Samsung may be working hard to polish up its fast-selling line of premium Android Gingerbread 2.3 handsets, but the more budget-conscious set hasn't fallen off the phone-maker's radar. To that crowd it offers up the Samsung Illusion, an inexpensive 3G all-touch handset that, with its curved screen, resembles the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus' more humble, ramen-eating little brother. Instead of dual-core this and 8-megapixel that, there's a 1GHz single-core processor, the Swype virtual keyboard, a 3-megapixel camera, and room for 32GB of storage.
Thanks to Gingerbread's uniformity and a helping of quality hardware, the Illusion is a decent little device.
If you weren't swift enough to get the Illusion for free during Verizon's Black Friday shopping sale, you'll find it for $79.99 on VerizonWireless.com, but it won't materialize on store shelves until January 2012.
The Samsung Illusion is classic Samsung: an all-black chassis with a smudge-prone screen, rounded corners, and a plastic black finish. There are two interesting design characteristics, however. The first is the phone's notably thicker, sculpted back that gradually curves to form a tabletop. I like the feel of its textured soft-touch back cover more than others, but it isn't a superpremium feel, and it could be grippier. The second and more eye-catching quality is the Illusion's screen, which curves inward ever so slightly to gently cradle your cheek. (I had no complaints with on-ear comfort.) The phone stands 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick (it turns out that the phone's thickness is itself an illusion; it comes in about average) and weighs 4 ounces. Flimsy it is not.
Now for more on that screen: it's a 3.5-inch HVGA display (that's a 320x480-pixel resolution) that looks a tad petite compared to many other Android phones. The colors look bright and colorful, but the display does wash out in daylight. Android 2.3 Gingerbread works backstage, but the TouchWiz interface is front and center with all the skin's extras--seven customizable home screens, an overview screen, access to system settings from the notification pull-down menu, and more.
There are four touch-sensitive navigation buttons below the display (menu, home, back, search), a power button on the right spine, and a volume control and microSD card slot on the left. A 2GB memory card comes preloaded on the Illusion, which takes up to 32GB total. There's a 3.5 millimeter headset jack up top, the Micro-USB charging port down below, and the 3.2-megapixel camera lens on the back.
In terms of software, the Illusion comes with all the same bells and whistles as Samsung's other Android 2.3 Gingerbread phones. There's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, and text and multimedia messaging. There's e-mail support from multiple Web mail addresses and for corporate e-mail through Microsoft Exchange. On the contacts side, you can import contacts from multiple online accounts, from Gmail to Facebook. Wi-Fi Direct, VPN, and a mobile hot spot are additional features. You can assign a contact a ringtone, a calling group, and a photo ID. The Swype virtual keyboard is onboard by default.
Google services are, of course, a highlight, particularly maps and Navigation with free turn-by-turn voice guidance. Google search, voice actions, Places, Latitude, Talk, Books, and YouTube are other standards.
There are certain apps that Samsung and Verizon respectively preinstall on most phones. Like other phones sold by this dynamic duo, the Illusion features the All Share app for DLNA sharing, Amazon Kindle, City ID, IM, and a Monopoly game demo. You'll find NFL Mobile, Quick Office, Skype Mobile, Slacker radio, and Uno. Verizon's app cache includes the suite of VCast apps, like Music, Tones, Video, and then Verizon Navigator. Essentials include a browser, a calculator, a calendar, and a clock. There's also the music player, which triggers the VCast Music store if you don't have music transferred on the phone.