Samsung Saga Review

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The Samsung Saga is a Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional smartphone available from Verizon Wireless.

Its non-flip, single-piece design should have wide appeal to business and consumer users due to a vivid touchscreen, highly-usable keyboard, functional camera, and overall snappy performance.

And it has the extra bonus of being a “world phone,” allowing it to be used not just in the U.S. but when traveling in Europe, Australia, Asia, and more.

Samsung SagaInside this Review

Design and Hardware

The Samsung Saga is nowhere near as elegant as the HTC S740 I recently reviewed, but it is both sleek and functional.

When I first handled the device, I was amazed by how light it is, at only 4.59 ounces — I figured at first that the battery must be lurking in the bottom of the box, but it was already installed. The main reason is that the phone is made almost entirely of plastic. That could set off warning bells for some consumers, but I found the device to be solid and well made. There is no flexing or creaking, and the device feels good in the hand. All of the edges and corners are slightly rounded for comfort.

The device measures 4.9 inches tall, 2.5 inches wide, and just a hair over 0.5 inches thick. The device is predominantly blue, with black accents around the edge of the screen and the sides of the device.

The front of the Saga is dominated by the 2.55-inch 65K TFT LCD touchscreen running at 320 x 320 resolution. It is flush mounted, so the entire top portion of the device is smooth. Just above the screen on the right-hand side there is a colored indicator light for charging status, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth status, and shutter release/video recording status in camera mode. 

Below the screen are several “extra” buttons designed to make navigation much simpler. The first is the standard “Windows” key that launches the Start menu when pressed. The left and right menu buttons are next, with an OK button at the end of top row. The call and disconnect buttons are on the second row, just above the keyboard.

The power button, stylus slot, and headset jack (sadly this is not a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack) are located on the top of the phone. The right side of the device houses the sync/charge port, which is covered by a hinged cover when not in use, as well as the camera button. The left side features a volume rocker switch and a “lock” button that controls what mode the mouse button on the front of the phone is in (more on this later).

Keyboard and Mouse

I had good success with the Saga’s keyboard right from the beginning. The keys are relatively small, but nicely separated so I didn’t have any problem with hitting the wrong keys. There are small “homing bumps” on the F and J keys, but they are virtually undetectable by touch and somewhat useless.

Like many similar devices, the keyboard is illuminated for use in dark places, and the number portion is highlighted with a bold white background so they’re easy to pick out in the context of the QWERTY keyboard.

Samsung Saga KeyboardThe keyboard is nicely laid out; the first three rows are QWERTY keys, with the addition of a backspace and a return key on the right side and a function key on the left (next to the Z). The bottom row includes a shift key, speakerphone toggle key, the zero key at the bottom of the number pad, the keyboard space bar (which doubles as a vibrate/silent mode toggle), the period/comma key, and two quick access keys, one that brings up Windows Media Player and one for the messaging application.

I mentioned the optical mouse earlier. This takes the place of the D-pad that’s just below the screen on most Windows Mobile devices. You use your finger on the tiny mouse pad to move a traditional mouse arrow on screen, and press down in the middle to “click” the mouse in much the same way you would use on a desktop or laptop computer.

There’s another option, too. Pressing the button on the side of the Saga puts it in navigation mode, which allows you to move quickly from field to field, left to right or up and down, by sliding your finger in the appropriate direction on the optical mouse.

As a Phone

The Sage’s call quality is excellent; one of my callers was surprised when I told him that I was testing a new mobile phone instead of calling from a land-line phone. Everything works exactly as you would expect; pressing the call button brings up your list of recent calls, and you can either select an entry or bring up the on-screen dial pad for finger dialing.

The only slight disappointment is with the speakerphone. It works well, but the sound quality is not as sharp and clear as what I have experienced with other devices. This is mainly due to the fact that the speaker is on the back of the device, so the problem is exacerbated if you put it down on a flat surface instead of holding it in your hand. The sound can also tend to be a bit distorted; even on the lowest in call volume setting the sound is actually a bit too loud for the speaker to handle with clarity.

Productivity

Like other Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional devices, the Samsung Saga includes several applications designed to keep you productive on the go. Pocket Outlook includes Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks. Office Mobile includes the familiar Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and OneNote Mobile.

While not technically a productivity application, the Opera web browser deserves special mention, It is vastly superior to Internet Explorer Mobile, and is truly a joy to use. That’s more important than ever these days, since so much of the information we need to access on a regular basis isn’t just our calendar and address book, but online as well. The relatively large touchscreen display makes browsing a pleasure, and is large enough to work well with sites that rely heavily on frames. Viewable space is automatically optimized by hiding the address bar after the page loads. Scrolling is fast and smooth; just swipe your finger up and down the screen to advance or go back. You can also get a closer view of any portion of the screen by double-tapping on the appropriate area of the screen.

There are also a couple of extra applications, including Smart Converter, which is a very easy to use unit conversion program that I used surprisingly often. Tip calculator and world clock utilities are also included.

Entertainment

The mobile version of Windows Media Player is included, allowing you to play music and video, even streaming over the Internet, The Sage won’t replace a dedicated music player if you’re a true audiophile, but of course the convenience of carrying one device instead of several is a compelling reason to want strong media performance from your mobile phone.

With the headset the sound quality is rather good, but as I mentioned in the Phone section music playback through the speaker is functional, not highly enjoyable. It’s adequate for sharing a quick audio clip with a friend, but I wouldn’t want to listen to music with the built-in speaker for an extended period of time.

Camera: The Saga’s 2.0 megapixel camera takes surprisingly good photos. Again, it won’t completely replace a high resolution stand-alone digital camera, but it does take good quality photos. I’m especially impressed by the night shot mode, which takes excellent photos in low-light situations. In a couple of cases it worked even better than a flash, because flash photographs sometimes have unwelcome glare.

Other shooting modes include single shot, multi-shot, and the very cool mosaic shot, a feature I wish my Sony Cyber-Shot camera offered. Mosaic shot divides the screen into four quadrants, and you take four pictures in a row that are then saved as one single photo. It would be ideal for capturing different aspects of landmarks and historical features while on vacation, or for creating a cool series of photos for parties or sporting events.

Other camera features include a white balance setting as well as six different special effects such as black & white, sepia, and negative or x-ray. A self timer mode is also available, and just about every camera setting can be customized, including the shutter sound, the camera timeout and photo quality, automatic save, save location, and the number of photos to take in multi-shot mode. A camcorder mode is also included, but it starts up slowly so it can be difficult to determine when you should start panning the camera to avoid missing any of the action you’re trying to record.

Connectivity and Expansion

The Samsung Saga is somewhat unusual in that it is both a CDMA phone with EV-DO Rev. A as well as a quad-band GSM phone for use internationally. When in the U.S. you connect to Verizon’s network, but if you travel in Europe or Asia you can slip in a SIM card and connect to the cellular networks over there. This device even comes with chargers that can be used around the world.

Samsung SagaBluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g are also included, with support for mono and stereo headsets, handsfree kits, file transfer, basic print, and vCard-only object push. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can easily be turned on or off from the Connection tab on the Today Screen of the device.

The microSD slot is close to the SIM card slot, and the device supports memory expansion cards as large as 16 GB, which should be enough storage for a substantial collection of digital music, photos, and documents.

Performance

Performance is snappy, and I have no complaints whatsoever about the Samsung Saga. I don’t think that I saw the famous Windows hourglass more than a couple of times during the review period.

Battery life is also quite good; the phone still had a good charge level after two days of use.

The only disappointment on this front is that the device apparently does not charge via USB; I tested it with the included USB cable both with a stand-alone USB charger and through connection to a powered USB port on my Fujitsu laptop, and the phone would not charge. Still, the included AC adapter is admirably small, with a nice long cord that allows you to plug it in close to the floor and have plenty of length to place your phone on a desk or table for charging.

I already commented on call quality in the Phone section.

Specifications

Platform: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
Memory: 256 MB RAM/128 MB ROM
Wireless:
     Network: CDMA 1x EV-DO Rev. A 800/1900 MHz+
          Quad Band 850/900/1800/1900 mHz
     Bluetooth v2.0
     Wi-Fi Wireless Networking (802.11 g/b)
Display: 2.55-inch; 320×320 pixel; 64K color TFT
Camera: 2.0 megapixel w/NightShot mode, digital zoom and video capture
Expansion: microSD memory slot (up to 16 GB)

In The Box

Samsung Saga
1300 mAh Battery
Wired Headset
AC adapter and world plug adapters (Australian, European, and UK)
USB cable


Conclusion

At $200 with a two-year contract, the Samsung Saga is a smart purchase. It’s a good choice for anyone who wants a functional, nicely-featured device, but isn’t concerned enough with style to pay a hefty price premium for a “prettier” device such as the HTC S740.

I especially appreciate the large touchscreen, as I find Windows Mobile Standard devices — which lack touchscreens — to be somewhat annoying. Add a functional camera and a good keyboard, and the Saga deserves classification as a serious contender as a truly smart phone.

 


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