Overall performance is quick, and the TouchWiz user interface is just dreamy. I haven’t cracked the manual, because there’s no need — everything works exactly as I would expect.
Just one tap on Menu at the bottom of the screen takes me to a screen that presents all of my available options, and another tap or two opens the music player, web browser, or whatever else I needed — and I didn’t have to wade through any incomprehensible menus.
If you just want something simple and convenient, you can’t go to far wrong with the Solstice.
Voice quality is very good; on my test calls I could hear the other party as clear as a bell, and my test subjects didn’t complain about any background noise. There was no fading in or out, as has been a problem on some of the other devices I’ve tested recently.
The speakerphone works quite well too, so if you enjoy the convenience of not having to hold the phone and don’t want to use a Bluetooth headset either.
One special note — the Solstice retains the unique vibrating alert system that I first discussed in my Samsung Impression review. You can set different vibrating alerts for each contact, which is especially important for the deaf, who often use mobile phones as messaging devices instead of voice communicators. This is a feature I haven’t seen on any other mobile device so far, and I find it to be quite useful even though I’m not deaf — I don’t have to take the Solstice out of my pocket to find out who’s calling, even when the phone is set to silent mode. There are certain contexts in which it’s just not acceptable to use audible alerts, but if you have a sick child, you need to know immediately if it’s the babysitter or doctor’s office calling, instead of the chatty friend you can safely ignore until later.
This isn’t the sort of phone you’ll use if you need to edit Microsoft Office documents, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t help keep you organized. All of the basics are here, from contacts and calendar to tasks, memos, a calculator, world clock, alarms, and much more.
The robust web browser was a pleasant surprise. Mobile sites are rendered almost instantly, while more complicated sites like Brighthand work perfectly, but more slowly. You’ll be doing more scrolling if you visit full sites, and there’s a handy pop-up icon that shows exactly where you are on the page when you press your finger on the display to scroll. Choosing the full screen option helps quite a lot, as does turning the phone sideways, which instantly switches you to landscape view.
I was unable to test the AT&T Navigator application — there’s a problem with the SIM, not the device. I was, however, able to test WHERE, which is a very handle little application that resides on the AT&T GPS menu. In effect it’s a collection of several different widgets or applets that are designed to connect you with useful information fast. You don’t even have to enter your location, because the app already knows where you are, thanks to the GPS chip in the Solstice.
Pre-loaded widgets include Accuweather, a Starbucks finder, YellowPages.com, GasFinder, Buddy Beacon, and much more. You can also add other widgets, and I highly recommend the Traffic widget, which is wonderfully comprehensive and includes up to the minute information on traffic accidents and road construction. WHERE is a service with a $2.99 monthly fee, but it’s definitely worth it — though it is a little disconcerting to learn that there are NINE Starbucks locations all within a two mile radius of my house!
Since this is a consumer device, there’s a heavy focus on entertainment. It’s all here, from music and video to social networking. The included music player app is good, but not sensational; you can play music by artist or album, or create your own playlists.
Shopping for music isn’t nearly as good an experience as it is on the iPhone, but that’s the fault of AT&T’s setup, not this device — Napster Mobile is clunky at best, with a confusing interface. MusicID and a trial of XM Radio are also included, with the warning that you need to be on an unlimited data plan in order to use the XM Radio app, or you can expect outrageous data charges at the end of the month.
As with the music player, the sound from the Solstice is plenty loud, but not as rich and full-bodied as I would like. It doesn’t sound bad by any means, but it would have been nice to have a slightly better external speaker.
Social networking is an important aspect of the Solstice, and there are icons on the home screen widget bar that take you directly to the mobile web versions of Facebook and MySpace.
It takes just seconds to update your status, thanks to the large on-screen keyboard. Once you sign in to Facebook, your password is remembered at least for a while, which is great — I use a password generator on my laptop to create strong passwords and remember them for me, so I don’t have to. I’m glad that I won’t have to sign in every single time on the Solstice.
The two megapixel camera with 3x zoom takes good photos and videos, but nothing exceptional. This is one area in which it’s hard for any phone to meet my standards; in fact, my current personal device, the LG Dare, was chosen because it was the best camera offered by Verizon Wireless at the time. I figure if you’re going to have your mobile phone with you all the time, it should take good enough photos to capture those moments you want to share with family and friends.
Photos with the Solstice are certainly good enough to share, but a three megapixel camera would have been even better.
As it stands, the camera offers a nice selection of options, from white balance and three different exposure meters to night mode and your choice of effects such as black and white, sepia, negative, and watercolor. Shooting modes include single, continuous, panorama, smile shot, mosaic, or your choice of twenty different fun frames, My personal favorite is the clown face, which is especially fun when photographing children (or friends in a very silly mood).
Battery life on this device is truly excellent — even with heavy use it’s hard to get the battery meter to budge.
The battery is just 1000 mAh, but it promises five hours of talk time and ten days of standby, and I have no problem whatsoever believing that claim. I was able to use the Solstice quite heavily for five days without having to recharge.