Up until recently, the highest megapixel camera phones to grace U.S. carriers have been 5-megapixel shooters like the Motorola Zine ZN5. If we wanted to play around with higher-performance camera phones, we had to get our hands on unlocked versions like the 8-megapixel Samsung Innov8 from our friends in Europe.
But that has all changed with the 8-megapixel Samsung Memoir, which is now available from T-Mobile USA for a much more affordable $249.99 (compared to the $700 or so for the Innov8). Indeed, this makes the Memoir the highest-performing camera phone with a U.S. carrier, though we're sure this accolade won't last long. The Memoir definitely delivers in the photo quality department, with great photos and camera features that rival even those on a standalone point-and-shoot camera. The Memoir even offers direct uploads to online photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket.
Of course, the Memoir wouldn't be much of a phone if it didn't have other features, too. It comes with Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz interface, a full HTML browser, support for T-Mobile's 3G network, GPS, a music player, and more. $249.99 is a little pricier than most other U.S. camera phones, but we think the Memoir's design and feature set more than make up for it.
The design of the Samsung Memoir certainly walks a very thin line between camera and phone. The ergonomics are uncanny--the shutter button and zoom controls are on the top, the camera lens and flash are positioned in a way so that your fingers are unlikely to block them, and the touch-screen interface acts as a giant viewfinder--all like a regular camera. That small area where you would wrap your right-hand fingers when taking a photo? It's clad in faux leather separate from the rest of the phone, presumably for better grip. If it were not for the telltale call keys and the T-Mobile branding, we would've thought the Samsung Memoir was a camera and not a phone.
Be it camera or phone (or both), the Memoir is one svelte, elegant device. Measuring 4.2 inches long by 2.1 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Memoir is clad in black with silver on the sides, and it's one of the slimmest high-end camera phones we've seen. Dominating its entire front surface is a 262,000-color 2.6-inch touch-screen display that looks simply stunning. The display is vibrant with vivid colors and sharp-looking graphics. You can adjust the backlight time and brightness, and you can personalize the display with wallpaper and a greeting message. While you can adjust the font type, you can't change the font size.
Like other Samsung touch-screen handsets, the Memoir has haptic feedback, meaning the phone vibrates to let you know your touch has registered. You can adjust the intensity of the vibrations if you want. The touch interface is pretty responsive and intuitive, but it did take us a little while to get used to the sensitivity of the screen, even after calibration. We would occasionally launch a program when all we wanted to do was scroll through the menu. We imagine this is something you learn to adapt to with time, but newcomers to touch-screen handsets might find it frustrating. Also, the Memoir has an internal accelerometer that automatically changes the display's orientation from portrait to landscape mode when you hold the phone horizontally. This only happens with certain applications like the Web browser and the messaging interface, and it only rotates clockwise by 90 degrees.
On the default standby page, you'll find four icons at the bottom row of the display. They represent the phone dialer, the phone book, the Web browser, and the main menu. The phone dialer has a virtual keypad with large alphanumeric keys, plus there are also shortcuts for the call log, voice mail, the messaging menu, and the phone book.
The Memoir features Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz interface, just like on the Behold and the Omnia. It consists of a tray of widgets along the left side, which lead to various applications like the clock, the music player, and so forth. You can also drag and drop them to the main screen for easier access to your favorite applications. But some of these widgets are more than just shortcuts. For example, the Weather widget will display the city you're in as well as your local weather report right on the main screen, and the music player widget allows you to control your music without having to open up the application.
You're unfortunately limited to the widgets that are preloaded to the Memoir, but Samsung did include a camera-focused widget. It allows you to upload your photos to online sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket directly, without having to use e-mail or a third-party program. This is definitely one of the highlights of the phone, which we'll mention again in the Features section. Aside from dragging and dropping the widgets to the main screen, you can also drag them back to the tray. To close the tray, just touch the little arrow icon.
For texters concerned about the lack of a physical keyboard, the Memoir does have a virtual QWERTY keyboard. After you create a new message, you can tilt the phone horizontally to reveal the landscape QWERTY keyboard that spans the length of the display. The keyboard is roomy and the haptic feedback helps to ensure accurate typing, but it's not quite as smooth as using the iPhone's virtual keyboard. We like that you can type messages with the T9 alphanumeric keypad if you wanted to, and the dedicated punctuation keys are nice (You still have to switch to a different keyboard for symbols and numbers). When in the Web browser, the QWERTY keyboard even has a .com key, which is certainly helpful when entering URLs.
There are three physical keys underneath the display; the Talk, Back, and End/Power keys respectively. The microSD card slot and headset/charger jack are on the left spine. On the right are the camera shutter button, a screen lock key, and the volume rocker that also acts as the camera's zoom controls. On the back is the aforementioned 8-megapixel-camera lens with a built-in retractable lens cover. There's also a Xenon flash, but no self-portrait mirror.