The Samsung Behold II smartphone is the latest device to join T-Mobile’s growing army of Android phones, which includes the T-Mobile G1 ( ), the T-Mobile myTouch 3G ( ), and the Motorola Cliq ( ). Though the Behold II has a gorgeous AMOLED display and a superior camera, customers might be turned off by the high price (it is more expensive than the iPhone 3GS and the Motorola Droid [ ]) as well as the somewhat cluttered TouchWiz interface.
While the Behold II is supposed to be an update of the Behold, which debuted last holiday season on T-Mobile, the two phones couldn’t be more different. Measuring 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches and weighing 4.2 ounces, the Behold II is slightly larger than the original (which is 4.1 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches and 3.9 ounces).
Even so, the Behold II is still quite pocketable and light, and with its curved edges and its brown and black color scheme (Samsung calls it Mystic Brown), the Behold II is much more attractive than its boxy predecessor. The face of the phone has a small amount of brown brushed metal below the display, while the glossy piano-black backing features a world-map design in a subtle gold color. It sounds a bit strange, but the overall look is quite striking.
The original Behold had only three hardware keys below the display. The Behold II has six (Home, Menu, Talk, End/Power, a shortcut key to the Cube menu, and Back) plus a four-way navigational wheel with a central OK button. It is nice to have the array of buttons, especially since the handset offers no physical keyboard. I do wish, though, that the Cube key had been replaced with a Google Search key, a useful feature we’ve seen on HTC and Motorola Android phones.
The Behold II has a brilliant 3.2-inch, 320-by-480-pixel AMOLED display, a big upgrade from its predecessor’s 3-inch, 240-by-400-pixel TFT display. I like that the majority of Samsung’s recent higher-end phones, such as the Android-powered Samsung Moment ( ), are sporting the AMOLED technology. The quality is simply unbeatable: Colors are vivid and accurate, animations in the user interface are smooth, and details appear crisp. Because the display is the capacitive-touch variety, you do have to press down firmly to switch between your home screens or to flip through your pictures, something I noticed on the Samsung Moment as well. If you’re used to the Palm Pre or the iPhone, you might find navigating around the Behold II’s interface a bit frustrating at first.
The Behold II has 200MB of internal memory (upped from 180MB in the original) and is expandable up to 16GB (it also ships with a 2GB card). Samsung says that the Behold II offers 6 hours of talk-time battery life, which is pretty good for a smartphone. That’s due in part to the AMOLED display, which doesn’t require a backlight and therefore conserves more battery power.
In my tests, call quality over T-Mobile’s 3G network was good for the most part. Voices sounded clear and natural, with ample volume. One caller on the other end of the line said that I sounded very distant, but most people reported good audio quality overall.
The touch keyboard is a bit small, so people with larger fingers might have some trouble using it. Thankfully, the autocorrect is pretty reliable, and the haptic feedback (a light vibration when you press a touch key) helps the touch keyboard feel more natural. I noticed a slight lag between when I typed and when something appeared on screen—nothing too distracting, but still worth noting.
The Behold II runs TouchWiz 2.0, a touch-friendly user interface running over Android OS 1.5. We’ve seen TouchWiz on Windows Mobile phones, but the Behold II is the first handset to sport the overlay with Android. As with other Android 1.5 phones, here you get three home pages that you can customize with widgets and shortcuts to your favorite apps. To add a widget, you simply press the Menu key, pick ‘Add Widget’, and choose one from a list; it pops up instantly on your screen. To remove a widget, you press down on it, and a red trash can appears. You drag the item toward the trash can, and it disappears from your screen.
On the left of the screen is the Widget Tray tab (if you’re familiar with Android, this is the same as the Launch menu located at the bottom of your screen in the default 1.5 interface). Along the top of the screen is the Notification Drawer, where icons pop up when you receive new information, such as an IM or e-mail. Along the bottom of every home screen are shortcuts to the dialer, your contacts, the Web, and the Quick List, a selection of 12 commonly used applications.
Here’s where things get confusing: The interface also has an entirely separate menu for multimedia applications, called the Cube Navigation Menu. So that’s three different menus with overlapping content, in addition to your three home screens. You can access the Cube from a shortcut on one of your home pages or from the dedicated hardware key. The menu provides access to photos, music, videos, the Web, YouTube, and Amazon MP3.
The 3D-like Cube visualization is quite cool looking, though I’m not sure how often I’d actually use it since I can reach the same applications through other menus. You can roll it around with your finger or shake the phone to move through the different menus. Unlike your home screens, the Cube is not customizable.
The Web browser performed well, and pages looked great on the Behold II’s stunning display. I noticed a bit of stuttering while I scrolled through media-heavy pages, but navigation for the most part was quite smooth. You can copy and paste text, bookmark links, and view your browser history. Unfortunately, unlike the HTC Hero and Droid Eris, the Behold II has no integrated support for Flash Lite, so Flash-heavy sites won’t load correctly.
With e-mail, you get a couple of options. You can sync your Gmail account with the Behold II, as well as use POP3 Web-based mail accounts such as Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. You can also get push e-mail from Outlook via the Microsoft ActiveSync feature. On top of that, you can sync your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts.
The Behold II’s music player integrates nicely with Amazon’s mobile MP3 store. When you’re listening to a track, if you press the menu button and select ‘Find More Like This’, Amazon will dig up DRM-free tracks similar to the song you’re listening to. From there, you can purchase and download additional tracks—without interrupting whatever you’re listening to, of course. The music player supports album art, lets you build playlists, and takes MP3, AAC, and AAC+ files.
As you’d expect, video playback looks terrific on the Behold II’s AMOLED screen. Another benefit of AMOLED is its wide viewing angle: You can comfortably watch video when the phone is lying on a flat surface in front of you. The video player supports MPEG-4 and WMV files.
The 5-megapixel camera is definitely the Behold II’s headlining feature. Snapshots were impressive (both indoors and out) with bright colors, sharp details, and only a touch of graininess in photos taken in dimly lit environments. Along with an LED flash, an 8X digital zoom, and autofocus, you get a variety of fun shooting modes to pick from, as well as brightness controls. The touch-friendly interface makes it easy to adjust your settings while you’re in shooting mode.
You can also opt to have your photos sent to an online album hosted at Flickr, Kodak, Photobucket, or Snapfish. A useful Imaging Tool widget that you can add to your home screen gives you quick access to any of your albums on your phone’s browser.
If you’re trying to decide on an Android phone on T-Mobile, your decision will most likely be between the Motorola Cliq and the Behold II—by far, they are the best out of the four currently available. In terms of interface, the Cliq’s MotoBlur wins over the Behold II’s TouchWiz; it’s simply more innovative and engaging, and you get a cloud storage service with that phone. Heavy social networkers and text messagers will also prefer the Cliq’s excellent QWERTY keyboard over the Behold II’s average touch keyboard. But if you’re looking for a more multimedia-oriented phone and you’re willing to pay a little extra (the Cliq is $200), you’ll want to go with the Behold II. The camera is one of the best I’ve seen on an Android phone, and the quality of the AMOLED display is hard to beat.
[Ginny Mies is an assistant editor for PC World.]