Hands-on Review of T-Mobile Samsung Behold II
My friends, we are in the middle of an Android revolution; the Google-powered OS is starting to overtake the world. Up until last month it was a slow but sure process, with very few actual Android handsets coming out over the last year. Since October, however, we’ve seen a huge spike in new devices with the likes of Motorola, HTC, and Samsung.
Samsung is just getting around to launching the Behold 2 on T-Mobile today, but it’s as if the device is already starting from behind. So how does it fare against some other Android strongholds now on the market?
Unwired View was honored to have an opportunity to try the Behold II before it was released, and there’s been plenty of good and bad to go with that. And we have pics and juicy details to share with you.
Now that we’ve experienced the joys of version 2.0 in the Motorola Droid, it’s hard to go back to earlier versions. This doesn’t make it a terrible phone, but it has nowhere to go but up from this point on.
We won’t discuss the ins and outs of Android much in the review, but Samsung decided to add its proprietary TouchWiz UI to the Android OS, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your views of the UI itself. I found that the TouchWiz has been changed a bit, with a much larger widget box, in order to fit the needs of Android’s interface. The dial pad was also changed, as well as the SMS app, photo albums, and others. My opinion of TouchWiz on Android? Sluggish. It just seems to eat up processor capacity for breakfast. I have found faster performance on stock Android devices with roughly the same processor speeds.
In fact, my first impression of the TouchWiz was mistaking it for the stock Android app drawer. The difference was that this one was on the side instead of the bottom, and the performance was not all that great. It’s as if Samsung had been trying to add too much to a good thing.
Samsung has also added in its new 3D Cube feature to the interface, and even has its own dedicated button on the front. The idea of the cube is that each side is its own shortcut: YouTube, the Amazon MP3 store, music player, video player, web browser or picture gallery. It’s a clever little 3D graphic that you can spin around to find what you want to use. You can also shake the phone and the cube will spin until a random application is picked. While it’s an interesting premise, I don’t see much point to it since the home page has plenty of space to fit shortcuts.
Samsung elected to throw in a 3.2″ AMOLED screen, which was definitely a good idea. At a 320 x 480 pixel resolution and complete with 16.7 million colors, the screen is gorgeous; it’s much brighter, crisper and easier to see as a result.
The Behold II itself is very well designed. It feels good in my hand and doesn’t feel bulky or awkward at all. The lack of physical keyboard helps keep the phone as thin as possible.
The buttons are the huge weakness in the whole design. There are a lot more on the front than I think is necessary. In addition to the usual call/end buttons, Samsung adds in a Menu (options) key, previous/go back, home and the Cube. Also present is the circular D-pad. My feeling is that there should be less buttons on the front and more screen to take up the critical real estate. But beyond that, I was very impressed by the look and feel of the device itself.
On the left side we find the volume keys and spot to put a lanyard.
Up top there’s a 3.5 mm headphone jack (which I was able to plug my stock iPhone headset into) and a MicroUSB charger port.
Over to the right there’s a lock key and camera button.
The plastic back features the camera lens and flash, next to a stylish (depending on your idea of style, I suppose) map of the world.
Underneath the hood there’s the battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card slot. The phone comes with a 2 GB card already installed, and fortunately you don’t have to take the battery out in order to access that memory card.
The Behold II weighs 4.2 oz, which in comparison is 0.5 oz lighter than the iPhone 3GS.
Features of the Samsung Behold II
One of the strengths of the Behold II is its camera app. It sure doesn’t hurt to throw in the 5 MP camera that the original Behold had, either. The camera app is the same as most other Samsung devices, with the left and right sidebars showing options like flash, timer, shooting mode, and other effects. When Samsung discovered the strength of the camera apps, the company decided to stick with what worked. Smart move.
Here are some pictures taken with the Behold II camera. I decided to take a couple pics of my house since there are plenty of different colors around to accentuate.
Both voice dial and Google voice search options are included in the phone, which are both very nice to have, and worked out beautifully. For instance, I did a voice search for “T-Mobile Behold 2″ and without any problem or delay it took me straight to the browser already pointed at google.com with the proper search results.
The Behold II comes with 153 MB of internal memory, so definitely make use of a MicroSD card. It supports as much as 16 GB.
Both audio and video streaming are supported. I had no trouble using apps like YouTube and Pandora, and there didn’t seem to be any latency.
This was absolutely the simplest thing I did on the Behold II, though it’s more of an Android feature than the phone specifically; all I had to do was put in my Google login information and all of a sudden I had my Google Contacts, Gmail and Calendar all synced up on the phone. On top of that, any Google app I downloaded from the Market (including Voice) already assumed I wanted to use the same Google account, which made it that much easier.
The Behold II supports threaded messaging, which is definitely crucial when doing a lot of texting.
There is support for WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. Much like the iPhone, GPS is usable in the Google Maps application as well as various Android apps that can be downloaded. For Bluetooth, A2DP and AVRC are present to offer the best possible experience with stereo bluetooth headsets. WiFi was much more bearable than T-Mobile’s 3G network, which will be discussed later.
Google’s Market for Android phones is very well built up; while it may not have 100,000 apps like iPhone’s App Store does, it still has a very healthy selection of pretty much anything you would ever need or want your smartphone to do. Downloading apps via WiFi was incredibly fast, and I never had to wait longer than 30 seconds for an app to fully download to the phone.
On the phone’s home page, one can find shortcuts to the dial pad, contact list, web browser and “Quick List”. Quick List is essentially a menu with the look and feel of a non-smartphone, and offers a few lesser-used shortcuts that could come in handy.
The Behold II uses HSDPA but maxes out at 3.6 Mbps. The only concern I have here is that if T-Mobile follows through on its promise of upgrading the HSPA network to 21 Mbps next year, the Behold II will be left in the dust.
Browsing the web was okay with the stock browser, though there are plenty of other available third-party browsers that can be downloaded through Market.
While it doesn’t come with Facebook or Twitter clients pre-loaded, it does have Google Talk and IM clients already installed. It’s easy enough to download apps from the Market, but I was hoping to see a couple options like the Motorola CLIQ did.
One cool feature thrown into the Behold II was the ability to upload photos directly to an online cloud of your choice. Flickr is the most popular, but a few other services are compatible as well.
Performance of the Samsung Behold II
Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the review.
Fortunately it’s a world phone, which should always be expected for a device at this price point. Beyond that, I was able to make clear calls without any hassle. I didn’t have any issues of static audio quality or fuzziness.
The Behold II has Visual Voicemail, and after a few attempts I was able to get mine to work. Sadly I was unsure whether it was user error or something going on with the phone. Once set up, the voicemail feature is a breeze and very convenient to have access to it.
The Behold II includes compatibility with T-Mobile’s 3G 1700 frequency but also throws in 2100.
While I had a great experience using the WiFi at my house, I was incredibly disappointed by the performance of the T-Mobile 3G network in my local vicinity. Running a couple speed tests revealed that the upload was faster than download, with the 3G downloading 300 kbps and uploading 650 kbps; it was barely faster than EDGE.
With a 1500 mAh lithium ion battery, the Behold II is rated for 6 hours talk time and 100 hours standby. On a typical day, I used the phone moderately and the battery was down to one bar of service by 6 or 7 PM; in other words, it’s getting about the same battery life as my iPhone, so it’s nothing spectacular. Not great, but not terrible either.
Packing a 528 MHz ARM 11 processor, it has an average performance amidst all the other Android devices that are also out.
I haven’t discussed the touchscreen at all yet, so this is a good opportunity to bring it up since it has a great deal to do with overall performance and first impressions. As most phones with touchscreens get compared to the iPhone, it’s natural to do so with the Behold II. The menus and capacitive screen are just about as intuitive and easy to use as the iPhone, though I did find times that I had to press more firmly on the screen in order to scroll effectively. That didn’t occur all the time though, just every once in a while.
The touch keyboard also was difficult to get used to. Using the keyboard in landscape is almost a must, as using it in portrait resulted in pressing the wrong key 8 times out of 10. This will likely be something I could get used to after time, but first impressions were not very good on the portrait on-screen keyboard. Fortunately the transition from portrait to landscape and vice versa were smooth enough, as it only took a second or two for the transition to take place.
In short, the audio quality when playing music or YouTube videos was rather nice; at least, nice enough not to notice any little nuances that were lacking. The UI itself on the media player was okay, but not really inspired.
Setting up email seemed to be easy, especially when having multiple accounts. Once I finished setting up the first email, all I had to do was hit the menu key and choose to add a new account. I was able to put two email accounts on there just fine and was able to differentiate the two. Any business user will easily be able to set up Exchange, which rounds out every possible option for email on Android. The only thing that was a bit annoying to me was that since I had synced up my Google information to the Behold II, my Gmail was separated from the default email client. If there was a way to combine them, it is beyond me.
Overall Impressions of the Samsung Behold II
In a sea of brand-new Android handsets, it’s critical to find a way to stand out of the crowd. It’s difficult to come out with a standard stock Android device and expect to turn heads, so it’s natural for Samsung to have vested interest in using TouchWiz to see how it works out. Sadly, that was probably not a good choice, considering it was more sluggish and a processor-hog.
Strengths included the camera, beautiful OLED screen, and the overall weight and feel of the device.
Weaknesses were the Touchwiz UI, gratuitous use of buttons on the front, small and cramped portrait keyboard, and average (but still slow) processor.
The Behold II will be on sale at T-Mobile for $229 starting today. Overall it was a decent enough device that anyone would be relatively happy with, but my concern is that it didn’t have enough of a WOW factor to turn those heads that may be turned in the direction of the Droid. Frankly, for the same or even lower cost, the Droid seems to have nicer specs. If you are a happy T-Mobile customer that doesn’t want to switch, the Behold II is one of the better Android devices T-Mobile has carried thus far.
What do you think so far? Have you seen one at a local store? Let us know if you’re planning on getting one.
Check out the gallery below for all the other pics of the Behold II.