Samsung SGH-E250

Will this mid-range all-in-one slider change Samsung's fate in this segment?


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Samsung SGH-E250

Samsung has been pushing their phones in the Indian market for a long time now, but most of their models have always had something missing. Take, for example, the E880: a really compact phone which still includes a 1 megapixel camera, MP3 player, 80mb memory, Bluetooth and all that jazz. What’s missing? FM radio and a card slot. The more recent super-slim X820 also had all the aforementioned features, but again lacked an FM radio and a memory card slot. Even their higher end models such as the slim slider, the Ultra Edition 1.9 (D900), lacked an FM radio tuner in spite of being so expensive. This has been a problem for Samsung. Other competing brands have something in the sweet spot (the mid-range) – the Sony Ericsson Z550i, the Nokia 6085 and the LG KG300 Dynamite. Go a little higher and you get the new Nokia 6300 or the Sony Ericsson K550i. These phones are all-in-one and don’t cost too much. Samsung has nothing in this range.

It’s this problem that Samsung is trying to tackle with the new E250. The E250 is a very inexpensive all-in-one phone. It looks very stylish and only costs Rs. 7,000. Will the E250 revive Samsung’s performance in the lower mid-range segment alongside The Nokia 6085 and the Sony Ericsson Z550i? Let’s find out.

 Samsung SGH-E250

The E250 is also one of the first three phones that Samsung has launched with security features such as Mobile Tracker, Emergency SOS alert and Privacy lock. We’ll talk about those later.

The E250 looks almost exactly like the D900 which costs more than twice as much. It’s surprising why Samsung would want to do this – it’s one thing to give budget buyers an excellent looking phone and it’s a completely different thing to actually clone the design of the highest end phone in your catalog and sell it for cheap. D900 owners are upset because now every average to mid-range buyer can now consider upgrading to a phone that looks like it costs Rs. 18,000.

The E250 looks hot. It’s slim, it’s stylish and it’s a slider. In fact, the E250 is the only slider phone that looks this good and sells for this price. Compared to the 6085 and the Z550i, the E250 clearly stands out. Unlike other low-end slider phones, the E250 has a spring-loaded slider, so you just need to nudge it up or down and it does the rest by itself. The little ridge right below the screen (which facilitates sliding the phone open) is a little too flat in the E250, making it a little difficult to use. You’ll be better off sliding the phone up by holding its sides. The sliding construct, however, feels solid and has very, very little play. It won’t break easily.

Buttons and ports on the E250 have been kept to a minimum. There’s a microSD card slot on the left side and a headset/charger port on the right side. Combining ports saves space, but because of this, you won’t be able to use the headset to listen to music or the radio while you’re recharging the phone. On the left, there is also the volume rocker. There is no shortcut to launch the camera or music player, other than the navigation pad shortcuts, which are configurable.

The phone comes in three colors – silver, black and a relatively uncommon pink. The silver one looks fine, but the black is the real deal. Don’t get me started with pink!
The display on the E250 is a mixture of good and bad. It’s good because it’s a large, 2-inch, 65k color TFT screen that’s bright, but it’s bad because it’s a little low on resolution (128x160), making the fonts look very blocky and most pictures look quite pixelated. Larger text and numbers look fine, but the menu screen looks very, very crowded, especially with the new uMenu interface with the sub-menus and all that. The LG Dynamite has the higest resolution screen in this class – full QVGA (240x320), which is clearly the best.

The upside to this, which may not directly be related to the low resolution of the screen, is the speed of the user interface. This is by far, the fastest phone I’ve used since the older black and white phones. Every action in the phone – be it moving between the menu items, opening/closing applications, reading messages, whatever. Even the camera takes just 1 second to become fully operational and no time at all to save an image. The speed at which this phone works is a pleasure which you have to experience.

Another good feature is the E250’s ability to use the whole screen up when a native resolution wallpaper (128x160) is put up. Earlier Samsung phones (prior to the Ultra editions) could only use the area below the title bar. I miss this feature in my E880.

It seems every problem I have had with keypads on Samsung phones was heard and corrected in the E250. Each and every key is placed right, sized right, and clicks right. The soft keys and yes/no keys are large and easy to find without looking at the phone; the navigation pad accommodates all directional buttons just fine; even the cancel (‘c’) key is large, so you won’t accidentally hit the down directional key instead.

The numeric keypad is one of the best I’ve used. Each key is shaped perfectly and in line with the other keys. The buttons look quite flat and just lightly recessed from the base, but they click perfectly and the tactile feedback is excellent. With the D900, I had a problem with the lowest rung of keys (*, 0, #) being too close to the 'wall' at the base of the phone. That’s been corrected in the E250 – each key is very easy and comfortable to find and use. Perfect!
A cheap, 7,000-buck phone would definitely skim on some features, neh? No, not exacty. This phone is very well-equipped in the tech specs as well as connectivity departments. It doesn’t excel, but it covers everything necessary.

The E250 is a tri-band GSM (yeah, no quad-band), but it features GPRS as well as EDGE, which isn’t too common in this price range. The phone has a WAP 2.0/XHTML browser, but it doesn’t render the web too well. It does basic WAP-like rendering, which is around par with the rest of the phones in the bracket. Web browsing on phones just doesn’t cut it for me unless it looks like it does on the Nokia E50 or the K790i. Yeah! I’m spoilt.

Personal connectivity is handled by USB, which is unfortunately stuck at just 1.1, so transferring music via cables is going to take a bit of time. Fortunately, the E250 supports Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP stereo support (yes!), so you can use those cordless headsets to listen to music.

There’s only 10mb of on-board memory, but a microSD slot that can take upto 1GB cards. The slot allows hot-swapping, so feel free to pull out and put in the cards without switching off the phone. No-name 1GB cards sell for as low as Rs. 700, so be sure to pick one up when you buy this phone.

The phone stores upto 1,000 entries in the phone itself and also supports picture called IDs for contacts.

As mentioned before, the E250 is one of the first three phones Samsung has released in India with well-thought out security features other than the basic phone locks. The other two phones are the C140 and the X520.

The first and most popular feature is Mobile Tracker, which makes your phone automatically send an alert SMS whenever the SIM card is replaced. When you buy this phone, you should activate Mobile Tracker and enter two numbers that the alert message will be sent to. This message defaults to "Please save this message," and cannot be changed. You can put numbers of your spouse, parent or close friend, but you must notify them of this, or they won’t know what the alert message is supposed to denote. If and when your phone is stolen, the first thing the thief will do is take out your SIM card and throw it away. But the moment he puts in his own SIM card, an SMS is sent out from the stolen phone to the two numbers you had put. So your friend will get an SMS from the new number of the thief's SIM card and also his IMEI number.

Now the problem here is that the IMEI and remote blocking of phones doesn’t happen in India, so the only thing you have to go by is the number of the thief's phone. Obviously, he’s not going to return the phone if you call him and ask him to do so. However, you can report the number to the police and they, if they feel inclined to, can get the registered owner information for that number and track the person down. But that’s not going to happen for everyone. So, this feature may not really work as advertised to get your phone back into your hands, but in the long run, it can act as a deterrent for thieves to steal Samsung mobile phones.

The second security feature is Emergency SOS alert. Unlike the Mobile Tracker, which kicks in when your phone is stolen, Emergency SOS alert is activated by you when you need to alert someone in a, well, emergency situation. For example, if you’re being kidnapped or taken to some place and you still have your phone with you, you just have to hit the volume key four times and an emergency SMS will be sent to up to 10 people from your phone. These 10 numbers have to be fed into the phone beforehand. When any one of these 10 people call back after receiving your emergency SMS, your phone will automatically answer the call, so the caller can hear what’s going on. You can use this time to give clues to your whereabouts so the caller can arrange for help. During emergency mode, the phone doesn’t accept calls from any other number (apart from the 10 emergency ones), so a ring doesn’t alert the offender.

This sounds good and pretty much works as advertised, but again, the first thing a kidnapper will do is strip you of your phone, so this falls flat right there. Maybe it’ll work in other situations… I don’t know.

The third and final security feature in the E250 is the Privacy lock. Privacy lock lets you assign a passcode to view/access anything on the phone, including call logs, phonebook, messages, images, videos, music, sounds and just about any other file that’s on your phone. Without the password, the file(s) cannot be opened and the logs and phonebooks cannot be viewed. The lock is customizable, so if you wish, you can only have the password enabled for your photos and messages, not for the music. This makes sense if you think about it – you’d want your pictures with your girlfriend be locked away, but ‘accidental’ Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne music tracks don’t need a password. Or do they?

In contrast, the other phones like the 6085, the Z550i and the KG300 are devoid of any modern security features other than basic phone locks.
Multimedia on the E250 is a standard set: an MP3/AAC player, 3GP/MP4 video player, an FM radio tuner, etc. etc. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the built-in loudspeaker is not very good. The volume is pretty low as well, so you can’t really use it as a speaker-phone unless you hold it very close to your ears, defeating the point of the feature. Even the headset, though capable of good quality, sounds just about okay with this phone.

MP3s can be used as ringtones, but they need to be placed in the phone memory for that. But you don’t need to do this manually - the phone is kind enough to ask you if you want to copy the file to the phone memory if you choose an MP3 from the memory card. Ringtones also suffer from the low volume problem, especially with MP3s. The phone doesn’t support TV output like the Ultra Editions do.

Sound quality on the Sony Ericsson Z550i and KG300 is fabulous and loud enough to let you hear it from another room.

Probably the biggest downer in the E250s the camera. A simple, dated, VGA CMOS camera that can only go upto a maximum of 640x480 with the pictures. It does offer all the settings that other 1 megapixel (and higher) camera phones offer, such as shooting modes and white balance, but these are simply a joke. There is no LED flash on the phone. It’s pointless to try and talk about the quality of the images, but to maintain consistency, I’ll put them here so you can decide for yourself.

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