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Hands-on with the Samsung Saga

Chris Ziegler

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How does a totally plain-looking Windows Mobile-powered Samsung with seemingly no particular strengths or stand-out features to its name survive in a product lineup that features devices like the Storm and the Touch Pro? Just fine, thank you very much. Admittedly, we went into this particular hands-on with a good deal of skepticism, but we ended up genuinely taken aback by how much we enjoyed having the Saga in our pocket. Read on to find out why.

Gallery: Hands-on with the Samsung Saga | 13 Photos

Physically, this phone is just about the perfect shape and size for maximum mobile productivity -- and seeing how it's being billed as a straight-up business device, that's a Good Thing. It feels great in the hand, owing in no small part to the soft-touch plastic covering the front and rear, and it's neither too wide nor too thick to comfortably hold against your ear at length.

That being said, we've got to question the blue shell. Seriously, Verizon, don't look at Samsung on this one -- this was your phone built to your spec, and we know you had something to do with this. The Saga's a phone with virtually no consumer appeal; it falls strictly in the business and enterprise domain, where this kind of personalized, stylish tomfoolery is generally frowned upon. What's more, it looks completely out of place -- the blue shade is just kind of sad, a desperate attempt to add some fashion credibility to a phone that's totally out of place outside an office. We'd have preferred black, white, gray, or maybe a tasteful dark red, but a random shade of blue is the last thing we would've expected.

On these kinds of devices, even the slightest keyboard nuances can make the difference between "typing hell" and the "ultimate mobile email machine." Fortunately, the Saga delivers with great tactile response, good key separation, a totally usable numeric layout, and great add-on functionality along the bottom row: you get dedicated keys for speakerphone, music, and messaging, while a long press on the spacebar switches between ringer and silent mode. With the possible exception of music, all of these are going to see heavy duty in the phone's target demo.

The Saga's load of Windows Mobile 6.1 is virtually dead stock, an almost (dare we say it?) refreshing change from the rampant customization that has taken manufacturers miles away from WinMo's roots. Don't get us wrong, we love TouchFLO 3D -- but if you're using this thing to write hundreds of emails and take the occasional teleconference, we can see the appeal of a simple, familiar layout that tosses frills.

So, how about that optical mouse, eh? Samsung is really pushing these lately -- notably on the Omnia -- and they've been met with mixed reaction (to put it diplomatically) in the marketplace. Personally, we've never had trouble with them, particularly when paired with Samsung's on-screen mouse pointer, and the formula just gets better on the Saga. The great thing here is that the optical device is huge -- it's that entire circular area where you'd normally expect a d-pad to be. We found it accurate and super easy to use; new users might find it frustrating for a few minutes, but we think anyone could adapt to it -- and if it turns out you can't, it can simulate an old-fashioned 4-way with the flip of a switch in settings.

Put simply, the Saga is a world-class execution of function over form. Take the great keyboard, the great feel, the best-in-class optical mouse, the tried-and-true (but admittedly boring) WinMo 6.1, and global roaming, and this just might be the best business phone Verizon's got in the stable. Yeah, the Storm's great and all -- but until it's rock solid enough to trust day in and day out, we're thinking this segment of the market is going to want safety, security, and familiarity over a fancy click screen.

Verizon owns Engadget's parent company, Verizon Media. Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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