Joni's Samsung Highlight T749 Fire review

Joni Blecher
Editor Director - from  San Francisco, CA
| October 3, 2009


The Samsung Highlight is a slim touch screen cell phone that has a lot going for it: 3G connectivity with T-Mobile’s Web2Go interface, 3-megapixel camera, solid battery life, and impressive call quality. Plus the cell phone even comes with included headphones that work with the Samsung proprietary headset jack. In short, if you want a cell phone that offers impressive call quality, a speedy web experience, in a size that’s easy to transport in a shirt pocket, the Highlight is worth consideration.

Design & Features

Look and feel:This Samsung cell phone is more on the minimalistic side – read: it’s not littered with too many buttons. In fact, the front of the cell phone only has three keys: Talk, Back, and End/Power. On the Highlight’s side spines you’ll find volume keys, dedicated camera key, and a lock key. About that Lock Key, this replaces the lock function found on the display of most touch screen cell phones. When you want to use the cell phone, you’ll be prompted to unlock it by touching this key. While we appreciate how secure this makes the cell phone, we did need to extend the time before the cell phone automatically locked as a result of no use.

Samsung Highlight Fire
The Samsung Highlight cell phone comes in two colors: Fire (which is really more of an orange) and Ice (which is essentially blue). The cell phone feels comfortable in the hand, fitting just right so that you can still easily maneuver through the cell phone’s features one handed if desired. It also isn’t too uncomfortable when you hold it up to your ear or cradle it between ear and shoulder for longer calls. However, since the screen comes so close to your face, it can attract a lot of face grease. About that screen, it’s pretty bright. We are also happy to report that we found the screen easy to view in direct sunlight.

Keypad: Like many cell phones today the Samsung Highlight has a touch screen and as such offers two types of keypads: numeric and QWERTY. As far as touch screens go the one found on the Highlight was pretty responsive and even better once we calibrated the screen. . We like the numeric keypad that appears when you press the phone icon at the base of the main screen and the QWERTY keypad that appears when you turn the cell phone horizontally in a message screen. There are also little touches that we appreciated as well, such as the .com key that appears as part of the QWERTY keypad and the ability to jot freehand or just draw a picture. The nice thing about the keyboard is that the keys are spaced fairly well apart – so mistypes are at a minimum.

Usability & Performance

Calls and speakerphone: We found calls loud and clear on the Samsung Highlight. We didn’t even need to use the side volume keys to adjust the audio up or down. Callers said we came through loud and clear, as if we were standing right next to them. Using the speakerphone didn’t seem to degrade call quality on our end and we appreciate how easy it is to activate the speakerphone. Additionally, you don’t have to be too close to the cell phone when using the speakerphone to be heard by callers – a definite plus.

Audio quality: Playback of songs is acceptable through the cell phone’s speakers, and songs didn’t sound terribly tinny. The Samsung Highlight has a proprietary headset jack. The cell phone’s charger and the headset jack share the same proprietary port. The good news is that the cell phone comes with a stereo headset that works with the proprietary port. Audio sounded decent through these headsets. Another option is to get a stereo Bluetooth headset since the Samsung Highlight also supports that feature.

Ease of Use

Menu/phone book: The Samsung Highlight has a menu interface that’s designed to make using the touch screen fun to use and to provide a deeper level of personalization – more than just cosmetic changes. In a straight line going down the edge of the left hand side of the screen are a series of icons. You can, of course, swipe your finger up and down the line to scroll through the icons. The icons correspond to an application on the Samsung cell phone and tapping on one of the icons will launch that application. If you hold and drag that icon onto the remaining screen area you’ll get a mini version of the app on the screen, which you can then position anywhere on the screen. For example, if you select music, a mini-player will appear on the screen that you can use to play, stop/pause, and skip to other songs. Additionally, stationed at the bottom of the screen are one touch access to the Phone, Phone Book, Web, and Menu.

We particularly like the button that sits between the talk and end buttons: It’s a back button. Whenever you are somewhere in an application you don’t want to be, simply press the back button and it will either back you out one screen at a time or ask if you’d like to ‘Exit an Application’. We found it a helpful tool for navigating through the cell phone’s menus. Another fun feature on this Samsung is the RSS reader application, where you can essentially add your favorite RSS feeds for easy access. We also particularly like how easy it is to use the phone book, which can store 2,000 contacts (separated by first and last name), each with four phone numbers, web site, multiple e-mail addresses, 4 IM handles, a street address, and a picture.

Camera/video: The Samsung Highlight sports a 3-megapixel camera that can take photos and record short videos. It lacks a flash and a tiny mirror near the lens for snapping self-portraits. You can snap a picture by pressing the dedicated camera button located on the lower right hand corner of the cell phone’s spine. Since the Samsung Highlight does come with a 3-megapixel digital camera it does have its fair share of settings, such as white balance, exposure meter (spot, matrix, and center-weighted), and effects (normal, negative, water color, black and white, and sepia). If you don’t know what any of those terms mean, no worries; once you select one a feature definition scrolls across the bottom of the screen.

About taking pictures, the shutter is acceptable. As expected, the entire screen turns into a viewfinder (similar to digital cameras), so it seems like you have more room to frame your photo. Additionally, once you take a picture there are a few things you can do with it such as edit it, share it, upload it to an online album, print it via Bluetooth, and our favorite: add a voice recording and send it as a digital postcard. As for image quality, we were impressed with the quality both on screen and downloaded to a computer. We found colors to be vivid and the images clear and sharp. You can also take videos with this cell phone, too. Video quality is pretty good and images really only blur when you shake the camera.

Music: The Samsung Highlight sports an MP3 player and comes with 60MB of internal memory, so you can’t store a ton of songs and pictures on the cell phone. If you want more storage, we recommend buying an optional MicroSD media card, as this cell phone will support up to a 16GB MicroSD card. You can play MP3s, Apple’s AACs audio files, and Microsoft’s WMA audio. As noted, the audio quality is pretty good through the cell phone speaker.

Before we get into too many music details, we’re happy to report that you can set any song as a ringtone either for all incoming calls or just an individual contact. The Samsung Highlight doesn’t have many audio-centric controls such as the ability to manually adjust bass and treble, but there is a Sound Effects menu where you can choose the genre of music of songs such as Rock or Jazz to optimize playback. It really doesn’t make a big difference either way. There’s also the ability to Shuffle, Repeat All or just one song, and Skip songs. You can even create playlists on the fly. Another nice feature is that music will still play in the background while you’re using other features. When necessary the application will pause the music (for example, when a call comes in or you’re taking a picture), but then it will resume where it left off.

Connectivity/Bluetooth/3G: We were able to pair the Samsung cell phone with a Plantronics 925 Bluetooth headset. We found call quality to be acceptable with the headset. And callers had no idea we were using a headset let alone a cell phone. Additionally, the Highlight supports 3G so there’s very little delay when surfing the web.

Battery Life: In the battery life department, the Samsung Highlight is impressive. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the charger. We found that the cell phone could last about four days before recharging when using the Samsung Highlight regularly to make calls, occasionally surf the wireless Web, listen to music, and send/receive text messages. Users who barely use the cell phone to make/receive calls and send/receive messages can probably last closer to a week before needing to recharge, while heavier cell phone users will likely need to charge the Highlight every other night just to be on the safe side. We should note that the Samsung cell phone uses a proprietary charger instead of one of the USB varieties, like many other cell phones currently available.

Products mentioned