Samsung and T-Mobile have been firmly joined at the hip the last two months. We’ve seen the Samsung SGH-T729 Blast and the SGH-T429, and now we’ve set our sights on the Samsung SGH-T539. Also called the Beat, the SGH-T539 is a middle-of-the road flip phone with a relatively ordinary design and a feature set that centers on music. It’s no Nokia 5300 Xpress Music to be sure, but it’s still a decent phone for playing some tunes and making calls. The Beat is $99 with service. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
For the most part, there’s not much about the SGH-T539 to distinguish it from other flip phones. It’s compact (3.54 by 1.8 by 0.7 inches; 2.7 ounces) and is clad in basic black. Though it has its share of sharp angles, the Beat also has two circles on its front face. The first circle surrounds the external display while the second circle encloses the music player buttons. You might think the latter is a scroll wheel but actually it’s a well-positioned speaker. Also, it has a bright green hue that definitely catches the eye.
The Beat’s 1-inch external display is small for the phone’s size. Though it is monochrome in its normal display mode, it acts as a full-color viewfinder for the external display and it supports photo caller ID. It also shows the date, time, signal strength, and battery life. A tiny camera lens sits above the display; there’s no flash for dim environments. Below the screen are the aforementioned music player buttons, which let you activate the player and control the music with the phone closed. They’re handy, yes, but they were also flush with the surface of the phone. As for other controls, a volume rocker and a headset/charger port sit on the left spine while a camera shortcut, a second music player button, and a microSD card slot sit on the right spine.
The Beat has external music controls enclosed by a ring-shaped speaker.
The Beat’s internal display measures 1.8 inches and supports 65,536 colors. While it’s perfectly serviceable, colors looked a bit washed out and graphics appeared somewhat grainy. Also, the menus, though user-friendly, could use more distinct icons. You can change the display’s brightness, the backlight time, and the dialing font size and color.
The SGH-T539’s keypad buttons and navigation controls weren’t terribly impressive. They’re completely flush, so it’s just about impossible to dial by feel. Also, they don’t give a tactile “push” feeling when pressed. On the upside, the navigation array is quite a bit larger and you’re given a generous amount of controls, including two soft keys, a browser shortcut, Talk and End/power controls, a clear button, and a customizable shortcut key. The four-way toggle can also be programmed to give one access to four user-defined functions, but we didn’t like that the OK button in the middle of the toggle doesn’t open the menu when the phone is in standby mode. Instead, you must use the left soft key. The keypad buttons have large numbers and a bright backlighting, so we had few issues dialing in the dark.
The SGH-T539 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups or you can pair them with a photo and one of 33 polyphonic ringtones. And lest you lose your phone, you can sync your contacts with T-Mobile servers for safekeeping. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a calculator, a world clock, a unit converter, a stopwatch, a timer, and a tip calculator. The Beat also offers Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a speakerphone, instant messaging, a voice memo recorder, and voice dialing and commands.
Though Samsung and T-Mobile emphasize the SGH-T539’s prowess (that’s why they call it the Beat) its music player isn’t too exciting. The minimalist interface offers you nothing in the way of visualizations or album art, and the features are limited to shuffle and repeat models.
That said, the music quality was decent thanks to the external speaker. The volume output was admirable, but the audio lacks much depth. Yet we like that you can send music files via Bluetooth.
The Beat’s camera doesn’t offer a flash.
The Beat’s 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions from 1,280×1,024 down to 128×160. Other features include a night mode, white balance and brightness settings, multishot and mosaic shot modes, metering exposure, five color effects, 29 fun frames, a self-timer, and a 4x digital zoom. The camcorder takes clips in two resolutions (176×144 and 128×96) with sound and a set of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 1 minute, 45 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. The Beat offers about 40MB of internal storage, but you can use a microSD card for more space.
The SGH-T539 had decent photo quality.
You can personalize the SGH-T539 with a variety of color themes, wallpapers, and alert sounds. More options and more ringtones are available from T-Mobile’s T-Zones service via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Gamers get three full titles: Arch Angel, Air Ship Racing, and Bobby Carrot. There’s also a demo version of Bubble Bash.
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) SGH-T539 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was decent though the volume could be just a tad louder. It wasn’t a problem for us, but users with hearing impairments may want to test the phone first. Otherwise, we were satisfied with our experience. Voices sounded natural, we detected no audible interference and we had no trouble getting a signal. The phone did pick up some wind noise, but it wasn’t an issue. On their end callers had no complaints, though they could tell were using a cell phone. Moreover, automated answering systems could understand us clearly. Speakerphone calls were also fine as were calls with a Bluetooth headset.
The Samsung SGH-T539 has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 10 hours standby time. In our tests we got a very respectable 6.5 hours of talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Beat has a digital SAR rating of 0.597 watts per kilogram.