Samsung has been been very busy lately, mainly launching its slick Galaxy S II smartphone - which was met with lots of praise. But, as well as top-tier smartphones, the brand also offers a comprehensive range of mobiles for all wallets, including budget handsets. It offers something a little bit different with the Samsung Solid Immerse GT-B2710, as this is a rugged mobile that's been designed to stay in one piece no matter how much mud, water and punishment you sling at it. It's pitched at outdoorsy types so the idea is that you can take it camping, rockclimbing or onto a building site without having to worry about whether your phone will survive the trip.
Firstly, the Solid Immerse isn't a smartphone. If you want the whole app-based experience then you're better off going for an rugged Android phone like the Motorola Defy. It might be built like a tank, but the Immerse won't offer you a touchscreen, Wi-Fi, a QWERTY keyboard, or hardly any of the other features that you might associate with a smartphone. It's got 3G connectivity, but not HSDPA so anything web-based is pretty slow. However - what it lacks in flash features, it makes up for in durability.
Sporting a no-frills candybar design, the phone measures 120.8 x 52.1 x 17.9mm, so it's not exactly slim. In fact, it's pretty chunky (it weighs 116.12g) and the design looks a little dated but that's largely due to the rugged nature of the build quality. The chassis is crafted from tough plastic for durability, while the rubberised finish means that it has plenty of grip. The top also includes a hole where you can attach the phone to a lanyard or a belt clip to keep it handy and stop it from ending up at the bottom of a mountain if its slips while you're halfway up a rockface. Also on the top of the handset, is a small LED torch. It's not really powerful enough for full-on night time navigation, but you could use it to find your keys in the dark or to locate the zip of the tent door in the middle of the night.
The Solid Immerse is also waterproof up to 1m for up to 30 minutes, so if you accidentally dunk it into a mountain stream or simply drop it into a pub toilet by mistake, then it should survive unscathed. Unfortunately the Pocket-lint review budget wouldn't stretch to a trip to the Lake District to try the phone out in a mountain-based environment, but we did give it a long soak in a jug of water (and also accidentally dropped it on a hard floor) and there weren't any noticeable signs of damage afterwards. We also took it outside into the open and covered it in mud to see how it would fare. The handset still worked fine and didn't appear to suffer any ill effects, so we reckon that it can take most forms of punishment that you can throw at it. The water (and dust protection) is IP67 certified and also up to US military standard, says Samsung.
The handset's basic layout sees a classic alphanumeric keypad taking up half of the front fascia. It has a convex buttons and a matte finish and the buttons are decently sized so that they're easy to operate, even with gloves on. The four-way navigation key that surrounds the central 'confirm' button is a different matter. We found it to be a little on the small size and often pressed one of the two buttons on either side of it by mistake.
The left-hand edge of the phone reveals volume up and down controls, while the right-hand side includes a hidden mini USB for charging and attaching the supplied headphones. There's no universal 3.5mm jack, so you won't be able to plug in any old headphones. The back panel is home to the 2MP camera and speaker.
Although designed to be scratch-proof, the tiny screen 2-inch screen doesn't have many other plus points. The small size and low resolution of 320 x 240 mean that it's not ideal for anything beyond reading texts as you're likely to strain your eyes if you try and catch up on the day's news. You really need to zoom in most pieces of text to have any chance of being able to read them.
When it comes to the home screen, you won't find the sort of customisation options that you'd get on a smartphone. There are a few basic things that you can tinker with, such as the background colour, but not much else. You can add a small selection of shortcuts to the home screen, including Facebook and Twitter clients, a calendar, a pedometer and Search. Some of these can already be found on the top bar of the home screen, which can be scrolled left and right.
Both the Facebook and Twitter widgets are funcitonal but not great. In particular, the Facebook client bears so little resemblance to the desktop experience or the available smartphone apps that it's a bit of a chore to navigate around. Twitter is also a bit of a nightmare as full tweets don't fit across the screen. You can only really see the username and about the first few words of each tweet to you have to select each one separately to read them in full. If you're after a handset with decent social networking capability, then the Solid Immerse isn't it.
You'll also find links for Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and Bebo which take you to the relevant web page for each site. However, the general browser-related niggles apply here too - namely, the slow loading of pages and small screen. There's a Google option that offers access to the search engine giant's search, mail and maps but while it's easy to setup your gmail account, usability is pretty poor and simply reading and replying to an email is a rather arduous process. You can also set up Yahoo! and Hotmail/Windows Live accounts, but the limited usability is much the same.
Web browsing is infuriatingly poor. To be fair, the Solid Immerse isn't a smartphone so surfing the web isn't really what it's set up for. Pages take an age to load and navigating around using the buttons under the screen is far from zippy. And the screen is simply too small for a comfortable browsing experience.
The rear-facing 2MP camera is functional, but pretty poor compared to what top-tier smartphones are offering nowadays. Despite the automatic white balance (which can also be changed manually), even on a relatively bright day, pictures taken outdoors still look very gloomy, colours are washed out and there's not a great deal of definition on edges. Believe it or not, the picture above was taken just after 11am on a relatively bright day in London. There were clouds in the sky but in reality, the capital city certainly didn't look like it was on the verge of an apocalypse as it does in the photo. The low quality of the screen also makes it hard to line up and review shots.
There are a few basic shooting modes including a panoramic option. Using on-screen guides, this takes six shots which are then stitched together to create a panorama measuring just 1072 x 207 pixels. It's a nice idea and the stitching is really impressive so it's a real shame that the picture resolution is so low. According to the spec sheet, the camera mode offers watercolour, grey, negative and sepia but we spent a long time looking through all of the camera settings and we simply couldn't find an option screen for the effects.
When it comes to straightforward voice calling, it's almost refreshing to use a phone where you can just pick it up and punch in the number to make a phone call rather than first having to tap a phone call icon and then pull up a virtual, touchscreen keypad. Contacts can be accessed from the right-hand soft key under the screen and can be put into groups and marked as favourites.
Call quality is pretty good and thanks to some on-board noise-cancelling tech, Samsung claims that you should be able to make audible calls even if you're "next to a construction site or roaring waterfall". We didn't have access to either of those, but it fared well on a noisy London street packed with buses and lorries and it also did the trick in a crowded pub. The Immerse also supports video calling, albeit only one-way as there's no front-facing camera on the handset. While it's unlikely to win any awards for high-end audio, the built-in speaker is actually pretty strong and offers a clear sound at a reasonably high volume.
Text messaging is also fairly straightforward - the predictive text function works well if you like that kind of thing, but it can easily be switched off if you find it annoying beyond belief. Texts are displayed in a nifty smartphone-style conversation view, offeing a hint of the smartphone experience that is otherwise lacking on this handset.
The Solid Immerse is equipped with a 1300mAh battery, which the maker says will give you up to 870 minutes of talk time (up to 380 minutes on 3G) and up to 10 hours on standby (up to 590 on 3G). Although it wasn't bad, we found the battery life took a fair battering while we were playing around with the web browsing and built-in apps. Rgular use probably wouldn't drain the battery quite as much, but if you're planning on taking it to a remote area with no plug points, then you might want to consider getting yourself a spare battery.
Overall, the Samsung Solid Immerse isn't a bad phone at all, as long as you're after something basic for phone calls and texts and not much else besides. The actual voice calling function is great and a lot better than on many much more highly priced handsets. Available from around £25 on contract or £100 SIM free, the Immerse is fairly affordable although perhaps not quite as cheap as we might have expected. It's great for keen campers and outdoorsy types who don't want to be worrying about the welfare of their phone while they're trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Even if you do drop it into a ravine, or off some scaffolding then it won't be that pricey to replace.
However, if you want a smartphone then this isn't the handset for you. Both web browsing and social networking are clunky to the point of being almost unusable. It's fine for checking the odd online fact or train time, but it's simply not set up for regular browsing. The camera function is also pretty lame. However, if you simply want a phone that works and can be taken into the wilderness or onto a building site without worry, then the Samsung Solid Immerse is a good choice. And it's even got a built-in torch.