Samsung's made a splash of late with more uprange touchscreen phones like the Tocco Ultra Edition and Pixon. In these credit-crunched times, though, sensibly it's been busy, too, at the more cash-sensitive end of the mobile phone spectrum, with models like the S3500.
The Samsung S3500 reworks that stylish slimline sliderphone template that proved so popular with the Ultra mobile series, delivering a handset with a serviceably sharp design, but priced at a more wallet-soothing price – starting at around £80 from launch on Virgin Mobile and Vodafone pre-pay deals, or free for contract customers.
The features rundown of the S3500 is, of course, more modest than the recent headline-grabbing devices. The S3500 doesn't do 3G or touch-control, but covers the mobile multimedia essentials with a music player, MicroSD card expansion slot, FM radio, and a 2-megapixel camera that also supports video-shooting.
Its functionality may be more solid than pulse-racing, but the S3500 is tidily equipped on the design front. Its silver slider profile allows room for a reasonably sized 2.2-inch screen, a bright and clear 16-million colour QVGA (240x320 pixels) display.
Under this is a conventional set of Samsung control buttonry on a classy smooth brushed metal control panel, and a large central 4-way navigation control pad. An assortment of softkeys offer quick access to a shortcut menu and phonebook functions, plus there are regular call and end buttons. As usual, there is a selection of user-definable shortcuts accessible from the navigation pad.
More out of the ordinary, however, is that one of the shortcuts is designated for Fake Call – press it a couple of times and you can get an incoming call alert you can answer.
You can even chat to a self-made recording, so you can pretend you're taking a call. The idea is that it may get you out of tricky conversations, meetings, embarrassing situations, and so on – though it could be more embarrassing if someone catches you out.
The menu system is regulation Samsung, with a main icon-based grid set-up, and subsequent numbered lists of sub-menu options. Straightforward to operate, with the slider down you can also select options by pressing a number rather than scrolling.
The slider action is well executed – smooth but solid - and the numberpad is sensibly spaced. Curved rows and raised row spacing trim separate the keys enough, and although flush on a single panel, they feel adequately responsive for texting.
At an all in weight of 95g and measuring 100(h) x 48(w) x 13.9(d)mm, it's well balanced too with the slider open or shut, and slim enough to be unobtrusive in your pocket.
There's a reasonable set of features to play with. The music player is familiar Samsung software, organising tracks into regular category types in a presentable user interface that's straightforward to operate via the navigation pad. It can sync with a PC, using the supplied USB cable and Samsung PC Studio CD software, or you can drag and drop into the phone or a memory card.
The phone has around 45MB of user memory, though you can slot in MicroSD card up to 8GB (none is supplied in-box). You can transfer tracks and other files by Bluetooth too.
Bluetooth stereo headphones can be used as an alternative to the in-box earphones, which are an average quality set with handsfree capability. You wouldn't expect a phone like this to have a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, and the S3500 doesn't surprise, with Samsung's multi-connector slot on the side taking care of business for charger, USB and earphones.
The audio performance is reasonable enough for this grade of handset, though through the supplied headset tunes sounds brighter than we'd prefer, and lower frequencies are subdued. It does the job, however, for casual listening as you go along. An easy to set up and use FM radio adds to the audio entertainment options.
By Samsung's own megapixel-stretching shooting standards, the camera on the S3500 is a low-key effort. A 2-megapixel snapper is minimum entry-level nowadays for all but the most basic of cameraphones.
The camera is tucked away at the back under the slider, so you need to extend the phone to take pics. The user interface is tidily implemented though for this type of shooter; a press of the side camera button slips the screen sideways into viewfinder mode, and there's a decent selection of typical cameraphone settings controls and effects to tweak original auto settings.
There's no autofocus or flash on the shooter, and the detail you can get in shots is limited. Within its limitations, it's fine for easy snapping; colours look OK in good light conditions, and the auto metering system exposes shots well. Low light snapping isn't much cop, however, as you might expect without added illumination – but this isn't one of Samsung's higher grade cameraphones.
Video capture is supported, too, though recording at maximum QVGA quality (320 x 240 pixels) at up to 15 frames per second, results are average low quality mobile fare.
Without high-speed 3G data connectivity, the browsing experience isn't quite as nippy as more high-spec Samsung handsets. The NetFront v3.4 browser does, however, do a decent enough job at resolving pages effectively. The interface is a pretty ordinary mid-tier mobile affair – lists of options rather than onscreen tools – but you can view regular sites on the phone (albeit without Flash content).
A regular bag of tools and organiser apps are present – including calendar, memo and task functions, world clock, calculator, convertor, voice recorder, timer, and stopwatch. Email is supported too. Samsung has also included a couple of games, Sudoku and JumpBoy, plus a bunch of trial games users can test out and buy.
Producing a solid, reliable voice calling performance, the S3500 fits the bill as an affordable phone that does the basics well. Power handling appeared to be sound too; Samsung claims optimum figures of up to 4 hours talktime or up to 400 hours standby, and with our typical usage we found no problems getting three days out of it between charging.
In these cash-strapped times, there's plenty of demand for phones that look smart and do the basics well, but don't cost a fortune, and the Samsung S3500 ticks the right boxes for this type of handset. Its limited features rundown may not exactly excite gadget-lust, but what it does do it does in an unostentatious but effective way. Low-key isn't always unattractive.