Samsung F300 Ultra Music
21st Aug 2007 | 23:00
A unique dual-faced music mobile tries to play it both ways
Undaunted by the imminent arrival of the iPhone and awesome presence of Sony Ericsson's Walkman mobile brand, Samsung has decided to turn its attentions to the mobile music arena with a head-turning, dual-faced edition of the Ultra.
The tri-band F300 Ultra Music is the most literal merger of an MP3 player and mobile phone seen so far - turn it one way and it's a music player, turn it the other and it's a regular phone.
Convergence may be at its heart, but by physically separating the two major functions within the same device the F300 is quite literally presenting itself as an MP3 player and mobile phone in equal parts.
The hybrid device sticks with the Ultra's trademark wafer-thin design, but goes for the common music-player tactic of building the battery into the casing itself, leaving the phone's SIM card and MicroSD card slots along the edge.
The phone side of things is dominated by the keypad and control panel - so much so the LCD almost feels like an after-thought. Not surprisingly, it's the size of the screen that presents the most problems.
While none of the multimedia functions are carried out here, the fact you can only see two lines of text at a time makes both navigating the menu and sending and reading SMS messages a painful process. The small screen seems a throwback to the old days when hardly anyone used text.
It is possible to switch screens to view texts and go through your contacts, but as you can't reply to messages or edit contacts in this mode it all seems a bit of an unnecessary chore to keep changing sides while you type. Menu navigation is also pretty labour intensive, scrolling left to right through the icons, and the tree arrangement of sub-options isn't exactly optimised for a screen of this size.
Pressing the Phone/MP3 button on the edge of the handset switches proceedings to the opposite screen, presenting a range of new multimedia-based menu options including the music player, FM radio, 2-megapixel camera, voice recorder and browser.
On this side, the screen is king: at 2.1 inches it sits proud over the glossy D-pad, and offers users a more reassuring experience compared to its counterpart on the opposite side.
The menu here resembles Samsung's traditional MP3 players, and employs a touch-sensitive sweep control around the navigation-pad to scroll through sub-options.
Going straight to the business end, with so much resting on the music player it's surprising more effort wasn't made to brush up the interface. As it is, it doesn't really stand out that much from other music playing handsets, and the sweep control used to navigate options frequently frustrates.
When it comes to the nitty gritty of transferring your tunes, the F300 raises its game. As with most handsets, you have the choice of transferring media either via Bluetooth or USB cable. When hooked up to a PC using the USB cable the phone is able to work in two modes: Media Transfer or PC Studio.
The first of these allows users to send music to the device directly from their Windows Media Player via USB 2.0, while PC Studio provides software to manage the phone's calendar, contacts and music. If neither of these appeals, you can always use the USB Mass Storage Device function instead to drag and drop media between your computer and phone (or just use the MicroSD card).
Audiophiles will be pleased to learn that Samsung has included a connector lead with a 3.5mm adaptor so you're free to mix and match you headphones, and there's also the option of going wireless thanks to full A2DP Bluetooth support. That said, there's not much to complain about with the bundled set anyway, so you probably won't feel the need.
Sound quality is impressive, and if you're the type that likes to up the bass or high-hats there's plenty of scope to tweak the dynamic range with a host of preset EQs (although there's no option to store your own settings). Reception from the FM radio is also surprisingly good.
Aside from its music playing capabilities, the F300 also sports a 2-megapixel camera. Again, the dual-screen setup causes confusion here as the sensor is mounted on the phone side with the viewfinder set to use the smaller screen by default.
This means if you access the camera from the phone menu you'll be left enjoying thumbnail self-portraits and little else. Instead, you have to swap sides and select the camera from here - not exactly easy access.
Once you've swapped screens, if you want to adjust the camera settings you'll have to cope with the sweep control, which is a somewhat hit-and-hope experience. The photos themselves are realistic when it comes to colour reproduction, but edges lack detail and there is a general softness throughout.
Performance-wise call quality is adequate but not outstanding.
life tests problem, gave us around two days power with light use ad a bit of music listening. Admittedly Samsung has gone some way to compensate for this by shipping the handset with a case that incorporates a second battery, but this just succeeds in making swapping sides an even bigger problem and adds considerable bulk.
All in all, Samsung should be applauded for its innovation and willingness to try out new concepts, but the F300 is just not a practical solution for combining a mobile phone and an MP3 player.
There are simply too many ideas fighting for space, which only serves to confuse the user, and the general sluggishness of the device in use is sometimes infuriating. Nice try, but there's definitely something to be said for keeping it simple.
Ease of Use 4
Call quality 7
Value for money 5