Continuing the now characteristic handset design which has evolved from their first great success the SGH-E700, Samsung have finally churned out their first 3G capable handset for the Australian market. The Z500 is an evolutionary upgrade in Samsung’s line of phones and it seems that Samsung has followed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto resulting in the general design and features stemming from the E700.
It is nice to see some of the small 2G handset designs being converted to utilize the 3G network which until recently has been plagued by bulky and cumbersome handsets. In the case of the Z500, the result of this conversion is a powerful feature-packed handset which has been fit into a petite and very usable package. Read on, as we dissect the handset’s features…
Samsung have taken an evolutionary approach to the design of this handset. It feels and looks like an old E700, but Samsung have managed to add UTMS support (it is still possible to use the phone on GSM networks as can most 3G phones) which adds a whole new dimension to what the phone is capable of doing. Web browsing and accessing 3’s service now works like a charm. 3 network capability means that the handset is more multimedia friendly and includes a media player which is able to play MP3/AAC/MPEG files.
On top of the 1.0 megapixel camera integrated at the front of the phone, Samsung have also managed to squeeze in a second VGA quality camera inside the handset for video calls. The Z500 also includes as speakerphone (a must due to its video call feature) and this speaker can also be used to playback media files at a reasonable audio level. However because it is only a small speaker it is prone to distortion at loud levels, an issue which larger handsets are not so prone to have.
Despite the Z500’s small size, Samsung have put together a complete package including Bluetooth, infra-red and USB support. The unit features a 176x220 pixel screen and one of those nice 80 x 64 OLED screens at the exterior of the handset. Generally 176x220 is an adequate resolution for a phone this size, however owners changing from a 240x320 pixel screen will notice a sizeable reduction in quality.
The Z500 has all the features you’d expect from a 3G handset with the style and compactness that we have become accustomed to through Samsungs previous reincarnations.
While being small the Z500 still would have to be classed as a medium sized clamshell, or flip phone. It will easily fit into pockets and has a nice solid weight to it when it is picked up but might make those pants sang a bit. The Samsung Z500 weighs in at 95 g and its dimensions are 89 x 44.5 x 24.5 millimetres. The antenna has been thoughtfully placed internally, so there is no stub poking up from top of the handset.
The handset feels and looks like it is solidly constructed and with sleek lines running along what has become a characteristic Samsung exterior. The front facia includes the Z500’s 1.0 megapixel camera (which is missing a flash) and the OLED display. The review handset had a grey front face and this seems to be a much more practical choice that the black plastic used in a lot of models as it is not prone to abuse and greasy finger marks.
On the left-hand side are the volume adjustment keys which switch on the OLED display from sleep mode when the clamshell is closed. The left-hand side of the phone also includes a headphone jack and the IrDA port while the right-hand side features a camera snap button and the tiny TransFlash card slot. On the bottom is the charger socket, protected by a plastic cover attached to the phone. In fact all ports have nice plastic covers which are much better than the rubber covers used on other phones as these are tend to wear and tear and are easy to get off even which short nails like mine. The back of the phone is dominated by the battery which itself is not covered and part of the handset chassis. Underneath it is usual the SIM card slot.
When opened the flip will swing back and want to lock into place, although without any audible click like some phones. A problem I had with this clamshell is that it can only either be only closed or open and it is not possible to set the screen half way if the need arises.
The top half of the clamshell includes the main screen and the internal VGA camera just underneath it. The bottom section includes the keypad, which although flat, feels good to press and makes typical phone usage a pleasurable. The arrow-pad links to the phones most used functions. Pressing left will access the profiles menu while right will bring up the text message tool. Up displays the phone’s calendar while pressing down shows up the contacts list. Finally, pressing the confirm button in the middle of the arrow-pad brings up the menu. The centre directional pad is five directional, (left, right, up, down and OK keys) and on either side are two buttons – the top left and right function as soft keys for menus. There are two buttons above the directional pad which initiate the camera and the connection (call, message or internet) menu. Beneath the directional pad is a row of three keys – dial, delete and hang-up, and further below is the set of 12 number keys.
User Interface & display
The internal screen is a TFT LCD capable of displaying 65,536 colours, at a resolution of 176x220 pixels and while being similar to many other phones, it is functional but at the same time unremarkable. The screen is bright, the contrast is good and the text size is large and clear so that it should be legible for most people. The phone is not theme-able however it is possible to change the background image for personalisation.
The external screen is Samsung’s typical 65,536 colour OLED display, at a resolution of 80 x 64 pixels. It display’s the phone’s status including time, network reception and battery life and it does this effectively. It can also act as the viewfinder for the camera, which is useful for self portraits and displays a gimmicky analogue watch when woken by pressing one of the side buttons. The OLED display is great as everything is visible even in bright light.
The main menu in the phone displays the standard 3x3 grid of icons. The icons include Call log, Contacts, Applications, Internet, Messages, File Manager, Organiser, Camera, and Settings. Selecting an icon with the centre key will take you further through the menu system, with the rest of the menus using text lines. Each menu option is accessible by number key shortcuts. For example, to access call settings, you press the Menu button, then 9, 5.Generally if there is a number next to a link, pressing that number’s button will activate it.
On the main desktop screen the time and date are display at the top of the screen as well as the phone status. The only annoying thing about using this phone was the incredibly short time in which the LCD screen switches off on the default settings however Samsung have had some foresight and included an option to increase the ‘on’ time.
Making and receiving calls
The call quality of the Z500 is adequate but not spectacular. It was able to make a clear call from a black-spot without dropping audio once. The volume of the call is loud enough to hear your caller in a noisy area and the loudspeaker is great. However it does distort when on the loudest setting. Using a headset, the quality does improve over the speaker and the Z500 also has the option of using a Bluetooth headset.
The Z500 has the ability to also make video calls. This is possible through the VGA camera integrated on the inside of the clam shell. As expected, the video quality is adequate to see something moving but is far from the quality you’d expect from a laptop and webcam. Unless you are in an area where there is excellent reception, the video calls do tend to be problematic and drop out. Video calling is still in its infancy and has a lot more development to go through until it is on the level of standard voice calls.
There are 19 different preset ringtones that ship with the phone, even though they are of good quality they do distort due to the small speaker. Other ringtones can be downloaded from various websites/services or transferred from MP3s/MIDI via USB, infra-red or TransFlash card slot. The synthesiser can play 64 tones at once and makes even the low quality ring tones sound good. All of the tones can be set for when the phone rings, when you receive an SMS, and when you receive an MMS or e-mail.
The address book can store up to 1000 fields in the phone’s memory. Each contact can store a photo, up to five phone numbers, two email addresses and a few personal notes, plus a whole host of information such as home page, job title etc. It is also possible to define their group and specific ringtone for each contact.
As this is a 3G phone the Z500 supports e-mail out of the box, in addition to standard SMS and MMS. T9 predictive text is available for all message composition. Custom words can be stored by simply typing the word in multi-tap mode and pressing space (0 key). The phone then stores the word automatically and it’s available to use when T9 mode is turned back on. Several of the main languages are also available for T9.
The Z500 is able to compose SMS messages of up to 1,836 characters resulting in a total of twelve linked up messages being sent at maximum. Typing messages on the Z500 is a standard affair. However, it is not as intuitive as some other phone models in terms of adding symbols etc. MMS is also supported and it is possible to create multiple slides, with each slide being able to have a picture, sound, video, or text assigned to it.
E-mail is also supported giving the users the ability to connect to any POP3 or IMAP mail service hence allowing the Z500 to send email to any other email device. The limit on messages is 300 kilobytes, and any types of files can be attached to the email. Although it is not fully featured, e-mail on the handset is a handy feature as any incoming emails will be forwarded to the handset keeping the user connected 24/7.
Evolved from the Samsung E700 models, the Z500 now as UTMS 3G network capability on top of its already strong triband GSM ability including 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz GSM networks. The phone has Class 10 (4+1/3+2 slots) GPRS support, however it is the UTMS connection that provides the fastest mobile internet at speeds of up to 384 kilobits per second. The browser supports cHTML, xHTML and WML webpages, meaning it’s compliant with WAP 2.0.
In terms of connectivity, the Z500 delivers a complete package. Bluetooth, a USB cable link, infra-red connection and a TransFlash card slot are all included into this small handset. The Bluetooth included in the Z500 is version 1.1 and works with wireless headsets (that is, it supports headset and handsfree profiles) however the GPRS modem and file transfers over Bluetooth were not tested and it is not clear if they are available.
Using infra-red and USB connectors, the phone connects to the Samsung software suite and is able to transfer pictures, phonebook entries, schedule entries or ToDo list entries to another phone, or a PC. The software is simple, well thought out and thankfully does not try to take over your computer. The installation CD also features modem drivers for the PC to be able to connect to the internet using the Z500 as either a modem or through the 3G network.
The Z500 also has a TransFlash card slot to transfer media and programs between devices. All round, the Samsung features every connection under the sun.
The build quality is what you’d expect from Samsung - nothing short of excellent. The Z500 is sturdy, tough and feels solid. The flip is rigid and springs into either open or closed position when operated (although it doesn’t have the nice click sound present in some clamshell phones). However, one issue mentioned earlier is that the clam shell can only be either fully opened or fully closed and does not hold itself in any position in between which can be a pain sometimes.
The buttons on the side of the handset are also nicely placed and protrude just enough to be functional but are not in the way and the keypad feels nice but may be a little too flat for some users. The battery clicks off nicely and like the rest of the phone has aura of quality about it. One other issue I have with these Samsung clam shells is the large hinges on the side of the bottom section after opening the flip phone. They are just so big and don’t seem to need to be so large. But that’s just a small issue and depends on each individual’s tastes.
The Samsung Z500 features a Li-ion 900mAh capacity battery giving it a claimed talk time of 3.4 hours on 2G networks and 2.2 hours on 3G networks. The handset is able to standby 260 hours on 2G networks and 200 hours on 3G by Samsungs claims. These figures are slightly higher than what we achieved during testing but just about right and putting the amount of features in this phone under consideration, the battery life of the Z500 is pretty good.
Generally if the phone is heavily used a charge a day will keep it going and recharging takes just under two hours.