Samsung has decided to apply the novel dual-slider concept to create the evolution of the music phone that it started with the well received Upstage.
Now with the switch to the OneClick standard user interface, does the Highnote improve on the innovative features found on the Upstage, or will it be hampered by the one feature that Sprint touts in OneClick?
Phone Encyclopedia: Samsung Highnote
First Impressions, Basic Functionality
The Samsung Highnote is an uncommon form factor for any US carrier, owing to its dual-slide form factor which was pioneered by the Nokia N95.
It does bring up reminders of the aforementioned superphone, however the most remarkable thing about the design of the phone is the speaker.
The speaker portion of the phone is thin and flat and is exposed by pushing down on the body. This makes the phone very suitable for conference calls as the speaker is quite powerful and loud as evidenced by the fact that I loaded a custom ringtone of a synthesized kickdrum loop and heard it from 30 feet away at low volume.
The menu keys are rather awkward and are positioned at 10 and 2. which will be offputting for the first few times you use the phone. Oddly, the talk and end keys are not illuminated in the common red and green lighting and also require getting used to, which can be frustrating at times if one is in a hurry.
For menu navigation, the phone offers an integrated directional pad set inside the menu keys which also doubles as a scrollwheel similar to the Chocolate 3. The scrollwheel works well provided the sensitivity is set as a reasonable level, but it can have the potential to aggravate since the wheel also doubles as the directional pad, making it hard to key in specific selections in a pinch or navigate menus.
Reception was below average for a Sprint Samsung model with an internal antenna, as the phone would struggle to maintain a stable signal even in a saturated coverage area. Phone calls were of good quality with ample volume and callers reported no issues with hearing my voice or dropouts. Calls over Bluetooth using the Sony Ericsson DS970 or DS220 yielded the same result although incoming calls using the DS220 with Shure e5c in ear monitors made incoming call compression more evident than the 970, but outgoing calls were fine and the Bluetooth caller ID function worked as advertised.
The dialpad features dedicated keys for speakerphone, SMS, and text to speech intended for mobile use, but I never used them very often. The phone features a hold button which is rather useless in practice as sliding the phone up or down disables the lock, presumably for emergencies. Had Sprint and Samsung implemented a hardware switch that gets killed when sliding the phone up, the hold functionality would be effective when using the music player functionality.
The Samsung Highnote features the controversial Sprint OneClick user interface which is intended to be the standard user interface across all Sprint non-smartphones. It features, appropriately one-click access to messaging, Google services (GMail, Search, YouTube, Maps, Reader), Sprint Music, and Web access.
While the intention to provide a common interface is sound, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Since the user interface is programmed in BREW, the phone struggles to keep up with user input with a copious amount of lag, which led me to disable the user interface. Once I did that, my blood pressure went down significantly, though I would prefer the Samsung UI.
The browser built into the OneClick UI is crash-prone and routinely times out in an almost reliable fashion. I’ve since pinned it to the switch from AU-MIC to Polaris and the implementation of the Openwave proxy since it has issues with processing SSL connections. Since the proxy and browser do a poor job of formatting HTML pages, I limited web usage considerably, but I found that it can still process WML/WAP/XHTML with no issues.
I expect the phone to receive at least two firmware updates to address the user interface and the browser, especially as developers have been becoming more vocal about the aforementioned issues. One thing that I have not seen mentioned is the inclusion of a microUSB port and cable. Thankfully, the cable charges the phone and the phone also features a mass storage option (that disables the phone radio), which is convenient for quick image and data transfers.
The selling point for this phone is the music playback and the Highnote does that as well as it can within the confines of Sprint’s requirements. OneClick does not feature an independent media player in the vein of the Samsung media player found on the A900/A920/M500/M520.
In its place the Sprint Music Store player now features built-in EQ options and spatializer options for audio running through its speakers, Bluetooth, and 3.5mm headphone jack, which any music oriented phone should have with no exception. The media player plays back MP3, unprotected AAC, and Sprint’s protected AAC format used for purchased Music Store tracks.
The volume output is superior to the iPod/iPhone/Touch over either the 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth and I tested the volume by using a random mix of music ranging from metal (Nile, Morbid Angel, At The Gates, Lamb of God, Slayer), electronic music (Alec Empire, Atari Teenage Riot, Chemical Brothers, Pendulum, Counterstrike) and noise (Merzbow, Masonna). The phone features a one-touch key for the music store and works well.
The camera is typical midrange Samsung fare, with a tiny CMOS sensor and heaps of noise. Pictures came out below average thanks to the reliance on ambient lighting and no flash. Video recording is passable and features options for video messages and long videos.
The OneClick User Interface alone will polarize customers due to its usability quirks and lag. The lack of the manufacturer user interface isn’t a deal-breaker, but We couldn’t reccomend this phone to everyone without preconditions.
My advice to Sprint and Samsung: Bring back the Samsung UI, and make OneClick into a Sprint theme, which could be disabled by savvy or elderly users who are familiar/enamored with the Samsung UI. Google alone will not mask a litany of usability issues and the idea that forcing a user interface is a good idea.
Final Score: 3/5
Pros: Thin, loud speakers, Bluetooth, microUSB with charging cable, 3.5mm headphone jack
Cons: Buggy, Lack of Samsung UI, lack of standard media player, poor browser.
Phone Encyclopedia: Samsung Highnote