Out of the box, Samsung phones often struggle to impress. Maybe it's the egg-carton packaging that Samsung uses, or perhaps it's the gun-metal grey plastic bodies of recent Samsung phones, but the G600 and i450 have both made poor first impressions, defying their much hyped features.
Sliding the i450 open to reveal its recessed keypad did little to raise our opinion; a flat plastic layer with numbers defined by tiny raised strips. It was only when we slid the body in the opposite direction that we encountered the first of many pleasant surprises.
Similar to Nokia's N95, the i450 employs a dual-slide design with music controls under the top half. Media controls for the i450 are comprised of a single-ribbed rubber semi-circle that gives the impression of being a spinning wheel. Dragging a finger over the ridges scans the music menu like an iPod's touch wheel. Combined with the on-screen interface, this feature looks great, though we found the wheel to be too sensitive when scanning menus, and often ineffective when trying to make a selection by pressing down on the "wheel".
On the back of the i450 is a 2-megapixel camera, and on the top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone port; a very welcome addition to any music-centric mobile phone. For some reason Samsung bundle headphones with a proprietary input — similar to the input on the charger — even though the 3.5mm headphone port is crying out to be used. The i450's paltry 40MB of internal memory is expanded by MicroSD memory cards with the slot for these on the left side of the handset.
As audiophiles are probably aware, Samsung has again partnered with Bang & Olufsen in developing the i450, similar to the recently released Serenata, however, the i450 is definitely the first phone in this partnership we can actually afford.
The most surprising feature of the i450 is that it runs on Nokia's S60 operating platform and is one of a very small list of non-Nokia phones to use S60. While we've criticised the platform in the past for being drab and uninteresting to look at, there's no doubting the platform is both stable and intuitive to use. Best of all, recent users of Nokia phones will feel immediately at home with the menus and shortcuts, making a transition to the i450 very easy indeed.
In terms of Web access, the i450 is an HSDPA-capable handset, though unlike similarly featured Nokia handsets, there is no Wi-Fi. The pre-installed Web browser is the same Web 2.0 compliant browser found on all S60 handsets with feature pack 3.1 and it does a decent job of navigating most sites. If you think you might prefer a different browser, the flexibility of the S60 platform means you can download just about any mobile browser available.
We definitely think the i450 is a music phone to rival the best of the Walkman range of devices, and for this credit must go to the Bang & Olufsen audio technology it calls ICEpower. This title seems inaccurate to us as the sounds we heard were rich and warm, with thumping bass and nice clear mid tones. We tested a variety of headphones with the i450, and even connected stereo speakers to the handset, and the results were outstanding. Even the handset speakers sounded good for music playback, like a decent quality portable radio.
We were similarly impressed by the 2-megapixel camera; real proof of the great megapixel myth. Even though it may not sound like much, this pint-sized shooter outperformed many higher res cameras, particularly the 3.2-megapixel cameras we've seen on recent Walkman branded phones. This camera is assisted by a LED photo-light, which works well to fill in shadows for day-time photos, but struggles to light an image at night.
In terms of basic calling functions the i450 worked as expected with clear voice calls and a loud internal speaker. Accessing the menus is speedy, and the phone processes quickly, giving instant access to selections even when multitasking. During our tests we saw battery life cycles of between three and four days, which is about standard for an HSDPA capable mobile phone.
Shabby aesthetics aside, the Samsung i450 is an excellent music phone and sure to give the Walkman range a run for its money. Our favourite Walkman phone of late has been the W890i; a sexy, slimline phone with great music playback but with a less than attractive AU$899 price tag. The i450 trumps the W890i in price — at AU$599 through 3 Mobile — and in the outstanding quality of the music we heard. Add to this the Nokia S60 operating platform and the decent performance of the 2-megapixel camera and the i450 should be one of the first phones you check out when shopping for your next handset.