Review of the Samsung N105

The Samsung N105 is a lightweight, dual-band GSM flip phone. Like all other Samsungs, it has terrific fit & finish, and itís almost good enough to be declared a great phone. Unfortunately, as youíll learn, it has some rather disappointing flaws.

Last Updated: 17-Jul-2002

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

In terms of size, the N105 isnít quite small enough to play in the same league as say the Nokia 8290/8890 or the Ericsson T66, but itís still quite a diminutive phone. Itís noticeably smaller and lighter than the Motorola P280.

Styling isnít really going to get your juices flowing though, since itís a rather staid looking squared-off affair with few (if any) modern styling queues. That isnít to say that itís ugly however, as the phone is quite handsome in a conservative sort of way.

The display is quite tiny, and the backlight, while of the excellent electro-luminescent variety, is just too dim. The font doesnít help matters, and so the display is just too hard to read. Samsung could stand to improve the phone greatly in this area.

Fit and finish are excellent, as seems to be the case with all of the Samsung phones that Iíve tested. Oddly though, I never got the feeling that the phone was as solidly built as the CDMA Samsungs Iíve tested in the past. That may simply be an illusion created by the frumpy design, since the phone is actually quite solidly constructed.

The keypad is an odd-looking design that butts the keys together in a big group. At first I felt that it would be impossible to distinguish the keys during quick keyboard manipulation, but things arenít as bad as they seem. However, that doesnít mean I think the keyboard is a good design. I still hate it, and Iíd have preferred a more traditional keyboard, even if that meant having smaller keys.

The menus are reasonably well laid out, and each one has a numeric sequence that you can use to get to it. Like Nokia phones, the sequence of numbers required to get to any menu is always displayed on the screen. Unlike the recent Motorola phones however, the N105 does not provide any way to customize the keypad for quicker access to frequently used functions.

The phonebook is about as primitive as it gets. Even though you can store entries in phone memory (separate of the SIM, which imposes its own restrictions), the only thing you can enter is phone number and name. There is no room for extra information, no icons denoting the type of phone number, and no hierarchal structure. However, it does let you assign a unique ring style to each entry, so it isnít quite as bad an early-90ís analog phone.

The phone supports a reasonably good implementation of T9, and you can access this input method at most prompts. The phone includes a user dictionary, so words that you use commonly (but arenít in the primary dictionary) can be added.

Earpiece volume is controlled by a fairly nice side-mounted up-and-down control. Although this is virtually standard on most phones, its execution is better than most. The only other visible external feature is a 2.5mm headset jack. Itís good to see even more companies going with this standard, rather than implementing their own proprietary connector.

Ringer volume is sadly lacking. In fact, Iíd have to call it pathetic. While its adequate for a quiet room, it just isnít loud enough for most noisy environments like busy streets or shopping malls. The N105 provides a number of pre-programmed ringtones, and you can create your own using a rather cute graphic ring composer. Except for the standard ring however, most of the others (including those you create yourself) are too quiet.

The feel of the earpiece against my head was quite comfortable, but it was a long way from being ideal. I found that it began to annoy me a little after using the phone for more than 10 minutes or so. The problem appears to be that flat contours of the phoneís face.

RF and Audio Performance

I wasnít expecting very much from the audio on this phone, given the horrendously poor sound of the two Samsung CDMA models Iíve tested. However, the audio quality on the N105 is perhaps one of its best features. Volume is also excellent, and on par with the Motorola P280. Overall sound quality is about as close to the P280 (my top pick for cell phones) as you can probably get.

Outgoing audio was also very good, but the N105 seems to pick up background noise more readily than the P280. More specifically, the N105 doesnít do a particularly good job of suppressing background noise. The P280 is hardly the poster child for excellent noise suppression, and yet it still outperforms the N105 in this respect.

When it comes to RF sensitivity, the N105 is also right up there with the P280. Unfortunately, RF performance doesnít begin and end with simple sensitivity. There are other factors that determine how well a phone behaves, and therein lies the problem with the N105.

The first problem is the efficiency of the antenna, which is always more important to the transmitter than it is to the receiver. The N105 doesnít put out as strong a signal as my P280, and when I performed tests inside Square One in Mississauga, the N105 sounded to me like it was doing as well as the P280, but that wasnít the case on the outgoing end.

Another odd problem with the N105 that I tested was a propensity to handoff way more than other phones. This isnít the first time Iíve experienced this problem, as I found that the Mitsubishi G310 suffers from it as well. Under similar conditions, the N105 will handoff 10 to 15 times, whereas my P280 (or even my old Nokia 6190) will handoff only once or twice, if at all. I found this problem prevalent whenever I used the N105, and the effects were extremely annoying.

Iím not really sure exactly how this works, but since the phone is responsible for passing along information to the network that allows the network to make handoff choices, it wouldnít be much of stretch to imagine that some phones are capable of massaging the information sent to the network. Doing so could help to eliminate excess handoffs. However, that is only speculation, and Iíve yet to find a plausible explanation. Despite having no answers, the effects are readily observable, and thereís no question that the N105 I was using had a handoff problem of some sort.

In terms of features though, the N105 is a strong performer. It includes many of the features that Nokia pioneered on the 6100 series, such as alarms, a Calendar, to-do lists, and a calculator. However, the Samsung programmers seemed to forget just how small the screen was, and they tried to stuff too much onto it. The Calendar for example, begins with a ďmonth viewĒ, and you have to see how tiny those numbers are to believe it.

The phone features quite a few interesting games, but the programmers got carried away again, and tried stuff too much on the tiny screen. Playing games requires exceptional up-close eyesight (it pays to need glasses for seeing far away, since you can take them off and bring the phone close to your face). Despite this flaw, the games are quite entertaining, but hardly the sort of thing to keep you interested for long.

The N105 came very close to being a phone I would choose for a personal day-to-day unit, and if it didnít have the handoff problems, poor transmitter output, and a pathetic ringer, I could easily have seen myself recommending it as an alternative to the Motorola P280. Perhaps the problems I experienced were not endemic to the entire line, but since I could only test one phone, I had no way of knowing.

As far as I am aware, no one in Canada sells this phone, but if youíre reading the review from the US, or you donít mind buying a phone over the Internet, it is readily available in the United States. The one I tested was in fact an unlocked Voicestream model.

ther Reviews of the Samsung N105

Howard Chui