The SGH-U300, aka the Ultra Edition 9.6, is a super-thin clamshell and the big brother of the SGH-U100. It is part of the Ultra Edition II line, which prides itself on thin handsets that don’t skimp out on features.
With a 3.2mpx digital camera, 262k colour display, 70MB of internal memory, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, the U300 shares the same features as many other competing devices in the mid-range of the market.
Let’s see how the Samsung U300 performed in real-life testing.
As the U300 was announced way back in February of 2007 (and released in Europe soon after), its lacks any features that the market hasn’t seen before. That said, the U300 does measure in at just 9.6mm – a pretty impressive feat.
The 3.2mpx digital camera on the U300 is fixed-focus, with video recording capability and several advanced pre-capture settings. An image editor is included for touching up images captured by the U300, such as removing red-eye, cropping, and applying filters.
Connectivity through USB and Bluetooth is offered, along with the usual Asia-Pacific configuration of GSM 900/1800/1900MHz network compatibility. A data-cable and CD-rom with software is included in the U300’s sales package.
The U300’s other features, such as the greyscale external LCD display, Java support, and messaging support, are pretty standard.
The U300 has a full metal body with a sleek brushed metal face. On the front of the device is the 3.2mpx digital camera lens, greyscale LCD display, and Samsung text logo. The handset is designed somewhat similar to the RAZR, with the top section of the flip slightly shorter than the bottom.
On the left of the U300 is a volume up/down rocker, the manual reset button, and interface port (hidden behind a hard plastic cover). The bottom, right, and top sections of the U300 are bare. The very top right hand corner of the hinge houses the wrist/neck strap loop hole.
Flipping the U300 around you will find another Samsung logo, the FCC ID… and not much else. The U300’s battery is non-removable, so the only removable part of the handset’s casing is quite small and only used to access the SIM card. The cover is somewhat difficult to remove, and because it is made of plastic and not metal like the rest of the handset, the colours don’t quite match up properly.
The U300 cannot be opened like regular clam-shells. Because of its super-thinness and square edges, it is difficult to slide your finger under the side of the face (unless you have long nails) and flick up. You really need to get your whole hand around the U300 and lift from both sides. The U300 is also hard to grip and somewhat slippery due to its metal casing, and does not sit flat on any surface because of the camera lens, which when the U300 is opened, does not sit flush with the back of the handset.
Once the handset is opened, you will find the 2.2” TFT LCD display housed at the top and keypad at the bottom. The U300 doesn’t have regular keys, instead one brushed metal panel with touch sensitive sections corresponding to the keys. Aside from the usual numerical keys, there’s a circular 5-way navigational pad, two soft keys, a backspace key, dedicated messages and dedicated camera key, a pick-up key, and a hang-up key. They keypad looks interesting and the concept in theory works - but unfortunately has not been implemented properly and is plagued with issues that make it utterly painful to use. More on this can be found in the Problems/Issues section of this review.
In its totality the U300 measures a mere 100 x 51 x 9.6mm and weighs only 89 grams. This size is perfect for any already crammed-to-the-brim handbag, or the pocket of any shirt or pair of pants. The U300’s thinness is due to innovative Smart Surface Mounting Technology (SSMT) which “reduces the number of components needed as well as the noise between the components,” therefore allowing the handset to shave off bulk.
The unfortunate truth with the U300 is that Samsung have placed looks in front of functionality, and in thinning down the handset have rendered the keypad practically useless. It’s a wonder how the U300 even got out of the prototype stages with such an unresponsive keypad.
User interface & display
Samsung’s proprietary user interface brings the U300 to life, and includes Smart UI functionality which provides users with an easy-to-use mobile-wide search engine which can search through applications, contacts, messages, and files stored on the handset.
The 2.2” TFT LCD display looks like it could be a touch-screen due to the very thin cover that protects the panel. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The resolution is 240 x 320 pixels, and the LCD is capable of displaying up to 262,144 colours – the unwritten standard for mobiles in this day and age.
When using the U300 I couldn’t help but notice that the display flickers very quickly when displaying light colours. It is not noticeable when browsing the menu (because it’s mostly black and grey), but when viewing things like the standby screen it is quite noticeable. Adjusting the brightness of the LCD (through the settings menu) down to the lowest setting reduces the flickering somewhat, but also makes the screen difficult to read.
Moving back to the UI, I’m happy to report that it is fast and responsive. The only thing that will slow you down when using the U300 is the keypad, which often doesn’t recognize key presses, and requires a lot of force before it will pick up a key press. Because of this, although the UI itself is fast, simple tasks that should only take a few seconds may take much longer, solely because of the keypad.
The main menu is a grid of 12 icons (and can be changed to a list): call logs, phone book, music player, browser, messages, my files, calendar, camera, Bluetooth, applications, alarms, and settings. The rest of the user interface is mostly text-based lists, which can be jumped between by pressing the numerical key shown next to the item you want.
Most popular items can easily be found in the U300’s UI. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the settings menu, which places things in obscure locations and uses generic names for things that items that could be much more specific. For example, instead of having a branch under the “Display settings” section for user interface themes, Samsung have put an item named “skin” under the “Menu style” section of “Display settings” tree.
Making and receiving calls
As the Samsung U300 is a 2G-only phone, it is only capable of regular voice calls. Calls can be taken through the earpiece, the speakerphone, via a wired headset (included), or through a Bluetooth headset (optional).
When you dial a number from the U300’s standby screen, a small list of contacts will be displayed at the bottom of the screen with any contacts starting with the entered numbers. As you enter more numbers and narrow things down, you can press the navigational button to select the appropriate contact, then hit the green pick-up button to dial.
As always, you can select any contact in the phonebook and press the pick-up button to dial. The internal phonebook can store up to 1,000 contacts, with multiple fields. Secondary numbers, addresses, pictures, and other information can be added to contacts stored in the phonebook.
Bluetooth headsets – new and old – should have no trouble connecting to the U300 as it supports the Headset, Hands free, and A2DP Bluetooth profiles.
Volume can be adjusted during a call by pressing the up or down buttons located on the left hand side of the handset. Volume through the earpiece and speakerphone are adequate – although it probably wouldn’t have hurt lifting the speakerphone volume up a little.
As far as ring tones go, the U300 can use most formats supported by the music player, including MP3, AAC, and polyphonic MIDI (64 chords). Sadly, there are only two profiles on the U300 – loud or silent - and no option to create new profiles. There are a range of alert types, such as melody, vibrate then melody, increasing melody – but no vibrate and ring option, which I would think is the most important. None the less, the silent profile can be enabled/disabled by holding down the hash key from the standby screen.
SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging is supported by the Samsung U300, with T9 predictive text dictionaries for local languages as standard. The U300’s painfully hard-to-use keypad makes messaging a frustrating chore, which is best avoided.
When typing, the desired key must be pushed (hard) two or three times before the handset actually recognizes the key press. Obviously, this makes the time taken to write a simple message increase exponentially – and is extremely annoying.
The U300 does however support all the usual standards. SMS/EMS and MMS messages are contained the same shared folders: Inbox, Drafts, Outbox, and Sentbox. Personal folders can also be created to store messages. The U300 provides dedicated storage for up to 1000 text messages, 80 broadcast messages, and 20 configuration messages. MMS and e-mail messages use the available internal memory and have no reserved memory.
E-mail messaging is handled by a separate section of the messaging application. SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4 mail servers are supported, but there is no support for push messaging services such as Microsoft Exchange. Up to 5 accounts can be defined in the U300, and a convenient 5-step set-up wizard makes it easy to configure the accounts.
Although the U300 is equipped in messaging, due to the painful keyboard I’ve only given the handset 2 stars for this section.
Tri-band 2G network compatibility, USB and Bluetooth connectivity options are included in the Samsung U300. The sales package includes a USB data-cable and PC Suite software, providing everything you need to get the U300 hooked up to a compatible computer for file transfer & data synchronization.
GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz bands are supported by the U300. The three bands are used extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the US (excluding some areas). Support for the GPRS and EDGE data protocols allow the U300 to send and receive e-mail, MMS messages, and browse the Internet with the integrated browser.
Unfortunately the U300 doesn’t support 3G networks, which is quite a shame considering the widespread deployment and extensive advantages of the high-speed network technology.
The interface port on the left of the U300 is used for USB communications, and is compliant with version 2.0 of the high-speed wired protocol. USB can be used to transfer data to and from the U300, as well as charge the battery.
Bluetooth 2.0 can be used for wirelessly transmitting data between a PC/compatible device, as well as conducting wireless calls with a headset (sold separately). The main menu contains a dedicated Bluetooth section for configuring the Bluetooth radio and managing device pairing.
I tested the Bluetooth with a Sony Ericsson Bluetooth headset and a MacBook (integrated Bluetooth 2.0), and confronted no issues. I could achieve a steady speed of 99Kb/s when transferring data between the U300 and my MacBook.
Unlike most handsets, which allow access to the file system once a device has been paired, the U300 is fairly protective of its files. Using the file manager, one must “allow” access to the files before they can be seen by a device accessing the file system via Bluetooth.
Samsung have included 70MB of user-accessible internal memory, which can be used to store content including photos, videos, audio files, and other multimedia content.
A music player is built into the U300’s user interface, supporting playback of popular formats such as MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, and MIDI. The application organises compatible files into sections, based on their ID3 tags (if available) and the time they were last accessed. The sections are: last played, recently played, most played, artists, genres, albums, composers, and play lists. New play lists can be created on-the-go though the music player application.
Audio files can be downloaded to the U300 via the Internet browser, downloaded via USB through the Samsung PC Studio software (supplied), received via Bluetooth from another device, or synchronized with Windows Media Player. Synchronization with Windows Media Player via USB makes it easy to transfer files along with complete ID3 information including album art, as well as play lists – but is limited to Windows operating systems with Windows Media Player 11 installed.
Tracks purchased through Windows Media Player can be transferred to the U300 (licence permitting), as the handset supports WM DRM and OMA DRM rights management. The Bluetooth A2DP profile can be used to stream stereo quality audio to compatible wireless headsets, or you can opt to use the included wired headset for personal audio listening.
A basic equaliser is built-in to the music player, with four presets: Normal, Classical, Jazz, and Rock. Customized presets cannot be created, however to further enhance audio output a 3D sound effect can be enabled. Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower technology is built-in to the U300, which is supposed to enhance audio output without affecting battery life. Personally, the sound was on-par with other handsets and nothing extraordinary.
Java games and applications can be found under the “Java World” menu in the “Applications” section of the main menu. The U300 I received for review had six pre-installed games: BobbyCarrot, TimeRiderII, Asphalt Urban GT, Midnight Pool, Minigolf Las Vegas, and Tetris. The games are relatively basic but are effective at killing time.
The U300 has a calendar, alarm clock, voice recorder, world clock, calculator, converter, timer, stopwatch, and memo taker. The calendar and alarm clock functions have their own icons on the main menu, with all of the other functions found under the Applications menu.
The current month is displayed by default upon opening the calendar application – but this can be changed to the current week or day if desired. Three types of data can be stored: appointments, anniversaries, and tasks. At the bottom of the month-view window are three counters listing the items stored for the current day. Selecting a day with the middle navigational button will jump to the detailed day view, which displays the items stored for that day.
The U300’s world clock displays preconfigured time-zones in a list view with the current time, date, and location of the set area(s). A handy feature of the world clock application is its tie-in with the standby screen, which can be configured to display up to two clocks. Unfortunately, the clocks can only be configured in analogue – there is no digital option.
Other PIM applications on the U300 are fairly standard. The converter makes it easy to convert currency, length, weight, volume, area, and temperature, whereas the timer and stopwatch can count up and down (respectively). The memo application is for storing small notes typed using the keypad. I don’t see this feature get much use due to the keypad problems the U300 suffers from – more on that can be found in the problems and issues section.
Java MIDP 2.0 applications are supported by the Samsung U300. However the U300, like many Samsung handsets, does not let you install Java applications that are transferred by Bluetooth or USB. The only way to install non-standard applications is to download them via the integrated browser, which for many will create unwanted data costs for accessing content over the internet from their phone.
Because of this, I was unable to install the JBenchmark Java testing suite to the U300. Benchmarks were also unavailable on JBenchmark.com.
The U300 has a brushed metal body, with silver accents and typography. It’s attractive, and extremely easy to carry around due to it’s barely-there 9.6mm thinness.
Some sections of the U300’s body are plastic (such as the battery cover), and due to this the colours are not 100% perfect between the two materials.
Because the camera lens does not sit flush with the rest of the front of the handset, when the U300 is opened it cannot properly sit on a flat surface. It will sit still, yes, but if you try and type a message or push a button it will topple to the left or right.
The Samsung U300 is powered by a 690 mAh lithium-ion battery. The battery is non-removable, a move taken in order to keep the handset as thin as possible. If the battery ever needs to be replaced, an authorized technician can do so at a Samsung Service Centre.
A full charge of the battery will provide the handset up to 6 hours talk time, or up to 280 hours of standby time – according to Samsung. During my time with the U300 I found I could reach about 3 days of average usage. This was mostly calls and some text/MMS messaging but much less than I would use on another handset due to the hard-to-use keypad.
The battery is charged via the interface port on the left hand side of the handset.