Samsung Sunburst (AT&T) review:

Photo gallery: Samsung Sunburst
Photo gallery:
Samsung Sunburst

When AT&T announced a slew of new messaging devices at CTIA 2010, we weren’t surprised to see two Samsung phones on the list. Samsung is hardly new to the messaging phone trend, after all. However, we were surprised to see the Samsung Sunburst classified as a messaging device, since it doesn’t have a keyboard. Indeed, the touch screen only Sunburst looks and feels a lot like other Samsung touch-screen handsets. Still, it comes with a host of messaging features plus it is one of the first phones to feature AT&T’s online cloud services like AT&T Address Book. The Samsung Sunburst will cost you $59.99 with a new two-year service agreement.

Despite its sunny name, the Samsung Sunburst does not exactly exude a feeling of warmth or joy–its simple gray slab design is slightly reminiscent of a thick fog. Measuring 4.3-inches long by 2.1-inches wide by 0.5-inch thick, the Sunburst looks a lot like of other Samsung touch-screen handsets we’ve seen before, like the Caliber for example. However, it feels really comfortable in the hand, thanks to the rounded edges and the soft-touch finish of the body. It’s wrapped mostly in a matte gray, with chrome details along the side.

The Samsung Sunburst has a 3-inch display.

Dominating the phone’s front surface is a 3-inch display, which is a little smaller than we would like for a touch screen. Still, this is probably where the Sunburst moniker really makes sense–the QVGA screen supports displaying 262,000 colors, which makes images look vibrant and colorful. The screen is resistive, so it is a touch slower to use than the capacitive screens of an iPhone or the Nexus One for example. You can also add haptic feedback if you need the phone to vibrate whenever you select something. You can adjust the font type, the greeting message, the transition effects between page swipes, the brightness, and the backlight time.

On the left side of the Sunburst’s home screen is the familiar Samsung TouchWiz interface, which consists of a variety of widgets and shortcuts. You can also drag and drop a few to the home screen if you like having quicker access to them. Like the Caliber, the Sunburst has three different home screens that you can customize with whatever widgets or shortcuts you want. You switch between them by swiping your finger across the screen, and you can have different backgrounds for each if you like. Along the bottom row of each home screen are shortcuts to the dial pad, the contacts list, and the main menu.

The virtual dial pad on the Sunburst is as you would expect–the keys are nice and big, so you won’t likely press a number by mistake. The dial pad also has quick access to the contacts list and a new text message. If you want to send a text message, you can either enter text via a T9 keypad, handwriting recognition, or a virtual QWERTY keyboard. The Sunburst has an internal accelerometer, so the QWERTY keyboard will appear automatically when you rotate the phone sideways. The keyboard is quite spacious and we found it easy enough to use. It does feel a little slower than using a regular physical keyboard, but you get used to it soon enough.

Underneath the display are three physical controls arranged in a curved fashion. They are the Send key, the Clear key, and the End/Power key, all of which are fairly easy to press. On the left spine of the phone are the volume rocker and microSD card slot, while the camera key, the screen lock key, and the charger jack are on the right. The camera lens is on the back.

The Samsung Sunburst has a 1,000-entry phonebook, with room in each entry for four numbers, two e-mail addresses, a URL, a nickname, a company name, a job title, street addresses, a birth date, and a note. You can organize them into caller groups, and customize them with photos for caller ID or one of 17 polyphonic ringtones. You can also set your own music or recorded audio as a ringtone. The phone’s basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a tip calculator, an alarm clock, a calendar, a memo pad, a tasks list, a unit converter, a world clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. There’s even a sketchpad where you can draw little doodles and send them out to friends.

If you have a little more know-how, you might like some of the more advanced features of the phone, like voice command, voice recording, stereo Bluetooth, GPS with AT&T Navigator’s turn-by-turn directions, PC syncing, USB mass storage, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger), and mobile e-mail. Mobile e-mail only gives you access to certain web e-mail services like Yahoo Mail and Gmail, plus you’ll have to pay $5 a month for the privilege.

Even though the Sunburst does not have 3G, it still has a full HTML Web browser where you can easily surf the Web. The browser is fairly rudimentary–you have the basic URL location bar, the favorites list, the search function, and the capability to zoom in and out of Web pages. An easy way to do the latter is to just hold down your finger on the screen for a few seconds and then move your finger up to zoom in, or move it down to zoom out. Though the Web browser is not as full featured as the ones you would find on a smartphone–there are no tabs and the interface is a little clunkier–it’s perfectly serviceable in a simple feature phone like this.

As we mentioned, the Sunburst is also one of the first few devices to launch with AT&T’s range of cloud-based services. They include AT&T address book, which lets you manage your address book on your PC and then sync it up online, and an Online Locker where you can store your photos and then upload them to a social network. AT&T has also jumped on board the App Store trend with a whole dedicated interface where you can easily purchase apps, ringtones, and more directly from the phone.

The Sunburst is compatible AT&T Mobile Music, which is the carrier’s portal to all kinds of music apps like MusicID2, a song identification app, and Make-UR-Tones, an app to make your own ringtones. It also houses the phone’s music player and acts as a gateway to the AT&T Mobile Music store. You can easily purchase and download songs from Napster and eMusic this way for around $1.99 per song. The music player is similar to the ones on other AT&T phones–you can create and edit playlists and set songs on repeat and shuffle. The Sunburst has only 189MB internal storage, but it supports microSD cards up to 16GB.

The Samsung Sunburst has a 2-megapixel camera on the back.

The 2-megapixel camera on the Sunburst can take pictures in five resolutions (1,600×1,200 pixels, 1,280×960 pixels, 640×480 pixels, 320×240 pixels, and 400×240 pixels) and in three quality modes. Settings include six shooting modes (Single, Continuous, Panorama, Smile shot, Mosaic, and Frame), five white balance presets (Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Cloudy), a self-timer, up to 4x zoom, and brightness. Photo quality was average on the whole–pictures looked sharp but without flash or a night mode, images didn’t look so good in low light. The Sunburst has a video capture mode as well.

The Samsung Sunburst takes average-looking photos.

You can customize the Sunburst with a variety of graphics and ringtones that you can get from the AT&T AppCenter. The Sunburst also comes with a few applications and games, like AllSport GPS, AT&T Social Net (easy and quick access to social networks like Facebook and Twitter), Loopt, Where, WikiMobile, Tumbling Dice, Bejeweled, Diner Dash Flo on the Go, and more. Again, you can get more of these apps from the AT&T AppCenter.

We tested the Samsung Sunburst in San Francisco using AT&T. The phone’s call quality was good, but not great. For us, we could hear our callers well for the most part, but their voices sounded harsh, and we could hear a hint of crackle at times.

On their end, our callers reported similar call quality. We sounded loud and clear to them as well, but our voice sounded scratchy with an occasional bit of hiss and static. However, calls made via its speakerphone sounded quite good–they could hardly tell when it was turned on. On our end, we wish the speaker was a tad louder.

The Sunburst has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. As for the tested talk time, it was 6 hours and 13 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sunburst has a digital SAR of 0.857 watt per kilogram.