It's hard to find a good feature phone these days when such handsets are more often replaced by entry-level smartphones, leaving those seeking an in-betweener phone--more than a basic flip phone but less than a smartphone--with a drying pool of options. Although smartphones are more sophisticated and seamless than feature phones, they also come with a monthly data plan when you buy them on contract, and more features than some people want. Enter the Samsung Brightside, a QWERTY keyboard slider phone with some extras, but not a ton, and a throwback interface that hearkens to days when feature phones ruled our corner of the globe.
A few years back, the Brightside would have qualified as a higher-end QWERTY keyboard feature phone, since it has hookups for e-mail and IM, and social networks like Twitter and Facebook. It can also read Office files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDFs, and the keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on. The Brightside is also tuned in to 3G speeds, possesses a 3.2-megapixel camera, and has the on-contract price of $100 with a new two-year service agreement (after a $50 mail-in rebate).
I have nothing against feature phones per se, but on the Brightside, I wish that Samsung and Verizon had tried harder to offer a slicker interface, or at least an updated software experience, with smoother graphics and the addition of third-party social networking and e-mail apps that look like they're in line with the times. My eyes register interfaces that feel more 2007 than 2012. If that doesn't concern you, you may warm to the Brightside. However, if you're flexible, you could also consider the Pantech Jest 2, or even more-advanced Android smartphones that cost less (some are free on special sales), but do exact a monthly data fee. I suggest the HTC Rhyme, Samsung Illusion, and Motorola Droid Pro, which are just three that cost nothing at the time of this review, and the latter incorporates a QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode.
It doesn't come in flashy colors or have any eye-catching outcroppings, but the Brightside still isn't your typical device. A few interesting touches on the touch screen and on the hardware itself keep things interesting, though I'm not entirely sold on every decision.
First, let's look at the phone's form. It's all-black, with a nubbly matte back and a glossy metallic rim around the face. This isn't one of those ultrathin devices. In fact, by today's standards, it's a bit stout, at 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.57 inch thick (in part because of the keyboard). The Brightside's 4.3 ounce weight makes it feel solid and sturdy enough, but the handset is basic and not especially polished.
Compared with today's jumbo screens, the 3.1-inch touch display on the Brightside isn't very vast. However, as long as you're not typing on the screen using the cramped virtual keyboard, it manages not to feel overly small. Unfortunately, the QVGA resolution (240x320 pixels) does feel a little pixelated and primitive on the TFT screen, which supports 262,000 colors.
That isn't to say that I don't appreciate Samsung's efforts with its proprietary operating system. The Brightside is a touch-screen phone, and Samsung has tried to make navigating around as accessible and straightforward as possible. To that end, there's a setup wizard that walks you through various options to set your personal sound profile, wallpaper, and themes. You can also go back in to rearrange menu items, and the layout is easy on the eye.
Less successful is the fact that Samsung has pasted the phone menu right on the screen, with large, finger-friendly icons. I take no issue with the icons themselves, but I did keep inadvertently opening apps whenever my finger accidentally brushed the unlocked phone face; this happened often enough to become a nuisance. In addition to the menu grid, there are fixed buttons for accessing voice mail, the call log, the dial pad, and your address book.
Moving on from the screen, let's look at the simple, useful navigation buttons just below the display. There's send, there's power/end, and there's the shared button between them that goes back and that launches voice actions. I like how Samsung made Nuance's voice command feature readily discoverable, instead of placing it as a tiny unknown button on the side of the phone, or as an obscure onscreen control.
Flip over the Brightside to find the 3.2-megapixel camera lens (no flash on this one). On the left spine you'll find the volume rocker, and on the right are the lock button and camera shutter button. The 3.5mm headset jack is up top, and the Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom. Behind the back cover is the microSD card slot that takes up to 32GB in external storage.
Where to begin? Since this is a feature phone you're looking at, and not a smartphone, you shouldn't expect all the whistles and bells to make it onto the Brightside. And they don't. The phone does support 3G speeds, Bluetooth, and GPS, which are more or less the basics.