|My Impressions of the Samsung 8580|
8580 is a dual-mode CDMA phone available from Clearnet PCS.
Last Updated: 28-Aug-2000
Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be ignored.
The Samsung 8580 is a clamshell phone not unlike the Motorola StarTac line. However, it isn’t identical to the Motorola, as it differs in a number of key ways. First of all, the battery is on the back of the lower part of the phone, rather than on the upper part. The large display is located on the upper part of the phone, rather than the lower part. Overall, the Samsung is a strikingly handsome phone, which looks much more sophisticated than the aging StarTac design.
The phone tips the scales at 4.8 ounces (135 grams), which is slightly lighter than the Nokia 6185/6188 (5.2 ounces), and slightly heavier than the Motorola Timeport (4.5 ounces). Size-wise, the phone is a little bigger than the Timeport, but not overly so, and only in certain dimensions.
The display is a pixel matrix LCD design with separate icons for various features. It is quite easy to read, especially in the dark due to its blue luminescent backlighting. The contrast of the display is excellent, and you can adjust it to one of 4 different levels. Granted, I couldn’t detect all that much difference between one contrast setting and another, but at least you have a choice.
Like the Timeport however, the Samsung uses rather wasteful non-proportional fonts that do not have true descenders. That means that letters like “g” look rather odd. Not all the fonts used in the phone are particularly handsome, and some are downright ugly to my eyes. Overall however, the fonts aren’t that bad.
The display is not visible when the phone is closed, but Samsung does allow you to turn off the “answer when open” feature. This allows you to view the Caller ID information before you decide to answer the phone (by pressing the SEND button). Many people like the idea of a phone that answers when they unfold it, but that comes at a price. You can’t see who is calling prior to answering the phone under those circumstances.
The keypad looks very handsome, and it has good (thought not quite excellent) feel. The keys are flush with the faceplate, which normally turns me right off. However, the feel of the keys was sufficiently positive to overcome any misgivings I had about that.
The keyboard layout is fairly logical, and I had no problem getting used to it in just a short period of time. Although it is possible to dial this phone with one hand, it requires a fair amount of concentration. The flip is easy to open with just one hand, since the phone has tabs sticking out of the side for your finger to catch on.
The phone does not come with any type of belt clip. If you plan to carry this model around with you, it either has to go in your pocket, or you’ll need to buy an accessory carrier.
The phone includes a built-in vibrator alert, which is hands down the weakest example I have ever seen. Even placed directly on the palm of my hand, I had considerable trouble telling that it was vibrating. This horribly anemic vibrator is backed up by one of the industry’s worst ringers. Not only was it hardly loud enough for day-to-day use, but it also had an even worse selection of ring tones. Only one of them is even vaguely loud enough to be useable. That practically wipes out any advantage to being able to assign different rings to various phone book entries.
Battery life is excellent with the standard battery. Samsung claims 2.5 hours of talk time, and up to 150 hours of standby time. I never had a chance to perform detailed tests on that, but my seat-of-the-pants feeling was that the phone lives up to its claims.
The build quality on the phone is excellent, and it puts the Motorola Timeport to shame. The phone has a rock solid feel that makes you believe you could do anything to it without inflicting any damage. Build quality is perhaps one of the phone’s greatest assets.
The menu layout in the 8580 is great, and it is arguable just as good as the menus found in the Nokia 61xx phones. The generous proportions of the display help there too, since it allows the phone to display a large amounts of information simultaneously.
However, all is not rosy in the user interface department. This phone has more quirks that any phone I’ve tried in ages. Some of the quirks are just curiosities, while others are downright annoying. Among the most annoying of those quirks are:
Once you execute a menu function (regardless of how deep you must go to
get to it) the phone returns to the idle screen. If you had intended to execute
other items on the same sub-menu, you must work your way back in to them.
When entering or editing text for phone book entries, calendar notes,
etc, you cannot move the cursor back over the characters to insert or delete
them. You must literally erase your way back to spot where the error occurred,
and then retype the material to get back where you were. It doesn’t matter
what entry mode you choose.
The call timer rounds up to the nearest minute, thus making it virtually
useless on the Clearnet network (which bills by the second). You can’t even
check the actual length of your last call once the call has ended, since by then
the phone has already rounded up the time.
The calendar doesn’t allow you to set alarms at arbitrary times ahead
of an event. At best you can make the alarm go off one hour in advance of the
event. This is not a huge problem for most things, but if you wanted a reminder
the night before an appointment, you wouldn’t be able to enter the real time
of that appointment.
To its credit however, the phone has
some very innovative methods of finding and dialing numbers in your phone book.
My favorite is the ability to enter any 4 consecutive digits in a phone number,
and the Samsung will automatically find and dial that entry for you. If more
than one number matches the numeric sequence, it will present you with a list
that you can scroll through.
The Phone Book will store up to 229 entries, with up to 6 numbers associated with each name. I’m not 100% sure if you can have up to 229 names with 6 numbers apiece, or if the memory is limited to 229 numbers spread across a lesser number of names. Either way, the phone book is fairly generous, and it is very well organized.
I wasn’t too happy with the use of uppercase letters to signify the type of phone number (“H” for home, “M” for mobile, etc). It was difficult to distinguish between some of the letters, and you couldn’t use a letter more than once. This is one area where the Samsung’s user interface takes second place to the Timeport. The Timeport uses ICONS for its multiple phone number system, and you can use the same icon more than once if it makes sense to do so.
Despite its small size, the phone also includes an industry-standard 2.5 mm headset jack. Volume and clarity through the headset is also quite good, but nowhere near as good as I was expecting. The volume controls for the phone are conveniently mounted on the side of the unit, and they were easy to reach.
The Samsung offers the T9 predictive text entry system, which makes writing text a breeze. Instead of pressing the keys multiple times to select the letters you want, you just press each key once. The phone then looks up the key combination in a built-in dictionary to find the word (or words) that match. It worked extremely well, but the Samsung does not offer user-expandability of the dictionary (as does the Nokia 8890).
The phone also offers a calendar feature not unlike the one offered on the Nokia 61xx phones. It also features 3 alarms that can be set to go off just once, or to go off at the same time each day.
The phone also features voice dialing, which I found worked very well. However, unlike the Ericsson T18z, you cannot associate a voice dial entry with an existing phone book entry. If you make a mistake entering the associated phone number, you have to erase the recording and start all over again. I personally find voice dialing a bit of a novelty, but some people find it very useful.
Sound Quality and RF Performance
What initially intrigued me about the Samsung was the claims people were making for its RF performance and audio quality. The way some people made it sound, you’d think that the Samsung was some kind of revolutionary breakthrough in phone design. With expectations like that, it was no surprise I was horribly disappointed.
That isn’t to say that the phone doesn’t provide excellent RF performance however, it just isn’t earth-shatteringly better than any other phone Clearnet sells. I tested it directly against my aging Sony phone, and in terms of holding on to calls-in-progress, the Samsung was not appreciably better. However, when it came to hanging on to the network signal while idling, or when switching cleanly to analog, the Samsung was markedly better than the Sony (though no better than the Motorola Timeport).
However, the ability of the phone to receive calls in weak areas with its retractable antenna down was less than inspiring. The performance was no different that I found in the Tiimeport, but it just couldn't touch the antenna-down performance of the original Sony phone (which I tested side-by-side in those weak areas). If you plan to use the phone in a very weak area, keep the antenna up.
The audio quality was a huge let down for me. To begin with, the Samsung suffers from the same level of hiss as the old Sony. In fact, in side-by-side comparisons, the hiss sounded virtually identical on both phones. The Samsung had marginally higher maximum volume, but nothing worth writing home about. The maximum volume and lack of hiss put the Timeport way ahead of the Samsung in that regard.
The earpiece sound quality was also disappointing. It was decidedly muddy; as it lacks the crispness that one gets from the Timeport. Some people have claimed that the differences are slight to their ears, and I don’t claim that everyone will react the same way as I do to the sound. However, if you fancy yourself a fairly discerning individual, you will probably be rather disappointed in this model.
What’s even worse than the earpiece performance however is the microphone. Everyone I spoke with told me that I sounded faint and muddy. Many people said that they couldn’t really make out certain nuances of my voice, such as the fine difference between an “f” sound and an “s” sound. The microphone sensitivity on my 8580 was so low that I had to talk directly into the phone to achieve even marginally passable audio volume. I was ready to blame that on the EVRC CODEC until I had a chance to try the Timeport. All my callers aid it sounded gorgeous.
In terms of audio stability however, the Samsung does quite well now that Clearnet has switched to the vastly superior EVRC CODEC. For a more in-depth discussion of what EVRC is and how it affects your phone, click here. However, the implementation of EVRC in the Qualcomm chipset isn’t quite as good as it could be. I was very impressed with the audio stability on the Samsung until I heard the Timeport. Motorola’s CDMA chipset is simply better at providing faultless audio reproduction than is Qualcomm’s. Motorola may have forgotten how to build durable enclosures for their phones, but they still know how to engineer an RF device.
I might have considered keeping the 8580 if I hadn’t tried a Timeport. Since I rate voice quality well above all other considerations, there was no question which phone I had to choose. However, you may not have the same set of priorities as me, in which case the 8580 is a still a great choice.