Samsung SGH-F210 mobile phone
Just too small
Review Phone or MP3 player? That, as the Immortal Bard would say, is the question. Looking at it lying on the table like a tiny toppled megalith, albeit a highly polished one, it's difficult to imagine a more MP3-player-esque looking phone. The question is, has this desire to combine styles led to any compromises that delight us.
As with last year's X830, the F210's eigenschaft is the move from closed MP3 player to open phone, a transition accomplished, one handed, by nudging the upper third of the block to the left with your thumb and letting it spring around through 180° to reveal a narrow-but-perfectly-formed keyboard while the screen morphs from landscape to portrait.
Samsung's F210: flick nice
The 128 x 220, 256,000-colour TFT screen is bright and clear, but at 19 x 32mm, the display is frankly a little bit too small for a phone. Sure, everything is legible, but too many menu titles and the like have to scroll across the screen to be read in their entirety.
Had Samsung managed to make the screen just a touch larger, or at least given the swivel a soft stop at 90° so the phone could be used with the screen in landscape then life with the F210 as a phone would be less of a compromise.
By contrast, when the screen is in landscape music-player mode everything looks just fine and dandy, and though looking at videos and pictures is a bit of a strain, the image quality itself is fine.
A nice display feature is the option of having two time zone clocks on the main standby screen, handy for regular travellers, though we'd also say a trick has been missed by omitting an option to have that same information showing when the handset is closed. As it is, you have to open the phone to check the time.
When open, the handset is controlled by a combination of the keyboard and the big silver scroll wheel, the outer ring of which actually revolves and which does the work of a joystick. Despite its rather odd dimensions, the F210 is surprisingly easy to operate and we quickly got used to using the scroll wheel despite it being sited quite a way above the keypad. When browsing through picture galleries, the scroll wheel really comes into its own as a navigation device.
When closed and in music player mode, control comes via the scroll wheel alone, with the exception of volume, which is regulated by two buttons on the 'top' of the unit. Once you get the hang of the wheel's various functions, navigation around the music library is a cakewalk. A selection of tracks from Moby, Seth Lakeman and Richard Wagner proved the player to be more than up to the job from a purely acoustic perspective. Supported media formats are the usual suspects: MPEG 4 video along with MP3, WMA and all the breeds of AAC.
A trick feature is the handset's clip-on/off end cap. Leave the basic one on and you can use the supplied adaptor cable to plug any pair of 3.5mm-jack headphones into the F210's multi-function port. Alternately, use the combined lanyard/headphones adaptor and you can hang the unit securely around your neck while using the rather fine supplied headphones. Both cables have a built in microphone for hands-free use and an answer switch that stops the music when you take calls and then resumes when you hang up.
Strangely, the mic/switch on the lanyard is high up on the right-hand earphone cable where it is completely out of sight. This can make answering a call look like some sort of strange Masonic ear-tug greeting.
For storage, the F210 comes with 1GB of on-board memory and a Micro SD slot good for another 2GB, though our retail package didn't come with a memory card of any size. The phone measures 88/153 x 31 x 20.5mm and weighs in at 72g. It has nice smooth edges, seems very well bolted together and robust, and comes in black or pink.
The supplied Samsung PC Studio 3.2 software package is very comprehensive but leaves a bit to be desired in the speed stakes: when it came to shunting music about, a 5.2MB file took 36.2s to transfer to the phone via USB.
To compound that, after having transferred six albums the phone managed to group five of them together under 'unknown artist' and 'unknown album', while the sixth ended up with a seemingly random running order. Thankfully, simply dragging the files across from our iTunes library to the phone in Windows Explorer worked just fine with all albums appearing in the right place, in the right order and in a timely manner.
The rest of the F210's specification is par for the course: tri-band GSM/GPRS/Edge, a two-megapixel camera sans flash but with 352 × 288 (CIF) video, an RDS-enabled FM radio, Bluetooth with A2DP wireless stereo, T9 predictive text, all the usual mini applications such as a world clock, universal converter, alarm, stopwatch, calender, a couple of Java games, a song identification application and a WAP 2.0/xHTML web browser, the latter being of rather limited use on the diddy screen.
Battery life is nothing to complain about, an upshot of not having much screen acreage to power. We got a good four days usage out of it before it needed a charge and reckon that Samsung's claims of 265 hours standby and 200 minutes of talk-time are probably not far off the mark.
As a youth-targeted music player-cum-phone, the F210 has a lot a going for it: good looks, clever design, quality construction, a decent raft of on-board functions, great sounding music playback and that clever clip-on headphones/lanyard rig. It's just a shame the screen is a bit on the small side for those of us more advanced in years.