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AT&T Samsung Impression hands-on

Chris Ziegler

We were dying to call this "Samsung Impression impressions," but we found our verbal dignity just long enough to avoid doing so -- and now that we've gotten that off our chests, let's talk a bit about the phone, shall we? The Impression is the first phone to be released on a North American carrier with a full AMOLED display, which is basically a win / win scenario -- you get better battery life and crisper, more vibrant colors. "Vibrant" might be an understatement, actually; the screen is absolutely amazing, with mega-black blacks and colors that seem to pop right off the screen. We can't believe we're saying this, but we kinda wish it had AT&T Mobile TV compatibility.

Gallery: AT&T Samsung Impression hands-on | 34 Photos

It's not all fun and games, though -- we noticed a couple shortcomings of the Impression that might give potential buyers pause. Most notably, the smooth, pebble-like shape of the device lends itself to an awful lot of bobbles and potential drops, especially in light of the fact that the entire phone is hard, glossy plastic (it seems like the issue could've been at least partially solved if they'd gone with soft-touch). Also, because the sides of the phone are rounded and you're dealing with a slide mechanism, all of the side-mounted buttons are positioned below the break between the upper and lower halves of the phone; the net effect of this is that they're angled toward the back, making pushing them awkward. We found this particularly true with the right-mounted buttons -- lock / unlock and camera -- because pushing them causes you to unconsciously put pressure on the other side of the phone, which in turn causes it to start to slide open. Bottom line: using the side buttons is awkward, and in general you'll want to be careful when you're holding it.

A couple of UI issues gave us trouble, too. First off, despite the fact that the interface is reasonably well designed to be finger-friendly throughout, the resistive touchscreen wasn't sensitive to every touch of our finger -- a shortcoming of the technology -- and we found that we had to use our fingernails to get the kind of precision and control we wanted in some situations (it almost seems like you can't ship a resistive device without a "just in case" stylus tucked in there somewhere). Second, we discovered that although all of the Impression's native, built-in applications support flawless, fast orientation changes, the Java-based stuff like XM Radio and The Weather Channel (and likely anything else you download) does not -- and in many cases, the interfaces are entirely inappropriate for a finger-controlled touch UI altogether. We wish Samsung and AT&T had put more effort into loading more appropriate apps here, because in a device of this caliber, attention to detail makes a big difference.
Turning our attention back to hardware, the keyboard feels fantastic and is incredibly easy to get up to speed on; you'll be busting out speedy texts in no time. There's one big problem, though -- inexplicably, Samsung has chosen to make the shift key behave as a capitalization mode toggle alone, which means that holding down the key while typing a letter has no effect. Instead, you have to use it in exactly the same way you would a mode toggle on a T9 keyboard, which makes no sense here. We're hoping this'll be quickly addressed via over-the-air firmware update, because it's got to be a bug.

The camera produced decent-quality shots considering there's no autofocus involved on that 3 megapixel sensor (sadly), but our impressions are likely skewed by the fact that everything -- and we do mean everything -- looks more gorgeous on that OLED display. For what it's worth, shutter lag is nearly nonexistent, which is nice -- but we naturally would've preferred more full-featured optics and at least a basic LED flash. In the multimedia vein, the music player is really usable, uncluttered, essentially lag-free, and offers a selection of automatic equalizer settings -- and as you can probably imagine, album art looks great on the display -- but it's inexcusable that Samsung failed to include a proper headphone jack. Yes, we know that these guys are really tied to their weird proprietary connector that does double duty as a data port and audio out, but it's 2009, and this is seriously no longer cool. Fortunately, the phone's loudspeaker is loud and clear, so at the very least, you'll be able to rock out in a very public manner should the need arise -- and the earpiece is loud enough to damage eardrums, so if you're placing a call next to a jerk blasting music from his own Impression, you'll still have a fighting chance of holding a conversation.
Faults aside, it's hard to not love the Impression; the amazing display is still a bit of a novelty, and call us crazy, but we think that gives it some carte blanche for coming up short in other areas. Yes, we could've used a 3.5mm headphone jack, squared-off sides, a capacitive touchscreen, a better camera -- and hell, you may as well throw in a smartphone OS while we're at it -- but this isn't the OmniaHD, it's a midrange feature phone with enough dazzle to draw some attention. We think it'll play that role reasonably well.

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