Early this summer Samsung introduced their Ultra Edition line of super-slim cellular phones aimed at fashion and technology-conscious users. The three phone Ultra Edition lineup features a 6.9mm thick candybar-style handset, a 9.9mm clamshell phone, and the 12.9mm thick D900 slider. Samsung is billing the D900 as "the world's slimmest slider," and while that distinction may be short-lived in the wake of ever advancing technology, the impression this phone makes when taken out of a pocket or laid upon a table is sure to be long lasting. The Ultra Edition 12.9 is one sexy piece of mobile technology. But Samsung would have you believe the D900's beauty is more than skin deep, with a spec sheet featuring a quad band GSM phone, 3.13 megapixel camera and music player with onboard digital amplifier. The question is, is the D900 as good in the hand as it is on paper?
Samsung has been making a splash as of late with their new breed of ultra-thin slider phones. The D900 is similar to the T-Mobile branded T809 in overall looks, but is noticeably wider, thinner, and somewhat more rounded at the edges. With dimensions of 103.5 x 51 x 12.9 mm and weighing just 85g, the D900 is a true featherweight that won't weigh down your purse nor mess up the lines of your pants when you tuck it away in a pocket.
The D900 is dominated by the 2.1? 240x320 262K Color TFT screen, which is framed by glossy black plastic. This is in contrast to the rest of the handset, which is finished in a very nice matte black soft-touch plastic that's easy to grip and resistant to fingerprints. A small speaker cut out is centered above the screen, while a Samsung logo and a two-row group of controls lie below. The top row features left and right soft keys flanking a central button surrounded by a four-way directional pad, while the bottom row has three keys: Pick-up/Send, Clear, and Hang-Up/Power On-Off. Being a slider phone, the front panel extends to reveal a standard 12-button keypad hidden beneath. Slots cut out in the center of the bottom front of the phone allow a built-in microphone to pick up the user's voice during calls. The design allows for calls to be received when the phone is in the "closed" position as well as when slid open.
The back panel of the D900 slides off to reveal the battery and SIM card slots. When the phone is fully extended, the sensor, "flash" light, and self-portrait mirror for the built-in camera are revealed at the top edge of the handset's back. While this design lacks the swiveling camera feature of Samsung's T809, it works well and affords the camera protection from dust, fingerprints, and scratches when the phone is slid shut.
A rocker switch on the left side of the phone controls volume for calls, ringtones, and music/media playback, and a rubber cover below that opens to reveal the microSD memory card slot. A single button on the right side of the handset activates the camera, and the accessory port below that (also covered with a rubber flap) houses a single jack to which the included AC charger and stereo headset are connected. Other accessories, including a TV Out cable (for displaying photos on a television) also plug into this jack. While multi-use accessory ports are the trend right now on mobile handsets, I must say that I prefer a dedicated charging jack alongside a separate accessory port. Phones like the D900 can't be charged while the handsfree headset is in use, which is an annoyance on a $400 handset.
Being a longtime fan of candybar-style phones, but having tried clamshells and other styles (including larger PDA phones), I must say that I really like the D900's slider form factor. Sliding the phone open to dial or accept a call is a very intuitive motion, as is sliding it shut to hang up. Fully extended, the phone is very comfortable to hold to one's ear, and the extra length of the "slid open" handset provides something of a more satisfying experience than talking into the air an inch or so away from a standard candybar phone does. When closed shut the D900 is nice and compact, but the main screen is still accessible at a glance.
The overall look of the Ultra Edition 12.9 is one of business chic. Samsung has been criticized by some for making too many phones that look too much alike, and the D900 is very similar to the T809, D600, and other of the company's line of all black slim sliders. However, to me it's a great look. The D900 is as much at home in a corporate board room as it is in a trendy club. And the phone's good looks are backed by its extensive feature set.
Anyone considering this phone should be prepared to baby it to some extent. While the phone feels solid (relative to its diminutive weight) and held up well in testing under normal usage, it is a very thin, light electronic device with a sliding mechanism and large, front-mounted screen. As such, it's a little more prone to wear-and-tear type damage than larger, heavier handsets. When fully extended, the D900 feels a little vulnerable as if the screen could be snapped apart from the main body with a little force applied in the right place - but, again, the phone didn't show any signs of breaking down during testing. Use of a screen protector and/or case is highly recommended.
The D900 packs as impressive a feature set as you're likely to find this side of a true smartphone. As such, it's a shame that its battery life is so disappointing. To be fair, there's only so much juice you can pack into a phone's battery while still keeping the entire package just over 1 cm thick. Still, when I had the D900 in my pocket, I wanted to take pictures, listen to music, read email, and play games -- all of which the handset is capable of doing in style. Unfortunately, anything more than sporadic use of these features (Camera and Bluetooth, in particular) meant that by nightfall I was starting to worry about my remaining battery life. Nightly charging of the D900 is basically a must, and anyone planning to use this handset as the multimedia machine it is should seriously consider keeping a fully charged spare battery in hand or at the office at all times.
Bluetooth implementation on the D900 supports A2DP, which means that a stereo Bluetooth headset can be used with the D900 (along with "standard" mono bluetooth headsets). This is a handy feature given the phone's music player, which supports mp3, and AAC/AAC/e-AAC file formats. While the music player's interface isn't quite as feature-laden as Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones - the playlist and equalizer features in particular were a little lacking - it is fairly intuitive. The included stereo earbud headset produces pretty good sound for casual listening, but anyone set on using the D900 as their primary music player would do well to invest in a 3.5mm adapter for use with better headphones. Music files can be stored alongside other data either on the phone's 80mb of internal memory or a removable microSD card.
In addition to support for taking pictures and videos as mentioned earlier, the D900 also supports video playback of files encoded in MPEG-4 and H.263. Video playback was clear and generally stutter-free both from internal memory and a microSD card. An integrated document viewer allows for viewing of PDFs as well as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents, which is handy for reading email attachments on the go.
The D900 features a 3.13 megapixel camera, and Samsung proudly touts the phone as the world's slimmest 3 megapixel cameraphone. 3 MP camera phones are just starting to hit the shelves of American retailers, led by Nokia's N93 and N80, and Samsung's Verizon-exclusive SCH-a990.
The results I found with the D900's camera varied. Though the camera does take 3MP (2048 x 1536 pixels) photos as advertised, many of the pictures I snapped in automatic mode lacked the clarity, sharpness, and color accuracy I've seen in 2MP cameraphones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia. The photos I took with the D900 were more than suitable for viewing on the phone or sending in MMS messages, but any VGA or better cameraphone can do that. When I transferred the photos to my computer for big screen viewing and printing, I was surprised at how blurry so many of them were. I tried the D900 as a camera in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings, with natural, bright, and low light, and on subjects ranging from people to nature to "still life" objects.
The camera does have a wide range of settings including white balance to exposure modes, and when I started adjusting them (with some help from various Web resources and a photographer friend), I started getting better results. One major shortcoming with the D900's camera, however, is its shutter lag and "recycle" times (period you must wait between shots for the camera to become ready again). Both were significantly longer than those on other non-Samsung cameraphones I've used, including the 2 Megapixel Sony w800i.
The "flash" on the D900 is really an LED light that can be turned on manually or automatically just before a photo is taken. This system is common on today's cameraphones but really doesn't help very much in low-light settings. Photos taken with the flash on tend to have a grainy or otherwise unnatural look to them that's different but not much more accurate than those taken with the flash off. As the new Sony "CyberShot" k790/800 3 MP phones feature a true Xenon flash, it's a wonder why Samsung didn't also build one into the D900.
Still, the mere fact that Samsung was able to build a 3 MP camera (along with all of the other features listed below) into a slider phone less than 13mm thick is quite amazing. So long as you're willing to fiddle with exposure and other settings, or limit your photography to well-lit scenes - preferably in natural light - you should wind up with images suitable for amazing your friends via email or printing at sizes up to 4" x 6". The D900 may not be the digital camera replacement its spec sheet might lead you to believe it is, but it's by no means a slouch.
The 2.1? 240x320 262K Color TFT display is simply gorgeous. As with the T809 and many of their other recent phones, Samsung has shown that they really know how to make a top-notch display. Text and images are rendered bold, bright, and crisp, and the screen is large enough to make everything from reading an incoming Caller ID to navigating through files easy on the eyes.
Samsung took advantage of the D900's brilliant display by designing an operating system full of visual features ranging from the clever (sub-menus that remember where you left them) to the silly (an animation of a pencil drawing numbers on paper as you dial them). The phone is fully customizable with a choice of themed interfaces or user-definable wallpapers taken from clip art, the integrated camera, or files transferred from a PC. Caller IDs can be customized with photos or videos that play when recognized contacts are calling you.
As mentioned later in the review, the D900 has a built-in Web browser that's on par with other cellphone browsers but certainly nothing revolutionary. What is nice about Web browsing and other information retrieval on the D900 is that up to 12 lines of text can fit - and actually be read - on the display at once. This helps to make mobile viewing of office documents somewhat more palatable, too. Viewing brightly colored animations and photos on the D900 is a joy, as is looking at (and playing) the included Java games featuring a long overdue mobile version of the Sega classic, "Sonic the Hedgehog."
Using the phone outdoors in direct light was easier than average thanks to the brightly lit display. An adjustable backlight setting lets you choose between higher screen brightness and better energy conservation.
Call quality on the D900 was excellent. The quad-band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM radio performed well on T-Mobile's network, pulling in reception on par with other quad-band phones I've tried on the same network here in the San Francisco bay area. Voices were generally clear and loud (once I removed the protective film that covers the screen and the main speaker!),and callers reported no trouble hearing me on the other end.
Audio quality was also good using both the included stereo handsfree headset and the built-in speaker phone. The headset also works pretty well for use with the audio player - on par with Apple's standard iPod earbuds - though I'd really like to see a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on a phone like this. Samsung went to the trouble of building a digital audio amplifier into the D900, but you won't really be able to appreciate it without quality headphones to listen through. As mentioned, this requires the purchase of an optional adapter.
I also tried the phone with a Bluetooth headset. The D900 easily paired with the headset, and audio quality over Bluetooth was good. Stereo audio over Bluetooth is also supported, though stereo Bluetooth headsets are just now starting to find their way to the American marketplace
The D900 packs comprehensive messaging features, with support for SMS and MMS messaging including messages with audio and video attachments (as supported by your service provider). Samsung's predictive text input system has never been my favorite, and while some of this is surely a matter of personal taste, I honestly think that Sony Ericsson's implementation of T9 just blows Samsung's out of the water. I was able to compose messages with the D900, and I'm sure over time I'd get more and more used to the Samsung way, but for all of the pop-up submenus and user preference features built into the rest of the phone's operating system, you'd think the designers could have come up with a more intuitive predictive text interface. Of course, other users might find the D900's composition system more to their liking.
Support for SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4 email with attachments makes the D900 a handy tool for email on the go. The phone can be configured to access multiple email accounts, and blacklisting capabilities allow messages and emails from selected senders (or with specific subject lines) to be automatically rejected.
The D900 features support for Class 10 EDGE data transfer over GSM networks. This means I was able get the fastest Web browsing and Email speeds that T-Mobile currently supports. While Verizon's EV-DO network is much faster for data, I found T-Mobile EDGE to be sufficient for reading Email and accessing T-Zones content on the D900. The phone's built-in browser is sufficient for basic Web browsing, but (like almost any non-smartphone) not about to take the place of your PC for heavy surfing.
Note that because this phone is only available in the US as an unlocked version compatible with any GSM carrier, use of Internet services may require carrier-specific configuration. If you're somewhat tech-savvy, this won't be a problem on the D900; at least, it wasn't for me on T-Mobile's network.
A quad-band GSM radio means you'll have no trouble using the phone on any GSM carrier in the United States or abroad. USB 2.0 connectivity using the included data cable makes for quick file transfers with a personal computer, though Samsung's proprietary cable is required to connect to the phone's accessory jack. The D900 also supports Bluetooth 2.0 including file transfer, syncing (PC only), and cellular modem use.
The phone also features a removable microSD card slot that supports cards up to 2GB in size. While the D900's 80MB of internal memory will be sufficient for "phone-only" users, the addition of a 1GB or larger memory card really turns the D900 into a full-fledged portable camera and music player, as well.
The D900 also supports an optional TV out cable so you can view photos, videos, and documents from the phone on a television monitor (with sound). But wait, there's more! USB "PictBridge" and Bluetooth support allow for direct phone-to-printer photo printing with compatible printers.
Samsung has released a slew of slider phones in the past year or two. The Ultra Edition 12.9, aka D900, is the current king of the hill. With its impossible slim profile and sleek black styling, the D900 is one of the chicest handsets I've ever tested. The fact that it's adorned with just about the best display you'll see on any mobile phone these days makes the picture all the prettier.
Samsung also packed the D900 with a host of features worthy of top-of-the-line status, including a state-of-the-art 262K color display, 3 megapixel camera with video recording capabilities, music player featuring an integrated digital amp and stereo over Bluetooth, and comprehensive data capabilities including Web, email, messaging, and a document viewer. The result is a phone that's almost perfect. Almost, but not quite.
If Samsung could figure out a way to pack at least 50% more battery life into the D900 without making it any thicker, I'd be hard-pressed to find much fault with this ultra slider. As it is, I really enjoyed using the phone in the mornings when the battery was fully charged. Come evening when I took the D900 out on the town, it let me down with too many "Battery Low!" warnings when I tried to use the camera or music player. As such, the D900 is a really good-looking phone that wants to do more than it often can