Review: Samsung D900

The folks over at were very kind to send us the Samsung D900 feature phone for the purposes of this review. What’s special about this phone is that it’s the slimmest slider in the market today with a 3.2 MP camera on it, a technological marvel. Read on for our review, screenshots of the system, camera samples and a hands-on video.

The Samsung D900 is one of the highest-end Samsung phones today, encompassing quad-band GSM, EDGE, QVGA screen, microSD hot-swap slot, Bluetooth 2.0, TV-output and of course, a 3.2MP camera. At just 85 grams this slider is one of the smallest and lightest in the market and what’s amazing is that it’s selling below $350 USD. On the box we found a manual, a stereo handsfree, a battery and its cover, and a USB cable. Unfortunately, there was no TV-out cable included (as it used to be in the D600 boxes) and we only found such a cable to buy at eBay for the rip-off price of $28.

right click to save the video to view it properly, offline

The camera is safely hidden behind the back-side of the slider and there is a bit of space between the two sliding parts so the camera never gets scratched when you slide them up and down. On the left side you will find the Vol Up/Down keys and the microSD slot while on the right side of the phone you will find a camera button and the proprietary charging/usb/tv-out port. To slide the phone you can use assistance in the form of a small plastic knob. Unfortunately, the knob is so close to the 4-way joypad that many times I ended up loading the shortcut for the “up” key by mistake while trying to slide the phone up. Other than that, the actual keypad is very good and feels responsive when you are pressing keys, while the overall design is very solid and feels trusty.

The phone boots in about 5 seconds and turns off in about 2. You only need to press the “hungup/power” button for just 1 full second to turn on/off the phone and this might be a problem for some people as it’s a shorter time than on most other phones. The QVGA screen is very bright and vibrant and when I use it at the lowest brightness it’s still bright indoors and acceptable when outdoors. The left softkey loads the main menu while the right softkey loads the contact list. The joypad’s “up” key is a shortcut to a special “personal shortcut menu” that allows the user to pick his/her 5 most used applications or utilities and load them. The “right” key loads the Calendar and the “left” joypad key loads the SMS/MMS editor. When pressing the “ok” middle button key, the web browser comes up when on the main screen and some people on the Samsung forums find this very annoying. What I personally do not like is that in order to lock the keypad (when in the “closed” non-sliding position) I must slide the phone up and down first, there is no shortcut (neither an option on the “my menu” shortcut list) to lock the keypad on demand. That could be easily done if they made the “C” button (“back button”) to lock the keypad when long-pressed.

The “down” key loads the music player, which can play AAC/+ and MP3, but no WMA (other Samsung models support WMA, like the similar model D840). The music player can be used in the background. There is some basic preset EQ support and a choice of some visualization themes. There is support for playlists and this is how the music player is meant to be used (you can’t sort by artist or album). You can set any mp3 song as a ringtone either via the special screen for it, the music player or the file manager (this is a feature usually missing from the locked T-Mobile-branded Samsung phones, like the T-809). I found the stereo quality of the included handsfree very good for music, although the earphones are falling off my ears all too easily (they are not the in-ear style and my ears are smaller than most people’s to host the “round” kind of earphones). Finding a Samsung-to-3.5mm audio jack adapter is also pretty difficult; eBay is again your best bet.

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The D900 supports fixed dialing and it has a feature that will stop working if another SIM is used with the phone (in case of theft). There is also support for Speed dial, but not support for Voice dial. Instead, the phone comes with a feature called “Clarity” which takes noise cancellation a step further and makes the user’s voice clear on the other side of the line, even if the user is in the midst of a very noisy place. There is speakerphone support while on a call, and with a special “magic” (and undocumented) dial number you can even record conversations in AMR format (there is also a voice recorder application on the phone). The Contacts screens are nothing to talk about, they are pretty standard except the fact that the font is so big that only 3 contacts fit per screen (on other QVGA phones it’s usually 5). You can Group your contacts and then make a search for them based on their name or surname.

Bluetooth worked extremely well here and during file exchange it maxed out at 120 KB/sec! This is the fastest Bluetooth file exchange I ever had. We also had the phone successfully pair with A2DP headphones, while there is BT printing support for some files only. The phone by default “masks” your videos and images and doesn’t let other paired computers to browse your phone’s files. You have to manually mark files as “public” in order for Bluetooth to make them visible. One thing I really loath though is the fact that Samsung phones do not “recognize” java games or applications when sent via Bluetooth or USB. Only Java binaries downloaded via the WAP browser will be executed and installed (heavily involved workaround exists). This seems to be Samsung’s way of playing ball with the carriers’ wishes, but for an unlocked phone like this is, it is unacceptable.

The file manager is pretty good, although its usability is not as good as SonyEricsson’s. There is 60 MBs of storage free on the phone after you delete all that weird videos of Korean (or was that Chinese?) pop boy bands that Samsung has stuffed the phone with… If you leave these video files in (as the phone came by default), you will only have 18 MBs of internal storage free. A cool thing is that when you transfer on your phones PDF, XLS, PPT, DOC, TXT and HTML files, the Picsel Viewer is able to view them and function as an Office format viewer. Unfortunately, it does that for HTML files too, which means that you can’t setup a specific HTML file as your portal with the phone’s web browser. Picsel Viewer will load it instead and there is no way to change this behavior.

The phone supports MMS, SMS and POP/IMAP email. I successfully configured and used Gmail with the phone. It proved to be a bit slow, but it works. One thing that I really did not like though is that the phone does not have a universal GPRS profile screen, so each time you setup either the web browser, or the email or the MMS, or your Java apps, you have to retype your GPRS settings over and over again (apn, username, passwd and maybe proxy/IP addresses in some cases).

The “Planner” side of the D900 includes an Alarm application with a recurring ability. The Calendar application allows for more alarms to be set and with more options. There is also a memo application, world clock for 2 cities, a calculator, a unit converter, a timer and a stopwatch. I am very satisfied from the PIM functions of the phone. While the font used is a bit too big sometimes and takes too much space the actual functionality is all there.

Regarding the web browser (a 2+ year old Samsung-modified Openwave UP.Browser, I found its integration pretty poor. There are no browser preferences to allow for cookie clean up or page language prefs or to tell it to not load images, or anything like that. Additionally, small images on *mobile pages* will take minutes to display, even if the main page would be fully loaded pretty fast. For the mobile page for example, which is just 28KB (code+data), the page is rendered in just 10-15 seconds in full, but the (small) images render all of a sudden only about 2-3 minutes later! The browser can deliver WML and HTML pretty well, it has support for basic CSS but no javascript.

More over, the GPRS/EDGE stack seems to crash frequently. I would have 4-6 GSM bars (very good GSM reception performance btw), but when it comes to GPRS I would get random “network request timeout” and similar errors all too regularly for my taste (the EDGE icon disappears when this occurs). This seems to be a phone bug and not a reception problem. Opera Mini did not fare any better in this issue either, many of its network requests would just time out.

If that was not enough, there is a Java bug in the HTTP session request module that affects both Opera Mini and Google Maps. Each time the Java application needs to connect to a server the phone will repeatedly keep asking you if you want to allow the app to make the connection or not. It just doesn’t “remember” the setting for “once per session” like other phones do. Apparently this is a bug specific to the D900 (or my firmware version) because other Samsung phones don’t exhibit this behavior. Changing the “permissions” settings on the Java apps does not fix the problem.

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The phone does not have profiles all in one place, but they are scattered in several places. If you want to go offline for example, you find this option under Settings/PhoneSettings. If you want to go vibrate-only, you find this option under Sound Settings (or you press-and-hold the # key). There are quite a few setting options to explore.

Call quality is very good, but some people might find the call volume a bit low. There is another undocumented special code that you can enter to increase the volume call (ask at, Samsung section). Battery life is nothing to brag about, the phone managed a bit over 3 hours on talk time which is just about average.

One really nice touch is the actual user interface, which uses small popup windows on top of each selected option, making it easy and fast to see what options are included in sub-menus, or how many new messages or emails a particular folder has. It might take a bit of time to get used to it, but it does save you time from navigating to many nested sub-menus. Additionally, when you come back to a specific menu, the system “remembers” which menu item you had left selected the last time you were there. Finally, the system is very speedy and responsive, it doesn’t seem to break a sweat for day to day operations.

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Of course, the strongest point of this product is its camera. 3.2MP and boy what a great quality it’s got! Together with some of the Nokia N-series and the SonyEricsson K800i, this is one of the strongest phones in the market right now in terms of camera quality. It has support for autofocus, exposure metering, scene programming, manual ISO selection, effects, has a pretty powerful flash (with automation support), funny frames for portraits and it has the ability to shoot in a multishot mode. You can shoot for resolutions from 240×180 all the way to 2048×1536. The autofocus feature does not lock the same way digicams do (that await the user to re-press the snap button), but it focuses automatically, it waits 1 second and then it snaps the picture. The user must not move the phone for at least 3 seconds from the moment the snap button was pressed; otherwise the picture might end up blurry.

However, the camera application has a serious flaw: you can’t save your pictures to a microSD. You have to manually go and move them later using the file manager! Apparently this is the No1 issue current customers have with the D900 if we are to judge from the reaction at the forums. One more major problem we found is that the filenames for the new pictures recycle. So if you move to the microSD or your PC the Photo_0001.jpg and then you try to shoot a new picture and move it over again, you will end up with a conflict of file names (and I am not sure how the Samsung file manager will react on this issue).

The video recording ability is very good too. It doesn’t do VGA recording but it does .MP4 CIF (352×288), which is higher than QVGA (download video sample below). It doesn’t record 3GP, but it can playback it. Most of the functions that exist for the camera (including the flash) can work for the video recording too. When playing back video and pressing the “1” key, the video will playback full screen in landscape mode (this is another undocumented feature). Like with the still-shot camera, videos can’t be saved to the microSD automatically either.

Click to view a larger version Click to view a larger version Right-click to save the video

Overall, for the price offered, this is a very good handset. Like any product it could definitely be better, but I promise it won’t let you down. If you like to look at its competition first, check the N73 and the K800i, both excellent alternatives with similar specifications, but a tad more expensive than the ultra affordable Samsung D840 and D900.

* Amazing quality 3.2 MP camera with flash, ISO, mutishot and autofocus
* UI remembers which menu you left selected when exited, speedy
* Bluetooth 2.0 with AVRCP/A2DP/GAVDP support
* Handy MS Office and PDF document viewer
* Music player able to play in the background
* Microphone with extra noise cancelation
* Great GSM reception performance
* Quad-band and EDGE support
* Extremely thin and lightweight
* CIF and QVGA video capture
* Vibrant, bright QVGA screen
* TV-Output support

* Can’t lock the keypad via shortcut (must slide up and down first)
* No camera focus-lock, photo filenames recycle
* Can’t install Java apps sent via Bluetooth or USB
* Pics/Videos can’t be saved directly to microSD
* WMA support removed from this model
* Java network session saving broken
* No TV-Out AV cables included
* GPRS stack crashes frequently
* Poor web browser integration
* No universal GPRS settings
* No Voice Dialing

Overall Rating: 7.5/10


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