THE GOOD: The Samsung SGH-T239 has an easy-to-use design, a functional feature set, and decent call quality.
THE BAD: The Samsung SGH-T239's volume is rather low. The Clear key is hidden behind the sliding face.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With decent performance and a few extra features, the Samsung SGH-T239 offers great value for a prepaid phone.
The Samsung SGH-T239 for T-Mobile's prepaid service takes us back to two years ago when Sammy was going through its slim slider phone phase. One after another, the company spun out a series of handset like the Samsung Katalyst that featured a trim profile, a large navigation toggle, and a flat keypad behind the sliding face. After a while the trend died down, but Samsung revived the design earlier this summer when it introduced the SGH-T239. There are no design surprises here and the feature set is minimal, but we're not going to raise a fuss since the handset is meant for prepaid use. Call quality is decent and the price ($59) is affordable.
As we mentioned, the T239 has a retro design. You'll recognize its slider shape, midrange display, and navigation array from previous Samsung models. At 3.78 inches by 1.87 inches by 0.68 inch and 3.34 ounces, it's slim and lightweight, but it has a relatively solid feel in the hand. The plastic battery cover is flimsy, but the slider mechanism is solid. The T239 is available in red and gray; we reviewed the red model, but the features are the same on both models.
The T239's display measures 2.8 inches and supports 262,000 colors (220x176 pixels). Colors are bright and graphics and photos look relatively sharp. Also, the menu interface is easy to use in either the list or grid style. You can change the dialing font size and color, and the backlighting time. The display is difficult to see in direct light, but we're used to that.
The navigation array features a large toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, and the Talk and End/power buttons. The toggle and soft keys are raised, but the remaining controls have a spacious layout. You can set the toggle to cycle through your MyFaves contacts or as a shortcut to four features.
The keypad buttons behind the toggle are nicer than on many slider phones. They're slightly raised and they have a comfortable, almost rubbery, feel. We could dial and text quickly without making many mistakes. What's more, the numbers on the keys are large with bright backlighting. The top row of keys includes shortcuts for the browser and messaging app and a Clear key. Fortunately, the top row of keys isn't crammed up against the slider. Our only complaint is that we'd prefer not to have to open the phone to see the Clear key.
The left spine of the T239 has a camera shutter and a headset/charger port. The connection is proprietary and the combined jack means that you can use only one peripheral at a time. The volume rocker is the sole control on the right spine; you can find it by feel when you're on a call. On the rear side of the phone is the camera lens.
The T239 has a relatively small phone book with room for 300 contacts (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). Each entry holds five phone number types, an e-mail address, notes, and a photo for caller ID. You can organize contacts into groups and pair them with one of 15 40-chord polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a calculator, a world clock, a tip calculator, a unit and currency converter, a timer, and a stopwatch.
The T239 is light years from a smartphone, but it offers a couple of extra features beyond the basics. You'll find instant messaging, a voice recorder, Bluetooth, and a speakerphone. The VGA camera takes pictures in four resolutions. Editing options include a night mode, a self-timer, a 4x zoom, a brightness control, four white-balance settings, four color tones, and four shutter sounds. The T239 does not record video. Photo quality was about average for a VGA camera with muted colors and image noise. The T239 has about 10MB of internal memory for storing photos. Alternatively, you can send photos to friends in an audio postcard.
You can personalize the T239 with a selection of wallpaper, message tones, and a greeting message. The handset doesn't come with any games, but you can download titles and additional personalization options from T-Mobile using the T239's wireless Web browser.
We tested the Samsung SGH-T239 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was fairly decent on the whole. Voices sounded natural, the signal was strong, and there was minimal static and interference. The volume was rather low, however, and we had trouble hearing in noisy places. If you're just using the phone occasionally, it shouldn't be an issue, but take care if you plan on using the phone primarily outside. Keep in mind that as a dual-band (GSM 850/1900) phone, you can't use the T239 outside of North America.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but our friends could hear and understand us the majority of the time. The only exceptions were when we were on a busy street or when we were in a room with a lot of loudspeaker announcements. Speakerphone calls were just average; likewise, we had to be close to the phone when speaking to automated calling systems. Bluetooth headset calls were satisfactory.
The T239 has a rated battery life of 7 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. Our tests showed a slightly longer talk time of 8 hours and 15 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the T239 has a digital SAR rating of 1.07 watts per kilogram.