THE GOOD: The Samsung SGH-T349 is slim and lightweight with a dedicated messaging key and a nice partial QWERTY keyboard. Call quality is good as well.
THE BAD: The Samsung SGH-T349 doesn't have a great multimedia experience. Some people might not like the partial QWERTY keyboard.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung SGH-T349 is a simple, good messaging phone from T-Mobile--as long as you're willing to use a partial QWERTY instead of a full keyboard.
While AT&T and Sprint have been dominant in the messaging phone space with phones like the Samsung Magnet and the LG Lotus, it isn't the only carrier that has regular phones with QWERTY keyboards. T-Mobile has also stepped in, with the Samsung Gravity late last year, and more recently with the Samsung SGH-T349. However, it doesn't have the traditional full QWERTY keyboard. In fact, it's the first messaging phone we've seen that has a 20-key keyboard similar to the BlackBerry Pearl's SureType keypad. We actually like it quite a bit, though we understand some people might not like the layout. Features are pretty simple, with a 1.3-megapixel camera, a music player, and Bluetooth, but don't expect 3G or GPS. The Samsung SGH-T349 is quite affordable at only $15 with a new two-year service agreement. You also can get it with T-Mobile's prepaid service for $99.99.
The Samsung SGH-T349 has a simple slab candy bar design, with a smooth rectangular shape and rounded corners. Measuring 4.49 inches long by 1.97 inches wide by 0.53 inch thick and weighing 3.2 ounces, the SGH-T349 is slim, lightweight, and feels good in the hand. It's also quite attractive with its pearl gray and lime green color scheme.
Right on the front is the 2.2-inch display with support for 262,000 colors. The display is bright and vibrant, and really shows off the colorful animated icons in the menu interface. You can adjust the wallpaper to display the calendar on the home screen, the font size and color, background color of the dialing display, the backlight time, themes, and the font size and style of the info display. You can also adjust the menu interface to be either a circle view where you rotate through the icons in a circular design, or the traditional grid view.
Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a square four-way toggle with middle OK key, the Send and End/Power keys, and a dedicated messaging key and a Back key flanked on either side of the array. The latter two keys are raised a little higher than the rest of the navigation keys except for the four-way toggle. The dedicated messaging key can be mapped to your favorite messaging tool, be it text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, an audio postcard, or just straight to your in-box. The four-way toggle doubles as shortcuts to your call history, an audio postcard, your contacts list, and a create-a-new-message field. We found the navigation array easy to use, though we did wish the Send key were a little more raised so that it's easier to answer a call.
We have to admit we quite like the partial QWERTY or 20-key keyboard, though your mileage may vary on this one. The keys are roomy and have a nice give when pushed. Thanks to the XT9 predictive text that autocompletes words, messaging felt speedy, though it's definitely slower than using a full QWERTY keyboard. We found it easier to use than just a simple number keypad though.
On the left of the SGH-T349 are the microSD card slot and the volume rocker, while the camera button and charger jack are on the right side. The camera lens is on the back, without any self-portrait mirror or flash.
Though it looks a little like the RIM BlackBerry Pearl, the Samsung SGH-T349 is no smartphone by any stretch of the imagination. It's a pretty simple phone with fairly basic features. To start with, the SGH-T349 has a 1,000-entry contacts list with room in each entry for five numbers and an e-mail address. Contacts can then be organized into groups, paired with a photo for caller ID, as well as one of 19 polyphonic ringtones. You can also use MP3s or voice recordings as ringtones. You can select five of your contacts as MyFaves favorite contacts.
Other basics include a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, a calendar, an alarm clock, a to-do list, a note pad, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world time clock, a unit conversion tool, a timer, and a stopwatch. You can also send an "audio postcard," which is an image packaged in a fun frame with an accompanying voice message. More advanced users will like the wireless Web browser, mobile Web e-mail (with support for AIM, AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Comcast, and more), instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), and stereo Bluetooth.
The SGH-T349 comes with a generic music player. You can view the album art, and you can create playlists, set the music on shuffle or repeat, and you also have the usual player controls. It supports MP3, AAC/AAC+, and MIDI. There's also a video player, which supports MPEG-4, H.263, and 3GP video formats. You only get 50MB of user memory on the phone though, so you'll want to load your music on to a microSD card to play on the phone. The SGH-T349 supports up to 4GB microSD cards.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the Samsung SGH-T349 takes fairly good photos for a simple phone. You can take photos in six resolutions (1,280x1024, 1,024x768, 800x600, 640x480, 320x240, and 220x165), five white balance settings, and nine color effects. There's also a self-timer, 4x zoom, and multishot and mosaic shot mode. Photo quality was quite good, with vibrant colors. Still, it wasn't as sharp as we would like. There's also a built-in camcorder, which can record in three lengths (limit for message, limit for e-mails, and no limit within the available memory) and three resolutions (176x144, 160x120, and 128x96), with options similar to the still camera.
You can personalize the Samsung SGH-T349 by adding wallpaper, graphics, and sounds. It comes with a few games like Block Breaker Deluxe 2 and Midnight Pool 2. You can get more graphics, sounds, and games, via the wireless Web browser.
We tested the tri-band (850/1800/1900 GSM) Samsung SGH-T349 in San Francisco on T-Mobile's network. The SGH-T349 only has EDGE and GPRS; you won't find any 3G here. We experienced fairly good call quality. We heard our callers just fine, and the volume was loud enough. The voices did sound a bit harsh at times but that was a minor issue.
On their end, callers said we sounded quite good. They could still tell we were on a cell phone because of the slightly machinelike quality to the voice, but again, that did not detract from the experience. Speakerphone calls were decent as well, though callers said our voice sounded more distant and harsher. Volume was still plenty loud on both ends though.
We also paired the Samsung SBH-700 stereo Bluetooth headset with it to test the audio quality. The sound was good, though a little weak and lacking in bass. This won't replace your MP3 player by any means, but it's OK for a quick listen.
The Samsung SGH-T349 has a rated battery life of 7 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. We were impressed with the overall talk time of 8 hours and 6 minutes in our tests. According to the FCC, the SGH-T349 has a digital SAR of 1.05 watts per kilogram.