THE GOOD: The Samsung Flight has a sturdy, easy-to-use design and a functional feature set.
THE BAD: The Samsung Flight is sluggish at times. Call quality wasn't perfect, and streaming video was inconsistent.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Flight offers a unique, likable design and a fair number of features, but some performance gaps keep it from playing in the big leagues.
Even with the constant flow of cell phones that the company produces, the Samsung Flight is rather unique. It's not a smartphone, but it has a touch screen and a full QWERTY keyboard. And while it may look powerful, features are pretty standard; it has Bluetooth, a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, a media player, and support for AT&T's 3G network. The result is a phone that's a little schizophrenic. The unique design is sturdy and easy to use, but performance wasn't quite up to par. The Flight, aka the SGH-A797, is $99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.
In a way, you could say that the Flight suffers from multiple personality disorder. Though you'd think that its QWERTY keyboard positions it as a solid messaging phone, the touch screen adds an additional way to interface with the handset. Similarly, while the touch screen makes us think of a multimedia device, the display's small size limits its usability. So where does that leave the Flight? The truth is that we're not really sure. Though some users will happily engage with the keyboard, others may skip straight to the touch screen. Yes, it can be a bit confusing, but we also think that the crazy combination works. Plus, we're never against having too many choices.
The Flight is 4.17 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.5 inch, so it's a little bigger than most phones in its class. It's also a bit heavy at 4.8 ounces, but it remains relatively portable. The handset has a solid construction and the slider mechanism is sturdy; we liked how the Flight fits squarely in the hand. The Flight comes in red and gray; we reviewed the red version, but the features are the same on both handsets.
The touch screen measures 2.8 inches. That would be much too small on a normal touch-screen phone, so Samsung appears to have kept this in mind. There's no virtual keyboard (you have physical keys instead), the browser is Opera Mini rather than full HTML, and the Flight lacks Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Without those options, you only use the touch-screen for selecting icons and list options and for plunking at a virtual numeric keypad. For either of those uses, the touch screen is adequate.
The display supports 262,000 colors and 320x240 pixels. Though handsets with 16 million-color displays are increasing in number, the Flight's screen is vibrant with bright colors and sharp graphics. You can adjust the brightness, backlight time, and font type. The touch interface is quite responsive, both when you're selecting icons and scrolling through a long list. You can adjust the display calibration and the intensity of the vibrating feedback.
Though the Flight doesn't have a TouchWiz shortcut bar, there are three touch icons that give access to the messaging folder, the favorite contacts list, and a user-programmable shortcut menu. Below them are touch controls for the main menu, the main contacts list, and the recent calls feature. The latter is rather redundant given the presence of the physical Talk button.
Below the display are a back key and the Talk and End/power buttons. The controls are flush but their large size makes them easy to use. On the left spine you'll find a volume rocker, a second onscreen shortcut menu, and the Micro-USB/charger port. Over on the right spine are a display lock switch and a camera shutter. The camera lens and small speaker sit on the rear side. Vanity shots are possible with the mirrored border that surrounds the lens. The microSD card is located behind the battery cover.
The physical keyboard is reasonably spacious and easy to use. There are four rows of keys with the top row set far enough from the bottom of the slider. Letters share space with symbols and numbers with numbers marked by red circles. You'll also find directional arrow keys, a messaging shortcut control, a dedicated ".com" button, and the standard array of other keyboard controls (Delete, Shift, Function, etc.). The space bar is a bit small, but it's located conveniently in the center of the bottom row. We could type messages quickly and comfortably without making many mistakes.
Beyond the keyboard you also can use the Flight's handwriting recognition feature. It works pretty well with a firm press, but the display is too small to fully support it. What's more, it takes too much time to write letters one by one. You can use the virtual numeric keypad as well, but that means multiple taps with the T9 software.
The Flight's phone book holds 2,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a URL, a nickname, a company and job title, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with photos, ringtones, and alert tones. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names.
Basic features include text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a memo pad, a stopwatch, a timer, a world clock, a calculator, a task list, a currency and unit converter, and a tip calculator. Additional features are pretty standard. You'll find a sketchpad, a file manager, voice dialing, stereo Bluetooth, PC syncing, a voice recorder, and USB mass storage. E-mail is limited to an AT&T Mobile Email app, which offers access to POP3 services like AIM, Gmail, Windows Live, AOL, and Yahoo. Given the clunky Web-based interface, we wouldn't want to use it extensively.
The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other settings include a night mode, exposure metering, four color effects, an adjustable brightness tool, four white-balance modes, a self-timer, 20 fun frames, a multishot mode, a smile shot feature (the camera snaps a picture when it detects a smile), panoramic and mosaic shot mode, and three shutter sounds plus a silent option. The camera interface is easy to use with many options surfaced on the viewfinder.
The camcorder shoots clips in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144), while offering a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 50 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in normal mode. The Flight has 80MB of user-accessible shared memory, which is a tad low, but you can use a memory card for more space. The Flight supports cards up to 16GB.
Photo quality is good for a 2-megapixel shooter. Our images were a bit dark, but colors were natural and there was no image noise. Just keep in mind that the lack of a flash will make shots in dark places pretty difficult. Videos are fine, but nothing special. When finished with your shots and clips, you can transfer them off the phone using a variety of methods. The Flight also supports AT&T's Video Share feature.
As a 3G (UMTS) phone, the Flight offers the full set of AT&T's wireless broadband multimedia services. You'll find Cellular Video (streaming-video content) and AT&T Mobile Music (wireless song downloads through partners). The experience with the two applications is similar to that on other AT&T phones: both are minimalist in their designs, but the music player supports a wide variety of file formats (MP3, AAC, eAAC+, WMA, etc.) and it offers useful features, such as album art, playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and an airplane mode.
The Flight also has a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, an app for creating ringtones, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads. We especially welcome the application that lets you create your own ringtones, and we enjoy saving music tracks as ringtones.
You also get a number of subscription-based applications, including Mobile Baking, Yellowpages Mobile, MobiTV, AT&T Social Net, MobiVJ, WikiMobile, My-Cast Weather, and Where 2.1. For gaming, the Flight comes with demo versions of five titles: Ms. Pac-Man, Diner Dash 2, Tetris, and Uno. And thanks to the Flight's GPS support. You can access the carrier's AT&T Navigator service.
You can personalize the Flight with a variety of wallpapers, clock styles, and a greeting message. You can buy more options and additional ringtones from AT&T with the Opera Mini browser.
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Flight world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was fine, but it had its moments. The signal was strong and the volume was loud, but callers sounded rather breathy. They didn't sound bad or distorted, but the voice pitch was different--it almost sounded as if our friends were whispering, even though the volume was sufficient. We also noticed that the phone picked up some wind noise. The Flight is compatible with M3 and T3 hearing aids.
On their end, callers could tell we were using a cell phone. They said our voice sounded natural, so they didn't hear the breathy effect that we heard, but they also reported that the Flight picked up a fair amount of background noise. Indeed, they had trouble hearing us when we were in a noisy place. We had the same issue when we spoke to automated calling systems--it was best if we were in a quiet room.
Speakerphone calls were decent. The sound was bit distorted at the highest volumes, but the external speaker gets quite loud. Callers said they could understand, but we had to speak pretty close to the phone. On the other hand, we didn't have to be next to the Flight to hear conversations. Bluetooth headset calls were fine, though your experience can vary be headset.
Streaming video quality is actually decent--when it works. There's a bit of pixelation, but we were pleased that the frame size takes up the full display. The audio is also in sync with the video. On the downside, while videos loaded quickly, some clips paused to buffer several times while playing. We're not sure of the problem is related to the 3G signal, as it was consistent otherwise.
Music quality is satisfying given the external speaker's loud output. But like with most music phones, our tunes were rather tinny and lacking in warmth. A headset will offer the best experience.
The Flight performs well on the whole, but it was occasionally sluggish when opening some features and cycling between menu screens. The lag time was 2 seconds at most, but it was noticeable.
The Flight has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 15 days standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 3 hours and 21 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Flight has a digital SAR of 0.5 watt per kilogram.