Samsung Jet/S8000 Review

Does Samsung’s latest mobile have the iPhone quaking in its boots? The Jet certainly has the looks but does it also have the required substance? Michael O’Connell finds out.

When I first got my hands on the Samsung Jet I observed several interesting things, the most obvious of them is that the Jet, or S8000 if we want to get technical is actually quite small, measuring in at a not so whopping 108 x 103 x 12mm’s. The second is that it’s also fairly light. Both good things in phone land by my reckoning. The third most noticeable quality of the Jet, apart from the touch screen that occupies the majority of the mobiles face is that the body is made from plastic. 

Okay, that’s not exactly a shocking discovery in the 21st century I know but this is pretty average consumer moulded plastic here and may not stand up to the discerning smart-phone users out there. This is no biggie though as it does hold up to daily use and you can’t ask much more than that, I don’t know how well it would cope with a sudden fall on a hard concrete floor because I’m, frankly, not that brave – but I don’t think it would be pretty.

In Use
Getting past that though and I found that the shape of the phone is comfortable in hand and the Jet is a rather sleek little number. Sleek that is, other than the few buttons that sit on each side, this is common on all mobile phones of course but these do seem a little to proud to me and I found that at times I inadvertently pressed them sending me hurtling into a world of motion sensors and built in cameras or, more annoyingly just having to unlock the screen again. But this is a minor niggle and one that will become a moot point over time as your hands get used to handling the Jet.

In building the S8000, Samsung have really given the smartphone market their best shot and it has a lot packed into it, so lets go over the Jets main assets:

Widgets
These are mini applications that live in a dedicated dock on the phones desktop, limited in number at the moment and can behave in a way that isn’t very intuitive. For instance pressing a widgets icon will in most cases remove it from the dock and open it on the desktop – that’s fine but it does strike me as a little strange that the icon is removed from the dock, in the case of the memo (stickies) widget this essentially limits you to only having one note open at a time and anyone that’s ever come in contact with my desk will tell you that I use a lot of them. You could open another in another desktop of course but that doesn’t make for a very fluid process. Then there are other widgets, such as the Facebook and Youtube ones that don’t open on one touch but instead have their icons transferred onto the desktop requiring another tap of the finger to open them up, again not the most intuitive usage ever conceived. 

The widgets strike me as a nice idea but one that needs a little more thought behind it, they could be great and I don’t think it’ll take much more work on Samsungs part to make it a very important part of this phones (as well as others that share the OS) appeal.

Touch screen
The Jet’s most obvious and (for obvious reasons) most used feature is the phones touch screen. Samsung haven’t skimped here. The screen is beautifully crisp and colour just punches out of it. The screen is of the 3.1 inch AMOLED variety and for the most part is very responsive unlike some other touch screen devices I’ve encountered in the past. A fact Samsung are obviously aware of considering they’ve included a Dynamic Canvas app, which had me scribbling like a toddler, or even Jackson Pollock, after all I did go to art school.

The touch screens one failing however is one that hinders the S8000 across all areas – the operating system. This has a tendency to lag at times, usually and typically, when you’re doing something that has to be done right that second – like taking a picture. This affects the screen only in that one can easily become frustrated when waiting for your swift finger dances to be translated into beautiful menu movements and web pages zooming in or out – something that seems to take great thought on the Jets part, this can reflect badly on an excellent component.

5MP camera
One of the Jets most saleable assets is that is doubles up as a 5MP camera. I’ve always been sceptical of camera phones or perhaps I should say the quality produced from them.

Samsung’s Jet however struck me as different from the start, I’m pleased to say that my first impressions were correct and that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. While the camera functions may not stand up against a consumer compact digital camera they do come as close as possible.

The Camera interface takes up the whole of the screen providing two banks of options down the left and right sides when viewed in the landscape orientation, in the middle is a live preview of what’s happening on the other side of the lens. A button on the side of the phone – to the right of the mobiles base acts as a shutter release and is also a shortcut into the camera application. The left menu provides you with the ability to turn the camera into a camcorder, Shooting mode which includes various fun options such as taking pictures with daft picture frames, Smile shot, continuous shooting – but only at 0.3MP, Mosaic, allowing you to make an impromptu work of art and an excellent panorama function that puts some compacts I’ve come across to shame. There are the usual Scene modes available such as portrait, landscape and so on, all of which do their job to a satisfactory level. To the right lie the flash and exposure controls alongside a preview button.

So, lots of things to play with here but what are the pictures like? Well they’re actually very good. The cameras auto focus works well and quickly stopping fast moving people in their tracks while producing nice sharp images. Colour and tonal values are also well balanced, I took test shots at various times of day to see how well the camera dealt with changing light conditions and I have to say that it performed admirably although it did tend to over expose in dim light just a little, but not a lot and this is easily remedied by manually changing the exposure setting or by switching to the corresponding scene mode. 

The image quality is comparable to most digital compacts of this resolution that I’ve come across. Of course, if you zoom right in detail gets lost due to low pixel count relative to the 10MP+ that consumers have become used to. Noise is apparent in areas of colour gradient but not so much in shadowed areas. Bright light blows out a little which degrade detail but this is a common problem and really isn’t an issue for a camera phone.

To get your images off of the Jet you need to download and install Samsungs drivers and software from the supplied disk. Unfortunately the S8000’s software is Windows only so if you’re a Mac user I’m afraid you’re out of luck - it won’t even mount as a disk on a Mac’s desktop. 

Samsung have been a bit clever here, possibly too clever. The software you use to manage content on the phone is called Samsung New PC Studio  and once installed you are presented with a mock/cartoon desktop where you drag-and-DROP files from phone to computer. This begs the question, why? Why on earth not just use the actual operating system? They figured out this technology a long time ago after all.

Like most camera phones the Jet is capable of recording video as well as stills. This isn’t just limited to recording a straight piece though – there are options! Normal, which is err, normal. Limit for MMS, which will restrict the file size of the video to a manageable amount for sending as an MMS message (295k) – perfect for recording a quick offensive message - sadly, but predictably the resolution this option records at is so small that it won’t have any serious applications but could be fun. Finally, there’s Slow Motion, this option got me interested the second I saw it and it certainly works, unfortunately the resolution is, like the MMS option, limited to a rather small size. This surprised me as there doesn’t appear to be any limit to the file size other than the Jets on storage and it’s unlikely that anybody would be sending a file like this over the network – so why the low resolution? Again, the practicality of this option is nil so is confined to being a bit of a fun gimmick.

Playback on the Jets screen shows that the recording is smooth and the microphone picks up surrounding sounds with a nice soft level. One word of warning though – when recording video your pretty well limited to doing so in landscape if you plan on previewing your creation on the S8000’s screen after recording, if you record upright the motion sensor will kick in and your video will preview at a rather awkward 90 degree angle.

The camcorder function shares most of the settings from the still camera; this is great as it allows you to take charge of a situation. If it’s a bit dark just turn the flash on and the area immediately in front of you will be illuminated, if it’s a bright day you can change the exposure settings and your away. The settings left out is the Shooting modes as they don’t apply as well as Scene modes, these may have been nice if brought over to the moving image but isn’t really necessary so we can let that go. 

I must say, that overall I’m impressed with the S8000’s camera function, the five megapixel resolution, crisp image quality and integrated flash makes this a camera phone to be reckoned with and should have the likes of Apple seriously looking at themselves and considering how they’re going to respond.

Applications
The applications on the JET are accessed via the menu panel on the desktop or by pressing the centre button if you wish to be a bit more physical and give your thumb a workout. This seems like a very familiar place – a grid of app icons against a black background. Really, can nobody come up with another way of navigating app icons? I’m beginning to get a little tired of seeing mobile device operating systems utilize this look, it strikes me as being a tad lazy and more than slightly ‘me-too’. That said it is an easy way of getting around the apps, which might be why we see this so much – perhaps it just can’t be bettered, but it would be nice to see somebody try now and again. This aside, Samsung certainly haven’t skimped on the supplied apps with the JET though, providing no less than 32 icons to scroll through. All the expected ones are there, phone setting, calculator, google etc. Samsung have also included a basic video editor which while being a bit bare-bones can, with patience and a steady hand, provide some decent results.  

One of the S8000’s best features has to be the ability to multi-task though, with a device such as this running more than one app at a time is an absolute must and, nine times out of ten the Jet performs admirably but sometimes it seems to struggle with the rather simple problem of keeping more than one app going at a time. This is a task one would expect Samsungs 800Mhz processor to fly through but there does appear to be a tendency to lag and under perform, with apps seemingly freezing up at times and becoming unresponsive which can be more than slightly frustrating, especially if you’re using an app like the camera. 

However, Samsungs methods of looking after the Jets applications is a neat and tidy affair, there’s even a nice way of navigating through the open apps via an interface that’s not to unlike Apples coverflow, accessed by holding down the big central button allowing you to hop straight to an app or close it down. This simple feature can be quite handy, especially if an app doesn’t close down when it should do as this can, and will, drain the battery life if not rectified. When creating a phone such as the S8000 that boasts so many features and functions you need to allow the end user to adjust the settings as required, unfortunately the same tidiness that went into the app management hasn’t been extended here, I found it quite difficult to find some rather basic settings due to a somewhat unintuitive interface in this area, this however is nothing to loose sleep over as everything you need is there, even if tucked away a bit.

Motion sensor
While Apple has charged ahead with this technology Samsung seem to have been left behind scratching their head, as while the Jet has got this built in it doesn’t seem to do much at all and comes over as being a bit of an afterthought. The few functions that the Jet does have seem to be limited to gimmicky ways of launching and controlling applications by manically waving your phone around or by smacking the thing. Call me old fashioned but I’d rather treat a nice bit of kit with some respect and restrict myself to pressing buttons.

On a more practical level the motion sensors can be used for scrolling through a series of images or videos but I had trouble with this as the sensor at times would completely ignore me or sprint off in a sudden burst of activity. So I have reservations as to the motion sensors sensitivity. One thing that is nice is the options of having the phone automatically go into speakerphone mode when distanced from the users face when in call. This could be very handy and could also be very embarrassing depending on the content of the conversation. Luckily though, like nearly everything else on the Jet there are settings available allowing you to customise the way it works just for you.

It is a shame that more hasn't been done with this technology, but it's there now and Samsung should concentrate on building on it. with the iPhone Apple have seized upon motion sensitivity in everything from maps to games and they're competitors should have learnt from this already. Even just a few built in games would have really shown off the S8000's beautiful screen and could easily have become a real showpiece.

Other Features of note
With a phone like the Jet it’s nearly impossible to go through all it features one by one but the above are the main points of interest. Of course there’s more such as the built in Wi-Fi, accessed via an application this provides a nice and easy to use function that searches for Wi-Fi connections around you  - can even search for hidden networks allowing access to private connections, provided you know the network name and password. 

Then there’s the built in FM radio receiver, pretty standard nowadays. Also, there's the complimentary applications such as image browser, video player and a rudimentary video editor, you won’t make the next blockbuster on it but like a lot of what you find on the Jet it will provide a bit of amusement. If you know anybody out there who has a camera that can make video calls you can surprise them by actually making one, utilising a front facing camera. And of course Samsung wouldn’t put a mobile like this out without a music player and if you were to use up the 1.5Gb of internal storage, well you can put more in via a micro-SD card. This is a really nice feature and the slot can be found under the back plate near the SIM card.

Verdict: 
Reviewing the Jet has been a bit of a journey. Some things I love, such as the camera and the overall excellent level of usability via Samsung's TouchWiz 2.0 operating system. Regrettably it’s this OS that lets down the Jet which at times I suspect is just trying to do a little too much at once. The Jet sports some pretty nice hardware that's hard to find fault with and looks wise the Jet holds its own against any of the smart phones out there. Couple this with a wealth of applications, options, expandability and future proofing via OS updates and you’re on to a winner. Overall, Samsung have created a very usable phone that boasts more good points than bad, a little more refining and this would have been a five star winner rather than four.