Samsung Blast for T-Mobile USA review

Samsung's SGH-T729, AKA the Blast, is a stylish and slender slider phone that is being offered in the USA by T-Mobile. It appears that the emphasis here is meant to be on text messaging, based on a number of integrated instant messaging clients and the QWERTY-like layout of the Blast's 20 key keypad.

Our test unit of the Samsung Blast arrived in a two-tone finish. The front is matte black and the back side of the handset is a shiny metallic looking red. The red finish looks good, but I have my doubts about how well it will hold up to abuse, since our test unit already had a small gouge in it. It's worth noting, however, that there were no additional scratches at the end of our evaluation, and fingerprints were scarcely evident after handling. Altogether this adds up to a very nice looking package, especially with its slim 106mm x 52mm x 13mm (4.2" x 2.0" x 0.5") dimensions and its scant weight of 79.4g (2.8oz).

As with most sliders, the d-pad and a number of buttons surrounding it are just below the display while in the closed position. The typical green and red send and end buttons are prominent, with soft keys in the typical upper left and right positions. Two other dedicated keys are available: the left key is a shortcut to T-Mobile's T-Zones and the right key is a shortcut to the MP3 audio player. Directly below the D-pad is a correction key. The remaining exterior buttons include a volume rocker on the left edge and camera shutter key on the right edge. There is no dedicated speakerphone key, but the right softkey performs this function during a call. The speakerphone is loud, though not the clearest I've heard, but it is still very understandable.

This leads right into the sound quality on the Blast, which turned in a good result. No complaints from either end of a call. As for T-Mobile's GSM network, I experienced no dropped calls during my time with the Blast, it's internal antenna seeming quite up to the task. Talk time fell in line with the manufacturers reported 5 hours alongside its 8 days of standby time.

The slide mechanism operates smoothly, but unfortunately this also reveals the closest thing to a problem with the Blast. The chink in the Blast's armor is its 20 key keypad. I have to admit to not being a fan of QWERTY keyboards on phones in general, and I find this 20 key QWERTY-like layout to be no exception. On top of that, the keypad itself has poor tactile feedback, being one large rubber sheet with raised areas for the individual keys. Each key represent 2 letters of the alphabet at max. This certainly helps with T9 predictive text input, making it more accurate, and I'm sure that a person will get used to the layout after a period of time, but I found it more frustrating than either a full QWERTY key keyboard or a standard 12 keypad. The more annoying thing is when you have to enter a phone number that uses a word to make it easy to remember, such as 1-800-FAKE-NUM. With a 20 key layout like this, you either need to have the letters on a standard 12 key keypad memorized, or you'll find yourself looking for a normal phone in order to figure out the appropriate numbers. Granted this is probably not a frequent occurrence, but it happened to me during testing.

Measures have been taken to make the Blast a good messaging phone, and to that end a number of messaging clients have been included, namely AIM, Windows Live, ICQ, and Yahoo! instant messengers. For email, a number of webmail clients including AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo are supported. I read specs claiming that the Blast includes POP3 and IMAP support, but I didn't find a way to configure such accounts.

Samsung was first to include an MP3 player in a mobile phone with their uproar some years back, and the Blast doesn't disappoint in this department. The slick display upon activating the audio player gives a map to the d-pad's player controls. There are better audio player UIs on the market today, especially with Apple now on the scene, but the Blast is certainly passable, and available at a far more reasonable price. With an MP3 player onboard, the included support for stereo Bluetooth is certainly a welcome feature. Unfortunately, it appears that Bluetooth is the Blast's only option for stereo playback, as there is no conventional headphone adapter and the included wired headset has only a single earpiece.