matte finish is a welcome change from the shiny and fingerprint-prone skins found on other phones.

Slider / Physical Keyboard

One place the Smart shows its budget-based roots, however, is its slider mechanism. The motion is mushy and there's no satisfying snap into place when opening or closing it. The slop in its movement didn't exactly inspire confidence when we considered its long-term durability, particularly compared to the rifle bolt precision of the hinges on higher-end phones like the Droid 2 or Xperia Play. It's not all doom and gloom, though, as it's a spring loaded affair that we easily operated with one hand -- just nudge it halfway and the mechanism does the rest.

Pushing the slider up reveals four rows of letter keys that we found preferable to using Swype or the stock Android keyboard, but BlackBerry and Sidekick fans will find the Smart's grid wanting. Firm button presses were met with a short throw and a pleasing click, and touch-typists will appreciate the nubbins on the "J" and "F" keys. Unfortunately, we found the remaining oval keys to be indistinguishable, and we routinely got lost among them, which caused plenty of typos while banging out emails and texts. We also wish Samsung hadn't swapped out arrow keys for a set of shortcut buttons. While it's nice to have search, email, internet, and Facebook just a tactile tap away, we'd much prefer the ability to navigate text by button rather than touchscreen.

Camera
Gallery | 35 Photos

Samsung Gravity Smart sample pictures


While the slider was less than luxurious, the 3 megapixel fixed-focus shooter actually punches a little bit above its weight class. Samsung has made a point to improve the camera capabilities in its handsets, and it shows in the Gravity Smart. There's a plethora of settings -- including white balance, 13 scene modes, and exposure compensation -- to ensure pictures turn out the way you want. Plus, you can get trippy with a negative picture effect and do some photographic time traveling with black and white or sepia shots. When the lighting was good, we were able to get quality results out of the phone's modest sensor. Video recording was predictably less impressive, as resolution is limited to 320 x 240 and, again, it's a fixed-focus affair. So, you won't exactly be getting Spielbergian results, but it works just fine for capturing YouTube fodder.



Software, Performance, and Battery Life



As we've said before, the Gravity Smart runs Android 2.2 swathed in Samsung's custom TouchWiz skin. The phone also comes loaded with less bloatware than many phones, but there's still several stock applications that cannot be removed -- why can't all carriers follow Sprint's lead? Among these irremovable apps are the useful (cloud and group texting courtesy of Bobsled), the playful (Tetris, Bejeweled 2 and Uno), and ones we could do without (Highlight, a news aggregator, and Glympse, which shares your location and lets you track your friends). There's also free TeleNav GPS, which is similar to Google Navigation, but if you pony up $2.99 a month for the premium version, you get added functionality like traffic camera alerts and real-time traffic updates. Overall, the phone provides the standard TouchWiz experience you've seen elsewhere.

Underneath the phone's pink facade beats the same Qualcomm MSM7227 heart found in the HTC Status, only its CPU is clocked at 600MHz, which pales in comparison to higher-end single and dual-core silicon running at 1GHz or more. There's also 512MB of RAM and a 2GB microSD card included, though media mavens can have up to 32GB of space if their wallets allow. Cutting edge silicon it's not, and the benchmarks reflect that fact: 588 in Quadrant, 9.7 MFLOPS in Linpack, 33fps in Nenamark, and 51.7fps in Neocore. So, while the Gravity Smart can still get you your Angry Birds fix, it sometimes struggled to keep up while we were fighting multiple enemies and casting spells in Inotia3.

Additionally, attempts to add app shortcuts and widgets to the home screen were met with a several-second delay before populating the list of choices, and occasionally the phone would lose the input commands completely, forcing us to redo the process. Otherwise, the phone's performance was unremarkable; we experienced some lag swiping between screens, but pinch-to-zoom and scrolling while web browsing were fairly smooth.

A beefy (for a phone this size) 1500mAh Li-ion battery provides power for the whole shebang, and it displayed superb battery life during our testing. With the screen set at 50 percent brightness, WiFi and GPS on, Facebook automatically updating every hour, Twitter polling every fifteen minutes, and push email enabled, we got just over seven hours of battery life with a looped video playing at 60 percent volume. During a normal day's use making a few calls, taking pictures, websurfing and checking email, the Smart survived with just under half of its juice left. Impressive, especially compared to our Thunderbolt, which requires a charge at least once each work day.

Wrap-up


In our opinion, Samsung's Gravity Smart is a serviceable handset. Although saddled with Android 2.2 (can we get Gingerbread, please?) and modest hardware underpinnings, the phone provides a relatively agreeable experience. Sure, there's some lag in its operation and its screen isn't as vivid as others we've viewed, but it does provide excellent battery life and a physical keyboard -- two features that we think will be quite attractive to many. Throw in a sub-$100 price and comely exterior, and you've got a recipe for a decent entry-level Android smartphone.

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