Samsung Solid Extreme B2100 £99.99
27th Aug 2009 | 16:00
It's harder than most and can survive underwater - but is it right for you?
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Overview
If you're after a tough-living phone that can withstand bad weather and ill-treatment – including a bit of underwater dunking – the Samsung Solid Extreme B2100 could be a mobile that's well worth looking at.
While Samsung has made durable handsets in the past – including the recent Samsung Bound and original Solid – the Samsung Solid Extreme is the best equipped yet to handle extreme conditions, with a waterproof casing and military-grade imperviousness to the elements.
The Solid Extreme is a candybar-style phone, aimed squarely at outdoors sports and leisure enthusiasts, and those who need a more resilient handset.
It's been built to comply with the IEC IP57 standard, so it can survive at least half an hour's full submersion in 1 metre of water, as well as being dust-resistant.
In addition, the phone has been toughened up to comply with the US military MIL-STD-810F standard which means it can withstand blowing rain, salt, fog, humidity, solar radiation, shock, vibration and extreme temperatures.
While it's built to withstand a bit of rough stuff, the Samsung Solid Extreme isn't the most feature-laden of handsets. Unlike the Samsung Bound, it lacks 3G, relying on quad-band GSM and GPRS and EDGE data connectivity, thus limiting its multimedia muscle.
It has a camera, but it's a mere 1.3-megapixel entry-level snapper. There's no GPS (or compass software, as there is on the Bound), and no Wi-Fi.
While the music player software and an FM radio do add to the entertainment factor, this phone has a distinctly lower-range feel to its under-the-bonnet gadgetry.
That entry-level feature count is reflected in its budget pricing – it joins Samsung line-up at around £80-£100 on pre-pay or SIM-free (it's free with contract deals). Consequently, we can see this phone having plenty of appeal as a secondary handset for folk who enjoy the great outdoors who don't want to ruin their main handset on their adventures.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Design
Functional rather than pretty, the Samsung Solid Extreme manages to maintain reasonable bodyweight (103g) and proportions (113(h) x 49(w) x 17.1(d)mm), so it's sturdy rather than overly chunky.
It's available in all black or with some metallic red trim down the curvy front and back edges – the latter offsetting the austere look slighty.
It's very similar in looks to the Bound, and also has a curvy lanyard loop built into the rear panel – though there's no lanyard or hook in-box. The back panel and sides also have slight grooves to help you grip the phone.
The rubber-feel casing gives the phone good handling characteristics for using in the wet or cold weather. It fits nicely in the hand and is well weighted too.
Waterproofing requirements demand a lockable back panel, which can be opened or closed by turning a screw, using a coin or similar object. The sealed back panel is trickier to wedge open and remove than on an average handset – though in this case, that's a good thing.
Samsung has hidden away the phone's MicroSD card slot under the 1000mAh battery pack, which is not ideal for access – you have to power down the phone to switch cards – but is perhaps more forgivable because of the structural requirements needed to seal the phone.
The phone can handle MicroSD cards up to 8GB, though no card is provided in-box. With only 10MB of internal storage you'll certainly have to get one if you want to make use of the music player.
Around the sides of the phone, there's a regular Samsung multi-connector socket, protected under a plastic bung, plus a trio of curved buttons.
These offer a tactile, easy-to-feel way of controlling the volume – and also of activating the phone's built-in flashlight. This is located at the top of the casing, and provides a powerful beam that will be welcome out in the wilds at night.
On the front, the 1.77-inch, 128x160 pixel display is disappointingly small and has a low resolution. Compared to other more mid-range Samsung handsets, the Solid Extreme's 262K-colour display lacks detail for imaging, and the user interface graphics look a little blocky. It certainly gives the handset a more budget feel than its protective shell might suggest.
Like the more highly-specced Bound, the numberpad comprises a single plastic sheet of keys. This maintains the integrity of the waterproofing but doesn't do a lot for the texting action. It's a bit spongy for fast message tapping, though the numbers are large enough and adequately defined to avoid mispressing. Speedy texters may not enjoy it, though it's chunky enough for cold or wet fingers to press.
It'll probably pass muster for texting with light gloves on too, though it was too awkward for our thicker ski gloves to negotiate.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Interface
Naturally, we tested the Solid Extreme to see if it matched up to Samsung's waterproofing claims. Having submerged it in water for 30 minutes, we can confirm that it came out alive and in full working order. In fact we tested it for longer, just to see, and it survived an hour in the bath with no problems.
We thought it best not to try beyond that, as we had to give the phone back…
When it comes to taking a few knocks, the phone was suitably robust and seemed to take in its stride some light chucking around from a metre or so.
However, while it has a solid, sturdy build, it's not designed to withstand heavy-duty body punishment, so users should go easy on inflicting gratuitous hard knocks, or it could end up scratched and damaged.
The user interface used on the Solid Extreme is consistent with the sort of menu systems we've seen on many other low- and mid-range Samsungs, albeit worked for a lower resolution presentation on the screen. It has an initial start-up wizard, which from first switch-on confirms configuration settings as well as the date and time.
The menu setup and navigation is conventional, based around the usual softkeys and navigation D-pad.
This D-pad is slightly proud of the surface, providing a sufficient edge when pressing the directional keys. D-pad shortcuts to certain features are pre-loaded – message, calendar and music player, plus a 'My Menu' list of five functions that can be accessed directly with a quick key press.
All of the shortcuts and the My Menu list can easily be changed in the Settings menu to many other options, so you can configure them to suit the way you use the phone.
One strange choice, however, is the default setting of the D-pad's central select key to launch the Solid Extreme's Wap browser. It's not a particularly sophisticated or fast application (it's an Openwave Wap browser), so it seems unduly prominent.
Also, as it's not labelled, users could initially find themselves launching it by mistake.
Pressing one of the softkeys takes you into the main menu, which is presented as a familiar grid of icons. Clicking on these takes you deeper into the sub-menus, most of which present additional options in lists. These are numbered, so you can select options by pressing the numberpad rather than scrolling down the screen.
The limits of the screen mean the graphics aren't as slickly presented as on other Samsungs, but it's easy enough to work your way around the options – and it's quick to respond to the press, with a full spread of settings to work with.
Some users may find the default auto keylock unduly prompt. It comes on after 15 seconds of inactivity, requiring a '*' button press to unlock. However, this can easily be extended by changing the 'Backlight time' setting in the Display and lights section of the Settings sub-menu.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Calls and messaging
Its feature line up may be modest, but the Samsung Solid Extreme manages to get the essentials of voice calling spot on.
Having a reliable signal and performance is always important, but possibly more so if you're stuck out in the middle of nowhere or roughing it up a mountainside. We found the voice call performance was excellent, with a loud earpiece that was clear and loud.
The phone maintained strong signal strength too, and calls sounded natural.
Looking up contacts is a softkey press away, and you can scroll through or search by text typing in a conventional sort of way.
The loudspeaker on this phone is also louder than many mobiles, which extreme sports people may find useful.
As previously mentioned, the rubber-feel keypad isn't as springy as fast texters would like, but the pad is acceptable for normal message tapping. As in other menus, the phone responds quickly to presses as you're composing, so it doesn't feel laggy as you're adding contacts or attaching images.
The messaging software is pleasingly mid-level rather than basic. Recent contacts appear among the contacts list options, which speeds things up. However, adding contacts from the phonebook could be made a key press quicker by having a simple 'Add' softkey option rather than having to press 'Options' and then selecting 'Add'.
There's no separate option for MMS messages in the 'Create new messages' sub menu – simply Messages and Email. But it's simple enough to add pics, videos, sounds and so on, to messages, simply by scrolling to the message box and pressing the D-pad Select key; you can then choose one of the content options.
The message then automatically converts to MMS. It's quick to click through to add the content you want, too. All in all, it's an effective, straightforward-to-operate messaging app.
Interestingly for extreme sports users, Samsung has also included an SOS message option, which allows you to send a pre-defined message to certain numbers in the event of emergency by pressing a volume key four times. The phone will automatically answer a return call from the number, so if you are in trouble you'll be able to get help.
On our review sample, five separate email accounts could be used – although the slots on the phone were pre-assigned for mobile network operator email accounts, and no additional ones could be created without deleting one first.
We could edit these to use our own POP3 account, tapping in replacement server and account details. Deleting one of the pre-assigned slots allowed us to create a new account, using an email set-up wizard to help with adding new account settings.
You need to have your password, address and username of your regular POP3/IMAP4 email accounts to hand – though you may also need to edit the auto-generated suggested outgoing and incoming email server addresses too, as it doesn't automatically bring up the correct POP3/IMAP4/SMTP settings
Chugging along on non-3G speeds, it's not particularly quick to download emails or attachments. The client doesn't support HTML email and the message download size is limited to 300KB. Generally, the email viewing experience is very rudimentary. You can send your own attachments on outgoing emails, and it's simple enough to compose, forward and reply to messages. We had no document viewer software on our review sample, however.
The lack of 3G is also evident when browsing the web. Samsung has included a basic Openwave Wap 2.0 browser on this handset, which enables users to visit Wap mobile internet sites. This means you can use Wap services like the BBC's, but it isn't equipped to render full web pages, such as TechRadar.com.
It has the usual sort of Wap browser options, but browsing is, of course, limited. Dedicated Wap sites do load swiftly, and the relative slowness of GPRS/EDGE data rates compared to 3G isn't such an issue with smaller Wap page downloads as it would be with full sites. Still, the browsing experience is entry-level and feels outdated.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Camera
Imaging quality is also distinctly entry level on the Solid Extreme. Its 1.3-megapixel camera, which has no autofocus setup or flash, is very limited in its picture capture capabilities.
With a maximum 1,280x1,024 pixels resolution, shots are lacking in real detail. The camera also shows some colour shadowing bleed in bright conditions, and images are soft and lacking in definition.
In strong light, long shots can look acceptable, though they lack detail:
At the maximum 4x digital zoom, image quality deteriorates considerably:
You can take quick snaps, but detail is limited if you want to print shots:
In bright light, with strong colours images can look soft and colours appear to bleed:
In more subdued outdoors lighting, colours look fine but definition is not great:
Without a flash, indoor shots show increased graininess, and low light images are poor with dark, noisy results.
Although there are a decent bunch of familiar cameraphone settings to hand, the user interface is compromised by the viewfinder settings.
There's no dedicated camera button on the handset, and pictures are framed and shot in portrait orientation rather than the landscape orientation found on most contemporary cameraphones.
However, the default setting for the viewfinder is full screen, so effectively part of the image you're shooting isn't visible on the viewfinder. The results can show bits of shots you didn't realise you were taking, which isn't great.
We'd recommend switching the viewfinder mode in the menus to see the whole image in standard ratio – although, because of the limited screen size, the view is small and lacking in detail.
At least you don't have to wait long for the camera to fire up – just 2 to 3 seconds from the menus – and processing images is prompt enough.
It is possible to adjust settings such as brightness levels, exposure controls and white balance, plus add colour effects or frames, and there's a 4x digital zoom. But none of that is really able to change the fundamental lack of quality in the shots.
Video capture is possible on this device too, but again it's not up to much – it can shoot at maximum 176x144 pixels resolution at up to 15 frames per second, delivering very basic footage that looks poor and jerky on playback.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Media
One of the plus points of the Solid Extreme's media capabilities is the decent performance it pumps out from its music player.
Outdoors types who like a bit of music on their rain-soaked adventures may find it appealing. Its user interface is similar to higher-ranking Samsung devices, and it's easy to use. It's controlled by the D-pad, and can be played in the background and operated on the standby screen.
With less than 10MB of internal user storage, you will need to invest in a MicroSD card if you want some music on the phone. There's no card or USB cable supplied in-box, so you may also need to source a USB cable if you want to copy tracks via (optional) Samsung PC Studio software or sync the phone's music with Windows Media Player 11 on a PC.
You can transfer tracks via Bluetooth, however, or load them onto a MicroSD card and simply slot it in. Unlike some Samsung lower level handsets, this one refreshes its music list automatically and sticks tracks from memory cards under the appropriate category headings listings without any fiddling required.
Typical track categories include artists, albums, genres, podcasts and playlists, plus recently played and most played headings, and the phone supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+ and WMA file formats.
Standard-issue average Samsung stereo earbuds are provided in-box, fitting into the side mounted proprietary multi-connector. There's no 3.5mm socket or adaptor for your own ear-gear upgrade.
However, sound quality was more than acceptable for this grade of handset. Audio came across clearly through the headphones with a decent dynamic range and acceptable amounts of bass. It may not be audiophile quality, with some harshness at higher volumes, but it does the job more than adequately for a water-proofed portable tune-playing phone.
A selection of effects settings can be tweaked too, so you can alter the sound a little, though we wouldn't bother with it. The loudspeaker on the phone is better than most mobiles at relaying sound without the usual mobile brittleness – although it is still lacking any real bass.
As well as loading your own tunes, you can listen to free entertainment via the radio. As usual, it requires a pair of headphones being plugged in so they can act as an antenna, but you can still opt to play it back through the speaker. It's simple to set up with a quick auto tune, or you can manually tune it, and there is as much room as you need to store dozens of frequencies. You can also record clips from the radio to play back later, which is a handy extra.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Battery and features
One of the flip-side advantages of not having so much high-tech 3G gadgetry onboard is that the 1000mAh battery pack provides a hefty amount of staying power for general day-to-day usage. Samsung reckons on the phone delivering up to 9 hours of talktime or up to 600 hours standby in optimum conditions.
With just regular voice and calling we easily managed over three days between charges – the sort of staying power that may appeal if you're using the phone in remote areas. Naturally, extensive music player usage will diminish that standby time.
Samsung doesn't deliver any surprises or upsets in the Solid Extreme's organiser capabilities. It ticks the list for the usual array of tools – calendar, memo, tasks, world clock, alarms, stopwatch, timer, calculator and converter functions are included, plus there's a voice recording function.
All of these are standard applications for Samsung handsets, and operate along conventional lines.
Stereo A2DP Bluetooth is available on the Solid Extreme, so you can link a pair of stereo headphones, should you wish to listen to tunes while the phone is submerged or, more likely, if you don't want to expose the connector to the elements. You can transfer files to and from the phone too
The phone supports USB connectivity, plus mass storage transfer – but as mentioned above, no USB cable is supplied in-box. Nor is there any syncing software provided.
There's a picture editor function on the phone, should you wish to fiddle with your images, and a few games are included as standard – although all but one of the seven, Cannonball, are demo games you can try before you buy.
There are one or two other ruggedised phones on the market that may be built to take more knocks, such as the JCB Toughphone, but the Samsung Solid Extreme has better waterproofing qualities than other heavy duty handsets, including the original Samsung Solid and Samsung Bound. Sure, the Bound has a richer set of features, boosted by 3G connectivity and a few extra outward-bound gimmicks (like a compass, pedometer and altimeter), but the Solid Extreme does promise better protection in severely wet conditions.
Samsung Solid Extreme B2100: Verdict
The Samsung Solid Extreme isn't geared up to be one of those do it all handsets that has mass appeal. It lacks the multimedia power, gadgetry and 3G connectivity of many mid-range handsets. It's no great looker either.
Instead, its real attraction is for niche buyers, for those who really need extra protection for their phone against water damage and a bit of rough stuff. And for this it'll do a very good job – and it delivers a basic phone performance you can't quibble with either.
The Samusng Solid Extreme has excellent water-resistant credentials; complying with the IP57 and MIL-STD-810F standards, it offers waterproofing and protection against an assortment of extreme weather conditions – and can take a knock too.
Despite this, the phone is still quite compact and not pocket-saggingly heavy. Grip-wise, it sticks in the hand well too, its rubber-feel casing offering some stickability.
The basic phone performance is excellent and reliable – as you'd want in this type of handset. The music player is one of the surprising highlights for this sort of handset, and MicroSD card support means the meagre internal memory of the handset needn't be an issue.
We didn't like
The feature run down on this handset is limited. It lacks 3G connectivity and other higher end features that could have complemented the weather-proofing, such as GPS and sat-nav software. The small screen is not ideal, either for image presentation or graphics, and the Wap browser feels like an entry-level throwback.
The camera is poor, which is a shame. It would've been good on a durable device like this to be able to take decent quality pics in extreme conditions. Video quality is very basic too.
Fast texters may not like the spongy numberpad, although it's obviously there for an important water-resistant reason.
We would also liked to have seen a USB and perhaps some syncing software – and possibly a MicroSD card – included in-box; it would make loading up the music player much more straightforward.
Although as a day-to-day handset most users will find the Samsung Solid Extreme a limited device compared to a wide range of similarly priced models, its waterproof durability gives the phone a unique individual appeal. It may not be a mass-market first choice phone, but it definitely has potential for a no-nonsense second handset option for extreme sports and outdoors leisure enthusiasts.