Mini-Review of the Samsung S105

The Samsung SCH-S105 is a clamshell GSM phone with a large color display. Outwardly it looks like a top-of-the-line model with a price to match, but itís actually a fairly mediocre model with surprisingly few features. This is only a mini-review however, since I only a little under 2 hours to play with the phone.

Last Updated: 26-Feb-2003


Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Thanks to Jeff Setton for lending me the S105.

Negative Review Warning: The following review is very critical of the S105. If you feel that you will be offended by such a review, I suggest you don't read it.

Letís begin with whatís actually good about this phone. Like all Samsung models the exterior housing is built with precision, and it shows. The hinge has a solid feel, and the phone seems to be constructed to incredibly tight tolerances. Iíve never had a problem with the construction quality of a Samsung phone, and S105 is no exception.

The screen is a 65,000-color 128x160 pixel display that is perhaps the single best feature of the phone. Itís large and easy-to-read, and Samsung has gone out of their way to make use of the screen real estate. Their menu system is both pretty and utilitarian at the same time. Nice touches such as the current value of a menu item being displayed in a small popup box (not unlike tool tips in Microsoft Windows) abound.

It comes loaded with quite a few features that competitor Nokia has made virtually standard on their phones, such as alarms, calendar, to-do list, and games. Needless to say, the games are a strong point with the phone, mostly because of the generous color screen. It may not be a replacement for your Gameboy, but itís a lot more interesting than games on a small monochrome phone.

Unfortunately, thatís pretty much where the praise ends. From here on out, just about everything else about the phone is substandard, or annoying. Letís begin with the ringtones. Like most modern cell phones aimed at the consumer market, the S105 provides polyphonic ringtones. Thereís nothing wrong with polyphonic tones per se, as they can sound very nice, but they simply arenít loud enough for all but quiet environments. That too would be okay if the phone provided standard loud ringtones, but it doesnít. I donít think Iíve heard such faint ringers from any other phone.

The keypad is designed for looks and not utility. It has the same butted-together flush keys that annoyed me on the N105. They work well enough, but the lack of any tactile feel on the edges of the keys makes it difficult to use them without looking.

The phonebook was disappointing too. It was a basic name-and-number affair that was barely a hair above the standard SIM card solution. Iím not sure why, but I was expecting something quite amazing to go along with the color screen and terrific screen real estate.

And then thereís the earpiece volume, or specifically, lack of it. Even at full volume, the S105 is a faint phone, which is surprising when you consider that one of the great features of the Samsung R225 was loud earpiece volume. The volume is louder when you use the earbud instead of the built-in earpiece, but thatís not an option for noisy environments anyway.

Tonal balance was actually quite good though, but it was a little boomy on certain voices. However, tonal balance doesnít really matter much when the phone produces horrific crackling sounds from certain voices. I thought it was caused by a physical limitation in the earpiece, but turning down the volume had no impact. Clearly the problem was in the audio circuits somewhere. Since I wasnít able to test a second S105 I had no way of knowing if this problem was common, or if it was just a flaw with the specific phone I tested.

RF performance was way below par. Inside of the food court at Promenade Mall north of Toronto I compared the S105 to my Motorola P280. In an area where the P280 had solid service and faultless audio, the S105 could barely hold on to a signal. If you ever could manage to establish a call, the audio would break up excessively.

What I couldnít understand was how my friend (who owned the S105 that I tested) was so bewitched by the phone. He normally placed high value on RF performance and audio, but he seemed quite willing to throw those things out the window for what amounted to a low-end phone with poor performance.

Perhaps this is the ultimate expression of whatís happening to the cell phone industry these days. Joe Blow consumer seems to want style over substance, and the S105 has that in spades. As Iíve said before, if you are the type that buys a phone because it looks cool or has cool features, you probably shouldnít be wasting your time reading reviews anyway. For the rest of us, steer clear of the S105, and put your hard-earned $400 to $500 (Canadian) to better use