Curry or pizza? Touchscreen or keyboard? Thanks to the Samsung Tocco Ultra, at least one of our eternal dilemmas has now been solved. It's the first mobile to combine a touchscreen with a normal alphanumeric phone keypad -- a great combo for soft-keyboard haters who want to upgrade to a touchscreen. With a fabulously bright AMOLED screen, an 8-megapixel camera, speedy HSDPA Web browsing and built-in GPS, the Tocco Ultra won't disappoint the most demanding user.
The Tocco Ultra is available for free on a £35-per-month contract with Orange, T-Mobile or O2, or from £350 on a pay-as-you-go deal with O2.
The Tocco Ultra is clad in dark grey and red -- a brave choice that we think succeeds. It's mostly grey when closed, with a brushed look on the front and the A-Team-van racing stripe that characterises some of Samsung's other 2009 handsets, like the Lucido. Sliding open the handset reveals a candy-red keyboard and camera that look positively delicious.
The handset feels very thin at only 12.7mm, especially considering that it packs in an alphanumeric keypad, touchscreen and 8-megapixel camera. In fact, we found it almost too thin: if you touch the screen while sliding the phone open, you'll inadvertently open apps, but it's hard to grip the wafer-thin sides instead. We think the phone's elegant looks are worth this minor inconvenience, however.
All things bright and
The Tocco Ultra sports a 71mm (2.8-inch) AMOLED screen, which ups the awesome level by being as bright and thin as an OLED screen while consuming less power. The screen looks fantastic, with good contrast, dark blacks and rich colours. Its anti-reflection coating and brightness mean that it's easy to read even in sunlight.
The AMOLED screen promises to improve battery life, and we found that the Tocco Ultra stayed perky despite its wealth of power-hungry features. Its battery life is rated at 4 hours of talk time and 350 hours of standby, and we found that the Tocco Ultra easily lasted through a full day of heavy use without needing to be charged.
Typing your blues
Samsung says the Tocco Ultra is the first handset to combine a touchscreen with a three-by-four-key alphanumeric keypad. We think this combination is genius. The physical keypad is especially useful when you want to do something simple, like dial a call. An alphanumeric keyboard is smaller than a Qwerty one, so the phone can be smaller, and, unless you're into typing long emails, it should suffice.
The keypad itself has four rows of keys, which are almost flat. Despite not being separated by much space, they're large enough so that they're easy to press, and they passed our sausage-finger test.
The alphanumeric soft keypad appears when the slider is closed, so you don't have to open the phone to type. We found it responsive, with reasonably-sized keys. We found the keypad user interface took some getting used to though, with function keys changing frequently based on the context. Also, the backspace key is only available on the soft keypad, even when the phone's open. Normally this is fine, but, when we were entering text in the Web browser, the on-screen options weren't available, so we couldn't delete. We had to double tap on the text field to open the soft keypad, which was frustrating.
Where the widgets are
The Tocco Ultra's touchscreen is responsive, but it could be even snappier. When compared with the most responsive handsets, like the iPhone, it felt slightly sluggish, although it compared well against touchscreens like that of the LG Arena KM900.
The Tocco Ultra uses Samsung's TouchWiz UI. Its crown jewel is a customisable home screen that uses widgets to display photos, media-player controls or upcoming events, for example. You can drag the widgets onto the home screen from a dock along the side, which slides open and shut with a touch. It's all very flashy and customisable, but we found it could be fiddly. We often ended up dragging widgets around the screen instead of activating them, for example. Also, at times, we found it hard to touch the smaller icons in the UI accurately.