Samsung Tocco Ultra S8300 £350
1st Jun 2009 | 11:25
Is the new Samsung Tocco Ultra S8300 up to the task?
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Overview; look and feel
Samsung's efforts to break the mobile phone market have been going swimmingly thus far; it's been a constant innovator and a leader in pushing the boat in terms of convergence.
So will the latest in its long line of flagship handsets, the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition, live up to the hype of a massive advertising campaign and deliver a handset worthy of the top billing? Or will it be a damp squib in the year of exciting touchscreens releases?
Designed to be the jewel in the Samsung mobile phone crown, the Tocco Ultra Edition is clearly specified up to its (virtual) eyeballs with the cream of mobile phone hardware. A 2.8-inch AMOLED touchscreen uses the latest in display technology, with the active matrix OLED giving brilliant colours and a deep contrast ratio, as well as being low on battery power.
The 8MP camera is the most detailed available at the moment, and incorporates a dual LED flash to help bring night pictures to life. Assisted GPS is included as well should you feel the need to geotag photos, or just get involved with some Google Maps fun.
The overall feel of the device, clad mostly in grey but with a stripe of red down the side (as well as the keypad) is an odd combination but works very well, giving the handset a refined and stylish look.
The mark of a good phone often comes from the feel in the hand (the iPhone excepted) and this handset is up there among the best. Although it has a brushed aluminium front framing the touchscreen and a plastic back, it feels solid and weighty in the hand and fits nicely when slid up or down.
However, the sliding action, especially one handed, is a little bit uncomfortable, especially when the ergonomics dictate that you must press the display to slide up the phone by placing a digit on the touchscreen - it took a long time to get used to not accidentally activating an application on the screen, and even after some familiarity it wasn't easy to avoid.
A number of buttons around the side allow you to control things like volume / screen zoom in differing applications, a camera key (that can be re-configured to access the media icons, ie music player, browser, main menu, calls and games) as well as a lock key and the charger / headphones adapter socket under a dust cover.
These feel fairly poorly positioned, as apart from the volume up and down buttons the others all require you to move the phone in your hand significantly to access them. The lock key in particular is frustrating, as it requires a long press to re-activate the screen.
The Samsung M8800 Pixon uses the same OS and button system and only requires a short press - you can see why a longer press is more likely to keep the phone from activating in your pocket, but given the amount of times it is used in your hand it's particularly annoying. We found it easier to simply activate auto lock in the settings, meaning that you only have to slide the phone up and down to unlock.
The front three keys, call / terminate and a back button, are well-placed; however we can't help but feel that the central key, which is in the middle of a small diamond frame, should have been a direction key as well allowing navigation around the screen, but it still feels nice under the thumb.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Interface
Samsung's TouchWiz interface has been used on a fairly high number of handsets from the Koreans in the past, and while the company hasn't really evolved it very much, Samsung still has tweaked it to feel a little more slick when used.
Compared to the likes of Nokia's S60 or Sony Ericsson's proprietary OS, it works a lot more intuitively and the widgets on the side bar of the home screen are a decent method of getting to the applications you want. However, the icons are pre-defined by Samsung (although you can go into settings and turn on only the ones you want to see) and some of them can't be pressed in the side bar, meaning you have to drag them onto the home screen to activate them.
It's more annoying that some have to be dragged to use and some not, rather than a homogenous system for all. But if widgets are your thing, Samsung has included a nice touch in allowing you a 'scrollable' home screen - think the Android effort where you can swipe left and right to access more icons, but doing it vertically for a large amount of screen real estate for your widgets.
Some of the pre-installed widgets are very useful however, such as being able to access the music player and Bluetooth, although others, such as the dieting application which seemed to just be a day counter for something (the amount of days starved?) seemed less... necessary.
The menu screen is laid out pretty well, with all icons available simply by swiping left from the homescreen, though it's slight easier just to press the menu key, although it's always nice to have options.
Each sub menu is numbered as well, so you can use the number pad to quick link to something simply by entering the number code on the menu screen, the same way that people were used to on the older style Nokias, and presenting a retro alternative to the widgets on the front screen.
Pressing the up and down key on the home screen activated the phone sound and vibration volume, and for some reason the only way to turn off keytones and touch press tones was to turn off the sounds altogether. In nearly every other phone you're able to suppress keypad tones without the need to silence all other alerts sounds bar the ringtones.
Given the length of device, you would think that call quality on this handset was pretty good, and we found it to be pretty good every time we used it. Call history could be accessed by pressing the 'Call' button, and not only that, you were shown all messaging in and out as well, which was pretty handy when you wanted to swiftly reply to someone on the hop.
Audio quality from the speaker was good, with the speakerphone sounding loud albeit a bit crackly. Similarly call reception (on the 3 network) was fine, with no cases of being lost without a signal reported, although the phone would drop down to an EDGE or even GPRS signal on occasion... but the main thing was we were pretty much always able to call and text.
People on the other end of the phone also reported being able to hear us clearly, which we put down to the sheer length of the device putting it close to the mouth when fully extended.
The phonebook, found by pressing the middle virtual key on the home screen, is functional without being fantastic. The large font of each contact makes for ease of pressing to open up said person's details, but does mean the screen looks a bit cluttered.
You can either search for a person using the top bar, or swipe down by touch. It's actually easier to scroll through the list with the up / down keys located on the left of the device, which is a feature that Samsung has been using to negate the poor scrolling its touchscreen allows.
Other options include the ability to send your own name card and the ability to mark favourites for regular use, although this is a little hard to access and will probably result in users just interacting with the handset in the same way they always have done by scrolling to the name and selecting it.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Messaging
The Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition features the usual array of messaging options you'd expect on a high end handset, with the ability to send SMS, MMS and email right out of the box.
Email was rather tricky to set up, as when trying to integrate our Gmail account we were asked to enter all the settings, including ports and SMTP server.
While this information is available on Google's help section, it still was difficult to input and might put off those that aren't that technically literate, which would be a shame to lose such a big feature.
When we finally got Gmail working, the messages downloaded in a rather odd order. Not only did it add in both sent and received messages into one box (admittedly, this conversation method is a mainstay of the Gmail account, but still, it would have been nice if the Tocco Ultra Edition could have had some ability to handle this), but the latest ones weren't there.
And try as we might, it seemed unable to get the most recent messages, preferring to show us some from last November, despite sorting by date, name and anything else we could think of. Also each message, which you'd already read on the server, was marked as unread, with no option to 'Mark all as read', so unless you wanted to scroll through the 500-odd messages most people have saved in their Gmail account, you're stuck with an 'unread email' icon in the corner of the screen.
The beauty of a touchscreen is the ability to have a full QWERTY keyboard without the pain of having to increase the size of the handset or scrimp on screen size, but the downside is losing the tactility of the physical keys.
Samsung has solved this with the Tocco Ultra Edition by having a responsive touch screen combined with a well-spaced keypad for easy text entering. Writing messages is easy to begin with, but Samsung has included some odd choices in terms of text entry that confused us somewhat, as it seems the company is trying to re-invent the wheel.
The first point of concern is the surprising lack of a physical / delete key on the phone, which you feel is pretty pivotal in a handset.
The Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition instead has a virtual key on the screen when entering text, meaning that backspacing when making a mistake can be a bit of a hit and miss affair.
Bizarrely entering text on the internet, which you would think would call up a miniature version of the text input, just showing us the text we're entering and if a mistake is made, you have to double tap again to enter the text mode to fix it.
While nothing is inaccessible, it's a very convoluted method of text entry, and that's even before the T9 mode is activated.
Predictive text has been around for a while, and for that reason it's been pretty much perfected. Users are used to the layout most companies use for their phones (ie the * key used for scrolling through word choices, the 0 key for spaces and the # key for changing between capital letters and numbers).
But the Tocco Ultra Edition eschews this practice to move everything one space to the right, meaning seasoned texters will be constantly pressing the wrong key in the early stages.
There's also no ability to move backwards should you scroll past the word you want, and if you want to go back to the original entry you'll have to go through reams of words Samsung has 'helpfully' put in that it thinks you'll need.
Therefore should you be writing the word 'Erm' (if you text as you speak, that is) you'll need to cycle through nine different options, including 'Droppings' and 'Doo' (which was mildly amusing to our three-year-old psyche).
Not only that, but using the punctuation key is confusing too. In every other phone there's a set order to the way the characters are cycled in T9, but the Tocco Ultra Edition has decided to inexplicably mix this up, meaning that you're constantly screaming in annoyance when you miss the comma time and again and have to delete rather than being able to go back.
Admittedly, this isn't a deal breaker, but given the amount of texting most people will probably do on this phone, it's a real irritation.
Other than that, the messaging is pretty standard fare, with the up / down key once again being your best bet to scroll through a whole heap of sent and received mails.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Internet
While the internet browser on the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition is capable of displaying full HTML, it's clearly not one of the top functions on the handset, automatically defaulting to mobile pages wherever possible, which means it's unlikely it would be used for some heavy browsing.
The rendering speed is adequate if not spectacular, and would probably be best used for browsing a phone number in Google or looking at mobile-specific sites.
We speed tested the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition against a variety of other phones, over a standard 3G connection on the 3 network. We loaded each page three times and averaged out the time taken to fully load and render the page:
BBC Mobile homepage
- Apple iPhone 8.3 secs
- INQ 1 10.4 secs
- HTC Touch Diamond 2 12.4 secs
- Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition 15.4 secs
- Nokia N96 22.5 secs
Wikipedia (full HTML)
- Apple iPhone 12.2 secs
- INQ1 18.6 secs
- HTC Touch Diamond 2 20.6 secs
- Nokia N96 26.4 secs
- Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition 37.1 secs
TechRadar (full HTML)
- Apple iPhone (without Flash) 26.0 secs
- HTC Touch Diamond 2 57.3 secs
- Nokia N96 1:12.4 secs
- INQ1 1:13.9 secs
- Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition 1:47.9 secs
As you can see, the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition doesn't fare well against the opposition, with only its speed at navigating through the BBC's mobile website being comparable to the bulk of the competition.
There's also no ability to view history either, apart from a drop down menu from the address bar which doesn't seem to hold every page, meaning that if you don't bookmark a website you visit, then there will be no way to get back to it easily, which can be a real pain when you realise you need some more information.
Zooming in and out is handled by the up and down key on the side of the device, although for some reason the default option is to have a pretty large font size, and it takes a short while to bring the screen size down to reasonable viewing. The chosen font is kept after that, unless you turn the phone off in which case everything resets itself within the browser.
However, it's clear that this phone is designed for the very casual web user, and if you're only going to access the web a few times a month then it's fine for the job, if a little on the slow side.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Camera
When you move onto the camera functions of the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition the device really starts showing off what it does better than pretty much any other cameraphone on the market.
Coming with a huge amount of features, such as Smile and Blink Shot and 10 different scene modes, the 8MP camera really is excellent. It also features a dual LED flash which is both bright and emits a fairly good colour, which is impressive from a phone that hasn't gone for a Xenon option.
Among the outstanding features include a customisable Panorama shot, which allows you to stitch together a landscape image of between 3, 4, 5 or 6 shots, with the camera using the built in accelerometer to tell you which way to move the camera to get the best shot.
Here's a 6-frame panorama, and as you can see it's nearly 360 degrees of photo:
We tested the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition against a Samsung P1000 point and shoot compact, which has an optical zoom and a Xenon flash and similar photo taking features, and here's how the two measured up against one another:
Macro with out of shot landscape (Samsung P1000)
Macro with out of shot landscape (Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition)
Using the camera with flash at night (Samsung P1000)
Using the camera with flash at night (Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition)
The same image using night mode to capture - no flash (Samsung P1000)
The same image using night mode to capture - no flash (Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition)
Using the camera to capture fast moving images using sports mode (Samsung P1000)
Using the camera to capture fast moving images using sports mode (Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition)
As you can see, the Tocco Ultra Edition stacks up well against a proper point and shoot camera, creating arguably better shots in a number of difficult conditions.
Here are some images taken to show the versatility of the camera itself:
The camera taking a normal landscape shot
Using the powerful and effective digital zoom to magnify
Browsing the photos was a fairly easy affair, although scrolling through was a bit of a pain as loading each thumbnail seemed to stress the processor a little. The tilting option, which allows you to tilt the phone and watch the photos cascade past, worked fairly well although it was a little inaccurate. It would have been nice to be able to use the up and down key to scroll through but this instead changed the tile view of all your photos, and slowed things down considerably again when trying to look at your newly taken snaps.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Media
Having thoroughly enjoyed itself on the camera side of things, the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition then pulls out another gem of a feature: watching video on the 2.8-inch AMOLED screen.
Some phones might be able to show video to a decent standard, but the level of clarity, colour reproduction and detail led some people to actually gasp when we showed them 'Speed Racer' (a highly coloured film) on the screen.
Add to that the presence of Samsung's proprietary 5.1 Surround Sound option, which helps make the often poor quality digital audio sound fantastic by using an algorithm to improve the base and mid-tones, and listening to a video (with a decent set of headphones, although the ones supplied in the box by Samsung are more than adequate and better than most supplied by other brands) feels like listening on a home cinema system.
Long term watching
However, watching a whole movie on the handset wasn't as pleasurable as it might have been on a standalone PMP player like an Archos, as the screen was just a little too small for extended viewing. We transferred a half hour TV programme onto the device (and it looked just as good as Speed Racer) and that was more palatable, so this is more of a bite-size video machine.
Given this feature it's odd that Samsung has decided not to add a link to a video player on the menu - instead you have to navigate to the chosen file through the 'My Files' link to open the video.
Music and radio playback
The music player, on other hand, is given its own pride of place in the menu screen, the widget side bar, and the switcher activated by the camera button. It's functional enough, with the same great sound provided by the 5.1 surround sound option.
You have the ability to sort your music by artist, album or track, and also to create playlists, so all the functions you would need are there, as well being able to see album artwork, and while it might not entice you to give up your normal MP3 player, it's certainly a more than viable option for tunes on the go.
There's also an easy to use FM radio that can be accessed through the widgets bar on the home screen, which not only does all the usual things you expect a radio to do but also allows you to record from it as well. This is a feature we've started to see more and more from Samsung, for instance the miCoach, and it manages to do so with breathtaking sound quality. Add all these features together and you can see this is a handset set up for media, which makes it all the more perplexing that there's no headphone jack on the chassis itself.
Add to that the fact there's only 100MB of onboard storage and a 1GB microSD memory card in the box, and you start to wonder if this is an opportunity missed by Samsung to create one of the best media phones out on the market.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: Organiser and battery life
The organiser comprises of a calendar, memo taker, task reminder, world clock, calculator and currency converter. In the applications menu there's also a timer, stopwatch and RSS reader, and bar the latter being slightly fiddly, these all work reasonably well.
For instance, the calendar allows you to do the normal amount of functions, such as scheduling tasks, meetings and appointments, and also allows you to register holiday time so you're not disturbed at the wrong moment.
As mentioned, the rest of the applications work well and there's a good range for everyday life. The RSS reader only becomes a slight pain when adding a feed; unless you happen to be on a page that makes finding its feed very easy, there's no automatic detection, so on the whole you need to use a PC to find the link and type it in manually. But after that, the feeds are well displayed and it seems a shame there's no widget to allow you to have the reader on the home screen.
We found the Tocco Ultra Edition, which is rated at 4 hours of talk time and over 300 hours of standby, managed to easily make it through 24 hours on a single charge over fairly heavy use. However this was significantly reduced when leaning heavily on the 3G connection; for instance when trying to download the 500-odd emails with Gmail, the battery managed to drop 50% in less than half an hour.
But given that that would be a rare instance most people wouldn't have a problem with this phone's power centre if they charge their phone most nights. It also pleasingly charges quickly through a USB connection, which some phones struggle to do, so that was a nice option should we ever have forgotten the main charger.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: PC connectivity and extras
Samsung has bundled the new PC Studio 3.1 with the phone, and it provides a simple to use and easy interface should you want to ever mess about with your phone with your PC.
One of the best features is it allows your Samsung to work as a mobile modem, something that your network might not be too happy with but it should be fine if you keep nice and quiet.
The software itself has been given a massive overhaul, and looks and works fabulously. It essentially turns your phone into a PDA portal, and while the functions might not look or work as well on the handset, they look almost Mac-esque on the PC. There are separate windows to access your organiser, calendar, movies, photos and almost everything else, as well as being able to send text messages from the PC.
We really liked the new interface, and nice touches like being able to configure the system so that drag-and-drop files were automatically converted to a more phone friendly format were a real bonus. We'd go as far as saying the new software was actually a new reason to connect the phone to a PC, other than as a modem or to back up contacts, as it adds a whole new dimension to the Tocco Ultra Edition.
Some nice extras on the phone include the ability to fake call yourself, something Samsung was keen to show us when the handset was unveiled. Basically you record a message to yourself, and by holding the down key in standby mode the phone would call you and play back the message.
Quite why it's important that you have a message to listen to we don't know, but it's a quirky and interesting feature nonetheless. However you do have to have the phone unlocked to activate it, and if you're using it to silently start a call to ward off potential muggers, then the last thing you want is to be fiddling around in your pocket.
As usual on Samsung's handsets, Google Maps, Mail and Search is built right in, although the Mail option only takes you to the mobile site. Downloading the client wasn't too hard, and was easily accessible through the widget screen, as well as being able to run in the background to check for mail updates, so the Tocco Ultra Edition got a big tick for that category.
Google Maps isn't as good as you'll find on other phones, as it was slow, sluggish and devoid of haptic feedback, meaning it was hard to know if you'd pressed something. It also struggled to use the GPS as quickly or accurately as other phones, but it was passable if not in the same category as the iPhone or an HTC offering.
Samsung Tocco Ultra: TechRadar verdict
Samsung's stock has been rising as a mobile phone manufacturer in the last few years, and it's easy to see why. Handsets like the original Tocco performed fantastically in the pre-pay market, and the Ultra Edition adds a whole slew of new options to the mix.
The camera and media playback abilities of the phone are to die for, as the plush screen and 8MP camera just make you want to keep using them over and over again. The feel and design of the handset is top notch, and really feels like a flagship should, and navigation was easy enough to allow you to wander round the phone with ease after a bit of playing, although a bit simplistic at times.
The messaging input continues to annoy us beyond belief, and despite heavily practicing with the text message editor, we're still struggling to come to terms with it.
It feels a bit like someone has told us that from now on when we speak, we have to say some words backwards for no apparent reason.
The browser performance and ability was a bit subpar, which is saddening on a handset that has such as fast 7.2 HSDPA connection. The lack of a physical clear/delete key is a little annoying too, and the touchscreen could have been a bit more responsive, especially when using the web browser.
It's clear the Tocco Ultra Edition is going to sell by the bucketload, as the nation becomes a lot more au fait with the Samsung brand with each passing phone. It does a lot of things very well and manages to scrape past on the things it doesn't.
However, the price may be a little high to start with, as some outlets are quoting £350 on PAYG and a £35 a month deal for contract, which brings it close to the outlay for the iPhone.
But the Tocco Ultra Edition is an overall winner in our books, it's just a shame that it fails on a few points as with a few tweaks and additions, as otherwise this could have been the stylish mass market phone of 2009.