Samsung's Stylish Touch on Display
The Good: Intuitive interface; responsive touch screen; stylish slide-out keyboard; high-speed Internet
The Bad: High price; touch screen with a virtual dialpad but no virtual keyboard
The Bottom Line: A stylish touch-screen phone from abroad that few people have seen in this country
Samsung's SGH-F700 cell phone is sleek, smart, and stacked. It's got a big touch screen with arresting color quality. The five-megapixel camera for video and photos is a mobile blogger's dream. And impatient Web surfers will love the phone's high-speed downloads. But me, I love a good keyboard—one with dedicated buttons for all 26 letters—and the F700 has a splendid one that slides out from behind that touch screen.
Introduced overseas last year, the F700 is not a phone you'll see advertized by any U.S. wireless providers. But you can buy one online and, if you're a customer of either AT&T (T) or T-Mobile USA, remove the little "SIM" chip from the back of your phone and insert it in the Samsung handset. At roughly $600, it won't be cheap, but this is a mobile device unlike most anything available stateside.
The F700's 2.8-inch display offers nearly everything one could want in a touch screen. It's colorful. It's intuitive. And best of all, it's responsive—there's no need to keep tapping for the screen to recognize you'd like to follow a link or enter text into a log-in or search box. That's a problem I've encountered with other high-end phones such as the LG Voyager (BusinessWeek.com, 1/30/08) from Verizon Wireless.
Yet there are two nitpicks about the Samsung touch screen that are hard to ignore in this age of the iPhone.
The first is the lack of a full "virtual" keyboard for typing text on the touch screen when you don't want to slide out the physical keyboard. The only touch-screen option is a virtual dialpad with the usual three or four letters associated with each number. So, for example, when typing in Web addresses or search words, users need to triple-tap the No. 2 key to get the letter C. Since this is all accomplished through software and images on a screen, it's hard to imagine why Samsung couldn't have offered a full-QWERTY option for touch typing. Yet this is a flaw I've already encountered with Samsung on a designer handset developed with Armani (BusinessWeek.com, 3/5/08).
If Apple's (AAPL) iPhone didn't exist, I wouldn't even mention this second drawback. But it does, so I must. The F700 doesn't feature so-called "multitouch" technology. As a result, you can't drag a finger across the display to quick-scroll down a Web page or flip through images. Instead, there are arrows that will scroll one way or another with successive taps. They're fully functional, but just don't make for smooth and easy navigation.
Still, I quickly forgave both touch-screen drawbacks when using the Samsung phone's physical keyboard. The keypad slides out from the side with a quick flick of the thumb against the base of the display, at which point the image automatically reorients to a horizontal widescreen. You then turn the device sideways and start typing. The buttons are large and spacious compared with, say, the BlackBerry (RIMM) Curve. And although I've bemoaned the absence of an iPhone-like touch-screen option for typing, a physical keyboard offers one key advantage: fewer fingerprints and smudges on the display.
The F700 is also one of a growing number of handsets offering next-generation wireless Internet connections. Songs and videos download in mere seconds. I sped from site to site using the preinstalled Web browser from Netfront.
All in all, I found the F700 to be a perfect marriage of style and function. Its touch screen and keyboard gave me all the wow I wanted while enabling the fast texting I need. It would be nice if it were available direct from a U.S. service provider with the usual discounts. But for $600, at least you can be sure it won't look as commonplace as an iPhone.