Samsung SGH-F490 cameraphone
An altogether more run of the mill device
The new home of the Croix, the F490, is pitched as an altogether more run of the mill device; no silly designer labels, no pretensions to smart phone ubiquity.
F490: The proprietary "Croix" UI is identical to that on the F700
As with the F700 the base spec of the F490 is solid enough without being exceptional. Connectivity-wise you get tri-band GPRS/GSM, 3.6MB/s HSDPA and v2.0 Bluetooth, while the other headline features include 130MB of on-board memory, an microSDHC slot and a 5 megapixel auto-focus camera.
Lacking the F700's slide-out keyboard, the F490 is a more svelte and sleek handset measuring 115 x 53.5 x 11.8mm and weighing 102g. That 4.2mm saving in thickness makes the F490 a far easier device to manage one-handed, it now being possible to reach the entire screen with your thumb.
The proprietary "Croix" UI is identical to that on the F700 as is the underlying application package. The UI is pleasant to look at, straightforward to use and nicely responsive, and won't ever leave you regretting having chosen a touchscreen phone.
If we have to be picky (and we do), we would like to be able to reduce the font size that the contacts menu displays and to set the home screen wallpaper as the background to the Croix menu. The option to have two sizeable time zone clocks displayed on the home screen was a simple feature that impressed us mightily on the F700 and does so no less on the F490, ditto the inclusion of a voice recorder.
A neat little improvement over the F700 is the new combined on/off and lock slider on the right hand side of the device, which makes powering up and down and locking the screen much easier.
The screen is bright and promises great things for video playback
Something that we guarantee will get on your nerves after an while, though, is the incessant beeping noise the F490 makes whenever you touch a key or change a setting. The arguably pointless VibeTonez haptic feedback can be shut off - thank God for small mercies - but the keypad tones can't, though you can choose from two equally annoying sets of sounds.
Of course if you like your handset to sound and feel like a bionic guinea pig on speed, then crank the haptics up and knock yourself out - but be warned, if you do this in public you will find yourself the subject of ridicule at least if not actual physical assault.
After about an hour with the F490 we set it to silent mode, which seemed an extreme course of action to the shut the thing up, but it was either that or hit it with a brick.
The first thing that actually struck us when we powered the F490 up was that you don't really get all that much in the way of screen acreage when viewed as a percentage of the phone's frontal area. It may be largely a matter of perception but we couldn't help but think that either the screen should be a little larger, or the phone a little smaller. Or maybe a bit of both.
The obvious comparator on this front is the iPhone, which is exactly the same height as the F490 and while only an extra 5.5mm wider has a screen that is 0.3 of an inch bigger corner to corner. A third of an inch doesn't sound much, but it looks a fair bit in the real world.
The F490 is far easier to manage one-handed
iPhone comparisons notwithstanding, the 240 x 432, 3.2in screen is bright, crisp and clear and seems to promise great things for video playback especially as it has a near perfect 16:9 layout.
Alas not. Disappointment number one - according to the spec sheet the F490 will play WMV, MP4, H.263 & H.264 files up to 640 x 480 30f/s. Well, we tried every which way to get it to play WMV files, but all we ever got was "format or bit rate not supported".
Disappointment number two - no matter what resolution we transcoded our videos to, it simply would not play them at full screen. This came as a real kick in the pants as we had expected the full cinematic stretch, but instead ended up with our widescreen movies playing in the piddly central two-thirds of the screen.
If the F490 played video at full screen and came with more comprehensive video file support, like the LG Viewty, all you would have to do is stuff in a large capacity microSD and bingo, instant phone-PMP. Incidentally, 240 x 320 is the maximum resolution you can transform video to using the bundled Media Manager, which seems like a slight case of someone not paying attention at Samsung.
Media transfer to the 130MB on board memory can only be made be via Samsung's bundled PC Studio 3 software. It works, but by crikey it's slow. Nine 160kb/s MP3 tracks, about 45MB in total, took over 20 minutes to transfer across. With an SD card in place you can drag and drop using MS Explorer, which works fine and your hair won't turn grey while you are doing it.
The flash is still an LED which is about much use as a chocolate teapot
The MicroSD card can be hot-swapped, but you have to remove the back cover to do it, which seems like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory - though by way of slight redemption you can change the SIM without having to yank the battery out.
Once you have loaded your tunes the F490 proves a more than capable music player. Though lacking anything in the way of EQ modifiers or bass boosters, the sound produced is punchy and focused and can be cranked up to a decent volume without coming apart at the seams. Extra marks for Samsung for giving the F490 a 3.5mm headphones jack alongside the proprietary port that the supplied hands free rig plugs into and the capacity to set up playlists on the hoof. As you might expect audio file support extends to ACC, ACC+, MP3 and WMA.
The F490's camera is a 5 megapixel job, up from the rather lacklustre 3.2 megapixel item on the F700. The flash is still an LED which is about much use as a chocolate teapot, but in good light we found the F490 to be a decent little snapper. For a direct comparison with another popular 5 megapixel camera phone we took the F490 and a Sony Ericsson K850i out into The Register's Versailles-like private gardens and snapped some pictures of our surroundings.
To be honest there wasn't much to choose between the end results, the pictures taken on the K850i being perhaps just a little crisper and having slightly richer colours. On the hardware side of things though the time taken to reset between shots was significantly slower on the 490 and it has a camera hardware button that doesn't actually launch the camera application. You need to do that via the touchscreen, which is an altogether less elegant solution than the two-key set up on the side of the K850i.
Click for full-size images
When it comes to day to day "phone stuff" the F490 does a good job. Signal reception was good across the board, calls sounded clear and the speaker phone sounded great. Battery life was pretty impressive too. Samsung quote 4.5 hours of talk time and 350 of standby. In a 3G area and with Bluetooth left on we got two long days of heavy use out of a full charge and still had juice left.
The bundled software package is comprehensive and pretty user-friendly - the slow data transfer times to the on-board memory and restricted video transformating resolutions notwithstanding. Synchronising with Outlook was straightforward, as was connecting to the internet when using the phone as a modem. When we synchronised our contacts to the F700 we noticed that certain data fields seemed to vanish; either we were just unlucky or Samsung have tweaked something, because we didn't notice the same problem with the F490.
We're beginning to thing that Samsung is knocking out new handset designs so fast it is losing the knack of landing a killer punch with any one of them. The F490 is a nice phone to own and use, bleeping noises notwithstanding, and comes with a decent spec and a not half bad camera; but had Samsung bothered to equip it with video playback that actually made full use of the rather fine 3.2in screen it would have made it much, much more desirable. With 16GB MicroSD cards now knocking about - at an admittedly eye-watering 90 odd quid - the 490 could have been a superb amalgam of mobile phone and PMP. As it is, it is simply a decent phone and we reckon that is a missed opportunity.