Friday, December 18, 2009

Samsung S5560 preview

Samsung S5560

Ah, the futuristic appeal of touchscreens - consumers can't get enough of them. Enter the Samsung S5560. With a 5MP camera and Wi-Fi, it's two widgets ahead of the competition. The rest mostly follows the recipe for success from the S5230 Star cookbook, with a few tweaks to bring it up to speed.

The Samsung S5560 lacks 3G connectivity but comes with Wi-Fi connectivity. It's hardly the solution that most carriers opt for (and carriers ARE the biggest cellphone contractors), but we guess Samsung have gone for pleasing the end client this time. In an effort to keep the price down, trading 3G for Wi-Fi is a compromise many users would make.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, check out the rundown of the Samsung S5560 features:
Samsung S5560 (a.k.a Marvel) at a glance:
General: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
Form factor: Touchscreen bar
Dimensions: 107.5 x 52 x 13.2 mm, 95g
Display: 3.0 inch WQVGA TFT resistive touchscreen, 240 x 400 pixels
Platform: Latest TouchWiz 2.0 UI, Smart Unlock
Memory: 78MB integrated memory, hot-swappable microSD card slot (up to 16GB)
Camera: 5 megapixel auto focus camera with LED flash, image stabilization, WDR, face detection, Smile Shot, blink detection and QVGA video recording at 15 fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, standard microUSB port, 3.5mm audio jack
Misc: Accelerometer for screen auto rotate and turn-to-mute, FM radio with RDS
Battery: 960 mAh battery.

This phone is clearly a Samsung Jet wannabe - the styling, the camera, the Wi-Fi connectivity all make it a cheaper alternative to the Jet. Sure, tradeoffs have been made for the sake of a lower price, but if you've never owned a touch phone before, the S5560 makes a great introduction.
The timer on non-touch operated phones seems to be running down - touch phones seem to get the best features and the most hype. This makes it harder and harder to say no, especially now that their price is no longer prohibitive.
On the next page we do our Sherlock Holmes impersonation and take a close look at the exterior of the Samsung S5560.

The Samsung S5560 is a little bulkier than, say, the S5230 Star but not by much. Thanks to the rounded corners, it's very pleasant to hold in the hand. Speaking of rounded corners, the S5560 has very smooth looks - there isn't a hint of the blocky appearance of the Star.

Design and construction
The Samsung S5560 will hardly have any issues with fingerprints. The back is made from a nice, soft, matte plastic that, although not immune to fingerprints, it does a pretty good job in hiding those. The front is brimmed by a glossy silver strip, which is not that good at fighting off fingerprints but that's an ok price to pay for that design touch.

The design is very smooth - except for the screen, there's not a single 90-degree angle in sight. The edges are beveled, which masks the thickness of the phone. At 13.2 mm it's a little chubby (or maybe we've just got spoiled), but all those rounded corners make it a pleasure to hold.
The front… Well, if you squint all touchscreen bars look exactly the same. So, don't be surprised when we tell you the main thing about the front is the display. Because it is.

The display is 3" in diagonal, which seems to be the standard fare for mid-range touch phones, with 240 x 400 WQVGA resolution (again in line with the rest). It uses resistive technology and it's not the most sensitive we've seen, but nevertheless finger operation is not a problem. Sunlight legibility was disappointing however, which means you'll spend quite some time tilting and turning the phone until you find a proper viewing angle.

There are three hardware buttons below the display - Call and End keys obviously and the center button. The center button serves as a Back button, just as you'd expect it to. The keys are raised significantly higher than the level of the display and have a solid click for a feedback.

On the left side of the phone you get the volume rocker and on the right side are the hardware Lock (or Hold) key and the shutter key combo. This can be half-pressed to handle auto-focus. All controls are easy to operate in both single and two-handed use scenarios.

The top does not surprise at all nor does it disappoint - it houses a 3.5 mm audio jack and a standard microUSB port with a protective cover. The phone charges off the microUSB port - just like most of its recent siblings. The bottom is not very interesting - only the mouthpiece is there.

As usual, the 5 megapixel camera lens is on the back of the device along with the LED flash. The back of the Samsung S5560 also hosts the small loudspeaker grill, near which is the Samsung logo.

The top and bottom part of the back are raised, which prevents the speaker from getting muffled when you put the phone on a level surface. It also keeps the camera lens away from a surface that might scratch it, though it's hardly a great level of protection.

Under the back cover you'll find a 960 mAh battery and the SIM and microSD card slots. Typically for the latest Samsung devices the memory slot is under the back cover and even though it's hot-swappable, you still need to open the cover first. The slot is on the left side of the device, on the same level as the shutter key.

The S5560 is very comfortable to hold in the hand, which is the result of the nice blend between the materials used and the rounded corners. At 95 grams, the phone feels pretty light for its volume.

User interface
The latest implementation of the TouchWiz user interface is what brings the Samsung S5560 to life. Colorful, lively, and pleasantly thumbable - this TouchWiz reincarnation has inherited all the virtues of its predecessors and adds some interesting new stuff, all of which we've had the chance to experience on a number of recent Samsung touchscreens.

With the S5560 you get three different non-scrollable homescreens that you can alternate by sideways sweeps. The current selection is indicated by three small boxes at the bottom of the screen.

You can fill up each of those homescreens with as many widgets as you like. Also you get three separate wallpapers that are actually three parts of one single panoramic one, just like on the Samsung S8000 Jet.

In case some of you have missed it, widgets are nifty mini-apps that reside on your home screen. Some of them seem to have more purpose, such as the calendar and world clock, image gallery or the mp3/radio players, while others range from fun to pointless.

Traditionally, all the widgets are stored in a vertical tray running down the side of the screen, and you can roll them in and out as needed using the small arrow in the lower left corner.

You can pick which widgets to display by simply dragging them onto the display and placing them where you want. If any need to be removed, you simply drag them back to the tray.

There's a tab at the bottom of the display, which holds the three contextual keys with varying functionality according to the currently active menu.
The Samsung S5560 UI also offers some nice animations and transition effects.
The new main menu is now rearranged to match the one on the Samsung Jet. It stretches over three different screens, which are sweep-scrollable sideways. That way almost all apps are accessible straight from the main menu, arranged in a flat iPhone-like structure. You will only need to dig deeper for the settings.

Following in the footsteps of Samsung S5600 Preston, S5230 Star and the S8000 Jet too, Smart Unlock on the Samsung S5560 allows users to not only unlock the phone but open a menu item or an application - even dial a contact - just by drawing a letter on the unlock screen.

Each letter from A to Z can be set to trigger one of those actions. For instance, you can use it to start features like the music player, messaging, web browser, Java apps or the dialing keypad. It also makes it a piece of cake to call some of your favorite contacts without even needing to unlock the phone.

Finally, the main menu hides the new Photo contacts feature. It uses a fake 3D environment and shows up to 8 contact pictures in an arc. You can scroll them up and down and dial the one you want. It's a rather fashionable interface, but we doubt that it will turn out to be practical in everyday use.

Text input
The new Samsung S5560 has three different methods of text input. The first one is the traditional thing - typing on a customary (albeit virtual) 3x4 alphanumeric keypad.

Tilting the phone on its side automatically converts that keypad to a full-fledged on-screen QWERTY keyboard. The 3" display provides enough space for this layout, especially given that the number keys and symbols are in a separate screen that toggles on and off upon a tap. Typing is generally comfortable by touchscreen standards.

The final option is to use the stylus and write the letters on the screen. In general, handwriting recognition is good and got our scribbling right a lot of the time. You have to alter your handwriting a bit, of course, because recognition software is always a little sensitive about how you write the letters.

The S5560 comes with a single picture gallery. However, that can't be considered a drawback since the gallery available is fully functional. You'll most likely not miss the Photo browser despite its eye-catching qualities.
The gallery is an inherent part of the file manager and launching it is as simple as opening any folder that contains images.

Once you open a picture to view, you can sweep you fingers across the screen to see the next image without having to return to the image list.

The gallery also has a slideshow function and an accelerometer-based browsing feature. It lets you browse pictures in fullscreen landscape mode by simply tilting your phone on its side (plus, of course, you get automatic rotation of the photos by changing the device orientation).

Music player

Along with the standard 3.5 mm audio jack and the microSD card slot, the S5560 music functionality is complemented by the great music player usually found on Samsung devices.

The music player got a face-lift - now the album art takes the entire top half of the display with the basic controls underneath it. Track name, artist and album are just bellow the album art and below them - the play, previous and forward keys (which double as fast-forward and rewind keys). At the very bottom are three more keys - Playlist, Send via and More. These take care of things like sending a track to someone or setting it as ringtone.

Tapping on the album art overlays additional controls - the progress indicator, a button to change the repeat mode, a shuffle button and an equalizer preset button.
The music player allows filtering tracks by author, album, and genre. Automatic playlists (recently added, most played etc.) are also generated and can subsequently be used as filters. If that doesn't seem enough, you can create your own custom playlists.

The music player can naturally be minimized to play in the background.
The music player also has a dedicated widget, allowing quick access to the full version of the application with a single tap. You can also start, stop and skip tracks direct on the home screen.
The equalizer offers the standard presets like pop, jazz, classic as well as the sound enhancing widening, dynamic and surround effects.


The Samsung S5560 features an FM radio with RDS. The radio app offers intuitive controls and has the Find Music recognition service implemented, which works much like Sony Ericsson's TrackID. The app itself got a facelift too and looks much better now, though changes aren't as big as in the music player.

There's an option to record radio broadcasts as well, which can be a cheapo way to get individual tracks or whole song sets off the radio. There are three levels for the quality of the recording.
FM broadcast records are in the MP3 format, 192Kbps 32KHz for High quality (that results in about a megabyte for each recorded minute). You can also pause the recording if you want to skip the commercials for example.

The radio app is in the main menu but the Radio widget on the home screen gives you more immediate access. Tapping on it brings up the radio or you could just use the widget's controls to start/stop the radio or change the station. It can only skip between saved stations though, and if you want to search you'll have to do it in the actual app.

Speaking of stations, you can save stations but they are labeled just by their frequency and you can't rename them. There's a separate list for your favorite stations though.

The Samsung S5560 is equipped with a 5 megapixel autofocus camera that can take photos with a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels. An LED flash is supposed to improve the low-light capabilities of the handset but as one might expect it doesn't really make that much of a difference.

The camera also has a number of nice built-in features including the Samsung proprietary WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) option, the anti-shake digital image stabilization, face detection, smile shot, blink detection as well as viewfinder gridlines.

The camera interface is nicely touch-optimized and is certainly one of the most comfortable camera interfaces on a touchscreen device so far. The autofocus options are now accessible directly from the viewfinder, which is great. In the Jet, you had to go to the 3rd screen of extended settings if you wanted to activate face detection.

The camera snaps photos quite quickly and is ready for the next photo without much delay. Disabling the automatic preview reduces the shot-to-shot time even further and makes taking photos with the S5560 a very enjoyable experience.

The image quality is excellent with good contrast, precise color rendering and a decent amount of resolved detail - it's comparable to the Samsung S8000 Jet, though not quite as good. Noise levels are fairly low, even in dark areas, however the noise-removal algorithm takes its toll on fine detail. It's not as fine-tuned as the one in the Jet and introduces artifacts near the edges of objects.
Here are samples so you can judge for yourselves.

The Samsung S5560 offers video recording too, but it's nothing to get excited about - it can only manage QVGA at 15fps. on our books, that's good only for MMS purposes. Now here's a sample, if you'd like to check it out.

Connectivity and browser
The connectivity options on the S5560 are interesting in that they present a problem. It relies on quad-band EDGE for over the air Internet connection. Bluetooth, and more importantly Wi-Fi, are the local connectivity options.

This gives it an advantage against the Samsung S5230 Star. Well, it did anyway - now that the S5230 Star WiFi is out, that's a moot point. Now the only thing separating the two is the 5-megapixel camera of the S5560 (plus the microUSB port and 3.5 mm audio jack, which replaced the proprietary port of the Star).
This above-average connectivity gets to flex its muscles thanks to the web browser, the same one we found (and loved) on the Star.

It's a WebKit-based web browser, an application Samsung have developed in-house. With full Flash support, kinetic scrolling and one-finger zooming it is one of the finest web browsers we have seen so far, especially on a feature phone.

We should note that the sample we used for testing had not quite final firmware and the Flash support was buggy. When we get a final version for a review, we'll be able to do more thorough tests.

We won't go into detail - the Organizer section of the S5560 is just like the one on other Samsung feature phones running TouchWiz. We just wanted to point out the highlights.
The Office document viewer for one - it's a regular feature of TouchWiz, but it's still a big deal for feature phones. Office 2007 documents are not supported (e.g. docx), however.

While we're at it, Exchange ActiveSync support is also present, which should appeal to corporate users.
And for the non white-collar crowd, there's an extensive editor for both photos and videos as well as the Communities app. It helps you upload data to content sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Picasa and a few others. It will automatically resize images and has a handy account manager.

First impressions
Maybe one day we will be able to go to a manufacturer's website and configure a mobile phone with features of our choosing, much like with computers. That's still not possible but large manufacturers like Samsung offer many different models so the choice in features and designs is really fine-grained.

No, we're not saying that "Samsung S5230 Star WiFi + 2MP more = Samsung S5560". The design of the phone is more appealing. The standard microUSB port and 3.5 mm audio jack are also a big plus for the S5560.
But it's a cutthroat world out there with plenty of competition. The list of possible major competitors of the S5560 is quite long.

Perhaps one the toughest competitors will be the LG Arena - it comes with a higher res screen, 8GB of memory, LG's S-class UI and it also does Wi-Fi and GPS. Not to mention its 5 megapixel camera is capable of capturing WVGA video. Unfortunately for the S5560, the Arena is also equally priced at abouy 200 euro. We doubt it will stand a chance at this pricing point.

LG are also throwing in the LG Pop in the battle this Christmas season. It doesn't have the 5MP camera or Wi-Fi connectivity but it's positively tiny, while offering many of the same features. The Pop is shaping up to be the first touchscreen phone for a lot of people - exactly the kind of demographic the S5560 is hoping to muscle in on.

The Samsung S5600 Preston and the S5230 WiFi will also pose a challenge, especially with the inevitable drop in their price. Or maybe the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic for the smartphone features. The Samsung F480 is still around as well, getting a relaunch quite often (F480i being the most recent entry). It's a battle-tested candidate and its styling still looks fashionable - not to mention it's got a spectacularly performing camera.

And finally, there's the LG GT505, which matches the specs of the Samsung S5560, but for some extra cash throws in 3G with HSDPA and GPS with optional WisePilot Live satnav software.

There's no lack of affordable touch phones, that's for sure. The only thing that can make or break the Samsung S5560 is the price. Currently the S5560 is priced at about 70 euro more than the retail commitment-free price of Samsung S5230 Star and Samsung S3650 Corby, which is a bit high. And the lower midrange segment the battle has always been decided by the pure price-to-feature ratio more than anything else.

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