It seems that everyone is talking about the Samsung Tocco Ultra Edition, a handset that offers a great range of features without stepping into the smartphone category. Maintaining Samsung's tried and tested slider format, it is fairly well removed from the original Tocco namesake.
So the real question is whether this is a touchscreen phone with a keypad, or slider with touch? It's a dubious area where touch fans can potentially be frustrated by having to use the keypad, while slider fans will rue the lack of buttons to keep things moving. But before we get into the interface, let's see what is on offer.
A solid feeling phone in the hand, it is dominated by a sharp, bright, 2.8-inch, 240 x 400 pixel, AMOLED screen. The screen isn't the highest resolution you'll find in a mobile, but it looks good none the less. Despite an anti-glare coating, it is difficult to see much in direct sunlight, but otherwise the screen gives a good showing for itself.
In terms of measurements for stat fans it is 110 x 51.5 x 12.8mm. There is a good weight to it too, which we think adds to the quality feeling: it isn't so heavy that it would be annoying, more of a reassuring weight in your pocket.
The deck surrounding the screen is brushed aluminium, which looks great, while the rest is rounded out with plastics. Slide the phone open and the Tocco reveals its fleshy innards with the 12-key keypad and rear camera section being clad in red. It's a nice contrast with the black - a classic combination that will surely have wide appeal. (Other colour schemes will also be available.)
Below the screen are the normal call accept and reject buttons. Between these lies a central back button. Ranging around the body you'll find a number of other buttons: a dedicated screen lock and camera shutter button sit on the right-hand side of the body and a zoom/volume control are over on the left. The right also sees a Micro-USB connection, which handles everything: syncing, charging, and sadly the headphones too.
On that front, however, there is a dongle arrangement, so if you want to use your own headphones you can. Those bundled in the box are average and easily improved with your own.
So let's first take the phone as a slider. The slide action as been softened from previous Samsung sliders so feels a little softer towards the end where you might expect a distinct stop. We can't decide whether this is better or worse and we've been flicking it open and closed for days trying to decide.
The keypad is typical Samsung fare and 9 of the keys are great to use. The top three, however, can be a bit of a struggle to hit, because the top section of the phone is fairly thick, so you might not be able to comfortably hit them without constantly poking the top of the phone. For fast keyboard fiends it is worth checking this out to see how it matches your style.
But as a T9 keyboard it is responsive enough and we found that to really get things moving we could comfortably use the two-thumb method of text entry. You also can't delete a character without using the back arrow on the screen which is immensely frustrating and a bit of a stretch. The back button and the call reject button both do the same thing during text entry, so surely a hard delete key would have been possible?
The home screen is a bit of a star, with a line of widgets available from a left-hand column, which you can hide when you don't want it. From this column you can drag and drop widgets onto the home screen so you can have one-touch access to Facebook or direct control over your music player for example. It saves diving into the menus and thereby saves heaps of time.
From the home screen you have three icons across the bottom of the screen for access to the on-screen keypad, phonebook and menu. The on-screen keypad is basically the 12-key layout that you find on the hard keypad which is reasonably responsive, but you might find that when using multi-press (for URLs for example) the hard keypad is much faster.
Flipping the phone into landscape maintains the 12-key layout so you don't get the full QWERTY touch offering that you'll find on some other phones. The accelerometer is also pretty responsive, but doesn't work in all applications, and you'll find that some things, like the photo browser, only work in landscape.
The photo browser is pretty cool as you can shift through photos by tilting the phone, so they slide past. We were also impressed that it coped with us throwing in a microSD card that we'd used for test shots on a 12-megapixel Canon camera, containing 160 shots. There was a slight delay processing up the best resolution images, but some phones point blank refuse to do this.
The Tocco Ultra Edition features an 8-megapixel camera around the back, and there is also a forward facing one for checking your make-up or making those video calls (yeah, right). The rear camera lens is of course covered when the phone is closed, so you'll have to have the whole thing open to take pictures.
Shortcut options flank the display, giving you quick control of the flash which is a typical LED solution. It is pretty bright, but does give everything a rather hideous yellow cast. Camera performance is blighted by the same shortcomings as other phone cameras, with shutter lag being the main offender. In good light though you can get some nice shots, but it falls shot of a real camera.
There are a range of shooting modes/fun options, such as frames, as well as scene settings, although they lie under different icons around the screen, so it takes a while to root out what you are looking for. You can also engage the on-board GPS to geotag your images.
The menu is pretty standard for Samsung, with the main menu being icon based, with the layers underneath being lists. It is a little confusing, for example your applications reside in one place, but some of their control settings are under "Settings". Similarly, connectivity is scattered around - Bluetooth is an application, PC connection options and GPS reside under phone settings.
As a result it takes a while to find exactly what you are looking for - the menus are not the most intuitive, but with a little time and patience you'll get used to it.
In terms of hardware you get full-fat HSDPA which you'll need to take advantage of the connected options on offer here, so a decent data allowance too is worth considering. As mentioned you also get Bluetooth (with A2DP) and GPS, although no Wi-Fi, which is a shame for those who want to save costs picking up a free connection.
You also get a good range of media support, with an FM radio and the normal media player. In terms of music support you get MP3, AAC, AAC+ and WMA compatibility, while video is impressive with playback of DivX, H.264, WMV and MPEG4. Video is captured as VGA quality at 30fps.
The browser is not great, with a fair amount of bloat to cater for the touch control. Google Apps are included, but sadly the Gmail option is a link to the webpage, rather than an application (the same applies to Facebook: it's the mobile web version, rather than a dedicated app). Google Maps takes advantage of the GPS, but unfortunately you can't multitask, so you won't be switching back and forth without having to restart the blessed application each time.
You get decent run from the battery: we're on the third day from the most recent charge. This will be partly due to the efficiency of the AMOLED display, as well as a tendency away from "always on" data applications. Samsung reckon you'll get 350 standby hours or 4 hours of talk time.
It's a shame there is no 3.5mm headphone jack to tidy up the media offering that is otherwise comprehensive. Samsung have even bundled a microSD card with adapter in the box, to make it really easy to get content from your PC onto your phone if you don't fancy the software approach.
Overall the Tocco Ultra is a pleasure to use, with plenty to keep you entertained. It delivers a great blend of connected services, but doesn't quite reach the heady heights of some of the smartphones out there. Browsing the Internet isn't a top-notch experience and email isn't a easily configurable as it is on rival handsets.
But for those who love Samsung and want the reassurance of a keypad and the thrill of a full touch device, then this is a hot little number.
Thank you to CleverKit.com, a new online store selling the latest smartphones, SIM free and mobile accessories, for the loan of this handset.