Any phone that arrives with a fashion label prominently displayed is bound to be scrutinised for any potential style versus substance line-crossing.
The Emporio Armani Samsung Night Effect is the latest mobile to join the fashionista phone A-list, renewing the mobile maker's working relationship with the Armani group, following on from last year's touchscreen Giorgio Armani-branded handset.
The Emporio Armani phone brings a livelier twist to the design table, adding some bright lighting effects on the edges – inspired by city neon – to gloss up a slim black candybar model. It has some elegant touches, with a black brushed metal and reinforced glass front panel, a rubber-feel back and a slim profile, but this model is more upfront about its fashionable status than its understated predecessor.
There is solid function as well as style-conscious form though. It supports high-speed HSDPA 3G data connectivity, including audio and video streaming and downloading and video calling. It has a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus, and is geared up for music, too, with dedicated player control buttons and a standard 3.5mm headphone socket on the side. A 1GB MicroSD card is boxed with the phone, along with other logoed-up accessories in a swanky Emporio Armani branded carrying case.
The handset has been released in the UK initially as a Vodafone network exclusive.
First appearances can be deceptive. The simple, stylish black look of the phone looks quite understated out of the box. Switch it on though and it jolts to life with a ring of neon-style LED appearing around the edges of the phone. On one side, this illuminates a hard-to-miss Emporio Armani logo – not the only branding, as there's an eagle EA eagle logo perched on the back and another label under the screen.
The neon piping around the phone appears in intense electric red, blue or green – you can select which from a standby screen shortcut – and radiates when the phone is active. This includes incoming and outgoing call alerts, messages, and other keyboard tapping activities. You can switch it off, but its retina-catching glow is a key part of the Night Effect concept.
The flat, one-piece keyboard has no separate buttons, lines or ridges to differentiate individual keys, so finger action needs to be accurate to avoid mistakes. The control panel configuration is conventional navigation D-pad though with surrounding softkeys and call and end buttonry.
This Vodafone-configured UK phone we tested has replaced the standard model's phonebook standby softkey with a Vodafone live! mobile portal one. This makes accessing the phonebook trickier than it should be – there's no one-hit hotkey pre-configured, which is unusual and can be frustrating. You can, though, re-set one of the out-of-the-box home screen shortcut options if you prefer quick access to your contacts list.
The bodywork measures a tall and slim 114.9(h) x 47.4(w) x 12(d) mm, and weighs a reasonable 90.2g. The screen is a 2.2-inch QVGA AMOLED display, bright and sharp but with average dimensions for a mid-range handset.
Around the sides, Samsung has introduced a microUSB port instead of its standard proprietary connector, which takes care of charging, USB connection and earphones – offering the opportunity to slot in a second set of headphones at the same time as the boxed microUSB connected headset.
There's a set of shortcut icons for five key features on the home screen, which can be scrolled through and selected using the D-pad. These can be changed to suit how you use the phone – so you can swap the light-colour changing option to something more practical, if you prefer.
The menu system is mostly regular Samsung. The main menu has, however, been set up out of the box to present a carousel rather than grid menu of options, though this can easily be swapped to a more conventional 4x3 icon layout. Naturally, a crop of Emporio Armani themes, wallpapers and tones come loaded up to maintain that overall fashion-savvy look.
Music and fashion go well together here. The side controls aren't essential for operating the music player - the D-pad can do that too - but they can work it smoothly when tunes are playing in the background.
The music user interface is familiar Samsung, albeit with a touch of EA re-skinning for the playback screen. Songs are slotted into a standard set of MP3 player categories, and the track roster can be easily synced with Windows Media Player 11 on a PC. Samsung PC Studio software can also handle track copying, and there's always a drag and drop option in mass storage mode. Alternatives to USB hook up include Bluetooth and copying on to a suitable MicroSD card – and that 3.6Mbps max HSDPA means fast downloading over the air from an online music source is another option.
With 120MB of internal memory, that 1GB in-box will come in handy for stacking up tunes. It's well worth using; the player is capable of a cracking audio performance. The supplied in-ear earphones sound surprisingly good - better than the norm for a phone. And that 3.5mm socket allows you to plug in your own quality headphones to get the maximum out of the tidily delivered audio.
A serviceable FM radio is part of the spec too, and Samsung has included song recognition software for discovering remotely the names and details of tunes you hear around you.
The main camera isn't a range-topper but is a decent enough mid-level 3.2-megapixel shooter. It has a dedicated snapper button, and flips into landscape mode for camera action. It's autofocus system works crisply and speedily, and is good too for close-up shooting. In addition, there's a Smile shot option among the various settings, which enables the camera to automatically take photos only when it detects the subject is smiling.
Shots taken with the camera in decent lighting come out well; colours are bright natural and shots are reasonably detailed for this level of snapper. Without a flash, low-light shooting isn't so good, while shots in the dark are just that.
There is a scoop of fairly normal cameraphone adjustments you can make and shooting effects you can add. Post-shooting editing options are available too, plus you can upload images and videos to online sites via Shozu software on the phone.
Video quality is disappointing. The main camera shoots video at 176x144 pixels resolutions at 15 frames per second, which is basic for this class of phone, and footage is suitably forgettable.
Of course, the phone does support downloadable and side-loaded video clips, which play back more smoothly and in higher quality, albeit on a modest amount of screen space. File formats supported include H.263, H.264, MPEG4 and WMV.
Video clips as well as audio tracks can be downloaded or streamed over the air. Pre-loaded links on our Vodafone sample for the Vodafone live! mobile internet portal and other online services (including video downloads and mobile TV) offer some obvious options.
The browser on this phone is a run-of-the-mill NetFront browser, which works reasonably quickly at flicking between pages, using HSDPA-speed 3G. It does a normal, middle-of-the-road mobile phone browsing job, without being a particularly enticing experience.
Standard issue features also include a set of organiser options and typical phone tools. Email is supported, with a document viewer app that can be used for viewing attachments. Calendar, calculator, convertor, memo, tasks, world clock, stopwatch, alarms and timer functions are all present and correct, plus there's a voice recorder and an RSS reader option.
Thankfully, the light show on this handset doesn't appear to take too much of a toll on battery life. Samsung estimates that a full charge will deliver up to 420 minutes of talktime on a GSM network, or up to 260 minutes in 3G coverage. Alternatively, standby is reckoned at up to 345 hours on GSM networks or 275 hours on 3G – a reasonable mid-range performance. In our tests, we clocked up between 2-3 days of standby time with our normal phone usage.
We had no issues with voice calls on this phone either, with it producing a steady voice performance and reliable network coverage.
Far from being a phone for fence-sitters, the Emporio Armani Samsung mobile has a distinctive identity that will divide opinion. Brand attraction will have as much a part to play in the buying decision as any functionality concerns. Its features rundown may be more mid-range high street than high-end couture, but for the phone fashionista that label-appeal will no doubt be the main draw.
Ease of use: 3.5
Call quality: 4.5