Review: Samsung Memoir for T-Mobile – Not dumb, but not quite smart enough.

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At long last, one of the many 8-megapixel cameras to be announced in the past few months has made its way to a US carrier. But megapixel count isn’t all that matters here by a long shot – does the $249 Memoir carry itself well enough across the board to come at such a price? And, as I’d imagine most people reading this review are wondering: can it replace my traditional point-and-shoot camera? No, it probably can’t. But more on that later.

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The Interface:

Like many Samsung phones released as of late, the Memoir runs TouchWiz. TouchWiz is a user interface developed by Samsung, which comes in at least three distinguishable forms: TouchWiz on top of Windows Mobile (a la the Samsung Omnia), TouchWiz on top of S60v5 (see the OmniaHD), and TouchWiz.. by itself, on top of Samsung’s own operating system. The Memoir is the latter, and that may be its biggest pitfall.

Nothing’s wrong with plain TouchWiz – it’s intuitive, it’s easy on the eyes – but we’re not sure it needs to exist. It’s this awkward middle ground between a feature phone’s crap OS and a smart phone’s full-fledged one. What you see is what you get – there is no expansion. It does a good amount, but it does it as a feature phone would. Take email for example: it’ll do it, but it uses a rather archaic feeling Java-based email client which only supports the services it already knows (AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, etc) – no POP or IMAP.

If you’re looking for a pit stop between a dumb phone and a smart phone, the TouchWiz interface will meet your needs – but if you’re looking for a smart phone, it falls short.

TouchWiz’s key selling point are its widgets, which come out in full force on the Memoir. Some of them (Weather, Photos, Bluetooth toggle, Voice recognition) are quite handy and well made, while others (Browser, Search, Telenav) are just shortcuts to applications on the phone.

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The Hardware:

The Memoir is a nice solid handset, and feels good in the hand and in the pocket. It’s also a fairly nice looking handset, if you don’t mind the thickness. The camera lens adds a good bit of heft to the overall package, so know that it is a bit of a tubber.

I’m usually not a fan of resistive touchscreens, and while the Memoir doesn’t completely convert me, it does do a fairly good job of showing me they’re not all bad. Once you fall back into the habit of pressing a bit harder and ignoring the friction on your finger whilst dragging things to and fro, it’s perfectly accurate and responsive – but it still feels funny.

Unfortunately, there’s no 3.5 mm headset jack. Sorry, Samsung – it’s 2009, requiring a dongle to plug in my own ear buds is no longer acceptable. If a dongle is required, you might as well strip out all of the media features; after the first week the dongle will have slipped away onto the subway floor or fallen beneath the driver’s seat to be forgotten, rendering the media stuff practically useless.

The accelerometer is nice and hasty – while typing texts, the device will switch orientations in about half a second. No cheezy fade in/fade out transition is required here to make the switch seem faster.

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The Browser:

Yet another place where TouchWiz seems stuck in some unnecessary middle ground. Samsung’s browser is better than that of most feature phones, but falls short of everything we’d expect of a touchscreen browser. Pages render strangely more often than not, and the user interface takes up at least 30% of the screen real estate.

The Memoir’s lack of WiFi is especially noticeable in the browser – even more so if you don’t live in an area where T-Mobile has rolled out 3G which, for the time being, is fairly probable. T-Mobile’s 3G network is growing regularly, but until it hits a level of reach on par with the networks of competing carriers, every phone they sell intended to be used for browsing needs WiFi.

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The Camera:

As the first 8-megapixel camera phone to hit the US shores by way of a carrier, the camera is obviously a big selling point here. For a camera phone, it’s a damned decent camera – but it won’t replace your traditional point-and-shoot which, with the $249 price tag (after rebates and contact), many will expect it to.

Noise isn’t especially bad in either high or low light shots – but it’s noticeable in both. Low light shots are very muddled. Therein lies the glaring flaw in touting megapixels as the sole indicator of a camera’s worth; the pictures the Memoir takes are plenty big (resolution wise) – but aren’t particularly amazing looking outside of brightly lit environments. Now, the photo quality is still better than the very, very vast majority of camera phones – by leaps and bounds, in fact – but it’s still a camera phone.

All that said, the camera interface is dead simple – probably one of the best we’ve seen on a cameraphone thus far.

Photo Quality Samples:

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Clockwise from top left : Fluorescent lighting (Auto White Balance), Fluorescent lighting (White balance set to Fluorescent), High light, Low light. Click each image for the full res version.

Video Quality Sample here. Recorded at 320×240 (Max res is 720×480), Auto white balance, Highest video quality setting.

Pros:

  • Nice looking hardware
  • Easy to use, responsive touchscreen.
  • User interface is clean and easy to use throughout
  • Best cameraphone pictures we’ve seen yet

Cons:

  • No WiFi. On T-Mobile’s limited 3G network, it needs WiFi
  • Crummy browser
  • No 3.5mm headset jack
  • $249 bucks for a not-smartphone

The bottom line:

The Memoir suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It’s not a feature phone, but it’s not a smartphone. Perhaps a market for such a middle-of-the-road phone exists – but we’ve yet to see it.

The biggest selling point here is the 8-megapixel camera, which just doesn’t justify the $249 price tag to us in a world filled with far more capable phones coming in at $199 or less. If they’d strapped Android, S60v5, or Windows Mobile on this thing, we’d recommend it in a heart beat – but being that it’s just plain TouchWiz, we’re not too sure. It does a whole lot, but it doesn’t do much of it well.

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