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Review of GSM-handset Samsung E420 (La Fleur Collection)
Not a single country in the world has been honored by Samsung with collections featuring a couple of models to date – the only exception is Ultra line-up gathering the slimmest and most feature-packed offerings the company has developed so far. Not only the casing’s thickness is deliberately highlighted by the maker, though – functionality is also a big focus here. At the same time the Russian market is some kind of a proving ground for Samsung, where it tests out all-round new approaches and solutions; remember nicknames for certain models, like Samsung E900 Phantom? That is it – nowhere in the whole world does the company make use of personal names, but in Russia; however it’s not a fluke, for Russia is Samsung’s largest and thus the primary market to act on (for GSM-devices). The launch of La Fleur collection is taken by many as an effective strike back at Nokia’s very own L’Amour range that has been around for two years now. And there are many facts that give one good grounds to think so – French titles and catering mostly for the women audience. But the funniest thing about all this is that much of the credit for establishment of L’Amour goes to… Samsung. Basically, Nokia decided to launch this project in reaction to growing hype around clamshells and other fashion solutions, since by that that Samsung had already had a whole of de facto women-only offerings in its portfolio. The new round of the fight for domination over the market has inspired Samsung to highlight availability of feminine handsets and, among all other things, remind everyone who the founder of this trend was. Unlike Nokia’s range, within La Fleur collection the maker doesn’t focus on various form-factors, thinking of folders as the best pick for women. Perhaps, from the perspective of Samsung’s solutions, everything is like that.
So, Samsung E420 gets La Fleur off to a start – in fact this handset has a codename, “Lily”, making the target audience even more obvious (though there are feminine-titled models with truly masculine looks). Giving you an idea of what the designers were setting out to, we can say in short - «romantic and cute». Every last detail found in this device looks this way only owing to that concept – it is the handset’s appearance that should be the very decisive argument for purchasing the E420.
This is how come the shell is trimmed in white, which is usually called “so feminine”. The glossy plastic used here is a finger print magnet, however they won’t bother you in- or outdoors much. As for the front panel, it makes use of two layers – the one on the top, utilizing transparent plastic and the bottom white-finished layer. Such “sandwich” is essential to engrave the flower-shaped application located on the right that edges the display. The commercial units feature smoothened shapes of the image, while the first release candidates had pin-hole picture, similar what we saw on Vertu’s keypad, and patterns used in L’Amour Collection. Going for the way it currently is, is the right thing – why would they need extra scowls? On top of that the products are totally different.
The accent of the pattern found on the E420 is not its startling shapes or location, you name it – in fact, it’s a light indicator, triggering every time you get a call. It is not very bright or luminous in this condition, yet looks awesome. Generally speaking, this is Samsung’s major trump, probably one of the best appearance-boosters to date, since there are literally no more models showing off something similar.
The handset’s design is really great – slight dissymmetry of the details on the front grabs your attention and does not let it go. Going into details, the camera is moved to the right, whereas the display occupies the area on the left, being somewhat drowned inside the case (the white edging reveals that outright). For power saving purposes the external display is offline most of the time, yet it instantly comes back to life on incoming call or pressing the side-mounted volume control keys. The choice of screensavers for the screen on the front is very limited – more precisely, there are three of them: two types of analog watch and one option for digital watch. The latter screensaver type seems to be the best pick, looking stylish and unusual, while the rest of options on the list will hardly appeal to you due to being quite standard
The display can’t boast any remarkable specs, utilizing OLED-technology, a resolution of 96x96 pixels and 65 K colors. The screen’s behavior in the sun is good – you will hardly have a hard time here, though there isn’t much to read, really, as the display features only icons and notifications for various events, while messages cannot be opened on it.
The sides are made of goldish plastic, which manages to blend with the white-trimmed casing in a convenient fashion. On the left you will find volume rocker switch, while the right side houses dedicated camera button and a socket for charger/headset. The latter slot is covered by a flap firmly attached to the handset’s body. Regrettably, there are no holes for a carrying strap, which is quite unusual for a feminine model; moreover, it’s strange enough. Nevertheless, there is still a chance that in the future the manufacturer will add such essential “feature”.
Measuring a comfortable 83.6õ45.5õ17.9 mm and tipping the scales at 77 grams, the E420 isn’t different from other modern handsets and will surely appeal to women, as it will never go missing, be it a bag or pockets. The build quality, offered by the phone is quite good as well – over the first days of playing around with the gadget, no gaps or crackles were observed. However as the time goes by, the device starts making barely audible sounds on flipping open – the reason is simple, though: top bottom rim doesn’t house a rubber pad, so that the halves keep striking each other, and therefore, such noise is inevitable. Frankly speaking, there is no way to avoid it, for it is a flaw of the handset’s design and has nothing to do with something else.
Any women can seamlessly flip the E420 open, no matter how long her nails are – we even tried it out with the help of our volunteers. The interchange of matt and transparent buttons on the keypad seems peculiar, due to its making the key bigger and deeper than they really are – quite fetching, no doubt about that. As for the keys, they are minor in height and provide average level of ergonomics, but are still easy to work with. The keypad is lit in soft evenly spread white, which does its best only in the dark.
There area under the keypad holds a rubber pad, preventing the display from touching the buttons. A few words on the internal screen – here they were aiming to implement the cheapest unit they could get and frankly speaking, they overdid it a little. The E420 makes use of a OLED-screen with a resolution of 128õ116 pixels (32x41 mm) and 65 K colors onboard. The truth is, it is far inferior almost to all solutions coming in at a price of 200 USD and higher, especially to Motorola’s offerings, equipped with Sharp-branded matrixes. As a matter of fact, it was Motorola, who made the displays sporting a resolution of 176õ220 pixels available in this price-bracket. But in this case, they put the handset’s price on the top of the list, with the intention to keep the E420 away from senior solutions. Truly, what is the point in overpaying for more expensive models, when a shiny model boasting attractive design and good display is on the shelf right in front of you? Knowing about this, the manufacturer has left out a high-quality screen and incorporated a average spec-wise and morally outdated display.
The screen can show up to 5 text and 3 service lines at a time. The display fades in direct sun, yet information remains readable. By the way, the handset’s interface shares the looks with Ultra range – black color theme, yet switching it to the white one (found on Ultra handsets) is impossible here. But apart from the main menu theme, the handsets have a little in common – only visual resemblance of the main menus, whereas all sub-menus and their contents are laid out in a completely different way.
The back cover hides the battery slot beneath –removing it is a real pain, that’s why a woman won’t manage to open it just like that; using something solid would make sense (don’t even think about making use of nails – if you actually do, say “goodbye” to them). Having detached the cover, you will find a 800 mAh Li-Ion battery. As the manufacturer claims, it can power the E420 for up to 230 hours in standby mode and provide about 3.5 hours of talk time. In conditions of Moscow networks the handset lasted for nearly 3 days at one hour of calls and almost uncalled other functions. It takes the phone slightly less than 2 hours to charge from empty to full.
The black menu color scheme is the thing shared by the E420 with Ultra-labeled handsets, acting in the mid and top price-brackets for Samsung. But putting these visual resemblances aside, we stumble upon an unsophisticated entry-level solution with some serious functionality cuts in phonebook, messaging and so on. The very first minutes of playing around with the handset clearly show that the menu’s trim and its layout are two totally different things, after all. Picking an item in the horizontal lists doesn’t highlight it, the font remains the same as well; the E420 doesn’t memorize the last item you called up, etc., etc. etc…
The main menu can be viewed only in a single way – 3x3 icons grid, other options are disabled. Sub-menus are list-based with shortcut number navigation enabled throughout the entire menu tree.
The handset carries only 2 Mb of memory onboard that is dynamically distributed among all applications; however it’s still far below satisfactory level, even if we take into account the VGA camera used on the E420.
Phonebook. Up to 500 phone numbers can be stored in the phone memory. Up to 5 phone numbers, e-mail and a text note can be assigned to an entry. Any entry can be added to a caller group (five groups available), bound up with a personal ring tone and image (either own or pre-installed).
Horizontal scrolling allows listing bookmarks and viewing the phone numbers. Both phone numbers from SIM-card and the phone memory are displayed in the general list. There is a search by name - you need just to enter first letters of the name to sort the list. The general list features only a contact’s name and default number, the rest of data can be accessed via the pop-up menu.
On incoming call, a picture assigned to a contact occupies not the entire display’s area, at that the external screen houses only caller’s name, while the internal display provides phone number.
You can adjust up to 9 fast dial numbers.
Messages. There are two separate items, allowing you to handle SMS and MMS messages respectively. Up to 200 SMS-messages can be stored in the phone’s memory bank. There are up to 10 editable SMS-templates available as well. The E420 support EMS, so it is possible to add pictures, animation and melodies. The set of standard files is quite expected, there are no changes compared to other models, saving for emoticons.
The MMS messages on the E420 are easy to work with. When making up a new message, a template with fields to input text, music, picture, and theme pops up. You can create several pages, set time span between them, adjust font (size, style). The maximum size of one MMS-message can’t exceed 80 Kb.
There is a special folder for drafts and own messages. Memory for storing photos and MMS-messages is shared dynamically. Total memory pool is about 5 Mb.
Call records. The handset features lists of 20 last missed and 20 lately made calls. Each entry contains time and date of call. Via this menu item you can also examine the last call’s time and overall time of all incoming and outgoing calls.
Sounds. The handset retains 40-chord polyphony, which sounds pretty good. One can freely choose from several setups: ring tone only, vibration alarm only, or vibration alarm, followed by a ring tone. The other adjustments are standard: selection of alarm type for SMS and separately for MMS, minute beeps, silent mode (silent alert or complete silence)
Settings. You are free to set default pictures as the wallpaper (there are 4 pre-installed images in the E420, apart from the calendar and random wallpapers). The font in the standby mode is aslso very manageable – settings for its style and location are at your disposal.
It’s curious, that the display’s backlighting time-out is very adjustable – there is a wide choice of values (from 15 seconds to 10 minutes) - the maximum will suit the people, who usually entertain themselves with games, so they will not need to push random keys in order to bring up the backlighting again.
Brightness of the screen can be set to one of five grades.
The side-key can be set to reject incoming call or turn the handset in silent mode.
The E420 boasts Voice Clarity feature, which is a kind of equalizer, boosting you voice’s quality should you find yourself in poorly covered areas. You should definitely go for it you are having problems with reception quality, or can’t make out the words of the interlocutor. Voice Clarity can be activated during a call as well.
The Security options offer pretty much standard capabilities – access restriction to messages, phonebook and other handset’s features are the only things of note (password security).
Mobile Tracker – a handy feature allowing for tracking whether your SIM card was replaced or not, which helps a lot should you have your handset stolen. In this case you will receive a message containing the number of the last SIM-card used (requires setup of the recipient). Basically, this function has been around on Samsung’s latest offerings.
Organizer. You can easily add a new reminder (up to 100 characters). After inputting text, you are able select one of the categories (schedule, to-do list, call, anniversary). Depending on the selected category, different actions will be offered. For example, if you select a schedule, you will see a calendar, then select a day, indicate time, set alarm-clock. Then, this record will be saved and displayed in the separate window. Unlimited number of records could be added to one day, totally up to 25 records of each category are available. When you view several records added for one day, you can see the number of the selected one. Overall, the Organizer has been passed down unchanged to the E420 from the previous generation of handsets.
World time functions brings nothing new. The same goes for calculator, unit converter, including currency converter. Countdown timer and stop-watch with intermediate results are also available in the phone.
Alarm clock can be set to ring on picked weekdays; you can also make use of the autopower on/off function – then the alarm clock will trigger even if the phone is switched off.
The Sound Recorder allows recording not more than 30 minutes only from the standby screen.
Fun Box. Wap-browser of 2.0 version is hidden here. It allows to view color images. The phone supports GPRS, so you won’t go broke while surfing the web.
All received pictures, images and tunes are stored in Media Box.
The E420 comes included with two games - Bubble Smile, SnowBallFight. Should you want to have more entertainment apps onboard, you are free to upload new games owing to the handset supporting Java technology.
Camera. Judging the quality of a VGA camera today, is pointless, to say the least – being far, far behind solutions found on handsets residing in the same class, it outputs snap that leave much to be desired even on the E420’s screen. Naturally, it would be better if the handset didn’t get any camera at all, since it could do well without it. And of course, video recording capability is not on the E420’s spec sheet.
The handset delivers acceptable reception quality, just like any other up-to-date phone, though. The silent alert is average strength-wise, yet can say for sure whether someone is calling you only when the E420 is somewhere in your clothes. The most crucial shortcoming is missing support for mp3 or AAC formats, but at just 2 Mb of memory, the handset wouldn’t be able to store many tunes, so implementing support for them is useless. Instead, the device’s memory holds 12 “simplified” ring tones which surprisingly turn out to sound pretty cool and penetrating – a special credit goes to the maker for paying attention to this aspect. The loudspeaker used for playing back tunes is nothing else but the earpiece, so don’t expect the handset to ring loud enough to be heard from a fancy-bag – something it might sound too quiet.
Speaking about the connectivity prowess of the E420, basically, it is non-existent in view of absence of support for Bluetooth and Infrared. On the whole, rating functionality of this handset is a waste of time, since this is probably the best example of a “cute and empty handset for calls”. What is more, coming up with a device for calls only running on the modern platform, but lacking most of the features (for example Samsung E250 has a very affordable price, but packs a whole lot of features) is not a real problem. So a come-back to the old software kit is strange, to say the least, as it has become out of date a year ago (we mentioned that in a replica of the E420 in the sense of functionality - Samsung X640).
The price for Samsung E420 will be falling down to level of 200 USD, while initially it will be retailed for 200-240 USD. At that the Samsung’s range alone contains a lot of folding phones sporting enhanced feature-pack at comparable or even lower price - Samsung X500, Samsung X670, Samsung X680, you name it. However these solutions employ much less sophisticated design, which is nowhere near the E420.
So, what a women can go for in this price-bracket? The first things coming across my mind are Motorola’s offerings, specifically the classics of the genre - Motorola V3 RAZR, and Motorola PEBL. Both solutions bring more functionality to the table and show off better hardware filling, at that the PEBL retains quite remarkable design that appeal to women, especially taking account of the variety of trims it comes in. Speaking about this product, I cannot overlook the fact that its price/quality ratio is incredibly good. Why? Simple – this solution hasn’t made it to the mass market, so that now it is retailed for a half price – neither strong advertising backing nor the manufacturer’s efforts could save the day. Lack of interest in the PEBL originates from the RAZR’s superiority, which has always appealed to most consumers.
In its turn Sony Ericsson’s line-up proposes a bunch of feminine clamshells as well, like Sony Ericsson Z520i (185 USD), Sony Ericsson Z530i (190 USD) and Sony Ericsson Z550i (250 USD).
As regards Siemens, the CL75 is still in stock and tops the charts due to having a “women-aimed” design and a very affordable price (150 USD).
As you see, Samsung E420 has at least six direct competitors at a glance – but keep in mind that there is a couple of Samsung’s own solution that constitute a threat to the E420’s sales and offerings by second-rate makers. It might sound strange, but the fact is – Nokia doesn’t offer a similar model coming from its “feminine” line-up. In fact, its solutions are positioned either higher or lower, like Nokia 2652. Personally, I couldn’t sleep well over those two weeks when I was playing around with this handset, because of the questing whether Samsung E420 would be a success on the market and fit its target audience? To my mind, the handset’s looks provides “what it takes” to get the E420 to the top of “see-and-buy” chart. But picking Samsung E420 after studying the market and its rivals is the last thing to do, since there are many phones featuring better functionality at lower price. If I was to set a price for the E420, it would be 150-170 USD, in other words, the same as that for Siemens CL75.
I do have doubts about the glowing application saving the day for the E420 – at best, you will remain indifferent, or will hate the E420 (at worst) The concept employed by this handset is too much different from Samsung E530 – these are two different offerings concept-wise, yet sharing more or less the same audience of women with the same mindset, in spite of the price gap. Bluntly speaking, Samsung E420 won’t take away the crown of the “most overpriced handset” from Alcatel Elle, but it’s a big step in that direction. It’s a real pity that Samsung has eventually spoiled such awesome design with crude hardware filling. Revamping and reviving this solution won’t be an easy task either – we all love something new, don’t we?
Published 8 December 2006
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