First announced at CTIA Fall 2009, the Samsung Behold II is Samsung's second Android device for the U.S. market (the Samsung Moment being the first) and T-Mobile's fourth Android offering. Based on the Samsung Galaxy Lite, the Behold II tries to set itself apart from the crowd with a AMOLED display, Samsung's TouchWiz interface, and enhanced multimedia capabilities. The touch screen is certainly a stunner, multimedia performance is tops, and general performance is solid. However, the TouchWiz interface doesn't really add much to the user experience and in fact, at times, hinders it. Also, the smartphone runs Android 1.5, which makes its $229.99 street price really hard to swallow, considering that you can get the Motorola Droid with Android 2.0 for $199.99 from Verizon.
All that said, for T-Mobile customers looking for a more powerful multimedia smartphone than the carrier's current lineup of Android devices, the Samsung Behold II is probably your best choice. However, the high price tag is going to be the biggest barrier for getting the smartphone to reach the masses. The Samsung Behold II will be available starting November 18.
The Samsung Behold II isn't much of a sight to behold and it barely resembles the original Samsung Behold. It's not that it's ugly, rather just a bit plain. Like a number of the other Android devices out there, including the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G and HTC Droid Eris, the Behold II features a candy bar design with smooth, rounded edges, but the clunky navigation array below the display takes away from the device's overall appeal. We much prefer the inconspicuous buttons and cleaner layout of the Droid Eris.
That said, the smartphone is compact at 4.57 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick and 4.2 ounces. It fits comfortably into a pants pocket and feels solid in the hand, though the plastic back cover makes the phone a bit slick and a magnet for smudges and fingerprints.
While you'll use the Behold II's touch screen most of the time, one-handed navigation is also easy with the aforementioned navigation controls, which include Talk and End keys, a Home shortcut, a Menu key, a back button, a quick-launch button for the multimedia cube menu (more on that later), and a directional keypad with a center select button. There's also a volume rocker on the left side, and a lock key and a dedicated camera activation/capture button are located on the right.
Recently, Samsung made the wise move of ditching its proprietary connectors in favor of more universal standards, and the Behold II is no different, as it comes equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB port on top of the device. Turning the phone over, you'll find that a world map adorns the back cover along with the camera and flash, while the microSD slot hides behind the battery door.
Though the design isn't all that exciting, the Behold II does have one standout feature, which is the 3.2-inch AMOLED capacitive touch screen. The advantages of an AMOLED screen over standard LCDs are many: they're sharper, brighter, and consume less power. In addition, they allow for wider viewing angles. Compared to the Droid Eris, the Behold II's screen is brighter and has a higher contrast. Videos and photos, in particular, look amazing on the screen. We also were impressed that we could still see the contents of the display in bright sunlight.
The capacitive touch screen is responsive and provides haptic feedback, so you get confirmation that it has registered your touch. If you don't want to feel the constant buzz/vibrations, you can turn the option off in the Settings menu. The Behold II offers a virtual keyboard--which works in both a portrait and landscape--but Samsung has reskinned it to match its interface. Overall, it was easy to use and we were able to create messages with relatively few mistakes.
The display also has a built-in accelerometer and a proximity sensor, which turns off the display when you're on a phone call to prevent any accidental mispresses.
Another way that Samsung tries to differentiate itself from the pack is with its TouchWiz interface. Like HTC has done with its HTC Sense user experience, Samsung is adding the TouchWiz software to a number of its cell phones and smartphones as a form of branding as well as a way to provide a uniform experience across its devices.
Case in point: like the Samsung Omnia, the Behold II features an expandable tray on the left side that includes access to all of your apps. From this tray, you can drag any of your favorites to the home screen to create a shortcut on one of three home panes. To remove them, simply hold down an icon and drag it back to the tray. (Alternatively, you can do a long press on the home screen and add widgets and shortcuts that way.)
Now, this is all well and good, but the functionality isn't anything new; you could do this with other Android devices. In fact, having the tray on the left side was actually problematic since we kept expanding the tray accidentally when we were simply trying to do a swiping gesture to get to the next home screen pane. We much preferred having the menu tray on the bottom of the screen as it's typically been on Android devices.
Instead, the TouchWiz interface offers a launch bar on the bottom of the screen that gives you quick access to some of the more core functions of the device, including the phone, contact list, Web, and Quick List page. The latter brings you to a grid menu of some of your more commonly used applications, such as your e-mail and calendar. Having access to the launch bar on all three home panes is convenient, but we could take it or leave it.
Samsung also added a revamped notification window and a 3D cube navigation menu to the user interface. The former is probably the most useful as it not only provides you alerts to new messages, appointments, missed calls, and so forth, but it also provides one-touch access to your wireless connections, so you don't have to dig through various menus. The 3D cube, on the other hand, we could do without.
When you press the dedicated cube key below the screen, a 3D cube will appear; you can spin it around and then tap it to launch various multimedia apps, including the Amazon MP3 Store, the dedicated YouTube app, photos, videos, music, and the Web browser. (Unfortunately, you can't customize this cube with the programs you want; it's something that T-Mobile sets). You can even shake the phone to move the cube. While cool at first and certainly an attention grabber, the feature is more gimmicky than useful. After the first couple of tries, we went back to just using the home-screen widgets or Quick List menu.
While we understand that one of the goals of TouchWiz is to offer users more customization options, we're not sure Samsung did enough to make it work on Android. It's successful on some platforms, like Windows Mobile, but compared to HTC Sense, which provided seven home panes, customizable "scenes," and a more attractive user interface, TouchWiz didn't add any great advantage or new features to the Android operating system, so we don't feel there's any competitive edge to the Behold II over the others.
T-Mobile packages the Samsung Behold II with a healthy number of accessories, including an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a carrying case, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Below the TouchWiz skin and the 3D cube interface, the Samsung Behold II is running Android 1.5, so you're not getting the newer features of Android 2.0, or even Android 1.6. When we asked Samsung about future updates for the Behold II, the company said it will be up to T-Mobile as to when it rolls out newer versions of the OS. The carrier released Android 1.6 (or, Donut) to the MyTouch 3G and the T-Mobile G1 in early October; hopefully we'll at least see Donut come to the Behold II in the near future, so you can take advantage of some of the enhancements such as an improved Android Market and more robust quick search bar.