Samsung's Widgets feature enables users to arrange on the home screen a selection of mini-apps represented as small panels which can be used to activate functions on the phone, show information or go online to use web-based services.

These widgets can be dragged and dropped onscreen from a widgets toolbar, which pops up on the home screen by tapping the display in standby mode. The toolbar appears from the left side of the screen, and you can scroll up and down (or whiz through with a finger swipe) to browse the list of widgets available.

widgets

You can drop widgets in place on the main part home screen by pressing the widget in the toolbar and dragging it where you want it. Some widgets will open up simply by pressing them in the toolbar (calendar, profiles, world clock, and so on), though others have to be in place on the home screen to be activated, again with a quick press.

You can select as many widgets as you want to place onscreen.

These control a wide variety of apps and features, ranging from tools such as clocks, calendars, memos, voice recorder and Bluetooth, and media options including photo gallery, music player, radio and games, to online-based services such as Google (map, mail and search), AccuWeather's weather forecasting service and YouTube (just a link to the mobile site rather than an app).

widgets

A widget to launch the web browser and direct it the Vodafone Live! content portal is also included in the Vodafone-optimised Blade.

You're not just limited to the initial selection of widgets shown in the toolbar – additional widgets are available to activate from within the menu settings, while extra widgets can be easily sourced online from Samsung and quickly downloaded over the air, using a More Widgets application widget which is located in the toolbar.

While the range of Samsung's More Widgets downloads is currently limited, there are some neat ones to be found, including a well-implemented BBC news and sports widget.

widgets

If you're concerned about numerous widgets cluttering the home screen, there is a canny feature in the Blade that can help you out. Like the Tocco Lite, there are in effect three simultaneous home screens you can swipe between, with just a simple left or right stroke of the finger.

These are effectively three joined up home screen 'pages' (with different screen images behind each), so you can spread your widgets around these to avoid overloading one screen. Widgets can even sit on the 'edge' between home screen pages, so can be dragged and used between two screens.

Issues

You can't, however, drop the same widget on the three separate screens (as you can do with the Jet), but in practice this is unlikely to be a real bind – as swiping between each home screen view is so easy.

The widgets interface does provide some useful home screen customisation that enables you to launch favourite features quickly. They can easily be rearranged onscreen and hidden when not required, so widgets don't have to be obtrusive if you prefer not to have them showing at all times.

One small issue some may find is that opening the widgets toolbar is arguably too easy – a short dab on the screen opens up the bar, which can be problematic if the phone inadvertently unlocks in-pocket (which can happen).

If it does, you may find widgets opening up or launching when not intended. It rarely happens, but perhaps Samsung should think of going back to a system where a press on a specific tab on the screen is necessary to open up the toolbar.

Still, at least the toolbar now closes up automatically after around 8-9 seconds if nothing is pressed, which is handy.

More issues

Another widgets issue concerns how easy they are to move around the screen when the toolbar is closed. While it makes it simple to rearrange them, on the compact display you can find that with a few widgets onscreen it's easy to inadvertently shift widgets by stray finger touching, or when you're trying to swipe between home screen views.

Again, not a deal-breaker but something that could perhaps be addressed in future.

Another interesting feature included on the Blade which we've also seen on the Jet is Samsung's Smart Unlock technology. This allows you to unlock the phone when the screen lock has been activated, simply by drawing a pre-selected alphabetic character onscreen.

google widget

This gesture function can also be used to unlock and speed dial numbers to which you've assigned a character, or to launch applications you've selected.

This operates pleasingly efficiently and is easy to set up – although the rage of apps available is limited (5) compared to the Jet (25). Smart Unlock can be activated within the Settings menu; you choose an option, select an application or contact you want to use with gesture unlock control, and then choose from a grid of letters which one you want to use for that particular function.

You can choose to assign letters to up to 18 speed dial numbers and five applications (call, music player, messages, web and java), and there are 29 characters to choose from.

Then, when the phone screen is locked, you simply draw the appropriate character and the display unlocks, app is launched or speed dial number is called. The screen backlight has to be active for this to work, which means it's unlikely to go off accidentally in your pocket or handbag.

It's a bit gimmicky; the 'unlock only' option isn't really necessary (as you'd probably have to press the unlock button to activate the backlight anyway), and the small choice of apps limits its app launch appeal – but it could be handy for speed dialling regular contacts.

We'd recommend, though, that you select your speed dial letters carefully, in case a slip of the finger unintentionally calls someone else assigned to a similar character.