Sliders, sliders everywhere but nary a black one in sight. Samsung's new t629 slider phone takes the place of the t809 in T-Mobile's lineup, trading in all-black chic for silver sleek while leaving the rest of the handset mainly the same.
Why the change? Is the t629 really any better than the t809 it replaces? I guess that depends on which you prefer, black or silver. As the adage goes, beauty is only skin deep, and there are some notable changes to this latest Samsung slider - most importantly, perhaps, being compatibility with T-Mobile's new "myFaves" service plan.
The t629 carries on Samsung's tradition of making head-turning handsets with brilliant displays, though it lacks the t809's ingenious swivel camera housing. On the other hand, it makes up for one of the t809's major shortcomings: battery life. Read on to get the scoop.
At 99 x 51 x 14mm, or just over half an inch thick, the t629 certainly qualifies as a slim phone, if not quite as thin as Samsung's Ultra Edition models. The all- housing is finished in matte silver with chrome and grey accents, and has somewhat harder lines and sharper edges than previous Samsungs. The phone looks quite nice overall, with mirror-finish buttons and a glossy screen bezel providing a nice contrast to the muted grey of the phone's body. Weighing 91g (3.2 oz), the t629 is quite light in the hand, and tucks away almost unnoticeably in a pocket or purse.
A roomy 2.2" display takes up the majority of the front of the device. The display is bordered by Samsung (top) and T-Mobile (bottom) logos, and a raised plastic ridge about three-fourths of the way down the front panel invites the user's thumb to slide the handset open and shut. Pushing the slider from the middle of the phone, and not the bottom, could conceivably lead to some fingerprints on the display (from overeager thumbs), but I didn't find this to be much of a concern.
The front-mounted control panel features three columns of buttons. On the left we find a softkey above Call, in the middle a four-way directional pad with center-mounted OK/Select above Cancel, and on the right another softkey above Hangup/Power. All of the buttons were readily accessible and fairly easy to use, save for the Cancel key, which is both small and somewhat hidden beneath the raised bottom edge of the D-pad. More than once I accidentally pressed Cancel and "Down" at the same time.
Sliding the handset open reveals a standard 12-key dialing layout. As is the current trend, the buttons on the dialing pad are flush-mounted - in this case they're membrane keys separated with raised plastic ridges. The flush-mount keys look very sophisticated, but they don't provide nearly the same level of tactile feedback as standard push buttons. While not a huge issue like they would be on a computer keyboard, they did make for some adjustment during dialing and some annoyance during message composition. On a positive note, the ridges between the keys do aid in blind dialing.
Unlike the t809, which featured a very nifty swiveling camera sensor mounted along the top edge of the rear panel, the t629's camera/speaker housing is built into the back of the handset. It bulges out in the back much like the t519 Trace's camera. The bulge is pretty minimal (though quite noticeable on a device this slim), and actually provided my index finger with a place to "rest" while holding the handset. The lower portion of the rear panel serves as a cover for the battery and SIM card slots, and is adorned with a Samsung logo as well as T-Mobile's new "myFaves" icon.
On the left side of the phone, we find a rocker switch used to control volume and a covered port used to connect the included AC charger and wired headset. The right side of the phone features a covered slot for microSD removable memory cards and a single programmable button labeled with a camera logo and, for some odd reason, a red stripe. As you might guess, this button is used to access the camera features.
For whatever reason, I prefer the "old" all-black look of Samsung sliders like the t809 and D900 Ultra Edition. However, the t629 is by no means a bad looking mobile phone. I like the choice of matte silver with mirror/chrome accents, as I find too much chromed plastic on a phone rather cheap looking. The t629 looks new, nice, and noteworthy.
Battery life has always been an issue with Samsung's slim phones, and I'm happy to report that the t629 performs better in this regard than the t809. You're not going to get best-in-class talk time numbers if you make heavy use of the t629's features - Bluetooth and camera, in particular - but I had to go out of my way to get a low battery warning by the end of one day of use, and that's a marked improvement over the t809.
Like the recently released Trace, the t629 has a solid feature set highlighted by compatibility with T-Mobile's new "myFaves" service plan. myFaves allows for unlimited calling between you and your choice of any five numbers on any mobile networks, and is available as an optional add-on to standard T-Mobile rate plans. Only very recently released T-Mobile handsets are compatible with the service.
Samsung's standard digital audio player is also included on the t629, and it performed well with mp3, AAC, and WMA files. Audio files may be played back from internal memory and/or microSD cards. As a Mac user, I like the fact that transferring music from my computer to the phone (or memory card) is a drag-and-drop operation that doesn't require any special software.
The phone has the common set of organizer applications, including a calendar with appointment alarms and to-do lists, and alarm clock, and a 1,000 entry contacts application with support for five phone numbers, email addresses, and other information for each entry. Contacts may also be organized into groups, and caller ID pictures and ringtones are supported. A voice memo application is also present, though voice commands are not. The handset also supports conference calls with up to five lines at a time.
The t629 supports J2ME Java games, and came with five games pre-installed. Bobby Carrot, Arch Angel, Airship Racing, Freekick, and Midnight Pool all have their charms, if none of them are anything to write home about (as mentioned in my review of the Trace, I did find Bobby Carrot rather addictive). Additional games, ringtones, and wallpapers are available for download through T-Mobile's optional T-Zones service.
The t629 features a 1.3 megapixel camera (without flash). For some reason I've had varying results with 1.3MP cameras on different Samsung phones: The t809 was very good, and the t519 Trace not so good. Happily, the t629's camera performed quite well, yielding crisp, clear, colorful images under most conditions. A wide range of user-controllable features control resolution and quality settings, shooting modes, viewfinder size, and "fun frames." Several shutter sounds are available to choose from, and the shutter may be silenced altogether.
The camera yielded less pleasing results in camcorder mode. Movies tended to be shaky and blurry unless shot under the best lighting conditions and with the steadiest of hands. Two resolutions and a number of options are available, and movies are recorded with sound. The t629 has only 21 MB of internal memory to which images and movies may be stored, but optional microSD memory cards allow for further storage space.
The 2.2" TFT screen on the t629 lives up to Samsung's reputation for excellent mobile handset displays. With a resolution of 220 x 176 pixels at 262,000 colors, the display is capable of sharply rendered photos and graphics, and is about as good as you'll find on a mid-range phone. The screen is easy to read in all but the brightest direct sunlight.
The t629 supports user customization of the home screen wallpaper, as well as basic settings for text style and color. Wallpaper images may be loaded on to the phone via memory card, Bluetooth, or MMS/Web download. A number of wallpapers are pre-installed on the phone, as well.
One nice feature of the phone's user interface is that small sub-menus appear during navigation so you can see what options await beneath a menu choice without having to click down to see them. Combined with clearly labeled numerical shortcuts, this feature makes life very easy for power users.
I tested the Quad-Band t629 on T-Mobile's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reception and performance were generally quite good, though I did experience a couple of problems during testing - problems of the sort where you can immediately tell your connection is no good, and a hang up-and-redial clears everything up. Beyond these two isolated incidents, audio was clear on both mine and the other end of calls.
Calls on the built-in speakerphone were loud and clear, as were ringtones and other audio alert tones. The t629 came with a wired hands-free earpiece with an in-line microphone that worked quite well for voice calls. I would like to have seen a stereo headset included to take advantage of the built-in audio player, but one is available as an optional add-on.
The T629 supports Bluetooth audio devices. I was able to easily pair a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good. Stereo over Bluetooth is not supported.
The t629 has support for SMS, MMS, and IM messaging. Messaging packages are available through T-Mobile as add-ons to voice service plans, and messaging is also available without a package on a fee-per-message basis.
Composing SMS and MMS messages on the t629 was straightforward, as was attaching images, videos, and audio clips to MMS messages. As I mentioned, the membrane-style keypad isn't likely to become a favorite of heavy texters, as it makes for somewhat slippery message composition. That being said, the predictive text input system did work well. There is no email client on the Trace, though WAP email access is available through T-Mobile's T-Zones service.
The t629 IM client supports AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, and ICQ instant messaging. T-Mobile includes instant messaging as part of their messaging packages, and it is available on a fee-per-message basis, as well.
Internet access on the t629 is limited to T-Mobile's T-Zones service. The service worked well, and the phone supports EDGE for faster data rates. T-Mobile's done a pretty good job of making T-Zones an easy-to-use and worthwhile WAP experience.
T-Mobile users can also purchase and download ringtones, wallpapers, and games directly from the t629 using the T-Zones service. The phone officially supports purchased ringtones only, though Samsung phones can generally be made to recognize user-installed mp3 files as ringtones with a simple change of the file extension from ".mp3" to ".3gp."
Anyone in need of serious mobile Internet services would do better with an unlocked, EDGE-capable handset - or one of T-Mobile's business-class devices like the Dash or MDA - as the t629 is limited in its Web-browsing abilities. For basic mobile information needs, however, the t629 does fine.
A quad-band GSM handset, the t629 supports the 850/900/1800/1900 bands as well as GPRS and EDGE data transfer. The phone is suitable for use abroad on T-Mobile and other GSM networks. Wi-Fi support is not included on the 629.
Bluetooth includes support for audio devices as well as file transfer and syncing. I had no trouble pairing the Trace with a mono headset or my computer. The phone features a single accessory port that's used for the included wired hands-free earpiece as well as the AC charger.
The phone has a somewhat meager 21MB of internal memory available for file storage,but does feature a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards. No microSD card is included in the retail package.
Samsung seems to have moved away from their all-black look for their newest T-Mobile handsets. Personally I was a big fan of the all-black t809 slider, and as such was ever so slightly disappointed by the look of the new t629. That being said, the 629's matte silver finish is a big improvement over the chromed plastic look of some other Samsungs I've seen of late. And the t629 is a fine looking handset, to be sure; it's just not all black.
When it comes to performance the t629 is a solid offering, improving on the t809's battery life but also taking an ever so small step backwards from the t809 in terms of overall design. I really liked the t809's swiveling camera, and the t629's rear-mounted camera both causes the back panel to bulge out and lacks any sort of protection from dust and scratches.
I don't mean to take anything away from the t629 by harping on the t809 so much. Clearly, the 809 was one of my all-time favorite Samsung phones!
The t629 adds myFaves compatibility, however, giving users access to T-Mobile's new inter-network unlimited calling plan. That alone should make it attractive to new T-Mobile customers. Combine that with a brilliant screen, solid looks, and a good introductory price, and the Samsung t629 is a solid mid-range slider that's sure to be a hit with consumers.