THE GOOD: The attractive Samsung Gravity 3 receives a makeover from its previous version while keeping many of its predecessor's best features, including Web mail and Exchange e-mail support, TeleNav turn-by-turn directions, and a full QWERTY keyboard.
THE BAD: Unfortunately, the Gravity 3 lost the two soft keys from its slide-out keyboard in the upgrade. E-mail is clunky to use, and there's no dedicated headset jack for listening to music or making wired calls.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Gravity 3's full QWERTY keyboard and messaging features are enough to satisfy most heavy communicators, with other advanced features icing the cake. At $50 with a two-year service agreement, the Gravity is a good midlevel option for those who aren't ready to jump into the smartphone arena.
As it goes with some trilogies, the third installment in Samsung's Gravity series--the Gravity 3 slider for T-Mobile--amps up the production value and visual effects, but adds little to the storyline. That's not to suggest that the Gravity 3 isn't a worthy successor to Samsung's Gravity 2. In fact, the Gravity 3 does keep many elements we liked about last year's model, such as the 3G and GPS capabilities, plus a 2-megapixel camera. In terms of specs, at least, it doesn't stray much from the Gravity 2's formula. The result is a stylish makeover to what has become for Samsung and T-Mobile a blockbuster texting phone, and an alternative to the similarly featured, but touch-screen, Samsung Gravity T. It doesn't hurt that the Gravity 3 sells for an affordable $50 with a two-year service agreement.
The Gravity 3 is a looker. Samsung has splashed the mostly black frame with a glossy, metallic gray bezel and with matte, metallic aqua accents. Almost identical to the Gravity 2 in stature, the 4.6-inch-tall-by-2.11-inch-wide-by-0.6-inch-thick Gravity 3 may look like a doorstop when compared with one of those waifish touch-screen smartphones, but it's actually slim enough to slip into the pocket of most pairs of jeans. A full slide-out QWERTY keyboard accounts for the phone's extra height and heft (4.34 ounces). Keep in mind that for heavy users of instant messaging, e-mail, and text messages, the physical keyboard is a benefit, not a detriment.
On its left spine, you'll find a dedicated camera button and a Micro-USB charging port, whereas the volume rocker sits on the phone's right spine. The 2-megapixel camera lens and external speaker are located on the back. Note that although there is a music player onboard, there's no dedicated headset jack. Samsung still hasn't moved the microSD slot from behind the battery, an inconvenient location that requires you to shut off your phone each time you want to insert or remove external memory, but at least it's no longer situated behind the SIM card.
The Gravity 3's 2.4-inch screen is a hair larger than that of the Gravity 2. It supports 262,000 colors and a QVGA 240x320-pixel resolution. You can adjust both the brightness and the backlight time, along with the phone's font size, color, and typeface, and the display's background color. Settings let you switch out of the default carousel-style menu to a more traditional grid. The Gravity 3 is mostly readable indoors or in shadow, though its display was harder to discern in direct sunlight than other phones we've tested.
The navigation array keeps the same Talk and End, messaging, clear, and soft key buttons as its predecessor. However, a new design makes the array easier to press with the pad of your finger, and the Gravity 3 hosts a rectangular--rather than round--four-directional navigation pad with central OK button. The dialpad keys located below the navigation are also squared off. Their wide shape, domed centers, and rubber finish make the backlit buttons easy to press.
The Gravity 3 lets you map the dedicated messaging button to one of eight functions--three more than did the previous model--including instant messaging, your e-mail in-box, and the third-party social-networking app known as SocialBuzz.
Slide the phone face to the right to reveal the wide keyboard with its electric blue rim and keys. Gone are the small, square buttons of the previous model. The Gravity 3's spacious QWERTY keyboard is sci-fi-evocative, with a bubbly space bar that's reminiscent of a spaceship and oblong keys tilted slightly on their axis. Unfortunately, the Gravity 3 has jettisoned the handy soft keys for landscape mode. That leaves you awkwardly using the soft keys on the phone's face to navigate through the menus.
The Gravity 3 keeps its navigational arrow keys on the bottom right, its dedicated OK key, Shift/Symbol button, and its .com/www key for quickly entering URLs. The emoticon button quickly perks up text with a standard smiley. The keys are only very slightly raised, and though a little wide for this editor's hands, the buttons depressed easily enough to keep the messages a-flowin'.
Up to 1,000 contacts fit into the Samsung Gravity 3, with room in each entry for four phone numbers, four e-mail addresses, three IM usernames, an address, a birthday, URL, an anniversary date, and notes. In addition, you can associate one of 19 polyphonic ringtones (there's room for 72 total), a calling group, or a picture ID with your contact.
Basics include a calendar, a task scheduler, a clock, a world clock, a to-do list, an alarm, a converter, a calculator, a memo book, a stop watch, and a timer. Tick off the TeleNav A-GPS navigator with turn-by-turn directions, Google Maps, voice dialing, and an RSS reader as more advanced features. There's also stereo Bluetooth, and support for e-mail and IM. Internet access comes courtesy of T-Mobile's web2go browser, which lets you view Web pages in desktop or mobile mode. The browser will also stream YouTube videos over 3G through the Gravity 3's media player.
Speaking of which, the media player hasn't grown more sophisticated since the last Gravity model. It's easy enough to organize tracks, and create and edit playlists. In theory, you can send MP3s via text message, e-mail, Exchange e-mail, or Bluetooth, though in some instances your file may prove too large. Once a song is in your gallery, you can set it as a ringtone, as an alarm tone, as a message tone, as a calendar reminder, or you can associate it with a contact. The player lists the track's basic details and media information of a song during playback. MP3, AAC, and AAC+ file formats will all play.
In addition to authoring text and multimedia messages, the Gravity 3 proves its chops as a messaging phone by incorporating IM through Yahoo, Windows Live, and AOL's services, audio postcards (framed photos accompanied by an optional voice message), and e-mail. You can set up Web mail from providers like Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Comcast, and you can also calibrate an additional Exchange account. We have a hard time envisioning business professionals purchasing any feature phone over a smartphone, but we won't turn up our noses at the offer of Exchange support with SSL encryption.
Toggling through our various messaging in-box folders on the Gravity 3 is a win, but the e-mail experience itself feels rough. All the necessary elements are there, like viewing message alerts when you unlock your phone, opening embedded URLs in the browser, downloading messages with attachments, and adding things like appointments, tasks, and bookmarks into the e-mail message. However, Samsung and T-Mobile could have gone with a more spruced-up interface, more flexibility in setting preferences, and an adjustable typeface size that optimizes message-reading from the phone's constricted screen size.
You'll get decent enough photos with the 2-megapixel camera, which captures shots in four resolutions (1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240). There's a night mode, five white-balance presets, three metering modes (Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot), and five color effects. The self-timer has three countdown intervals and three shutter chimes, plus a silent mode. In addition to Single and Continuous photo-taking modes is Panorama, which automatically stitches together photos as you pan from left to right; Smile shot, which takes your photo as soon as it detects a smile; and Mosaic, which fills in each of four quadrants with a different image.
As we mentioned, photo quality is fair on the Gravity 3, but not stellar. The advantage of sharp edges is balanced by the negative of slightly dampened colors and a tinge of blurring. Beyond camera mode, the phone's built-in camcorder records clips in a 176x144-pixel resolution (QCIF), in either normal length or truncated for MMS. A video setting lets you record without audio. The other camcorder settings are similar to those of the still camera. After filling up the phone's 70MB of onboard memory, you can spill over to a 16GB external microSD.
If you don't care for the Gravity 3's default look, you can personalize it by switching out the wallpaper, screensavers, and alert tones. Gamers will find a handful of demos like Guitar Hero Mobile and The Sims 3 in the Media library, but you'll need to buy them from the T-Mobile Web store to keep playing past the demo.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900; UMTS/HSDPA) Samsung Gravity 3 in San Francisco using the T-Mobile network. Call quality was good overall, with natural-sounding voice timbres and volumes. We noticed some distortions on our end, however, and on one occasion, some mysterious background beeping that was thankfully short-lived.
On their end, callers were satisfied with the call quality, noting just a bit of fuzziness at times. Calls over speakerphone were loud and mostly clear, with some buzz on our end. For their part, callers were impressed by the volume. Though a certain amount of echo is always expected with a speakerphone, it did not disrupt the call.
The Gravity 3's 3G speeds and signal remained strong while we tested it downtown and in several neighborhoods. We were able to stream YouTube videos without much buffering, but the stream, though steady, suffered from choppiness and small amounts of pixelation.
The Samsung Gravity 3 has a rated battery life of 6 hours talk time and 16.7 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 6 hours and 3 minutes. According to FCC tests, the Gravity 3 has a SAR of 0.527 watt per kilogram.