Review of the Samsung SPH-N400


The Samsung SPH-N400 has been around for well over a year, and is close to being discontinued by Bell Mobility (it might already have been so by the time you read this review). However, since I was given the opportunity of trying it I decided to post the review for those considering it in the used market.

Last Updated: 31-May-2004

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

General

On first glance the N400 is a rather oddly-designed phone. Technically itís a flip phone as opposed to a clamshell, but unlike most flip phones it flips up rather than down. For all intents-and-purposes it is a candy bar design with a flip-up earpiece that also acts as a keyboard cover when itís closed. This is nothing new, and weíve seen similar designs in the past.

The flipís hinges are therefore dangerously exposed at the side of the phone, and are prone to catch on things if you arenít careful. The flip mechanism feels solid enough, but it looks too flimsy to last. Based on user reports on www.phonescoop.com the flip is indeed a delicate thing, and so you should try to be careful with it at all times. Donít hold the phone by the base and press it against you ear, as this puts enormous forces on the hinge. This advice applies to all flip and clamshell phones.

Like many other Samsung models Iíve tested in the past, the fit-and-finish on the N400 is excellent. Despite being made of plastic, the phone exudes an image of quality. The keypad is great, and perhaps the best Iíve tested on a Samsung model ever. All of the keys are well-spaced, raised just enough to provide good tactile feel, and they all press with even pressure and a reassuring click. Key graphics are clean and concise, and I doubt I could find a single to thing to gripe about on it. The joystick also works fairly well, but I found it less satisfying to use than the keypad, and not as easy to manipulate as other joystick-based phones Iíve tested.

The dimensions of this phone are bit odd too. The phone is appreciably wider than virtually any other model currently on the market and itís even wider than the old Nokia 7190. The outboard hinges make it even wider. Thickness is approximately on par with candy bar designs, making it much thinner than a typical clamshell model. Itís also a fairly tall phone by todayís standards, but not overly so.

The 128x128 pixel, 65K color screen is fairly large, but the backlight is about the dimmest Iíve ever seen on any color phone. It is possible that mine was faulty, but Iíve seen messages from other owners complaining of the same thing. Itís bright enough for indoor use, but it just doesnít produce particularly vibrant colors, despite what Samsungís hype might say to the contrary. The display is virtually useless outdoors, unless looked at under direct sunlight, and even then you have to look at it almost with the sun directly behind you, which sometimes causes the sun to reflect into your eyes. So despite the relatively high resolution and 65K colors, I rate this as one of the worst color screens Iíve encountered in recent memory.

Battery life seems fairly good, at least in terms of raw standby time. I donít see any problem with you getting 4 to 5 days of pure standby, even with the GPS locator function turned on. When it comes to using the phone however, I found that the battery drained much faster than Iíd expected. Still, you should get about 2 days of frequent use out of the battery, unless you are an unusually heavy talker or surfer. That dim backlight still seems to draw a lot of power.

The phonebook on the N400 isnít half bad, but it lacks a few features that would make it great. It can store multiple numbers per name, as well as a group association, a photo, a ringtone, a birth date, an email address, and a URL. It fails to give you a text field for storing street address or other non-specific information. Searching the phonebook is fairly crude, and is limited to finding entries by their first letters only, which is surprising since Samsung has provided excellent search capabilities on earlier models.

The selection of polyphonic ringtones is fairly poor, and while most sound quite interesting they just arenít loud enough. There is one ringtone that sounds like an old-school monophonic ringer, but to its credit the ring is actually quite loud, though not really loud enough to hear comfortably in a noisy environment. Still, it is at least as loud as most phones on the market today.

Like many current models the N400 includes a speakerphone feature. Itís definitely not a bad attempt, as it has markedly better sound quality than many other phones, and slightly better volume too. However, itís still not the sort of thing youíd use anywhere but in a quiet environment. It lacks enough volume to hear properly outdoors, or in a less-than-quiet vehicle. The microphone sensitivity is boosted in speakerphone mode, and so it does a credible job of picking up your voice at armís length, or even across the room. It still canít match the speakerphone feature of most Motorola iDEN phones, but I give Samsung an ďAĒ for effort anyway.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

When it comes to RF performance however, the N400 doesnít come close to touching some of the better CDMA models on the market today. Over the last year or so Iíve become accustomed to expecting modern CDMA phones to beat the pants off of my old Motorola StarTac (ST-7868W) when it comes to RF sensitivity. The N400 (with its antenna fully extended) just barely manages to match the StarTac (with a stubby antenna replacing its pull-up antenna). Two years ago that would have been cause for celebration, but these days itís below average. Over-the-road performance is also about mid-pack. The phone is fairly stable on the move, but not nearly as stable as the Kyocera Slider for example.

Incoming audio quality is disappointing. Itís not very loud, sound reproduction is only average, and it has a decidedly hollow tone to it. To make matters worse, there is also a huge amount of background noise that you just donít hear on many of the other of the CDMA phones Iíve tested recently. Unlike other phones, which can often make up for the earpieceís poor performance by sounding great on an earbud or headset, the N400 doesnít quite pull it off. Using my excellent Samsung earbud, the tonal balance is indeed better, but the volume is lower than on the earpiece, and thatís already way too quiet as it is.

Outgoing audio quality is rather coarse-sounding, and the volume is way too low under most circumstances. I tested the phone in the car on the highway I by exposing it to varying levels of background noise. The phone actually does a fairly good job of blotting out the background without unduly damaging the audio, and the damage simply comes in the form of increased coarseness, rather than weird distortions (as Iíve seen on many other CDMA phones).

While the N400 does have a few features that make it desirable (such as a good speakerphone and high-quality construction), it just fails on far too many fronts to be worth your consideration. The below-average RF, hollow tonal balance, low earpiece volume, so-so sound reproduction, low microphone volume, and dim backlight just add up to too many issues. Since the N400 is likely to have been discontinued by the time you read this, the review really only applies to people thinking of buying the phone used. Unless youíre getting it for free, I wouldnít recommend spending your money on this particular model.

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