Noah's Samsung Beat-SGH-T539 review

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: March 5, 2008

Samsung beatWhat's Good: Compact, solid flip phone with front-mounted music controls/speaker, stereo Bluetooth support and straightforward music player; Includes 1GB memory card; Good IM support; Inexpensive.

What's Not Good: Signal strength issues; Low-res display and less-than-pretty UI; Wired headphones require use of proprietary adapter.

Bottom Line: Beat is a simple flip with a pretty good music player and low price tag.  The phone's design didn't do much for me, and the display is low-res, but for a basic phone with music player, Beat's not bad.  Just make sure you can get good reception with it where you live and work.

Specs:

  • Make/Model: Samsung Beat (SGH-T539)
  • Network: GSM Quad-Band
  • Data: EDGE (2.5G)
  • Carrier: T-Mobile USA (Locked)
  • Size: 90 x 46 x 17.8 mm
  • Weight: 77 g
  • Form Factor: Clamshell
  • Display: (Main) Color LCD, 128 x 160 Resolution, 65,000 Colors; (External) Color LCD, 96 x 96 Resolution
  • Memory:  18 MB built-in, microSD card slot, 1 GB microSD card included
  • Notable Features: Music player with background play and equalizer; Front-mounted music controls and speaker; myFaves support; AOL, Yahoo, and ICQ Instant Messaging support

Introduction

Samsung Beat introductionNot everyone wants a smartphone, a phone with 30 buttons on it, or a phone that costs $400.  But lots of folks want phones that play music and handle text and IMs, or so it would seem from a glance at the major carriers? current handset lineups.  The Samsung Beat for T-Mobile caters to folks who want a compact, easy to use phone with a good music player and pretty comprehensive messaging support ? all at a low price. 

You won't find hi-res displays, high-speed Web access, or fancy touchscreens on Beat.  But you will get a handset with a better than average music player with a speaker, display, and media controls on the outside of the flip and stereo Bluetooth support.  You?ll also get myFaves and IM software built-in.  And you might even think Beat is stylish.  I didn't, but I did appreciate its lightweight and solid (if kind of cheap feeling) build.  Unfortunately, I ran into a few issues with signal strength and the internal keypad while testing Beat.  Read on ...


Design & Features

Samsung Beat side viewBeat is a small, thick-ish clamshell handset built out of plastic.  It's glossy black with a green ring around the front-mounted, circular speaker, and feels amazingly light when you first pick it up.  Though the all-plastic build doesn't exactly scream ?Luxury,? the phone actually felt pretty solid throughout my testing.  I didn't worry about breaking the hinge or otherwise damaging Beat during normal use including the occasional drop.

The dual-display, internal dialing keypad is pretty standard fare for a flip phone, as is the circular array of music player controls located beneath the external display.  Beat's eye-catcher is that green, circle-shaped grill beneath which resides a pretty loud, pretty so-so quality speaker.  Side-mounted controls for volume, access to the rear-mounted 1.3MP camera, and a dual-function Hold/Music Shortcut key, along with the internal and external keypads, provide plenty of handy shortcuts without overwhelming the user.  On the negative side, the internal keypad is so smooth to the touch that it was a bit wonky to use.  And I had a little trouble with the external media controls during music playback, running into occasional, seemingly random lags after keypresses.Samsung beat angle view

Beat's calling card is its music player, which supports mp3, WMA, and AAC/AAC+ files so long as they?re not DRM-protected.  The included 1GB memory card, wired stereo headset, and 3.5mm headphone adapter mean Beat's ready to be loaded up with music and play it back right out of the box.  It's amazing how many ?music phones? require the separate purchase of a memory card or some other accessory before they?ll actually play music - score one for Beat in that regard.  The music player is easy to use and includes a preset equalizer and ?3D? effect for sound-shaping.  There's no support for over the air download or streaming of music - you?ll have to 'sideload? tracks from your computer onto Beat's memory card (use a card reader - it's faster than connecting to the handset via USB cable).

T-Mobile routinely does a good job of making the most of its messaging and family plan features (it has to, at least until its 3G network finally rolls out), and Beat comes pre-loaded with myFaves support and a nice instant messaging client.  I was easily able to connect to AIM and Yahoo! IM accounts, and ICQ is also supported out of the box.  T-Mob's EDGE network is plenty fast enough for text chat, and the T-Zones WAP browser is handy for getting the occasional news/weather/sports update or movie time, even if you can't really browse the Web on it.


Usability & Performance

Beat worked very well as a phone provided that I could get a signal.  Its quad-band GSM radio had some trouble pulling down strong signals, but when calls connected they sounded very good over the internal earpiece and not bad at all over speakerphone.  Actually, the external speaker is much more useful as a speakerphone than boom box.  On the other hand, music sounded surprisingly good over the included earbuds (with in-line mic for voice calls), and when I wired up my Etymotic earphones via the included 3.5mm adapter, audio quality was excellent. 

Despite the fact that Beat's internal display is shockingly low-res, the music software was easy to read and navigate with the phone open - though the keypad was overly smooth and didn't offer much in the way of separation between buttons.  Nobody's going to win style points for Beat's ?Retro in a bad way? menus and graphics, but they get the job done, and the internal display was bright enough to read in all but the brightest direct sunlight. 

Getting the external controls to navigate through my music collection was a little tricky, though my review handset may have just suffered from some glitches.  The music player also seems to offer a few more options when accessed via the internal display, and while the wired headset has a single button remote control, it's only for accepting and ending calls, not playing/pausing music.  Music does pause automatically, though, when an incoming call is detected.

Samsung Beat screenshots


Conclusion

Beat isn't my favorite phone, but it does offer a quality music experience at a low price.  The inclusion of a 1GB memory card, stereo earbuds, and a headphone adapter make Beat ready to rock right out of the box.  Unfortunately, between the low-res displays, signal strength issues, and somewhat wonky keypad, Beat's got a few issues to overcome.

If you?re on T-Mobile and like Beat's styling and price tag, it's certainly worth a look.  Just make sure you can try it out for a few days to make sure you get a signal where you?ll most often be using it.  But there are other easy to use musicphones out there that offer more in the way of style and usability at prices on par with Beat.  If you?re not wedded to T-Mobile, the LG Muziq (Sprint) and Sony Ericsson w580i (AT&T) come immediately to mind.

Samsung beat both

Products mentioned