THE GOOD: The Samsung Propel has a slim design and comes with a slew of multimedia and 3G offerings.
THE BAD: The Samsung Propel has a rather flat navigation array and the keyboard felt cramped. We were also disappointed by the lackluster display.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Propel has an impressive high-end feature set, but we were disappointed by its design.
The name might not indicate it, but the Samsung Propel is one of the latest in a line of AT&T messaging phones (the Pantech Matrix is another one), perhaps as a response to the recent text messaging craze that is sweeping the nation. Equipped with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the Propel is not a smartphone, but that doesn't mean it's without features. In fact, the Propel's multimedia and 3G offerings are quite compelling, even if we weren't pleased with the keypad design. The Samsung Propel is available for $79.95 with a two-year service agreement and after a mail-in rebate.
The Propel has a similar design to that of the Verizon Wireless Blitz. They both have a somewhat square shape, and both slide up to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. The similarities end there, however. Measuring 3.85 inches long by 2.33 inches wide by 0.58 inch thick, the Propel is much thinner than the Blitz, with a flatter front design. Though it is slightly bowed on the left and right side, the Propel is also much less curvy than its competitor. So while the Blitz appears cute and cuddly, the Propel is more lean and mean.
On the front of the Propel is a nice 2.2-inch display with support for only 65,000 colors, which is quite a disappointment by our standards. The screen looks decent enough, but colors looked muted and dull. The menu interface is typical Samsung and is easy to use. You can adjust the backlight time, the dialing font (type, size, color, and background color), brightness, and the menu style.
The navigation array consists of two skinny soft keys, a round toggle with a middle confirmation key, a dedicated text message key, a Clear key, and the Talk and End/Power keys. The round toggle can be pressed in four directions, each of which doubles as four user-defined shortcuts. The middle confirmation key also acts as a shortcut to the Web browser. Though the two soft keys are raised above the surface, the rest of the keys are completely flat (with the exception of the round toggle). We didn't like the feel of the flat slippery keys and would've liked a bit more texture.
Slide the phone open and you'll reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard didn't feel either cramped or roomy; sort of somewhere in-between. The individual keys, however, were small and felt quite slippery--we would've preferred a bit more grip or texture on the keys. Aside from the typical function and Caps/Shift keys, the keyboard also has dedicated keys for the camera, AT&T's Cellular Video service, and the phone's sound profile.
The left spine of the Propel is home to a volume rocker and microSD card slot, while the right spine is home to a charger jack as well as a Shortcuts key. The Shortcuts key toggles between the phone, the messaging menu, the Media Net browser, the music player, and the games and applications folder. When the phone is slid open, you'll find the camera lens and self-portrait mirror on the back.
The Samsung Propel has a generous 1,000-entry phonebook with room in each entry for two phone numbers, an e-mail address, an instant-messaging handle, and notes. You can also organize your contacts by caller groups, or pair them with a photo or one of 11 polyphonic ring tones for a customized ring. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a to-do list, a notepad, a calculator, a tip calculator, a unit converter, a world time clock, a timer, a stopwatch, and a voice recorder. On the higher end, you also get a wireless Web browser, stereo Bluetooth, mobile e-mail, instant-messenger support (AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo) and A-GPS. Because of the A-GPS feature, the Propel comes with AT&T Navigator, AT&T's turn-by-turn direction service.
The Propel is a 3G/HSDPA phone, meaning it has access to AT&T's full array of broadband services and applications. They include AT&T's Cellular Video, a streaming video service with content partners like NBC and ESPN, and AT&T Mobile Music. The Propel is also compatible with AT&T Video Share, which lets you stream live one-way video to another Video Share-compatible phone.
One of the Propel's features is access to AT&T Mobile Music, which is a big umbrella of features that include the built-in music player, the capability to stream and download music from Napster and eMusic, access to MusicID (a song identification service), XM radio, and streaming music videos. If you wish, you can also upload songs directly to the built-in music player via USB. The player supports MP3, MIDI, MMF, WAV, SMAF, and AAC+ file formats. The interface itself is fairly generic, with the expected functions like play, pause, and skip tracks. Other music player options include a preset equalizer, repeat and shuffle modes, and the capability to create and edit playlists. The Propel comes with 50MB of shared memory between the camera and the music player, but there's a microSD card slot if you want additional storage.
The Propel comes with a 1.3-megapixel camera. It can take pictures in three resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240), five white-balance settings, four color effects, and three quality settings. Other camera settings include 3x zoom, brightness, a self-timer, three shutter sounds with a silent option, six shot modes (single shot, multishot, mosaic shot, frame shot, and panorama), and a night mode. Photo quality was pretty good. Images looked sharp and bright. However, colors looked muted. There's also a built-in camcorder that can record in two resolutions--short video for MMS, and longer ones for whatever amount of storage is available. The only available resolution is 176x144. Other camcorder settings are the same as the still camera.
You can customize the Samsung Propel with a variety of graphics and sounds to suit your taste. If you want more, you can download them via AT&T's Media Mall store. The Propel comes with games and applications like Mobile Banking, MobiTV, the Weather Channel, WikiMobile, Guitar Hero III, JewelQuest 2, Midnight Bowling 2, and Tetris. If you want more games and applications, you can download more via the same store.
We tested the quad-band GSM and dual-band UMTS/HSDPA Samsung Propel with AT&T in San Francisco. We were impressed with the call quality. Although we could hear the occasional static, we could still hear our callers loud and clear. We thought they sounded very natural, on both landline and cell phone calls. Callers reported the same thing--they said our voices sounded quite natural, as if we were calling from a landline. Speakerphone quality was surprisingly good--callers couldn't hear much of a difference, though we thought they sounded tinny with quite a bit of echo.
We were impressed with the HSDPA speeds on the Propel. We downloaded a song in about 50 seconds, and streaming video had little to no buffering issues. Loading Web pages took only a few seconds, too.
The Samsung Propel has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. Our tests reveal a talk time of 3 hours and 7 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Matrix has a digital SAR rating of 0.968 watts per kilogram.