Dual-slider phones like Sprint's new Samsung Exclaim SPH-M550 may not be very common, but they've won their fair share of attention because they're so peculiar. With both a standard alphanumeric keypad and a full QWERTY keyboard, they offer the best of both worlds. And it's rather fun to figure out how they're put together. Similar to the Pantech Matrix and the Helio Ocean 2, the Exclaim offers messaging and media features in a "conversation piece" design. Call quality is decent and it makes for a good alternative to other Sprint messaging phones, such as the LG Rumor2 and Samsung Rant. You can get it for $79.99 with a two-year contract and a mail-in rebate.
Dual-slider phones tend to be large and the Exclaim is no exception. At 4.45 inches by 2.24 inches by 0.67 inch and 4.69 ounces, it still fits in a pocket, but it borders on smartphone size. The trade-off is a solid, weighty feeling in the hand and the relatively sturdy slider mechanisms appear. You can get it in raspberry (red) or blueberry (do we need to say it?); we reviewed the latter, but the features are the same on both models.
A large phone also means you get a sizeable display. The Exclaim's 2.6-inch screen is certainly expansive and it supports 262,000 colors (320x240 pixels). Colors are vibrant and bright and photos and graphics are sharp. You can change the brightness level and the backlighting time. The menu interface is intuitive and the Exclaim also supports Sprint's One Click interface, which we continue to like for its shortcut options (see our Samsung Highnote review for a full description of One Click). Our only complaint is that you can't alter the menu font size, which is rather small. People with visual impairments should take note.
The navigation array is spacious and well-designed. You'll find a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a Back key, a speakerphone shortcut, and the Talk and End/power button. The soft keys and calling buttons are flush, but the other controls are raised. Slide up the Exclaim to expose the alphanumeric keypad. Though it is flat, we were able to dial by feel thanks to thin ridges that surround the individual buttons. We also appreciate the keypad's large size and bright backlighting.
You can type messages using the keypad, but we'd prefer to use the Exclaim's full keyboard. To get there, tip the phone on its left side and slide up the front face. We approve of its spacious design and comfortable feel, which let us write messages quickly and accurately. Alphabetic keys share space with numbers and symbols, but that's quite common on messaging handsets. The backlit keyboard also features a Back key, shift and function buttons, four navigation arrow controls, shortcuts for the messaging application, and emoticons and a large space bar in the middle of the bottom row. On either side of the keyboard are soft keys for the commands on the display. And speaking of which, the display automatically changes from portrait to landscape when you open the phone.
The volume rocker sits on the Exclaim's left spine. It's thinner than we'd like, but we could locate it easily when we were on a call. The microSD card slot, Micro-USB port, and a camera shutter sit on the right spine. We thank Samsung for adopting the Micro-USB standard for the charger and for not stashing the memory card slot behind the battery cover. On the other hand, the camera shutter isn't in the best place--all too often we pressed it accidentally when holding the phone in our left hand. We also have to knock the Exclaim for featuring a 2.5mm headset jack. If you want to use a standard 3.5mm headset, you'll need an adapter. On the rear side of the phone are the camera lens and self-portrait mirror.
The Exclaim has a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone number types, an e-mail address, an instant-messaging handle, a URL, and notes. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 20, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones. And for safekeeping, you can use Sprint's Wireless backup service to store your contacts on the carrier's servers. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a tip calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a memo pad, a speakerphone,and a stopwatch. Beyond the basics, you'll find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, voice dialing and commands, a voice memo recorder, instant messaging, and USB transfer and MSS storage.
We welcome the Exclaim's integrated apps for MySpace, NFL Mobile Live, Nascar Sprint Cup Mobile, Sprint Social Zone, Facebook, Sprint Navigation, Sprint Family Locater, and Google services like maps, search, and YouTube. If you wish, you can add other Google services including docs, news, and photos. The Exclaim offers an application manager and rudimentary multitasking that allows you to send applications to the background.
Like the Samsung Instinct, the Exclaim supports POP3 e-mail syncing for services like Yahoo and Hotmail and Gmail. You also can access IMPAP4 e-mail using Outlook Web Access and sync Outlook contacts and calendar. For what it is, the service performs well. We had no trouble setting it up and accessing the mail that we needed. Sure, it has a few quirks, but we much prefer it over a clunky Web-based application.
As an EV-DO phone, the Exclaim supports Sprint Radio, Sprint Movie, and Sprint TV. The TV interface is similar to that on other Sprint TV phones. The music player (MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA formats) also is standard--you get album art, but features are limited to repeat and shuffle modes, and you can't use MP3 files as ringtones. You can access the Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. The airplane mode turns off the phone's calling functions for listening to music while in-flight.
The Exclaim's 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions and three quality settings. Other editing features include a self-timer, 10 frames, a 3x zoom, multishot and divided shot modes, five color tones, adjustable brightness, a night mode, spot metering, five white-balance settings, and four shutter sounds, plus a silent option. The camcorder offers a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 10 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode.
When finished with your clips and shots, you're awarded a plentiful set of options for sharing your work. Besides saving pictures to the phone, you can upload them to an online Sprint album, send them to a friend via Bluetooth or a multimedia message, transfer them to a printer using Sprint's PictBridge application, and send them to a participating retail outlet for printing. You even can upload shots directly to MySpace, Photobucket, YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr. The Exclaim has about 586MB of shared memory. We'd suggest using a microSD card for even more room; our review phone came with a 512MB card, but the Exclaim's card slot will accommodate cards up to 8GB.
You can personalize the Exclaim with a selection of screensavers and alert sounds. You can download more options, and additional ringtones, from Sprint using the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The handset comes with demo versions of three games--Brain Exercise, Clue, and Lego Indiana Jones--you'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was quite satisfactory. We enjoyed clear conversations with loud volume. Voices sounded natural and we encountered no static or interference from other electronic devices. Occasionally we heard some background noise, but it wasn't too troubling.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. A few mentioned some background noise, but here again it wasn't a big problem. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but that's fairly common. Automated calling systems could understand us with few issues. Speakerphone quality was slightly less sharp. The volume is a tad low and the audio quality on our end was muffled. Also, we had to speak close to the phone in order to be heard.
The Exclaim's EV-DO speeds are zippy. Pages loaded swiftly, even if the browser's WAP design doesn't lend itself to frequent surfing. We also downloaded data files in just a few seconds--a 3.78MB song took about 45 seconds to load onto the phone.
Multimedia quality was average. We cruised through the Sprint Music Store and Sprint TV app quickly and videos took little time to load. Video quality was decent, though the size of the frame is much too small, even on the display's landscape orientation. It's suitable for watching short clips, but we wouldn't want to bother with a movie or full TV program. Music over the phone's external speaker is unimpressive. The speaker had a weak output and our tunes had an echoed effect. Headphones will offer a better experience.
The Exclaim has a rated battery life of 4.75 hours talk time. We received a talk time of 5 hours and 5 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Exclaim has a digital SAR of 0.78 watts per kilogram.