I've always wondered why we call certain devices "cameraphones" when they don't have cameras worthy of the name. Until recently, most mobile phones had woefully inadequate cameras -- something you could use in a pinch, and handy to have in your pocket all the time, but nothing that would even begin to replace a dedicated digital camera.
Now we have the Samsung Memoir from T-Mobile, and at first glance it certainly seems worthy of the cameraphone name -- it combines an 8 megapixel camera with a powerful flash and excellent zoom capabilities with a modern touchscreen mobile phone that has Bluetooth, a music player, and everything else you might expect.
DESIGN & BUILD
In effect, the Samsung Memoir is double-sided. One side features a large Touchscreen similar to other smartphones, and there are only three buttons. Turn the device over, however, and you'll see that the Memoir looks like a digital camera -- which underlines the fact that in many ways the Memoir is a digital camera first, and a phone second.
Overall the look of the phone is very sleek, with minimal buttons that are easy to manipulate. The camera lens assembly does stick out a bit, but not much, and since the zoom is digital the lens will not extend any further when you activate the camera.
It fits very well in the hand, and in the pocket. At just a bit under 4.5 ounces, it isn't too heavy either.
The Memoir is basically black, with silver accents, and on one end of the phone, where you would hold it to use the camera, the finish is faux leather for a good grip. There is also a slight ridge running down the camera side of the phone, just under the shutter button. I'm not quite sure why it's there, because it isn't large enough to provide a substantial finger grip.
On one side you'll find a microSD slot. One small note: not only is it accessible from the top left side of the phone (thank you for not burying it in the battery compartment!) it is also one of the easiest microSD card slots I've ever used. Most of the time I end up cursing and muttering under my breath because I just can't get the darn little card in or out of the slot, but in this case the opening is large enough to make it easy, and there's also a substantial cutout right under the card so it isn't too much trouble to get a grip on it and pull it out of the phone after you've unlocked it.
Considering how many pictures you'll probably be taking with this phone, it's important to have an easy way to transfer them to your computer. Still, the Memoir comes with a 1 GB SD card, and supports cards in capacities as large as 16 GB -- that's huge amounts of of room for storing pictures.
The 400-by-240-pixel touchscreen is gorgeous, just what I would expect for something so highly dedicated to digital photography. Bright colors, and no flickering or ghosting when using the camera viewfinder or playing back video.
Since this is a bar-style Touchscreen phone, you won't find a physical keyboard here. Instead there is a virtual keyboard on the screen.
This works pretty well, especially in the QWERTY landscape mode, and the device offers feedback every time you press a "key", which is designed to aid your typing. I didn't have any major issues with it, but it doesn't seem to be as responsive/accurate as the virtual keyboard on my iPod Touch, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who does a great deal of texting.
The box includes a lightweight travel charger, wired headset, and USB sync cable. A car charger, custom case, and TV out cable (for photo sharing) are available for optional purchase.
Overall I found the Memoir to be quite snappy and responsive. When I started applications, tapped letters on the virtual keyboard, or took photos, everything happened very fast indeed. I was pleased with the performance, and don't have any problems with the Memoir in this regard.
The camera, of course, is the main point of this device. As you can see from the sample photos, image quality is excellent.
The 16x digital zoom is great as well, allowing you to capture intricate architectural details, even if you're across the street and down the block.
All of the options I would expect to find are included, with 11 different scene modes (sunset, portrait, landscape, sports, fireworks, etc.), macro mode, white balance adjustment, exposure, blink detection, etc.
You can take panorama and mosaic shots, which will be great for capturing the landscape when you travel. A self timer is included, and the flash is powerful enough to take good photos even in very dim conditions.
Each time you take a photo you have the option of uploading it to an online album, and you can also add short voice recordings to each one, allowing you to remember all the details of a particular moment when you review it later. There's even a nifty audio postcard feature that allows you to share with your contacts.
The slideshow feature is quite robust, allowing you to add your own music as well as set the speed and transition type for your pictures. Or you can use the regular photo album and change photos by swiping your finger across the screen, or simply tilting the phone from side to side, thanks to the built-in accelerometer.
You can also capture short videos, and I'm glad to say that they aren't hampered by an arbitrary 30 second limit.
Bluetooth works great, just as expected. The Memoir isn't equipped with Wi-Fi, however, so all of your web browsing and such will use the T-Mobile network.
Fortunately, it can use this wireless carrier's 3G network, speeding up its downloading of email and web pages.
Call quality is good, but not exceptional. My test callers heard quite a bit of background noise, especially passing traffic, but my voice still came through loud and clear. They didn't have any problem hearing me, and I had no issues at all on my end of the conversation.
The Samsung Memoir is a feature phone, so you won't find any fancy Windows Mobile or Symbian applications for it, though it does come with the expected productivity apps: tasks, a memo pad, calculator, world clock, unit converter, timer, and stopwatch. I was surprised that there wasn't a calendar application included, but glad to find an RSS reader to help me keep up on all my feeds.
The Memoir also includes aGPS, so you'll never get lost on the way to a meeting if you use the included TeleNav GPS Navigator application (monthly subscription required).
The Samsung Memoir is definitely handy for keeping you entertained on the go. The web browser renders full HTML, so you aren't limited to stripped down mobile sites. It was quite a bit slower than I would like, but I think that has more to do with T-Mobile's network strength in my area than any particular shortcoming of the phone -- especially since it was so responsive in all other respects.
A music player that supports MP3 and AAC files is included, and it worked very well. Like most such, you can view your music by artist or album, or create custom playlists. The external speaker is surprisingly loud, and of very good quality -- there was no distortion at all, even on the very highest setting. Music doesn't sound particularly rich, but it doesn't sound bad either.
If you'd rather IM your friends than talk to them, the Memoir supports everything from AOL and ICQ to Windows Live and Yahoo. Messaging features are good too, with SMS and MMS.
The Memoir's battery life is good, but something of a concern. I found myself watching the battery meter quite closely, and I had to charge the phone every two days. Granted I was using it much more heavily as a digital camera than as a phone, but I'm not sure that it would stand up to extensive use on vacation, for example, without needing to be charged every night. I was never left stranded with a dead phone, but it did seem that the battery drained more quickly than other phones I've reviewed in the last few months.
The Samsung Memoir is an interesting hybrid, and one that I believe succeeds in just about every way. As a phone it's pretty good, with acceptable voice quality, and it has all the bells and whistles you'd expect, like Bluetooth and a full HTML web browser. Where it really shines, however, is in the amazing photo quality and the way that everything is so neatly integrated into today's lifestyle of online sharing.
If you use Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish, or Kodak, you can have your photos sent directly to your online album instead of them languishing on your computer's hard drive until you get around to posting them. I wish I'd had the Memoir back in my college days, when I was doing all my traveling -- this is a great device for anyone who wants to capture the special moments of their lives and easily share them with others.
The fact that it's also a phone that helps you to keep in touch with far-flung loved ones is just a bonus.
The Samsung sells for for $200 with a two-year service agreement, $50 mail-in rebate, and qualifying data plan.
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