Entering the U.S. market, the Samsung Solstice joins in the ranks of a large and growing number of full touch screen Samsung handsets sporting the company’s prolific TouchWiz user interface. With blockbuster hits like the Eternity – the Solstice’s slightly older cousin – Samsung has seen tremendous success with the full touch screen form factor as consumers opt for an iPhone-esque device that doesn’t require a data plan commitment.
Although effectively a newer version of the Eternity and a desirable handset in its own right, the Solstice only brings AT&T’s Samsung lineup a few new widgets and a new, slightly smaller design. Otherwise, the Solstice offers a smaller display than the Eternity, a 2-megapixel camera instead of the Eternity’s 3-megapixels, and no 3.5mm headphone jack or support for AT&T Mobile TV.
At just a half-inch thick, the Solstice is a notably slim touch screen tablet phone. Measuring 4.3-inches tall and 2.1-inches wide, the Solstice is slightly smaller than the Eternity. The device features attractive curves, and has a faux leather backing that feels good in the hand and makes for a strong grip.
On the left of the phone is a volume rocker, while the right is home to a camera launcher key, application shortcut menu key, and proprietary port for charging and synching. The same port accepts a set of included headphones, although unfortunately there’s no standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the Solstice. On top of the device is a lock/unlock button.
The Solstice is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera on the back with video capture capabilities and a self portrait mirror. Hardware buttons on the front include a send, end/power, and back key. The display is a crisp and bright 3-inch resistive touch screen with a 240×400 pixel resolution.
The Solstice adds a number of widgets to the TouchWiz UI. If you’re not familiar with TouchWiz, Samsung’s interface provides a number of customizable drag-and-drop widgets that can be taken from a collapsible window and arranged on the home screen. Unfortunately, this version of TouchWiz does not allow for additional widgets to be downloaded.
Most of the widgets have been seen before, including a digital and analog clock, web browser shortcut, calendar, birthday reminder, home screen picture widget, Bluetooth settings shortcut, alarm clock shortcut, music player controller with the ability to pause and advance songs from the home screen and more.
With the Solstice, Samsung emphasized the addition of social networking widgets. Unfortunately, while we were hoping for some sort of social networking integration like new message notifications or friend updates, the widgets are merely browser shortcuts that open Facebook and MySpace mobile.
Other new widgets include a shortcut to quickly compose a new text message, a widget that launches a customizable menu of favorite contacts, a favorites widget that provides easy access to favorite web pages, an AT&T Navigator and AT&T App Center shortcut, and a shortcut that open the Video menu.
Perhaps the most significant advancement that the Solstice can hold over the Eternity is its voice command functionality which was a sorely missed feature in the similar device. Tapping a shortcut widget launches voice command, allowing contacts to be dialed by name without the need for training. You can also use voice command to dial numbers and gain hands-free access to information such as battery life remaining and signal strength.
The resistive touch screen, or display requiring a small amount of pressure to be applied when using the device, was accurate and responsive. The Solstice also provides a nice haptic feedback, or very slight vibrate, whenever an action is performed.
The Solstice uses a full virtual QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode, and allows for T9 text input in portrait mode. Using the built-in accelerometer, the device automatically switches to landscape when it is turned on its side. T9 text input can also be activated for use with the virtual QWERTY as well.
While there is a certain learning curve, messaging is a good experience on the Solstice. The device won’t allow for quite the same accuracy or messaging speeds as a hardware QWERTY keyboard, but is a good pick for the moderate texter looking for a touch screen phone.
The Solstice is equipped with Mobile Email for basic email access on-the-go. While a number of popular email services such as AOL and Yahoo are available through Mobile Email, the device is conspicuously missing some email services such as Gmail. Supported instant messaging platforms include AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo! messengers.
The Solstice features a somewhat impressive full HTML web browser. While the handset is expectedly not equipped with WiFi, full web pages and mobile phone optimized pages rendered quickly and, in most cases, accurately over AT&T’s 3G network (even in areas without full service). The browser has an easily accessible built-in Google search, and quick access to favorites. The volume rocker offers a handy solution for zooming in and out on a page, and a small preview window in the left of the screen indicates the area zoomed in on. The device is also able to stream YouTube videos in a seperate video playback window.
Although fairly basic, the Solstice offers a capable music player that can also be controlled using the music home screen widget. Supported audio formats include MP3, WMA, and eAAC. The Solstice is also capable of playing H.263, H.264, and MPEG4 video files. Video playback quality is pretty decent, but nothing special compared to most higher-end devices.
There’s a number of preinstalled game demos, and support for XM radio, which is available for an additional monthly fee. Of course, you can also download additional games and applications using AT&T’s AppCenter. The handset is also equipped with Mobile Video.
Despite the 1-megapixel downgrade from the Eternity, the Soltice’s 2-megapixel camera takes acceptable pictures. Pictures taken with adequate lighting, particularly those taken in direct sunlight, appeared decently sharp while photo taken indoors in relatively low light often came out blurry. Video quality was also acceptable, but far from superior.
Pictures can be taken in six resolutions ranging from 320×240 to 1600×1200. The camera application offered a fair number of options and settings, including five white balance presets, four image effects, night mode, and a time.
The Soltice sports Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP for wireless headphones, and has A-GPS support. The handset is loaded with AT&T navigator for turn-by-turn GPS directions, available for an additional monthly fee. Another preloaded application called Where offers additional location-based services, but also comes at a monthly fee.
The Samsung Solstice is an attractive full touch screen phone with a strong user experience and plenty of features including voice commands, 3G network support, a capable camera and music player, GPS and a number of entertainment options. Unfortunately, with a slightly inferior feature set, the Solstice is likely condemned to live its life forever in the Eternity’s shadow.