What's in a name?
OK Samsung, we give up. What the hell does Preston mean? We've Googled it, we Binged it, we hunted around on urban dictionary. At one point we thought it was the name of the cousin in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but that guy's name turned out to be Carlton — a similarly preppy schoolboy name. So we throw in the towel, Samsung, you've beaten us this time.
Names aside, the Preston is a phone with a compelling sales pitch attached. With full touchscreen input and an AU$449 price tag, the Preston stands out amongst its brethren in the Icon range as the cheapest, if the lowliest in the specs department.
How does Samsung keep the price so low?
We don't mean to be too critical of the low-end features in the Preston and it's important to remember that this phone is about half the price of most of the touchscreens available at this time. The Preston is an entry-level phone, and the touchscreen is the feature that you get for your money. If you're new to phones without keypads then the Preston could be a nice, cheap way of testing whether or not it is for you. Needless to say, if you don't find what you need here the other phones in the Icon range might be better tailored to your usage patterns.
In terms of hardware, the Preston packs a 3-megapixel camera with flash which we quite like. The dip in resolution over Samsung's 5- and 8-megapixel range is noticeable, but the pictures we've taken have been fine for reminiscing after a night out with friends, or posting the evidence on Facebook.
Web browsing is decent with HSDPA (up to 7.2Mbps) and the screen does a good job of presenting the pages you'll visit. It's also quite a fast browser too, similar to the ones you'll find on today's best web phones, like Google's Android phones. However, if you surf the web a lot you might find the 2.8-inch screen a little small for prolonged sessions online.
On the software side, the pre-installed suite of apps is pretty basic, with the exception of a few excellent touchscreen games. The Preston is capable of installing Java apps, though there is no app store to search, so you're left to your own devices in hunting down new tools. Multimedia playback lacks the full range of file format recognition you find in the HD and Omnia Icons — there's no DivX or XviD — only MP4, H.264 and WMV video file recognition, and MP3, AAC and WMV audio.
Samsung has included a few nifty gadgets though: there's the Fake Call tool we saw on the Samsung UltraTouch; and there's Smart Unlock, a new function unique to the Preston. When you activate Smart Unlock you have the option to associate a letter of the alphabet to a small range of common tasks, like calling, contacts and the browser. Then, when the phone is locked, you can draw this letter on the screen to unlock the phone and take you straight to this function. It's a really nice idea, though the fact that you can assign letters to only about six apps weakens its usefulness.
Pleasing performance, Preston?
When we first whipped Preston out of the box we were pleasantly surprised. Next to the Samsung Omnia Icon, which we reviewed simultaneously, the Preston is a speed demon. The TouchWiz widgets home screen zips along without any lag, opening and closing menu items and apps is good, and even tough graphical items (like viewing photos) execute without any of the frustrating pauses we had expected.
It was a real shame then when we put in a call to a friend and suffered a bunch of niggling issues. Firstly, the earpiece volume is too low, even at full volume. We could have dealt with this if we didn't also experience audio clipping when people spoke to us as well, meaning the first word of some sentences were cut off or clipped. Lastly, we also endured several calls disconnecting, and sometimes several disconnections during the same call. This problem could be the result of numerous issues, but subsequent testing using the same SIM in other phones points the finger at poor old Preston.
For an AU$450 3G touchscreen handset, there's a lot we can live without. We can forgo Wi-Fi connectivity and Microsoft Exchange support. We can make do with a 3-megapixel camera and limited multimedia playback. But poor calling performance is something we cannot abide, after all, this is a mobile phone. The issues we experienced didn't mean we couldn't make calls, but it definitely meant that we struggled to hear calls clearly. If you want a touchscreen handset on a budget we recommend you wait until October and get a Samsung Jet (which may cost a little extra) instead.