What T-Mobile might lack in the way of a high speed data network, they more than make up for with service plans and features geared towards families and messaging addicts. Their myFaves plan and Sidekick family of devices have caught on with budget-conscious parents and their SMS-obsessed teenagers alike
T-Mobile is working to (finally) roll out their 3G network in 2008, and they've also been working with manufacturers on a fleet of fun (and easy) to use handsets with advanced features and messaging-friendly form factors. The Samsung Blast is the first of this new wave of phones - its slim slider form factor will be familiar to Samsung fans, but the SureType-style keypad concealed beneath the sliding front panel is designed for the new wave of users to text as much as they talk.
Unfortunately, while the Blast looks great on paper and in photos, it proved less than a blast to use. The twenty button QWERTY layout is a great idea, but for all it promises in the way of easy typing in a stylish package, it lacks just as much when it comes to usability. Hampered by small buttons with limited tactile feedback and a crowded layout, Blast proved to be more of a compromise than an innovative solution. But if you've got small fingers and a small budget, Blast does offer a solid feature set in a stylish package.
Blast reminded me of the Samsung T809 - one of my all time favorite T-Mobile phones - when I took it out of the box. A thin (12.7 mm), slightly wider than normal (106 x 15 mm) slider, Blast is compact and light but solid in hand, and features an attractive black with red accents color scheme. I really appreciated Blast's light weight (just 79 g), especially given the quality feel of the internal sliding mechanism. This handset stays open when it should and stays shut when it should, and sliding between the two states is made easy by a great spring mechanism.
The front panel of Blast features a two inch display flanked by a speaker cutout above, and an extensive control array below. A circular five-way directional array is flanked by two softkeys as well as dedicated keys for T-Zones (Web browser), Call, Cancel, and Clear, and one programmable shortcut button. Samsung did a nice job with the navigational buttons, packing a comfortable layout into a relatively small space and giving the keys themselves good tactile feedback.
A camera button and accessory port grace the right side of Blast, while a volume rocker switch and microSD memory card slot can be found on the left spine. The power button rests along the top edge of the phone, and when you slide the front panel up, the rear side of that top edge reveals the camera sensor and a small mirror for self-portraits. I've always liked Samsung's design for slider camera phones, as it keeps the camera sensor protected from dust and scratches when the phone is slid shut.
Sliding the panel up reveals Blast's SureType messaging keypad - kudos to T-Mobile and Samsung for trying to put some smart design into a consumer messaging phone. Featuring twenty buttons where standard dialing layouts only have twelve, Blast maps letters to a regular QWERTY layout instead of the telephone-style ABC, DEF, GHI, etc arrangement. The result is both a more familiar arrangement of characters and only having one or two letters per key instead of three - a combination that should yield more efficient thumb typing.
While SureType has become quite popular on RIM's BlackBerry Pearl (RIM developed the SureType system), I'm not so sure it will succeed on Blast. Blast's keys are a little too small and crowded together, and also too flush-mounted for my tastes. Perhaps my thumbs are a little on the big side, but I just couldn't get comfortable typing on Blast and while I appreciated the innovation I also longed for a regular keypad with larger - if fewer - buttons.
I should note that I've since tried T-Mobile's HTC-made Shadow, which features a similar SureType style keypad in a slider phone form factor. Shadow's buttons are bigger and offer better tactile feedback and, in my eyes, really make good on the promise of the compact messaging phone idea. Shadow is notably thicker and wider than Blast, and a different beast in many ways, but is definitely an option if like me you like the idea of Blast but find the buttons too small.
Blast is a pretty standard mid-range handset with a few advanced messaging features. Multimedia fans may find Blast a bit behind the times, due both to its relatively small low-res display and T-Mobile's EDGE-only data network, which prohibits the kind of streaming audio and video services available on, say, Verizon Wireless' messaging-centric Samsung U740.
In an addition to integrated access to AOL and Yahoo! email, Blast is also compatible with IMAP and POP3 email accounts as well as AOL, ICQ, Yahoo!, and Windows Live instant messaging. Dedicated messaging apps mean that Email and IM access is pretty zippy, even over T-Mobile's EDGE network. One disappointment is that for all of Blast's messaging-centric features and design touches, there's no one-touch access to a message center screen. Instead you have to go through the T-Zones menu system, which is a mild annoyance.
A myFaves phone, Blast works with T-Mobile's popular group calling plan and features a graphical interface that lets you assign custom photos/icons and ringtones to your "five." Blast also features a pretty good suite of personal information management tools, including the standard calendar and contact apps, a to-do list and world clock with alarm, and so on. The handset is compatible with T-Mobile's wireless sync system for one-touch over the air backup of your contacts list.
There's also a basic mp3 player built-into Blast, with support for Stereo Bluetooth for wireless music playback. Music files may be played from the phone's internal memory or from removable microSD memory cards.
Blast's 1.3 megapixel camera was on the lower end of average for a mid-range camera phone. There's no flash or assist light to be found here, so you'll wanted to limit your picture taking to well-lit situations, but even photos captured under near-optimal conditions suffered from a lack of sharpness and color depth.
Photos may be taken in any of seven resolutions, and settings include night mode, white balance, ISO and metering exposure, and a plethora of color effects and cutesy graphic frames. The camera also supports video capture at two resolutions, maxing out at QCIF (176 x 144) resolution at 15 frames per second with sound. You can edit both still images and video clips in the camera and send them off as MMS messages - video for MMS is capped at 60 seconds maximum length.
Blast's 2" LCD display is bright and clear, but a low 176 x 220 resolution results in blocky rendering of some photos and graphics - particularly in combination with the integrated WAP Web browser. Capable of displaying 262K colors, the display was pretty easy to read under almost all lighting conditions, and perfectly usable in general. But if you've used a phone with a QVGA or better display, you'll likely be disappointed with Blast's screen.
Interfaces and menus are fairly customizable, and you can download custom wallpapers and such from T-Mobile's "T-Zones" deck if you're willing to pay for them. Photos snapped with Blast's camera may be used as Caller ID photos or wallpapers. The myFaves home screen is attractive and useful if you're a myFaves subscriber - you can easily cycle through your five selected contacts with the D-Pad, and customize them with ringtones and photos or graphic avatars.
Blast comes pre-installed with three games, which aren't state of the art but look pretty good and are fun to play. The audio player, on the other hand, is pretty clunky to look at and navigate through. The non-messaging features on this handset definitely tend towards the "usable if not exactly attractive" category.
I tested the quad-band GSM Blast on T-Mobile's network in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Call quality was generally very good, and only slightly marred by static a few times. Signal strength was generally good, and definitely on par with other T-Mobile and unlocked GSM handsets I've tried in the same area. The built-in speakerphone was about average in terms of performance and volume - voices came through clear if a bit on the quiet side, and callers reported my voice was somewhat difficult to hear on the other end when I talked with the handset set on a table in front of me.
The Blast uses Samsung's standard proprietary accessory port, and wired mono and stereo earpieces are available for use on voice calls and with the music player. Blast also supports Bluetooth earpieces including the A2DP Stereo Bluetooth profile. I easily paired the 8800 with a couple of wireless headsets, and performance was good during voice calls and good - if not great - for music playback. While it's nice that Stereo Bluetooth is supported on Blast, the music player's rudimentary interface and features make it hard to recommend shelling out for a Stereo Bluetooth headset for use with this handset. While Blast does support mp3 and AAC music files, if you're going to spend for the wireless earphones, may as well spend for a more robust music phone, as well.
Messaging is Blast's calling card, and if you like the handset's keyboard you should appreciate its messaging capabilities in general. T-Mobile built a nice software package into this handset, including the aforementioned support for multiple email protocols. Direct access to popular email services like Yahoo! and AOL mail is nice, and connecting to other POP or IMAP accounts was pretty painless, as well.
Texting and IMing are also easier on Blast than on your standard slider phone, but bear in mind that this is a messaging device and not a full-on smartphone. If you need to view or create email attachments or deal with HTML email, Blast probably isn't the phone for you. Beyond the lack of smartphone-level email support, the combination of a low-res display and no 3G data support means Blast is best for SMS and casual email. Power users will do better to step up to one of T-Mobile's smartphones like Shadow or Wing, or a BlackBerry device.
Web Browsing on the Blast is hampered by both a bare bones WAP-only browser and T-Mobile's EDGE network. While EDGE is fine for messaging and low-bandwidth information retrieval, it can't compete with 3G for full-on Web browsing. As such, you'll want to use Blast for messaging and Email, or maybe to download images and ringtones from T-Mobile's on deck offerings, but not as a Web browsing device.
When I did venture out into the wacky world of the WAP Web, Blast's screen sometimes made things worse by way of blocky rendering of graphics and photos. At the risk of turning this into an impromptu comparative review, it's worth mentioning that for the cost of a few extra dollars and a little more size, T-Mobile's Shadow offers a better display, better browser, and built-in WiFi in a very similar SureType slider device. If you're interested in Blast but want mobile Web access, you'd do well to check out Shadow before you make any buying decisions.
The Samsung Blast T729 is a quad-band GSM phone suitable for use around the world but locked to the T-Mobile network. The phone is capable of EDGE data transfer, but not higher speed 3G cellular or 802.11 WiFi connections.
Samsung built Bluetooth v2.0 into the 8800, including the A2DP profile for stereo audio support. File transfer and voice dialing over Bluetooth are supported, and the accessory port can be used with an optional data cable to connect the handset to a computer for USB-based synching, file transfer, and charging. Blast also features 11MB of internal memory and supports microSD removable memory cards.
Blast is a slim, stylish slider phone that offers a smaller, lower cost alternative to T-Mobile's Sidekicks for messaging hungry users. While I found Blast's SureType keypad difficult to use, users with smaller and/or nimbler thumbs (or perhaps just better thumb typing technique) may love the QWERTY layout packed into a compact body.
Blast lacks the advanced Web browsing and multimedia features found in message-centric handsets offered by Verizon, and that's largely due to T-Mobile still not having a 3G data network. You just can't do music downloads or streaming video over EDGE. Blast also pales in comparison to T-Mobile's own Sidekick LX/Slide and Shadow when it comes to features, connectivity, and display quality.
But Blast is small, stylish, and fairly low priced. And for what it's missing in terms of advanced functionality and display resolution, it makes up for with integrated messaging functionality that's easy and quick even on an EDGE network. Blast isn't the phone for me, but if you want a small T-Mobile handset that's built for messaging, get a hold of Blast and see how it feels to your own hands - and thumbs.