You wouldn't be mistaken for thinking that the Samsung i8510 looks a lot like the Nokia N95 8GB. It's rather chunky, it's black and it packs a whole lot of features -- but look closer and you start to see the trademark industrial styling that differentiates Samsung from the rest of the crowd.
If we were Nokia we'd keep an eagle eye on the South Korean company because this is the closest we've seen to a high-end Nokia device, with some added features that could see many Nokia users migrating to Samsung. The Samsung i8510 will be available this month at the Carphone Warehouse, most likely for free on a monthly contract.
The i8510 is a tough-looking, relatively large phone that feels reassuringly solid -- a smooth slider mechanism brings it together. The i8510's screen packs some punch, but isn't as sharp as we expected, particularly when watching videos.
The navigation keys beneath the screen are made up of standard mechanical keys and a small touchpad right in the middle. While the mechanical keys underneath the screen are well laid-out, as is the i8510's keypad, it's easy to brush the small touchpad by mistake. Plus it's cumbersome to use unless you're browsing the Web, where it works very well for scrolling through pages.
The i8510's star feature, its 8-megapixel camera, looks every bit like a real camera, with an automatic lens cover that opens when you activate the camera and shuts when you're not using it. Disappointingly, there's no xenon flash on the camera -- you only get a dual LED photo light that works well at close range but doesn't illuminate very much past a few metres.
The i8510 does come with a very useful 3.5mm headphone jack, but unfortunately, as with the Nokia N95's headphone jack, it's on the side rather than on the top. This means you may find that the headphone pin sticks out at an awkward angle in your pocket.
A 3.5mm headphone jack is one of the small details that makes this one of Samsung's most feature-packed phones, but it's the i8510's camera that packs the most punch. Boasting an 8-megapixel sensor, auto-focus and a range of options, the camera also features an incredible panorama mode, facial recognition and smile recognition, which immediately takes a picture when someone is smiling.
For panorama, all you have to do is put the camera in panorama mode and click the shutter button once, and the i8510 instructs you to move the camera in a certain direction following an orange box -- it then stitches a 180-degree picture together for you so you don't even need to press a button.
Another trick up the i8510 camera's sleeve is the ability to shoot slow-motion video at up to 120 frames per second, similar to the LG Viewty, which is great for shooting fast-paced action. We found the slow motion mode worked well even in low light, where the LG Viewty didn't perform so well, according to many users' complaints. It's not all good, though -- the i8510's camera doesn't have an optical zoom, which means that zoomed-in pictures come out fairly blurry, and as we mentioned before there's no xenon flash. With only a dual LED photo light, shots taken in low light only come out well at close range.
Samsung has generously provided the i8510 with 16GB of on-board memory, and as if that wasn't enough you can add memory via a microSDHC slot. That means you can carry around up to 32GB worth of data with you, giving you plenty of room to store pictures, videos or apps. Given that the i8510 runs on Symbian, you can download a fair amount of software, including Opera Mini to browse the Web and mapping software such as Google Maps, which can be used in conjunction with the i8510's built-in GPS. You can also use the GPS to geo-tag your pictures so you can see exactly where you took them.
If that's not enough to whet your mobile appetite, HSDPA and Wi-Fi are also available on the i8510, as is the ability to play DivX movies, particularly useful if you want to carry several films with you without needing sacrificing too much memory. Also, there's an FM radio. Combine all of the above features and you get something very close to Nokia's incoming N96, which we think makes for a battle of Godzilla-like proportions. But when the dust settles, we think the Samsung i8510 might just take it.
Audio quality during calls is good, with no noticeable distortion or muffling, and the loudspeaker is loud enough to hear even in a moving car. Picture quality from the 8-megapixel camera is fine, but not massively better than certain 5-megapixel camera phones such as the Nokia N95 8GB.
Battery life is quoted at 300 to 500 minutes talk time, depending on whether you're using 3G or not, and around 330 hours standby time respectively. We found that we got a full day out of the i8510 with heavy usage, but if you cut down on battery-intensive apps such as browsing the Web and using GPS, you'll find that it lasts for at least two days.
Having not properly reviewed the Nokia N96 just yet, we don't want to speak too soon and say the Samsung i8510 definitely wins out, but what we can say is this is Samsung's best phone yet. A solid design combined with more features than you can shake a moose at, the i8510 genuinely took us by surprise.
We knew that the Samsung mobile team had it in them to make something great, but the i8510 is excellent and a worthy choice for any smartphone fans out there. We'd even go as far as to say that if you're looking for something other than an N95 or N96, this is it.
Edited by Marian Smith