It looks fairly average, but hides a host of good things, including a good-sounding music player, solidly capable camera and fast internet connection
Pop-up Bang & Olufsen loudspeaker
HSDPA high-speed data
Decent music player quality
3.5mm headphone socket
Good earphones supplied
Music scroll wheel
MicroSD card expansion
Music controls could have been better thought out
Internal memory small for music phone
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After all the hype surrounding the groovily-monikered likes of Samsung's Soul and Tocco, it's almost a relief to get back to a more modestly-titled, almost demure little music phone like the Samsung F400.
It's dressed in more restrained fashion than some of those touchy-feely would-be superphones, with a plain if glossy black front surrounded by silver on the sides. Despite the fact that it's quite thick at 18mm, it feels lighter than it looks.
Around the sides are volume buttons, a power input that doubles as headphone socket, dedicated buttons for quick access to music and camera, plus a MicroSD card slot – essential for allowing you to boost the paltry 20MB of onboard memory to a maximum of 8GB with an optional memory card.
The screen is a decent, if not extravagantly sized, 2.2in (320x240 pixels) with 262,000 colours which looks rather lovely, though not in bright sunlight, thanks to its glossy plastic covering.
The slide is a smooth one, and opens perhaps just a little too easily to feel confident in its ability to stay closed in the pocket. The keypad it reveals however is well spaced with nicely responsive buttons – just like a good keypad should be, in other words.
But that slide also feels a little weird. As it closes, there's a little bit more give than you would normally get. And sure enough, if you push it the other way, you're rewarded with the F400's main innovation – the pop-up speaker!
This little noise-pumper from hi-fi specialists Bang & Olufsen is designed specifically for use in portable devices, using its ICEpower audio technology.
Music player frustrations
There is actually a brace of stereo speakers hidden behind the grille, and they're really not bad, so long as you're not expecting the kind of hi-fi results that Bang & Olufsen can deliver with its conventional range.
There's not a great deal of bass of course, but more than you might expect, and it's delivered in clear and unfuzzy fashion, even when turned up loud – very unusual in mobile music land. It's not exactly a party starter, but as a soundtrack to a one-to-one chat or to show off your latest download, it's really pretty good.
Unfortunately, good as the built-in loudspeaker might be, there are a few niggles with the F400's music system in general. Switching between speaker and headphones for instance takes you away from the track you're playing so you have to find it and cue it up again – why?
The dedicated music button on the side takes you to the last track played, but to access the other music controls you'll need to go through several menus, which makes the experience less than smooth. There is however a numerical equivalent for each of the menu options, so you can find your way around using the keypad rather than relying on the scroll-wheel D-pad (though you unaccountably lose this option in loudspeaker mode).
After getting frustrated with these minor irritations, it's a relief to note that the headphones are better than most. They come with a set of three rubberised gromits to ensure a snug fit, whatever size your ears are, and they offer a broad dynamic range and a beefy low end.
If you're still not satisfied however, Samsung has had the good sense to include a 3.5mm jack plug disguised by a flap on the top of the handset. Or you could take advantage of the stereo Bluetooth link to use a wireless pair.
The headphones are essential for the FM radio incidentally, though you can also play it through the loudspeaker. Reception sounded good and if you find a track that you like but don't know the name of, there's a Shazam-style track ID service via the phone's HSDPA 3G internet connection.
There's a 3 megapixel camera onboard that offers some perfectly decent snaps. We liked the fact that the shutter button on the side gets you into camera mode quickly, in a little over two seconds, which makes it great for those blink-and-you-miss-it moments. The D-pad offers four shortcuts in camera mode so you have quick access to flash, brightness, ten-second timer and a toggle for on-screen icons.
Usefully, if you use the camera with the keypad out, there are also numerical equivalents for each of the menu options, which include some interesting editing options, including adding blur or tone effects to all or just part of a picture.
Video, as is often the case with cameraphones, is nowhere near the still pictures' quality, offering just QVGA (320x240 pixels) resolution, which even looks a bit rubbish on YouTube.
Battery life didn't leave us disappointed but then again we weren't overly impressed by the three days of average use we got out of it.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the Samsung F400. It's not much to look at, but it does sound good (despite our irritation with the music player's peculiarities), the 3 megapixel camera offers a little more than is strictly necessary and it's got a fast 3.6Mbps 3G internet connection too – a classic case of a modest mobile phone talent.
Network availability: O2, Orange, Virgin Mobile
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
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