Review: Samsung i450 - Part 1 - The Wolf in (Plastic) Sheep's Clothing

In this first part of a multipart review, Ewan takes a look at the style and substance of Samsung's i450 S60 smartphone.

Author: Samsung

There’s an easy way to look at the Samsung i450, and I suspect that a lot of people who are familiar with the Symbian world, and especially those who know the ropes of Nokia’s S60 devices, are going to think “cheap, plastic, compromise”. With a 2 megapixel camera, a comparatively small 2.4 inch screen, and blue and white plastic casing, that would be the easy assumption to make.

Samsung i450

But it would be the wrong assumption. I know that Steve took the Samsung i550 down a peg or two when he reviewed that, but that was fighting right up alongside the high end flagship devices like the N95 8GB. That’s not the target market of the i450. Put simply, this is clearly aiming towards the low end of the mid-range (or the highest point of the low-range market, you decide), and in that respect, the i450 is a well targeted phone, aiming at the right market sector, with the right hardware.

And you know what? The box tells me all that. It’s not a work of origami and jigsaw style pieces, it’s not got the depth to hold the phone, the 27 manuals and bits of paper, power cords, hands-free kit, connections and all designed to make you think ‘there’s a lot to this computer, I’ll need to study”. The i450 box is thin (less than an inch and a half in depth), and consists of a single, simple tray, with a power cable, hands-free headset and USB cable. The plastic docs have a single CD and a 24 page quick start pamphlet. Nothing in the package is scary; in fact even the lift up flap on the outside of the box reveals a simple slogan… “Your music is calling.”

Samsung i450 Box

Samsung i450

The i450 is pitching itself as a music device, and the major differentiator in the hardware shows that. While Apple has the click wheel for scrolling (and the patent) other manufacturers have been working to get as close as possible without crossing the design line. Nokia have the ability to touch and spin around the d-pad (on the N81), and Samsung now bring in the touch wheel. This rubberised curve sits astride a rather 80s looking speaker grille, and can be found by sliding down the front of the handset (activating the music application in the process). While it doesn’t physically spin, running your finger over it acts as a scrolling mechanism, and there are fixed (and disappointingly unmarked) points on the wheel to touch for the playback controls.

Samsung i450

The rest of the hardware is very much middle of the road for the S60 platform. It’s a tri-band device (900/1800/1900 for GSM), microSD storage card (our review unit was shipped in retail packaging with a 1GB MicroSD card, but other sales packages may vary), around 40MB of internal memory free, and around 22MB of RAM free for program operations. It may not be stunning to us here at AAS, but for a regular phone it’s quite enough.

And make no mistake, the styling of the i450 and the price point could see this device in the hands of many more people than any Nseries device (potentially, at least). It can provide the networks with a relatively cheap device, likely to be heavily subsidized if and when it receives a UK network deal. With connectivity limited to over the air 3G or GPRS, there’s no possibility of data via Wi-fi (although with data now being included in Vodafone’s regular monthly tariff, charging for data is clearly on the way out), so all the online services will be going through a network portal – which should keep them happy.

The i450's soft keys and call buttons don’t get in the way of each other, and thankfully there isn’t a ‘multimedia’ key getting in the way of basic UI functionality. Nice and simple to use, and they need little explanation. The main keypad looks weird, but it’s a deceptive look. A single sheet of plastic, with some stylish ridges delineating the keypad give a very large effective target area, and it’s very accurate and fast to use. Put alongside the latest Nokia devices, I’m half tempted to say the i450’s keypad is the best of the current S60 devices.

Samsung i450

The customary buttons round the edge of the device are present as well, but no more than the four that a regular user would expect. We have a volume up/down rocker, and a camera shutter button, both accentuated in silver, and a flush power button at the top. All to be expected on any phone design nowadays. Three ports are on show, the first is the 3.5mm stereo headphone socket, and the second is a combined socket that accepts both the charger and the hands-free kit. It’s nice to see that these sockets all have attached ‘covers’ that snap in place, but swing out easily, something that more expensive devices are lacking. The final port is for the microSD card.

Samsung i450

I like the styling of the i450. Coming from the techno-lust shiny black of the latest Nokias (or the burnished silver if you want elegance), Samsung’s approach may make the device look rather uninspired, but I like that. There’s something appealing about a wolf in sheep’s clothing – not least because it’s the sort of phone that I’d happily take down the pub, or a night out. It’s subtle, it doesn’t stand out, yet it has all the power of S60 behind it.

I think the only stumbling block in the i450 is S60 itself. Samsung may have switched in their own icons, and the standby screen with quick link icons and ‘Today’ style text info are clear enough, but once you get into the main application screen it becomes the usual mess of icons, folders and applications. This is made doubly worse because some icons are applications, and some icons are folders leading to more icons. There are 42 icons on the default installation, which is admittedly less than on the N95 8GB (over 60) but still a lot to handle for a new user – and I have to assume that most i450 owners will be new to S60. The quick start guide simply says ‘hit the button to leave standby, scroll to your applications, and press enter’ by way of a guide to the detailed intricacy of navigating the S60 applications.

Samsung i450

Build quality of the i450 is surprisingly good – it’s neither light nor heavy compared to today’s phones, and while the plastic construction is evident, it is solidly put together, with little play in the construction and fitting. The i450 does not ‘feel cheap’, and while white and blue might not be the colours to pull out in Silicon Valley, there’s nothing particularly wrong about the look of the smartphone. It is what it is, a low to mid range phone – except it’s got a whole lot of power and flexibility to it.

-- Ewan Spence, May 2008

In the next part, I’ll take a look at music on the i450, Samsung’s main selling point of the device.


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