The unexpected range of features and MP3 performance mean that this is a handset well worth investigating
Understated design hides capabilities
Built-in MP3 player
Design may limit appeal
No autofocus or macro on camera
Not a 3G phone
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You can see immediately why Samsung's new E870 might appeal to those less than excited by the brasher and chunkier handsets that are currently being touted by the manufacturers.
The gentle and genteel flip phone also marks something of a new departure for Samsung. It uses a restrained, understated, even classical, styling that we have not seen in the past.
The colour scheme is also rather different. Gone is the usual silver or black plastic, replaced with a metallic grey combined with acres of white - which can't help but remind you of the iPod. Other versions, where the white keypad and inner shell are blue or pink, will also be available.
But although the idea has been to go for a clean, simple-looking exterior, what's inside is far from stripped to the bone. Sure, this is no top-of-the-range model - and it doesn't offer connection to 3G services but for a middle-of-the-range regular GSM/GPRS phone it still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
It will allow you to read Microsoft Office documents for instance, and can be connected to a TV screen so you can see the movies and pictures you have shot on a larger display. It also has an impressive MP3 player, which offers an expandable memory, stereo Bluetooth capability, and handy equaliser controls.
One advantage of being a GPRS-only device is that the E870 is able to be a dinky little device. It weighs just 83 grams - significantly lighter than, say, the Motorola PEBL.
There are no buttons on the front of the phone, just a discreet information screen, miniature camera lens and an LED which functions as a flashgun.
On the side there are plenty of buttons and ports but these are carefully camouflaged in the same white polycarbonate as the main body. One of these buttons allows you to fi re up the camera even without opening the flip, turning the passive LCD display into a viewfinder.
Press the volume control rocker switch in one direction with the device closed and you get a speaking clock, with a robotic voice telling you the time. Press it the other way, and the camera flash becomes a handy torch.
On the side of the phone there is also an all-in-one socket that connects charger, USB lead and the supplied stereo headphones. On the other flank there is an easily accessible memory card slot, accepting microSD cards that give extra support to the generous 80MB of built-in storage that comes as standard.
Flip open the phone, and Samsung has not gone for one of those etched keypads that have become so popular on non-3G phones. Instead it uses nicely sized, easily-located buttons which are subtly shaded to stand out against their surround. The screen is sensibly sized, and offers as good a definition of colour as you are likely to find.
Although there are no external controls for it - and you even have to leave the phone open to keep the music flowing - the MP3 player is the star feature of this phone. The dual memory system helps, but it is the sound itself that really gets it the part as an alternative to a standalone digital music player.
First the speakerphone, unlike most other phones, is capable of being cranked up to a high volume, so is of use in the sort of relatively noisy environment where you may actually want to use it in the real world. The quality of this component is also reasonable, giving a passable performance.
But it is when you plug in the headset that you really get the full acoustic performance. Sound is of a comforting and captivating quality, with good detail and a creditable dynamic range. The exact audio experience, furthermore, can be tweaked using a number of equaliser presets - designed, so they say, to suit particular types of music.
During our audition, the mixture of acoustic guitar tracks and rock classics we listened to seem to fare best under the Normal setting but it is more than possible that the settings would improve some recordings. Another nice touch is a 3D option, which provides a pseudo-surround-sound effect that is at least fun to play with.
The media player is also capable of playing downloaded video clips, as well as those you record yourself. The cinema performance is greatly enhanced by the fact that you can blow the picture up to fill the whole screen - and unusually you can rotate the picture not just through 90°, but also by 270°, so that you can hold the screen either way up.
Finding how to activate this facility is far from obvious however (the secret is to press the 1 key during playback until you get the orientation you desire).
The onboard camera is a 1.3-megapixel affair with a reasonable number of effects and overrides hidden within its menus. In our tests, it delivered a fair set of prints, with good colour balance, and a full range of tones.
There was a tendency for highlights to appear over-bright, however, and there are no close focusing facilities on offer. The resolution also means that the detail in the pictures falls short of what is capable with other more recent cameraphones.
The built-in flash offers little tangible help in lowlight or in backlight situations.
The document viewer facility might seem only to be of interest to the travelling businessman but the option to view a wide range of digital documents on the move has its uses. The most obvious is that you can view those Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Acrobat files that come attached to emails.
Less obvious is that you can store your own files on the phone's memory for future reference - you could carry a report with you for instance, or a brochure (or instruction manual) you may need to refer to whilst on the move. Although screen space is limited, you can zoom in and out of particular areas simply by using the volume keys on the side of the phone.
Other useful applications onboard include no fewer than four different games aimed at a variety of different age groups. The Bobby Carrot puzzle game seems aimed at a young audience, as is the AirShip Racing obstacle course game. The excellent Freekick soccer simulator will suit anyone, whilst ArchAngel is a challenging, but rewarding, air-to-air shoot-em-up.
The battery managed to keep the handset running for almost a week, during which we listened to around an hour's worth of music, and made some ten minutes of calls.
As 2G handsets go, this is an extremely attractive device. Its convenient size and attractive good looks make it appealing enough - but its unexpected range of features and MP3 performance mean that this is a handset well worth investigating by any man, woman or child. Chris George
Front panel: Elegant and simple, the E870's understated but stylish exterior makes it look like a standalone digital music player
Camera: Just above the external display, Samsung has located the 1.3-megapixel camera - which also has a flash/torch next to it
Memory card: Boosting memory, the E870 supports microSD cards which slot easily into a panel on the side of the phone
Keypad: Plain and simple inside too, but the squarish keys mean a very reliable platform for tapping out your texts
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