Samsung S5600 review

News 20:27, 5 Oct 2010

We review the Samsung Preston S5600, an affordable touchscreen phone with HSDPA high-speed 3G connectivity

While Samsung has being wowing with a flurry of high-end touchscreen mobiles, covering most smartphone and high-megapixel cameraphone bases, it's also been taking care of business down-range, with the likes of the Tocco Lite S5230 and its similarly-featured 3G stablemate, the Samsung S5600.

Packing a 2.8-inch display, the S5600 is a compact, slim device. A step up from the non-3G Tocco Lite, the S5600 has HSDPA high-speed 3G connectivity (up to 7.2Mbps), so offers a faster online experience for browsing, downloading and video streaming.

It offers decent music and video player software, Google Maps and an FM radio, and it uses a similarly eye-catching TouchWiz user interface, with easy to use homescreen application widgets. The S5600 adds a touch more to the camera capability, though, adding an LED flash to the 3.2-megapixel camera spec. However, there's no Wi-Fi or A-GPS gadgetry, like on the more upmarket Jet high-flier, reflecting this model's more modest - and wallet-friendly - aspirations.

It's not a pure Tocco Lite-alike though. The size of its screen is smaller, the S5600's being marginally wider and a bit shorter than the Tocco Lite's 3-incher. It may not sound much, but it does impact on some elements of text input layout and usability - including the lack of a full screen QWERTY keyboard.

The Samsung S5600 looks a lot more Samsung Jet-ish than Tocco Lite, that minimalist 102.8(h) x 54.8(w) x 12.9(d)mm casing being curvy in all the right places around the control panel and the rear edges. It has similar-looking understated front controls - a call and end button, plus a central button. This central button (square on the generic S5600 but arrowhead shaped on the Blade version) looks like a conventional navigation pad, but it is, in fact, a regular back button that, with a longer press, also pulls up onscreen a small grid of five function shortcuts.

The homescreen is very similar to the Tocco Lite set-up; there are actually three screen panels you can sweep between with a sideways finger stroke. This comes in handy when using the S5600's Widgets function. A quick tap of the screen opens up a vertical toolbar full of Widgets - mini applications or links to features, represented by icons  - that you can drag and drop on to the main part of the screen. A quick tap of a Widget can open up an app, bring up feature controls or launch online services.

These can be arranged any which way you like, and as many as you like can be added - althought the screen can start looking cluttered if you use too many of them. The alternative homescreen solves the problem; you can simply stroke sideways to give yourself more screen room for the widgets.

There are a stack of widgets to choose from, plus additional ones you can activate from the menus. All of the widgets are easy to operate, and simple to swap or remove, adding a bit of extra usability to the user experience. Widgets range from calendar, photos, music player, profiles and games to voice recorder, Bluetooth, clocks and games. Other online based widgets include one for Google apps (search, mail, maps), an weather forecast updater - and a More Widgets app for browsing and downloading extra widgets from Samsung.

Although the S5600 sports a resistive QVGA touchscreen rather than an iPhone-style Multi-Touch capacitive one, Samsung's user interface is generally pretty responsive to tap and and swiping, with haptic feedback confirming button presses. Most of it has been neatly arranged to allow fingers enough room to do their work, and its quite easy to get to grips with and operate - even if it lacks the easy, smooth slickness of the Apple trend-setter. Menus have ample room for touch options, and you can scroll around easily enough without any frustrating lags.

Menus are quite conventionally arranged, with a large main menu grid presenting familiar option icons; tapping these mostly takes you in to lists of options, in a regular phone kind of way. There are shortcuts onscreen too. From the homescreen, you can select the numberpad for calling, a contacts list and the main menu, while in the main menu you can pull up the keypad, go to a list of photo contacts - people who've you've recently communicated with, with attached photos if assigned - or tap back to the Widgets homescreen.

Samsung has also implemented the Smart Unlock gesture control system, seen on the Jet. By drawing pre-selected alphabetic characters on the locked screen in standby mode, users can unlock the phone, unlock and launch certain applications, or unlock and make calls to any of your speed dial numbers. It works well when the locked screen is illuminated, but we're not convinced that this really adds much practically to its ease of use.

One thing that would improve usability is a redesigned keypad for texting - something like Samsung's already been using on the likes of the Tocco Lite, Tocco Ultra and Jet. The screen dimensions appear to have led to a compromise with the placing of buttons on the texting numberpad. While the voice call numberpad is arranged in conventional style across the full width of the screen, in text input mode some of the control characters (back, space, input style and symbols) are lined up to the right of the numberpad.

This not only reduces the amount of space for tapping text buttons accurately, but also increases the possibility of marginally stray fingers dabbing control keys while texting, switching T9 on or off mid-typing, for instance, or adding unwanted spaces.

We shouldn't exaggerate the issue though - the keyboard is generally quite usable and responsive, and is better arranged than some touchscreens we've seen; it's just that the layout will undoubtedly feel strange for anyone migrating from a conventional phone, and may affect texting speed.

Oddly, there's no QWERTY keyboard text input option when holding the phone sideways; the Tocco Lite and Jet have them, so we're assuming the screen length put paid to that option too. Some users may find that a bind when writing out longer emails or texts, but it also doesn't help when inputting long URLs into the browser. There's no handwriting recognition option either.

Working the phone's music player software is easy. It's very intuitive, with a tidy touchscreen control interface that's a breeze to operate, and has familiar categories into which tracks are automatically assigned when loaded onto the phone or slipped in on a memory card. The S5600 has around 80MB of internal storage, and although no MicroSD card is boxed with it, it does support cards up to 8GB capacity. It can be synced with Windows MediaPlayer on a PC, or loaded up using Samsung's own New PC Suite software supplied in-box.

Audio quality on the S5600 is pretty impressive. The supplied earphones provide decent quality sound with low-end bass presence as well as good higher end detail. The addition of a 3.5mm headphone adapter in the two-part set enables you to plug in better quality ear-wear. We found our own mid-range headphones really boosted the all-round performance. 

A serviceable FM radio is onboard too. It's easily tuneable and can be player through the phone's loudspeaker as well as via the headset. Also bundled in is a music identification app, which enables you to automatically ID tracks you hear around you or on the radio, recording snatches of tunes and interrogating a remote database before returning track details and album artwork in a few seconds. Homescreen widgets for the music player and radio also allow you to play music straight from the standby screen.

Both music and video content can be downloaded quickly via the HSDPA browser, which takes just a few seconds to download a full music track. MP4, H.263, H.264 and WMV video file formats are supported, although not DivX and Xvid (which are on some higher end Samsung touchphones like the Pixon series and Tocco Ultra Edition). Video plays smoothly on the screen, although screen dimensions make it relatively compact for extended video viewing.

The Samsung S5600's main 3.2 megapixel shooter sits on the glossy back panel, though there's an additional low res camera on the front for video calling duties. The camera is a fixed focus lens, so there's no autofocus precision. The interface, similar to other recent Samsungs, is a pleasingly usable, intuitive icon based set up. Large symbols are placed around the viewfinder in landscape mode, and menus appear as further large icon options on the screen. All very finger friendly.

The camera button on the side launches it in just two seconds. The camera snaps quickly and there are no shutter lag issues. Shots are up standard for this sort of cameraphone, but its limitations are evident in the level of detail, and you can't get precise focusing on subjects.

Colours are pretty good, though, and are vibrantly colourful in bright conditions. Inside shots in lower light can look a bit soft, and the LED flash offer only limited illumination at close range, and dark shots look noisy. There's a decent enough selection of shooting options (including Smile Shot), plus easy to use image editing after you've taken pics. You can also upload images to online services straight from camera mode; Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, MySpace, Photobucket and Friendster settings are pre-loaded.

Video capture is typically limited mobile phone quality, however, shooting at QVGA maximum resolution at 15 frames per second, and is  unimpressive on playback.

The S5600 has a decent touchscreen browser onboard, its Webkit based Samsung Mobile Browser v0.8 delivering a speedy experience on HSDPA networks. The user interface has some user-friendly touches, with optional control panels putting desktop browser controls - such as back and forwards, bookmarks, reload and an address bar - at your fingertips. You can drag pages across smoothly with a bit of digit action.

Zoom control can be carried out onscreen by long pressing and then moving up or down with a fingertip - although it's just as easy to use the zoom/volume rocker control on the side. A quick tap on blank bits of pages can fast zoom in and out too. You can view webpages full screen sideways, or in portrait (the accelerometer automatically switching modes). Flash LIte is supported, and pages render quite quickly and look good onscreen. Again, it's not got the slick control of the iPhone's browser, but for a phone at this price level, it's impressive.

Google Maps v2.3.2 software comes pre-loaded too - albeit without GPS spot-on accuracy. It uses cellsite triangulation to deliver approximate positions. It provides maps, satellite views plus search options for businesses and services, and route-planning and directions.

Optimised for large touchscreens, an featiuring touch zoom controls and pop up menus, it works well and adds its usual usefulness to the phone features package. In addition, on this version of the software you can use Street View on a full screen.

The S5600 has plenty of add-on features for a budget touchscreen handset. It supports email, with attachments catered for by excellent document viewer software. Regular organiser functionality and mobile tools include calendar, memo, tasks, world clock, convertor, plus voice recorder timer, stopwatch and alarms. A Communities folder can be used to store details for online social networking and content sharing services, making it simpler and quicker to log into and update accounts.

Call quality couldn't be faulted on our review sample; it put in a consistently solid voice performance, and we found the screen-based calling easy to use and hassle free, the display locking automatically mid-call to prevent accidental touchscreen pressing.

Battery performance is decent enough; Samsung estimates optimum figures of 350 hours' standby time or up to 3.5 hours talktime on 3G networks (6 hours in GSM-only coverage). Our average usage got over 2 days of power between charges, though how much the music player, browser and other features are used will determine individual user figures.

Anyone looking for a taste of touchscreen mobile action at an affordable price should take a look at the Samsung S5600. Effectively a 3G HSDPA-powered upgrade to the big-selling Samsung Tocco Lite, it may have a slightly smaller display, and lack QWERTY typing, but overall this mobile offers a great value package, with plenty of intuitive features in an easy to operate and attractively styled design.

Samsung S5600 info

Typical price: Rs. 11,000

Compact, slim design
HSDPA high speed 3G connectivity
Good screen action
Widgets customisation
Flash on camera
Good quality music perfromance with 3.5mm adapter on earphones

Compact screen
No QWERTY keyboard input option
Text input numberpad could be better
Texting process could be better
Average fixed focus camera

Verdict: Effectively an upgraded version of the popular Tocco Lite, adding HSDPA high speed 3G connectivity to a good quality affordable touchscreen phone package.


More info: Samsung India website

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