Friday, December 18, 2009

LG BL20 New Chocolate review: Bittersweet Noir

LG BL20 New Chocolate

The Chocolate revival is no news and the LG BL20 New Chocolate is not a headliner in the sense of the unique and inspired BL40. But we're still about to have another sugar-coated meeting with an extraordinary handset, fresh off the LG design board.
The BL20 New Chocolate may not have the splendor of the BL40 but is definitely the spiritual successor to the original Chocolate series. Sequels are all over the place but the Chocolate series are somewhat different. LG have been so involved in touchscreen we're just realizing it's been more than a year since we last reviewed a regular phone of theirs. Anyway, the Chocolate series are back and we're about to see if the good old-fashioned recipe still works.

The latest BL20 Chocolate comes with a lively screen and handy touchpad navigation to add to the sliding keypad, meaning it nods to both traditional design and the new trend towards touch functionality. Other improvements include a better camera and fast 3G connectivity. But first and foremost it's a fashion phone, so this here Chocolate is about the icing, not the filling.

Key features:

Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support, dual-band UMTS with 3.6 Mbps HSDPA
2.4" 262K-color QVGA display
Touch-sensitive navigation pad
5 megapixel autofocus camera with Schneider-Kreuznach optics, AF-assist light and LED flash
Standard microUSB port
Bluetooth (with A2DP)
Hot-swap microSD card slot (up to 16 GB)
Stealthy touchpad and classic chocolate looks
FM radio
Comfortable keypad

Main disadvantages:

Way too tall and big for its fashionable status
No accelerometer (hence no auto screen rotation)
Volume rocker and camera key have absolutely no press feedback
Piano black surface is a fingerprint nightmare
Memory card slot under the battery cover
Poor video recording
Slow scrolling in the image gallery
No document viewer
No sign of any social networking integration

OK, we may have a wee bit longer list of disadvantages here, but that's just because LG have spoiled us lately. They've been churning out better equipped handsets for quite some time and we didn't quite expect that minimalistic approach to a their latest fashionable handset. But then again, the BL20 is not an expensive all-in-one so in a sense, you get what you pay for.

If fashion and the wow factor are your key buying considerations, the extra features are not the most important thing perhaps. It's the unique design, looks and colors that will have people looking at your hands when you are on the phone.

Let's not waste any more time and get on with seeing how sweet the new Chocolate is. Follow us on to the next page and you're welcome to share the first bite.

The retail box: unimpressed

The retail box is big, but you won't find anything out of the ordinary there. Along with the handset itself, you get a charger/data cable combo, a two-piece headset - with a 3.5mm jack at the bottom and a CD with PC software.

That's it. It would have been nice to have a memory card in the package, but it seems that's asking too much.

LG BL20 New Chocolate

The BL20 New Chocolate isn't the slimmest among slider phones but LG were probably keen to stay as close as possible to the original Chocolate styling. The LG Secret by the way, was built around the same concept of a touchpad-navigated slider. The Secret however had more elaborate finish and notably slimmer body. The New Chocolate isn't as sophisticated perhaps but does meet what looks like its top objective - to look like a real chocolate bar.

Measuring 106.9 x 50.8 x 12.3 mm, the handset is still quite pocketable. The weight of 115g is just right to give the BL20 a comfortable hand feel.
It's only when you slide up the Chocolate BL20, that you may notice it's somewhat awkwardly tall. One thing we miss from its predecessor is surely its compactness.

So, LG have themselves two brand new chocolate bars to serve to different customers. The touchscreen bar obviously will be selling off the top shelf and the 3G-enabled feature slider may as well thrive on carrier-subsidized sales. Regardless of the different price bracket though, the two are so consistent in design that if you squint, it would be impossible to tell them apart.

Design and construction

The BL40 made sure the New Chocolate series don't get blamed for blatantly bringing old stuff out of the freezer. The S-Class touchscreen interface and the one-of-a-kind 21:9 wide display made it a unique handset. The BL20 in turn takes a more literal approach and suffices to simply bring the original Chocolate up to date with 2009.
The BL20 New Chocolate is the real sequel and it's not ashamed to show it. The Chocolate genes are all there and we can safely safe the styling is duly updated to be in touch with the times. The BL20 is a complete replica - in a different form factor - of its noble sibling, the BL40. From the piano black gloss, to the thin metallic side lining and the red accents top and bottom.

Those glossy plastics just love fingerprints though, and the BL20 looks messy all the time. It takes quite longer to clean the phone, than the mere seconds in which it's all covered in smudges. After a few hours of just normal use it will easily accumulate enough smudges to make a whole CSI unit happy for a week.

The touchpad up front is no news for Chocolate, and LG on the whole. The touch controls are absolutely invisible when the phone is locked - for those sweet chocolate bar looks - and come alive in warm, radiant red when in use. What we liked quite a lot is the response and precision of the touchpad: it's way better than the LG Secret's. Haptic feedback is spot on too. There's no customization for it but the touchpad vibrations are very sharp and accurate.

There's quite a bunch of touch sensitive buttons down there - two context keys, a direction pad with confirm action, as well as a Task Manager and Widget launcher.
The touchpad is large enough, so all the buttons are well spaced and comfortable to hit. Good feedback and precision, the New Chocolate is absolutely comfortable to navigate with the touchpad.

At the top is the earpiece, which also serves as a loudspeaker.
The rest of the BL20 New Chocolate front panel is taken by the 2.4" TFT display, which looks too small for the phone's measurements. Thanks to the thicl bezel around the screen, the closed BL20 looks very much like a fashionable music player than a mobile phone. The display on the BL20 is decent - we wouldn't expect anything above QVGA in a midrange feature phone, albeit a striving fashion icon.

Anyway, the New Chocolate screen has lively colors and good contrast. Things are not so good in direct sunlight, but the display still manages to remain visible. Backlighting is excellent though and the screen looks cool in the dark.

Next on the list is the alphanumeric keypad, which now contains an extra three buttons - Call and End keys, and a Clear key. It's not a conventional layout, but we don't mind it.

The keypad is quite spacious with large keys for extra comfortable typing. It's a flatbed keypad with no tangible bordering between keys (the thin metal lines between rows are more of a design accent), but spacing and tactility are near perfect. The flat buttons have great press feedback and overall, it's a very comfortable keypad.
The keypad backlighting is solid white, which, combined with the vibrant display, make it a pleasure to look at and work with in the dark.

The only thing to note on the left side of the BL20 New Chocolate is the micro USB port, while on the right that would be the volume rocker and the camera key. The volume controls and shutter key are very peculiar buttons. They are tiny buds that need not be pressed but touched instead. Bit don't let that fool you - they are regular keys. It's just that confusingly enough, they provide no press feedback whatsoever and their performance tends to be quite random.

The lightest taps on the volume rocker will sometimes be registered, while at times you will end up pushing with all your might to no avail. With time we got the hang of it and mastered the exact quick and firm taps needed to turn the volume up or down. But it's not a user-friendly solution anyway.
The shutter key works along the same logic. It takes a tap to launch the camera - but it will take you a few taps more often than not.

When shooting, a tap will lock focus and keeping your finger on the key will capture the shot. But you'll never know you're doing it right before you here the shutter sound. It takes some time getting used to, but in the end we mastered focusing and capturing. The peculiar shutter key will even let you skip the shot after locking focus - if you need to reframe or just walk away.

The top houses only the lock key, while the bottom is completely plain apart from the microphone pinhole.

The back of the LG BL20 New Chocolate hosts the 5 megapixel camera lens and LED flash. There is no lens protection whatsoever, and what's even worse is that the lens slightly protrudes and will be the first thing on the rear to suffer any kind of damage.

Under the battery cover is the 960 mAh Li-Ion battery compartment, as well as the SIM and microSD card slots. The memory card is hot-swappable despite being hidden here. The BL20 didn't have any problem handling our 16GB microSD card. The only problem here is the slow initiation of the microSD card and the frustrating refreshing of the thumbs every time you open an image folder.

Since the phone has almost nothing that could easily drain the battery, the LG BL20 New Chocolate did quite well. It took four days of file and web browsing, shooting, calling and playing games for the battery to die completely.

The build quality of the LG BL20 New Chocolate is commendable. We didin't hear any disturbing noises or noticed any potential build issues for the time of our reviewing. The phone is well done - smooth and solid slider action, very good keypad, nice and responsive touchpad - and looks hot.

If any of the original Chocolate users should have waited this long for an upgrade, they won't be disappointed with the looks and feel of the successor.
The chocolate finish has its dark sides, we admit. The inevitable fingerprints are a major issue for the glossy plastic but that's the price we guess, for a gadget that looks like it's about to melt in your hand.

The only thing we'd wish for is for the BL20 to be a tad more compact - more in tune with its predecessor. When you slide the New Chocolate up, it gets quite tall - even in a man's hand.

The feature phone UI goes in the right direction

It's been more than a year since we last reviewed a regular non-touch LG handset. And it feels the LG BL20 New Chocolate is the right handset to get us back on track.
The New Chocolate features the regular, but richly revamped LG user interface, which scores very high on visual appeal. The feature phone menu takes after the high-flying S-Class by LG and it looks like the two New Chocolates are similar not only on the outside, The BL20 is a pleasure to use, with its colorful and customizable menu. It's very fast and responsive too.

The standby screen offers the usual readings - date, time and all the status indicators - signal strength, the active profile and battery status. There's an option to add some extra items here - a calendar, various clocks. But don't expect miracles - you can use only one item at a time on the homescreen.

The menu structure of LG BL20 is straightforward and easy to work with even if you don't have much experience with other LG handsets. The main menu has two distinct layouts - grid or list view. Once you get beyond it though, all deeper submenus appear as lists.

There are two themes available on the BL20 New Chocolate and they are the same as those on the BL40 - the menu icons have a bit of 3D-styling with some visual effects, but you can also use the old black and white menu if you so prefer.

The touchpad directions are assigned shortcuts: New contact, new text message, profiles and the Quick menu. In the Quick menu you can have up to nine shortcuts to almost anything in your phone. It's handy and is activated by touching the up arrow.

The two soft-key functions are non-customizable - they're assigned to MyStuff and Contacts. The task manager button on the touchpad is nothing new either - it lets you easily switch between the currently running apps.

The Widget button will grant you access to some small but useful apps - memo, RSS reader, calendar, weather, alarms and VIP contacts. While the first five speak for themselves, the latter reminds of the contact homescreen in the S-Class UI. The VIP contacts are displayed in a scrollable arc of five contacts with their pictures. It's not as efficient as the quick dial, but looks good.

The phonebook does the job

The phonebook in the LG BL20 New Chocolate can store up to 1000 entries. You can opt to display the numbers on SIM, in phone memory or both simultaneously. You can order the contacts by first or last name. Naturally, searching by gradual typing is available. If a contact has a picture assigned, it will only be displayed when you select the contact in question.

There are plenty of available fields, so it's unlikely you will find anything missing. But in case you actually do, you may be better off buying a smartphone.

The LG BL20 New Chocolate offers smooth and problem-free performance when it comes to the most essential task of a phone - making calls. It offers good reception and in-call sound, with pleasing voice quality on both ends of a call. The New Chocolate has smart dial too.

Decent messaging
LG BL20 New Chocolate can handle all of the most common type of messages: SMS, EMS, MMS and email.

We aren't really the biggest fans of the handset's messaging department but we still believe it's capable enough for most occasions.
The first three message types share a common editor. All you need to do to switch between them is insert some multimedia content - like a photo or audio track for example. The editor itself has rather basic looks and that's one thing we weren't particularly fond of.

The email client is quite easy to work with and mailboxes can be set up in no time. Creating an account is very simple - you need to type your email and password, then choose the type (POP3, IMAP) and your mailbox is automatically configured.

Poor multimedia
Very basic image gallery

The gallery of the LG BL20 New Chocolate is accessible only through the My stuff icon in the main menu. It offers two view modes: thumbnail with 9 thumbs on screen, and list view with only 7 file names with tiny thumbs displayed. Be aware that heavily populated folders take their toll: the gallery refreshes its thumbs every time it's launched.

You can view single pictures in both landscape and portrait mode or you can opt for fullscreen. You can also zoom in to see further detail. But there is a problem here - if your picture is more than two megapixel, forget about zoom. The BL20 tells you the file is too big and zoom is not enabled. Nice one! Even on images that allow it, be warned that zooming is slow and it might just get too annoying. The only good thing here is the panning speed.

Worst of all, the slow browsing speed inside the gallery is quite a bugger. Loading the next image always seems to take forever.

Simple music player

The music player on the LG BL20 New Chocolate is the same as in the KF750 Secret. It sorts tracks by three different filters - artist, album and genre. You can also create your own playlist if you like. The player offers only two simple visualization options - Album art and equalizer bars.
When the music player is active, the buttons on the touchpad are used as media controls.

There are 7 equalizer presets on LG BL20. Sadly, neither can be modified, nor new ones created.

Video player is a letdown

Typical for a midrange feature phone, the video player is not much of an option. Varied codec support is non-existent and you can play only 3gp and some mp4 files at low bitrate. There are only few options there - fullscreen, delete or send file. You can jump back and forth in the video timeline though.

FM radio onboard

The BL20 New Chocolate has an FM radio of rather simple interface, that's generally very easy to work with. There is an auto scan feature that locates every radio station in your area and offers to save it. Unfortunately, RDS is not available.

Below par audio quality

The LG BL20 New Chocolate might have the looks but certainly lacks the voice to be a lead singer.
It achieved a pretty bad score in our test in the frequency response section and didn't impress in stereo crosstalk either. The dynamic range and stereo crosstalk were also only average. It might not seem as much but it took quite a look of effort on our side to achieve even that kind of readings.
The New Chocolate turned out quite pretentious musician and delivered awful output when set at the maximum volume. Only when it was set to 18 (from 20 level) and fed with mp3 files, rather than wav was it able to generate any kind of measurable result.

Good 5 megapixel camera, poor video recording

The LG BL20 New Chocolate boasts a 5 megapixel auto-focus camera with Schneider-Kreuznach certified optics. In addition, it has LED flash, which can also be used as a video light.

The camera user interface is the same thing we saw in the KF750 Secret and uses the same black and white color scheme. The available features are even less than those in the Secret. The camera itself has nothing to offer other than auto-focus, text scanning mode and the LED flash. The user configurable settings are some effects, light sensitivity up to ISO 400, night mode, white balance and brightness.
Text scanning mode was already present in the LG Secret. There is no character recognition. It's just that the camera sets more appropriate settings for shooting text.

The viewfinder layout is simple: a column on the right side where you can turn text scan mode on/off, toggle still camera and video recorder, set flash options and digital zoom. All the other stuff is packed in the advanced settings. You can use the confirm button of the touchpad as a shutter key too, but if you do there's no way to skip the shot after locking focus.
The camera UI looks outdated and LG really should have put a bit more work into it

The resolved detail in the images is decent enough and will pass as good in our books. The colors in most cases are accurate and lively and there is no purple fringing or over sharpening. Noise reduction seems at a normal level, rarely a little too aggressive.

Video recording

The LG BL20 New Chocolate is capable of capturing QVGA videos @ 15fps, which is pretty much suite only for MMS.

Web browser is OK

The web browser on the LG BL20 New Chocolate is basic, but reasonably good. It renders most of the web pages very well, but the smallish screen and lack of Flash support make it really just an extra, not something you can seriously surf on.
The web browser of the BL20 has a virtual mouse pointer that jumps between links. In most of the cases the mouse pointer moves rather logically and does the job right.
When the web page is loaded, the browser automatically zooms out. You can zoom to standard view by tapping the middle touch key when your mouse pointer is not over a link.

In the settings you can find some options for caching web pages and accepting cookies. Finally, you can disable images to save on data traffic.
You can open up to two pages simultaneously from the menu. We tried watching mobile YouTube videos and it worked like a charm. Just remember to configure your streaming profile in the settings.

Organizer and apps

The organizer and the standard applications are a pretty basic package too and far from what we expected. In fact most of the software are just cut-down versions of those on the LG KF750 Secret. But there is no document viewer and this may be the first LG handset to omit it.

The calendar offers daily, weekly and monthly view modes and three different events available for setting. Those are: anniversary, birthday and appointment, and each of them has its own unique fields. Naturally alarms can also be set up to remind you of the event at a given time.

There is also a To-Do app, Memos - text and photo, Alarm settings, calculator, voice recorder, stopwatch and unit converter. We can't say anything special about them - all use a basic and simple interface to do their job.

The Alarm clock, Calendar and Memos are also easily accessible through their respective widgets.
You will also find Google Maps, Sudoku and a bunch of demo games. There is no GPS on board so the use of GMaps is limited.

Final words

The new Chocolate series by LG are trying to carve some new shapes into the design landscape. The BL40 is in charge of that. It allowed the designers to unleash their creativity and bend the rules. It's the limited edition, the luxury piece. The BL20 in turn is staying faithful to the original Chocolate concept, trying to revive an iconic name.

Exactly following the recipe was a top priority for the BL20 we guess, and the few actual upgrades are only there to give the handset some up-to-date credibility. A 200 euro price tag sounded quite unreasonable for the offered functionality but the Chocolate BL20 price went down by a good 50 euro during the week it took us to prepare this review.

So in the end, with some subsidizing from your carrier, you might as well get yourself a fashion device on a bargain - without the price premium it started off with. But as we said before, you will be getting what you're paying for.
It's not a phone for the power-user but this doesn't mean it can't be successfully targeted. And telecoms are likely to be among the customers too.

There are a few Sony Ericsson sliders that would fit the profile just as well. The C903 easily tops the Chocolate feature list with GPS, a better camera, and TV-out. And it also has enough sex appeal to go with the capable hardware and software.

The compact Nokia 6600i slide may also be an option. It may have an average camera and web browser performance, but it tempts with minimalist styling, it's compact, all metal and plays it nice with an accelerometer sensor and VGA video recording.

In the end of the day, the BL20 would've been just another slider, but BL40, the first of the New Chocolates, may be enough to fuel some interest for the BL20 as well.

Beyond that, the BL20 is hardly inspiring. It's unusually large and its feature pack is too trimmed down to make a point besides the obvious fashion statement. Truth be said, this here dark chocolate has a wee bit too much cocoa to chew on.

On the bright side, the recent price drop we witnessed may make it an attractive buy this holiday season and if you're after some looks rather than wits, feel free to help yourself and don't let us spoil your party.


Nokia 5230 review

Nokia 5230

When touchscreen handsets start to take over the lower segments of the market you know the rules of the game have changed. The Nokia 5230 is a smartphone but it doesn’t mind rubbing shoulders with the common run of handsets. So, it’s free to explore grounds where few smartphones have ever gone, let alone full touchscreen gadgets.

The land of affordability was the last territory for touchscreen phones to settle in and not quite the place smartphones would call home. So it was, but Nokia just won’t wait for a special invitation when a niche is wide open. And they’ve got quite a fleet already of low key touchscreen smartphones that’s certain to make an impact. The Nokia 5530 XpressMusic had a great bang for the buck and the 5230 is welcome to try and beat the bargain.
Cheap is nice but free is even better – and we guess the 5230 will be available both ways through retail stores and carriers. But let’s see what it has and what’s been left out.

Key features:
3.2" 16M-color TFT LCD 16:9 touchscreen display (360 x 640 pixels)
Symbian S60 5th edition
ARM 11 434 MHz CPU, 128MB RAM memory
Quad-band GSM support
3G with HSDPA 3.6Mbps support
Built-in GPS receiver with A-GPS support; Ovi maps
2 megapixel fixed focus camera with and VGA@30fps video
microSD card memory expansion, ships with a 4GB card
FM radio with RDS
Bluetooth with A2DP and USB v2.0
Standard 3.5mm audio jack
Accelerometer sensor for automatic UI rotation, motion-based gaming and turn-to-mute
Ovi integration (direct image and video uploads, Ovi Contacts)
Landscape on-screen virtual QWERTY keyboard
Excellent audio quality
Price tag on the cheap side
Changeable color battery covers (two extra ones available in-box)
Plectrum dongle available in the retail package

Main disadvantages:
No Wi-Fi support
Display has poor sunlight legibility
Default font size is a bit small due to the smallish but high-res screen
3rd party software is still somewhat limited
Extremely limited camera
Doesn't charge off its microUSB port
No smart dialing
No DivX/XviD video support out of the box
No TV-out functionality
No data-cable or memory card in retail package
No office document viewer
Below par speaker volume
It’s pretty obvious where Nokia are heading with the 5230. In this price range it is impossible to give users every available feature, so the Finns are at least giving them a choice.
There is Nokia 5230, 5530 XpressMusic,and that basically means you can choose between Wi-Fi and 3G with GPS. You can have them all in a single device too, but for a price premium (5800 XpressMusic). Custom made phones to completely match one’s taste and needs are not yet an option. You don’t get to choose the level of equipment like you would when buying a car. So, until that becomes available – if ever – we cannot see a better dealing with the problem than Nokia’s approach.

The R&D costs to release three similar models are probably low enough and there may be plenty of users to find the given choice absolutely adequate. What’s left to see is if there are any differences in performance or is it just the level of equipment that sets those three handsets apart.
The review begins on the next page, and all of you bargain-hunters are welcome to unboxing and hardware check up.

Two spare covers in the retail package

One of the best things about entry-level Nokia smartphones is a usually well stuffed retail package. The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic for example had stuff in its box that alone was about half the asking price (just kidding, of course).
Of course, the Nokia 5230 being even cheaper, there aren’t as many goodies inside. There is still something we suspect most users will truly appreciate. Xpress-on ring a bell? The 5230 comes with two spare battery covers to let you quickly customize your handset without much effort.

Our white Nokia 5230 has an optional Blue and a Pink cover inside the box, which we don’t quite like as much as the original one. Still, it’s certainly nice to have the option to refresh the looks of your handset now and then.

Moving on to the rest of the box contents, a couple of omissions are noted. There is no data cable (!) or a memory card, so basically you are left without adequate storage out of the box. What we did find in the was a charger and a plectrum that you can use instead of the stylus. We have to admit that if we are to hang anything on our handset this would be much better than a dangling stylus. In fact, a stylus is not even supplied with the Nokia 5230. The phone doesn’t even have a stylus compartment.
The last noteworthy item supplied was a one-piece headset with no volume controls. Decent looks is all it has to offer.

Nokia 5230
The Nokia 5230 is a moderately-sized handset at 111 x 51.7 x 15.5 mm and a volume of 83cc. It is larger than the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic (68cc) but it has a larger screen, so nothing out of the ordinary.
Strangely enough, the lack of a stylus slot and Wi-Fi receiver haven’t helped make the handset smaller than the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. The weight has even been increased to 115 grams.

Design and construction
When we looked at the Nokia 5230, our first thought was a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic in a new color. Later on we found a few minor differences, none of them critical designwise.

The 5230 is not much of a looker but it certainly has some young urban feel.

The layout of controls has been almost fully retained from the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and we already mentioned the only major difference. The absent stylus makes handling the SIM card a bit of an issue. Following the design of 5800 and 5530, you’re supposed to use a stylus to eject the SIM card from its compartment at the side of the 5230 but you don’t get one on the package. Beats us – even more than the lack of a data cable.

But let’s get back to our walkthrough. The front panel of the Nokia 5230 is dominated by the 3.2” display. This kind of screen size is about average in the touchscreen world but better than most of the competitors in this price range. It also takes a slight edge over the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic and its 2.9” unit.

The nHD resolution (640 x 360 pixels) also compares favorably to the other offerings in this price group. The WQVGA LG Pop offers 2.4 times less pixels and there are quite a lot of applications where that kind of difference shows.

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic uses the resistive touchscreen technology, which needs a bit of pressure to register a click, rather than only a touch. Sensitivity is a tad better than 5800 XpressMusic, though we are not sure the difference will be tangible in real life use. In any case, Nokia still have some to catch up with the best resistive displays we have tried.

Resistive screens give you the option to use a stylus (or a plectrum in this case) or fingers with gloves. Women also needn’t worry about their manicure getting in the way like they would on capacitive screens.
We really appreciate the haptic feedback for the touchscreen. The vibration strength is configurable through the Profiles menu and we really appreciate its timing and intensity: it greatly improves the user experience.
Unfortunatelly, display legibility under direct sunlight is quite an issue much like it is with the 5530. The 5230 clearly underperforms compared to most other Nokia phones.

Above the Nokia 5230 display we find the earpiece, a touch-sensitive Media key and a couple of sensors. The Nokia trademark Media key triggers a drop down menu of shortcuts to media and web. Its sensitivity though is lower than the display’s so you’ll need to press down just a bit harder for it to work.

The two sensors above detect ambient light and proximity. The proximity sensor is used for turning the touchscreen off during calls so you don’t press anything by accident.
Under the display are the three keys usually found on Nokia touchscreen devices. Those include the Call and End buttons and the menu knob. A press-and-hold on the menu key also launches the task manager as the Symbian tradition goes. The keys are quite comfortable, with good tactility and adequate press.

Nokia 5230 has the crowded top of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. Here you will find the power key, the microUSB port, charger plug and 3.5mm standard audio jack.

There is a protective cover for the microUSB port to keep dust away. The audio jack however hasn’t received the same treatment. Unluckily, the Nokia 5230 doesn’t charge off the microUSB port. It’s a pity since it might have given you some extra flexibility at times when you have no charger at hand.

The volume rocker, the screen-lock switch and the camera key are all on the Nokia 5230 right side. The screen lock is undoubtedly the one you will use the most so it is nice that it is large and tactile enough, and haptic enabled too. The camera key is good too, though the 2MP shooter it launches is nothing much to write home about.

Unfortunately, the things we disliked about the volume rocker in the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic are the same here. It is virtually flat with the frame of the front panel and thus too hard to press.
Moving on to the Nokia 5230 bottom we find nothing but the mouthpiece. There’s no stylus compartment this time.

The left side of the phone features a couple of rather big plastic covers. Under those hide the microSD card slot and the SIM card compartment. We had no trouble inserting and ejecting a memory card. The SIM though needs a pointed object to be released. Just don’t think you can hot-swap your SIM card as this is simply not going to happen. Even if you manage to take it out somehow without removing the battery, the handset won’t recognize a new card properly without being restarted.

The lanyard attaches at the left side of Nokia 5230 and the single speaker grill is also here. No stereo sound for you with the Nokia 5230 in loudspeaker mode we are afraid.
The back of the 5230 is pretty plain, featuring only the 2 megapixel camera lens. There is no flash this time, and the low-end image resolution makes it pretty clear that the handset isn’t into photography at all.

Removing the battery cover reveals the Nokia 5230 1320 mAh Li-Ion BL-5J battery. It is said to last 432 hours in standby, 7 hours of talk time or 33 hours of music playback in offline mode. In reality it kept our phone going for three days of moderate usage (half an hour of web browsing, the occasional photo and a few calls a day).

The Nokia 5230 build quality is generally good. It’s all plastic but the price range hardly implies otherwise.

Adding the friendly dimensions, the 5230 provides very good user experience and trouble-free single-hand operation.

S60 touch user interface
Despite being a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic twin in terms of hardware, the 5230 software is in fact identical to the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic instead. That’s simply because the Nokia 5800 UI is actually behind all other S60 touch smartphones by Nokia. So if you thought that the 5230 UI will be trimmed down or anything, you were wrong.
The Nokia 5230 behaves much better than the 5800. Some of the UI improvements we’ve seen lately have eventually made their way to the 5800 with the latest firmware updates but the 5230 has a far more polished UI and user experience.

As with other S60 touch handsets, the Nokia 5230 main menu screams Symbian all over. Icons are set in a 3 x 4 grid or a list and you can freely reorder them. Screen orientation can be set to change automatically thanks to the accelerometer. The auto-rotation however doesn’t work on the homescreen.

Checking out the homescreen
And it’s that same homescreen that seems to be one of the areas that has suffered from the conversion to touch operation. The six slots on the Shortcut bar are now replaced by four, so they can be more thumb-friendly, there’s no WLAN wizard plug-in (not that it matters on the WiFi-less 5230) and the addition of a contacts bar (nice as it might be) doesn’t completely make up for anything.

The status icons on the Nokia 5230 are located on top of the homescreen, along with the calendar and the clock. A single press on the clock starts the clock application (which is only a click away from setting up an alarm) while tapping on the date opens a drop-down menu where you can either launch the calendar application or change the currently active profile.

The Contacts bar follows right beneath the status icons. Each contact is represented by the contact photo and their first name - and it's possible to have three contacts displayed at a time but the list is scrollable to left and right.

Selecting a contact from the Contact bar brings up a screen with info on the contact (different from what you get if you select the contact from the Contacts list). It has the contact photo, name and phone number.
Further down is an area that shows the communication history for that contact - both calls and messages. And finally, at the bottom there are the top two lines from the contact’s RSS feed.

We guess a nice trick is to add a contact that isn't a person just so that you'll have quick access to your favorite feeds on the homescreen.
Under the Contacts list, it's pretty much standard Active Standby but with fewer slots. You only get email notification showing the number of unread messages, along with the sender and subject of the most recent message.

The blank area beneath is reserved for the music player and radio mini apps - they get displayed when either is set to play in the background.
At the very bottom of the homescreen is the Shortcuts bar. Both the Contacts and the Shortcuts bars are optional and can be hidden.

The Media key, placed above the screen on the right, is a shortcut to the Music player, Gallery, Ovi Share, Videos, and the web browser. It's an excellent control that offers quick access to the handset's multimedia features. It's haptic-enabled too.

Its sensitivity though is a bit lower than that of the touchscreen so you need to press it a little bit harder than you may be used to.

The UI’s other extra features

The S60 user interface has its ins and outs. Kinetic scrolling is among the nice features that actually lack on the 5800 though it has been rumored and eagerly awaited by users for quite some time now.

The flick scrolling, as Nokia marketing materials call it, works throughout the user interface - from file browser through gallery to contacts. It implementation is decent in most parts of the UI but there are gaps where it feels bumpy. Specifically, the web browser and the gallery are two places where kinetic scrolling is a bit of a downer. We feel it should gain more momentum when we make a rapid sweep across the screen and the stopping is bit too abrupt there. Not to mention that the animation is not always smooth enough.

The good news is that finger scrolling is the same as on the Nokia 5530. You push the list one way and it moves in the opposite direction as if you are pushing the actual text. Nokia still haven’t treated the Nokia 5800 Xpressmusic with this scrolling and this is probably the biggest difference between the two in terms of user-friendliness.

Unfortunately, in menus where icons are present, you still need to grab the side scrollbar or you stick your thumb on the icons and push the highlighted item in the direction you want the whole block to move, which is not only counter-intuitive, but also quite confusing (due to the inconsistency with lists scrolling).

But getting back to the updates, the Contacts bar on the Home screen has now been improved and it's now side-scrollable and thus accommodates a lot more phonebook shortcuts. A bit of nuisance we came across on the early 5800 XpressMusic is also sorted now. Turning the handset landscape in text-input mode automatically brings a full QWERTY keypad on screen.

And all the basics

S60 5th is in essence a direct translation of D-pad and soft-key action into touch. Although it has its benefits, the result is hardly the most fluent and intuitive touchscreen interface there is. Scrolling and accessing items is nothing like other touch platforms we've tried. On the other hand, soft-keys work just fine and enhance usability compared to other touch phones.

So, the user experience with S60 5th is a mixed bag and what you think of it will quite depend on your background. If you know your way around S60, you'll be quite at home with the Nokia 5230 interface. But if you come from an alternative touchscreen platform you'll be busy climbing a somewhat steep learning curve.

Opening an item in any of the listed submenus requires not one, but two presses - one to select, and another one to confirm the action. Now that's something that you don't normally see in other touch phones. You get used to it with time, but the main issue here is that the interface logic is different when you deal with icons instead of lists.
When the opened menu uses icons to represent items as opposed to lists, then only a single click does the job.

The Nokia 5230 features a task manager, which is launched by a press-and-hold on the menu key. The task manager itself is identical to what you get on Symbian S60 3.2 devices. Much like in the previous version of the UI, it appears on top of every pop-up menu. There's no C key on that one of course to close running applications - instead you tap the app's icon to display two virtual buttons: Open and Exit.

Pretty decent phonebook

The Nokia 5230 phonebook has virtually unlimited capacity and functionality is certainly among the better we have totally up-to-date. Kinetic scrolling is enabled in the 5230 contact list and that's a welcome enhancement.

Contacts can be freely ordered by first or last name and can naturally be searched by gradual typing of any of the names. You can also set whether the contacts from the SIM card, the phone memory and the service numbers will get displayed.

When searching for a contact you make use of a clever dynamic keypad, which shows you only the letters that correspond to actual contacts. Once you type in a first letter, their number decreases leaving only the ones that actually make up real contacts names (in our case – “E” and “X”). A really convenient tool indeed.

Editing a contact offers a variety of preset fields and you can replicate each of them as many times as you like. You can also create new fields if you happen to be able to think of one. Personal ringtones and videos are also available for assigning. If you prefer, you may group your contacts and give each group a specific ringtone.

The Call log keeps track of your recent communications. The application itself comes in two flavors - accessed by pressing the Call key on the stand-by screen or from the main menu. The first one brings 20 call records in each of its tabs for outgoing, received and missed calls.

If you access the Log application from the main menu, you'll see a detailed list of all your network communications for the past 30 days. These include messages, calls and data transfers.

Telephony: smart-dial nowhere to be seen

Voice quality is good on both ends of calls, the earpiece sound is crisp and there were no reception problems whatsoever.

The only real downside is the still missing smart dialing functionality. Some may argue it's not as essential on a touchscreen but most of the competition has it duly covered. Not to mention WinMo devices have a very elaborate smart dial system that even searches in your Calls log for numbers that are not in your contacts list.

Voice dialing is an option with the Nokia 5230 as with mostly any other phone. The voice dialing mode is activated once you press and hold the Call key. It is fully speaker-independent and doesn't require pre-recording the names of your contacts. Bear in mind though, that if you have multiple numbers assigned to a contact, the first or the default one gets dialed.

Thanks to the built-in accelerometer, you can silence an incoming call (or an alarm) by simply flipping the handset over. Also when in calls, the proximity sensor makes sure the screen turns automatically off when you pick it up to your ear.

Using the hardware screen-lock switch you can not only unlock the phone but also silence it.

Unfortunately Nokia 5230 performed rather disappointingly in our traditional loudspeaker test. It ranks in the bottom end of our table , lower than any of the other Symbian S60 5th edition handsets that we have tested so far.
Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score

Nokia 5230 65.8 60.3 66.7 Below Average
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic 75.7 66.5 68.5 Good
Nokia 5530 XpressMusic 70.6 69.7 75.7 Good
LG KP500 Cookie 78.1 75.7 82.7 Excellent
Samsung S5230 Star 82.7 76.0 80.2 Excellent

More info on our test can be found here.

Touchscreen messaging quite adequate
Nokia 5230 supports all common message types - SMS, MMS and email. They all share a common intuitive editor which by this point should be quite familiar to everyone.

Delivery reports can be turned on - they pop up once the message reaches the addressee, and on the screen and are then saved in a separate folder in the messaging sub-menu. When you are exiting the message editor without having sent the message, you get prompted to save it in Drafts or discard it.

The email client is really nice, there to meet almost any emailing needs. The easy setup we found in the latest Nokia handsets is also available with the 5230. It has been touched here and there too, so it needs even less input.
If you are using any public email service (it has to be among the over 1000 supported providers), all you have to do is enter your username and password to start enjoying email on the go. The phone downloads all the needed settings to get you going in no time.

Besides, it now prompts choosing whether you prefer POP or IMAP access to mail providers that support both. With the previous version of the email setup wizard that was not configurable. Nicely done!
Multiple email accounts and various security protocols are supported, so you can bet almost any mail service will run trouble-free on your Nokia 5230.

The client can download headers only or entire messages, and can be set to automatically check mail at a given interval. A nice feature allows you to schedule sending email next time an internet connection is available. This can save you some data traffic charges since you can use the next available WLAN connection instead.
Here might just be the right time to mention the input options on Nokia 5230. The handset offers a standard alphanumeric on-screen keypad, which automatically turns into a full QWERTY keyboard when you tilt the handset thanks to the accelerometer. The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic didn't do that at first. doesn’t do that automatically and you need to select the full QWERTY keyboard option manually.

Finally, the Nokia 5230 offers handwriting recognition, which did a rather decent job, recognizing almost all the letters we scribbled in the box. You can improve its performance by taking the handwriting training - where you actually show the handset how you write each different letter.

Image gallery way too slow

The gallery of Nokia 5230 is nicely touch optimized and there are sweep gestures enabled for flipping through photos displayed fullscreen.
You can sort images by date, title or size and you can also copy, move and delete them. Sending them via Bluetooth, email, MMS or sharing them online is also available straight from here.

The default view is portrait but you can go to landscape automatically thanks to the built-in accelerometer. A slide show is also available but it doesn't have as many customizable settings as on some Nseries handsets.
You can also zoom in the photos to see more detail. Zoom is controlled via either the volume rocker or an on-screen touch slider. In all other cases, images are displayed full screen.

Probably the main problem of the gallery is its speed. Loading a picture takes a couple of seconds even for a 2 MP shot taken with the 5230 own camera. If you have a large amount of photos on your data card it might take ages before the thumbnails are generated.

At least the zooming and panning are a bit faster. However as we mentioned the kinetic scrolling implementation has its flaws as it doesn’t gain as much momentum as we would expect and stops too abruptly. That means that you will need several rapid screen to get from one end of an image to the other if you have zoomed in.

How about a new skin for the music player

Nokia 5230 music player is pretty functional but its design could use a little freshening up. With user friendliness such a key aspect of full touch phones, it would be nice from Nokia to add some fun to the mix.

Your music library is automatically sorted by artist, album, genre and or composer and searching tracks by gradual typing is available. You can also create your own playlists in no time.

The process of adding tracks to the library is as simple as choosing the refresh option. You won't need to do that if you upload the music via the proprietary PC Suite application. With the huge number of supported formats you will hardly ever come across an audio file that the phone won't handle. Album art is also supported and if you don't like the default sound of the device you can enhance it by applying one of the five equalizer presets and if they seem insufficient you can create new ones in a matter of seconds.

Quite naturally, the player can also be minimized to play in background. In this case a tab appears on the stand-by screen indicating the currently running track. You can pause the current track or skip to next/previous. Of course, you can go back to the full music player app using the dedicated Media key above the screen.

Perfect audio quality

Lately Nokia got us used to seeing top-notch audio quality even in low key handsets so we would let the 5230 escape with any less. But it even managed to outdo outr expectations, demonstrating the best audio output in the Nokia full touch family.
Each and every one of the Nokia 5230 readings is splendid, comparable to the best handsets we have tested. There is hardly much to comment here really as the handsets is so universally superbgood.

Here goes the table and the graph so you can see for yourselves what a talented singer this 5230 fella is.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Nokia 5230 +0.03, -0.05 -86.7 86.5 0.0033 0.016 -84.0
Nokia 5530 XpressMusic +0.11, -0.84 -90.9 90.8 0.010 0.454 -90.6
Nokia 5800 XpressMusic +0.09, -0.77 -92.2 92.1 0.013 0.297 -75.0
Nokia 5130 XpressMusic +0.04, -0.16 -89.9 89.0 0.0033 0.014 -83.6
Samsung S5230 Star +1.02, -2.41 -88.0 87.8 0.0045 0.222 -82.3
LG KP500 Cookie +0.13, -0.32 -87.5 81.9 0.125 0.150 -63.0
Apple iPhone 3GS +0.01, -0.05 -92.1 92.1 0.0035 0.011 -95.0

No DivX/XviD support plagues the video player

The ample screen makes watching a video on the Nokia 5230 generally a pleasure. However the lack of DivX and XviD codecs makes running one somewhat of a harder task.
Of course, you can use the Nokia PC suite built-in application that automatically converts all kinds of video files to the format and resolution your phone supports. The automatic converter though seems to compress the videos too much even at the highest quality setting and they look over pixilated but so far it's the easiest way of getting compatible video to your handset.

The video player itself only works in fullscreen landscape mode but, since anything else would have made the widescreen display useless, this is understandable. When in fullscreen, a tap on the screen shows the controls which are normally hidden.
Using the RealPlayer or the Video center (accessed by the Media key positioned above the display), you can not only watch the videos saved in the phone's memory or in the memory card but also to stream Internet video content. Of course, you can always go to directly.

FM radio with RDS

The FM radio on Nokia 5230 has a neat and simple interface and can automatically scan and save the available stations in your area. It also has RDS support and automatic scanning for an alternative frequency. This means that if you’re on the go, the 5230 should take care of auto-switching to the frequencies of your selected radio station.

The radio station name gets displayed with cool effects across the whole screen, while the rest of the RDS readings are printed in nicely legible text on a line at the bottom. Perhaps we would have preferred this font a bit larger, but it isn't that much of an issue.

The camera is not much of a feature

Nokia 5230 has a 2 MP camera with a maximum image resolution of 1600x1200 pixels. There’s no auto focus or LED flash. Hardly the dream of a photography enthusiast, right? Well, its performance isn’t anything to write home about either.

The camera UI is quite unfriendly with all settings squeezed in a common menu, which is no match for what some other manufacturers offer on their full-touch handsets (think Samsung for starters).

On the positive side, the range of settings on the Nokia 5230 is extensive enough: from manual white balance and ISO to exposure compensation, sharpness and contrast. Various effects are also at hand, labeled color tones and there is also geo-tagging.
The viewfinder doesn't occupy the whole screen - a bar on the right is reserved for the touch controls. This way you get to see the whole frame rather than having a part of it cropped due to the aspect differences of the display and the sensor.

You have a settings button that launches a semi-transparent overlay of all available shooting options and an on-screen shutter key. With the lack of auto focus you might as well use that last one just as successfully as the regular shutter key.

We didn’t have any great expectations about the image quality of Nokia 5230 and it turned out to be the right way to go. The amount of resolved detail is pretty low and the contrast of the photos is too low. And with the noise also pretty high you get the idea that you better use the Nokia 5230 camera for taking contact pics only.

VGA videos sound nice, look poor

Video recording is definitely the better part of the Nokia 5230 imaging skills. The phone can shoot VGA footage at 30fps. Quite good, considering the 2 MP still shots, right? Well in this price range, they're probably among the best you can get, but in general they are quite uninspiring. The relatively high compression applied results in too many artifacts and an unpleasant pixelated look. The often mistaken color balance doesn’t help much either.

Videos are captured in MPEG-4 format and can have automatic or manual white balance. The other available settings are night mode, exposure and color effects.

All connectivity lacks is Wi-Fi

The Nokia 5230 is pretty well-heeled in terms of connectivity. Wi-Fi is the only major omission, so if you don’t have a data plan you might be better off buying a Nokia 5530 XpressMusic.

If you go for 5230 however, you will certainly appreciate the network connectivity Nokia 5230 offers. There’s GPRS, EDGE and 3G with 3.6Mbps HSDPA onboard.
Local connectivity relies on USB v2.0 and Bluetooth. There’s also a memory card slot, which can usually give you the fastest data transfer rates. Unfortunately, USB charging via the USB port is not possible – not that there is a USB cable in the retail package.

Web browser still has some catching up to do

The S60 web browser is decently usable, especially now that is also offers kinetic scrolling. Yet there is quite a lot of work remaining before it is able to rival the best in class. The Andoird and iPhone browsers are miles ahead in terms of usability and user-friendliness. However we don’t Nokia particularly enjoys the role of also-runs so we expect them to do something about it in the near future.

But let’s not digress. The Nokia 5230 browser has good rendering algorithm, displaying most of the sites we visited correctly. It also offers some nice functionality such as different font sizes (5 options), auto fill-in of web forms and password manager.

The built-in RSS reader will handle your feeds, while the download manager allows you to download any kind of files while surfing. There's also a popup blocker, but bear in mind that you cannot open a new window in any other way but clicking a pop-up link. We'd have really preferred to see an option to open links in new window.

A minimap is available for finding your way around large pages and the Find on page feature allows you search for keywords. The visual history is a nice bonus that can help you find a page you've visited more easily. Finally, the web browser has support for Flash and Flash video, which means you can enjoy Flash videos straight in your browser.

One of the disadvantages of the web browser is concerning the kinetic scrolling - it is certainly a nice feature to have on board and all but its implementation in the web browser needs polishing. The scrolling is there but it lacks the momentum you see when scrolling listed items in the menu and you'll need several sweeps for even moderately-sized pages.

Besides, it gets pretty bumpy at times, instead of the smooth scrolling on some competitors. Fingers crossed that and the awkward process management will be addressed in a firmware update some time soon.

Continuing our grudges with the web browser, if you happen to be in portrait mode and choose the fit-to-width zoom level, the text does not automatically center onscreen. Instead you will have to align it manually, which is nonsense really.
Double tapping any text zooms it in on screen, but again, the text doesn't fit the zoomed area and you still need to scroll sideways.

So, generally speaking, the S60 touch-browser is going in the right direction but there's still a lot of work to be done to catch up with the rest. The improved usability is a nice start but it's nowhere near the iPhone or Android standards. The same goes for the resolution, which is a lot better than the QVGA non-touch predecessors but hardly a match for the WVGA.
Organizer misses a document viewer

The S60 5th edition organizer is pretty well geared although its applications are already in need of refreshment - especially on a touchscreen. Some of the apps are starting to look boring and dated, having the same interface for over 3 years now.
Just as with the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and N97, developers were hesitant to put the touch input to some good usage and maybe some cool new features. They have only gone as far as to touch-optimize the S60 3rd edition apps.

The calendar has four different view modes - monthly, weekly, daily and a to-do list, which allows you to check all your To-Do entries regardless of their date. There are four types of events available for setting up - Meeting, Memo, Anniversary and To-do. Each event has unique fields of its own, and some of them allow an alarm to be activated at a preset time to act as a reminder.

Unfortunately, the Quickoffice application wasn't preinstalled on our Nokia 5230 nor was it available through the Nokia download center. Many users contacted us having the same problem with their 5530 XpressMusic units so we are guessing it is some kind of regional thing. However this doesn’t excuse Nokia even one bit as every smartphone needs to have a decent document viewer, if not even editor.

The calculator application is well familiar but it lacks the functionality of some of its competitors. The square root is the most complicated function it handles and this is no longer considered an achievement. If all you do with it is split the bill at the bar though, you're free to disregard that last sentence.

The organizer package also includes a great unit converter voice recorder, as well as the Notes application.
The alarm application allows you to set up as many alarms as you want, each with its own name, trigger day and repeat pattern. If this seems too complicated, there is a quick alarm setup where all you do is set the time and you're good to go. Thanks to the built-in accelerometer you can also snooze the alarm by simply flipping your phone.

GPS good to go
Nokia 5230 comes with a built-in GPS receiver and just like the one in 5800 XpressMusic it is a highly sensitive unit indeed.

The relatively large high-resolution screen sounds like a serious premise for reasonable use as a dedicated navigation unit. The 5230 comes with Ovi Maps 3.0 preinstalled. It offers extensive map coverage for free but you do need to pay for most of its extra features such as traffic information or city guides.

Unfortunately, the there is no starter voice guided navigation license included, unlike most other Nokia GPS-enabled devices recently. But that could be expected with that kind of a price tag.

If you prefer an alternative navigation software, you might want to carefully look around for a compatible version. Some sources suggest that the latest version of Garmin Mobile XT is compatible with S60 5th edition, but we can’t confirm or deny it.
The touch-enabled Ovi Maps application itself is doing pretty well in terms of features too. It has four different view modes including satellite and hybrid maps. Those however do need an internet connection as you cannot upload them through you computer using the Map Loader app. The more regular 2D and 3D view modes are also at hand.

Ovi Maps is also usable for pedestrian navigation or you can switch the GPS receiver off and use the phone as an electronic map.
The overall impression with GPS navigation on Nokia 5230 is very positive but, having in mind that a 1-year voice-guided navigation costs about a third of the price of the handset, we are not sure whether many people will go for that. But who knows - with an ample screen like that it might easily replace some standalone SatNav units.

Final words

It may as well have been a matter of routine and habit, but Nokia have achieved another of their goals. The 5230 is ready to take on a segment that’s virtually free of smartphone competition. Giving customers another option is always welcome and it gets even better when the minimal R&D costs result in a welcoming price tag.
Nokia 5230 is the cheapest of them S60 touchscreen phones but quite a few users will be willing to consider it against the Nokia 5530. The larger screen and the added HSDPA and GPS connectivity are more than welcome, especially if your data plan is good enough to make Wi-Fi nonessential.

Essentially, the Nokia 5230 and 5530 XpressMusic are near equivalent options – it’s a matter of balancing your needs – whether it’s WI-Fi or GPS with fast HSDPA data transfers. The downgraded camera will count of course but imaging has never been a great asset in the 5800 or the 5530 XpressMusic in the first place.

None of this is to say of course that the Nokia 5800 and 5530 are not worth their money. Right on the opposite, the trio will be topping the bang-for-buck list of quite a number of users. If you can live with the software limitations the raw hardware is all there and gets the job done. The S60 touch UI is not the best piece of software money can buy, but it is near impossible to find a contemporary full-touch smartphone for this kind of cash.

Let’s have a brief look at the competition’s workforce in this price range.
Samsung are constantly updating their lineup of full-touch phones and they have quite a few handsets to offer. The Samsung S5600 Preston, S5230 Star WiFi and M5650 Lindy all cost about the same and have comparable connectivity features.

None of those handsets however can't beat the level of versatility a smartphone can offer. Screen size and resolution are also in favor of Nokia.
Those handsets are designed to compete against each another but seem unprepared to handle an attack by affordable touchscreen smartphones. This of course is the geek’s point of view, and smartphones are simply not everyone’s cup of tea. But Nokia’s expansion in the lower touchscreen market is nonetheless threatening. The Finns are hoping to gain from giving users the luxury to “go smart” without charging a premium price for that.


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.