Like most Samsungs, the SGH-T809 has a striking display. With support for 262,000 colors, the 320x240-pixel screen measures a generous 2 inches diagonally and shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. The display is great for viewing the simple but flashy menus (there's a choice of two styles), and though you can change the backlighting time and the brightness, there's no contrast setting. Font settings vary, depending on which text you're talking about. For the display font (the time and the date), you can change the style and the color but not the size, while with the dialing text, you can change the font size and the color, as well as the background color. Unfortunately with messaging text, you're left with one relatively small size, so be sure to give the SGH-T809 a test-drive if you have visual impairments.
Below the Samsung SGH-T809's display are the navigation controls, which consist of a four-way toggle with an OK button; two soft keys; the traditional Talk and End/Power keys; and a Clear button. Although they're large enough, they are somewhat difficult to use, as they are flush with the surface of the phone. In particular, the OK button was tricky to manipulate, as our fingers kept sliding off when we were trying to move it. It was also hard to get a grip on the toggle, so people with large digits should take care. As with most Samsung phones for T-Mobile, the OK button in standby mode opens T-Mobile's T-zones Internet service rather than opening the menu; that's accomplished through a soft key. It's not a huge deal, but we've never been a fan of the arrangement. For other shortcuts, you can program the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined functions.
We also had some issues with the Samsung SGH-T809's keypad. Since it's hidden behind the slider, it's recessed into the phone itself, leaving a slight rim around its edges. Although we got used to it over time, it just felt weird to reach "into" the phone to dial. Also, the flat keys are rather slick, so it's difficult to dial by feel. On the plus side, they have bright backlighting.
Other features on the Samsung SGH-T809 include a thin volume rocker, a charger/headset port on the left spine, and a TransFlash slot on the right spine. It should be noted that the SGH-T809 trumps both the Razr and the MM-A900 by including an expandable memory card slot. At the top of the phone is the camera lens, which swivels 180 degrees from the back to the front. Curiously, however, the lens rotates down rather than up, which means it takes pictures in just two directions (front and back). We wondered why it didn't move the other way, as it would have enabled us to take a picture pointing straight up. There's no flash or self-portrait mirror, but the latter isn't needed, as the display functions as your viewfinder.You might think that Samsung wasn't able to pack much into the slim SGH-T809, but you'd be mistaken if you did. Inside, you'll find a wealth of features that will please midrange users. As a T-Mobile phone, it can't compete with its thin cousins that have 3G support, but it trumps the original Razr with its high-resolution camera. In terms of the basic offerings, there's a 1,000-contact phone book that holds five numbers and an e-mail address per entry. Contacts can be organized into groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 45 polyphonic ring tones. The SGH-809 also supports MP3 ring tones, and you get a selection of six. Other features include a vibrate mode, a calendar, a calculator, a file manager, a world clock, a unit converter, a timer, a stopwatch, text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging (AOL, ICQ, and Yahoo), and a 1-minute voice recorder. Business-oriented apps are above average but nothing near those of a smart phone. There's Bluetooth and a speakerphone (operable after you make a call) but no apparent e-mail support.
The Samsung SGH-T809 comes with a 1.3-megapixel camera. As we said earlier, you don't get a flash, but the lens swivels from back to front. The camera takes pictures in seven resolutions--1,280x1,024, 1,152x864, 800x600, 640x480, 320x240, 240x320, and 240x180--and you get a wealth of editing features. Included are nine picture effects; 29 fun frames; a self-timer of up to 10 seconds; multishot (up to 15 pictures) and mosaic-shot options; brightness, white-balance, and image-orientation adjustments; metering exposure and ISO settings; a night mode; four viewfinder size choices; and an 8X zoom, which is usable even at the highest resolution. You also get a choice of five shutter sounds, but there's no silent option. To help you manage all these functions, the soft keys and all number keys perform a specific shortcut. It took us a while to memorize them, but a convenient list is featured in the user manual and in the camera menus. Picture quality wasn't the best we've seen for a megapixel camera; lines tend to be fuzzy, and colors bleed somewhat. If you want to tweak your pictures, the phone comes with a rudimentary image editor.