Whether it's pure coincidence or a case of planned marketing, it's without doubt that people will compare Samsung's Ultra Smart F700 with the Apple iPhone. While the designs of both handsets look strikingly similar, the F700 delivers on many aspects that the iPhone lacks. The best part is that it should be released well before the iPhone whose availability is still hanging in mid-air. We managed to wrestle a prototype during a visit to Samsung's headquarters in Seoul recently to give you a preview of the handset. Do note that this hands-on is written based on a non-commercial set of the F700 and actual specifications may vary with the final version.
The single most glaring similarity between the Ultra Smart F700 and the Apple iPhone is the central hardware key below the LCD screen. Pressing it calls up a grid of shortcuts for commonly used applications such as the music player, dial pad, Web browser, messaging and main menu. Alternatively, a blinking square in the center of the standby screen also allows the user to get to the shortcuts.
When we first laid hands on the F700, several things struck us immediately. Firstly, the size of the handset fitted comfortably in hand and the unit was surprisingly light. The latter works both ways. While it's unimaginable for a phone to weigh like a brick these days, we feel some users may associate the feather-light feel as a direct result of "cheaper" construction. Although the F700 we have with us is still a prototype, we had no issues with its build quality even though the handset is made from plastic.
Given its dimensions, it's a real surprise that Samsung managed to hide a slide-out QWERTY keyboard under the hood. The keyboard slides out to the left (the 2.78-inch screen to the right), aided by a spring-loaded mechanism which makes the whole action a smooth and fluid one.
The square keys with round borders resemble those on the Apple MacBooks. Each button has adequate spacing to the adjacent key, and the good tactility makes it a breeze to use the keyboard. In addition, the letters have a white backlight to them with the symbols and numerals showing up in blue. So typing in the dark shouldn't be an issue.
To put it bluntly, first-time users who are jumping onto the touchscreen bandwagon may find the F700 a culture shock, just like any other similar handsets with the same feature. For those who are still grappling with the fact that they no longer have a hardware alphanumeric keypad, the F700 offers an onscreen alternative. To lower the learning curve, there's haptic feedback on the F700. So whenever you tap on the handset, a short pulse of vibration lets you know that a letter or numeral is pressed.
As someone who's not a big fan of touchscreen devices, the usability of the F700 actually came as a big surprise. The generous size of the onscreen alphanumeric keypad helped ease this reviewer into typing on a touchscreen LCD. So much so it made the available space left for displaying text--when typing a message--puny in comparison. Scrolling on the panel took a bit of getting used to. But once mastered, it should become second nature.
The F700 is rather clean along its edges. Besides the camera shutter, volume bar and manual lock switch on the right edge, only three other controls (power switch, charging port and 3.5mm A/V jack) reside on the top of the handset. At the back, a lone 3-megapixel auto-focus camera sits beside the built-in flash.
Our main gripe with the F700 was with its glossy surface which tended to pick up fingerprints easily. Not only did we have to constantly wipe it clear of grease, the handset is prone to scratches when left unprotected in a pocket.
Unlike handhelds with touchscreens, the F700 doesn't come with a stylus and everything is done using fingertips. We were actually pretty cool with that since that's one less thing to worry about losing, although some people may not agree with that.
We won't be going into a full-blown feature-for-feature comparison with the Apple iPhone since this is after all an early look. But suffice to say, aside from a smaller screen, the Ultra Smart F700 tops the Cupertino cellular on many counts, including better connectivity, a higher-resolution camera, haptic feedback and full-size hardware QWERTY keyboard, to name a few.
Although it may take more than just an overall better feature set to convince an Apple fanboy to switch camps to the F700, for the rest of the crowd, the F700 may just be the handset to own. A full review can be expected once we get hold of a working commercial set.