Just last year we called the precursor to the Samsung T249 (SGH-T249) a retro design for its large circular navigation toggle, slim body, and vertical sliding face. However, even if cell phone design has come a long way, this phone is easy to use, and it can handle calls and multimedia messaging for a low cost. The T249 is also a lighter, leaner version of its prepaid T-Mobile sibling, the Samsung SGH-T369, down to its dimensions, hardware and software features, and price. The $49.99 handset is a great value for a phone you can pick up without a contract or credit check.
Editors' note: Due to identical features in the Samsung T249 and the Samsung T369, some sections of the review come from our Samsung T369 review.
The Samsung T249 may not have a lot of brawn or brain, but we will say this--it's not a bad-looking phone. Shiny navy blue accents offset a glossy black face and the matte black spines and backing. There's also an impression of tapering, which keeps the handset from looking blocky. The T249 is 3.9 inches tall, 1.9 inches wide, and 0.6 inch thick. Its 3.2 ounce body is light but didn't strike us as being wispy.
The T249's 1.7-inch display has a 220x176-pixel resolution and supports 65,000 colors. Colors are bright and graphics and photos look relatively sharp on the small screen, although text doesn't always render crisply. Navigating the menu interface is easy in either the list or grid style, and you can also personalize the dialing font size and color, and the backlighting time. Below the screen are two soft keys, the Talk and End keys, and the Clear key. There's a large circular navigation array comprising a central Select button bordered by a four-directional rim.
The phone face slides up to reveal a numeric dialpad. The keys are pretty flat, which is typical for a vertical slider phone, but the trade-off is that they're harder to press. While the backlit buttons are separated, they're still too close to dial by feel effectively. The slider mechanism itself snaps into place, but we can rock it from side to side when the phone is open.
On the right spine is a dedicated camera button that protrudes from the side. Though it feels a bit cheap, it's easy to trigger the camera. There's also a shared Micro-USB charging port and headset jack. We generally frown on such a combo with phones that include music players, for the dual reasons that it requires an extra headset adapter and that you can't simultaneously charge your phone while cranking out tunes. On the left spine there's a volume rocker and a microSD card slot that holds a 16GB memory card. On the back is a 1.3-megapixel camera-plus-camcorder.
The T249's address book fits 1,000 contacts, and an additional 250 names can be stored in the SIM card. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, a note, and a group calling ID. You can pair a contact with a photo ID, and also with one of 20 polyphonic ringtones, or with a variety of other music and sounds.
A simple prepaid handset, the T249 doesn't stray far beyond the basics. There's a calendar, an alarm, a to-do list, a notepad, a calculator and tip calculator, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, and a stopwatch. There's also a voice recorder. Text messaging, audio postcards, photo messaging, and instant messaging using AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger are the phone's communication tools.
Web browsing comes in the form of a branded Web2Go WAP browser. Unsurprisingly, surfing is slow over 2.5G speeds, and the tiny screen and cramped, branded layout make surfing cumbersome. We wouldn't exactly take this browser for a joyride.