Samsung Memoir Review

Introduction and Design
The review has been updated on 18 March 2009


There have been many races in the cellular world: the race to 2G, then 3 and now 4G, full keyboards, then full touchscreens, then larger touchscreens.  Currently the megapixel race is on, and we’ve seen an array of 5 then 8 megapixel (and soon enough, 12) shooters hit the market.  Problem is, as usual the US has been left out in the cold.  No more!  Samsung has brought their top of the line unit to the States courtesy of T-Mobile, with a few refinements and a new name.  The Memoir is an 8 megapixel beast with Xenon flash and a slew of other features like smile detection and auto focus, all running atop Samsung’s widget-driven TouchWiz UI.

Included in the box you’ll find:

  • Li-Ion battery
  • AC Adapter
  • 1GB microSD card
  • Stereo headphones
  • USB cable


The Memoir is smaller than you expect.  There is a noticeable camera bulge, but it fits well in the hand and is about the same size as the 5MP Behold.

You can compare the Samsung Memoir with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The front of the phone is dominated by the large touchscreen, with three simple buttons at the bottom: Talk, Back and End.  Flip it over and it could easily pass as a digital camera.  The camera lens is hidden behind a shutter  and only opens when the camera is activated.  The Xenon flash sits above the camera mechanism and to the left is the sensor light.  In the hand it feels like a digital camera as well; the shutter button is placed below your right index finger, exactly where you’d expect it, and the volume rocker acts as a zoom for your left index finger.

There is a simple lock button below the volume rocker, and on the left side of the phone you’ll find the microSD slot and charging/data port.  Unfortunately it uses Samsung’s proprietary adapter and not microUSB.  This port is also used as the headset jack; no 3.5mm love here.  All of the buttons have very good tactile feedback so there is no doubt as to when they have been pressed.

The 240x480 display is very attractive and responsive.  It holds up to sunlight well enough and the haptic feedback lets you know when you have activated a feature.  At 3.1” and 262K colors it is not quite as rich as the iPhone or N96, but beats most other models on the market.

The design is very straightforward and simplistic, and we like the results.  It fits nicely in our pocket, unlike other high class camera phones such as the Nokia N96.  The camera hump is noticeable, but not a deal-breaker and carrying it around it felt no different than our Instinct.  The build quality is of the highest standard, as we’ve come to expect from Samsung.

Samsung Memoir Video review:

User Interface:

Samsung has tried to bring innovation with its TouchWiz UI, but at times it can be clunky and gimmicky.  If used in the right way it can be useful; we preferred to keep the homescreen clutter-free and use the side bar much like you would the launcher in OS X.  We have a feeling this isn’t exactly what Samsung had in mind, but when you start dragging widgets onto the homescreen there just isn’t enough room, and since most of them act simply as launchers themselves they’re not particularly useful.  Some of the better ones are the Weather widget, which pulls info from The Weather Channel and the music player widget.

As a launcher, however, the side bar became very useful.  Since it is customizable- you can choose the content it displays as well as rearrange the order- it allows you to set it up exactly as you want, making for quick access to your most-used features.  At times widgets are helpful on-screen, for instance if we are using it as a music player we would drag the music widget out during that time which allowed us to easily control playback.  It was almost like being a little kid: when we were done playing with something we would put it away, dragging it back onto the launcher.  Since the launcher itself could be hidden we were able to maximize screen real estate for wallpapers.

At the bottom of the screen are four static items: Phone, Phonebook, Web and Menu.  These are fairly common items, but given that the phone can be launched simply by pressing the Talk button and Web is on the launcher by default we would have liked to see some customization options here as well.  This is a relatively minor gripe, however.

The menu is pretty much what you would expect.  There the user can tweak his settings, create a message, launch the web and music player or pull up the full list of applications.  With the TouchWiz sidebar we couldn’t help but feel that a traditional menu was there just for the sake of tradition, as these items either are or could easily be incorporated within the launcher similar to how Android handles it.

One issue we had is that placement of the sidebar.  On the left side of the screen, most users will have to reach their thumbs across the screen to access everything.  This may seem minor, but when reaching across the screen then is partially obscured by your hand.  It really feels as if this UI was set up for lefties, and we feel moving the bar to the right- or at least giving users the option- would feel more natural.

PIM Functions:

The phonebook on the Memoir is pretty great.  It gives users plenty of options, and while the Memoir is not a smartphone the phonebook would suggest otherwise.  First off, there are dedicated first and last name fields, something we’ve seen before but still very uncommon for dumbphones.  It allows you to save a nickname for the user, mobile home, work and “etc” numbers along with other standards such as a custom ringer, caller ID picture, URL and up to 4 emails.  It goes beyond this however, with spots for an AIM, ICQ (seriously, people still use this?), Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger names, birthday and anniversary dates, address field and last but not least notes.  There is even a widget that pulls the birthday information, giving you the option to call or text the birthday boy right from the homescreen.  To top it off, your phonebook is automatically backed up online (through T-Mobile) every time you make a change.  Nuance handles voice dialing as well as ever.  We like this phonebook!

The calendar is also pretty darned good, allowing you to do most things as you would on a smartphone such as set recurring events and add locations.  The big drawback is that there is no computer sync, which is key to a good calendar.  Still, for users who don’t care about this the Memoir proves to be very smart.  You’ll also find tasks- which can be sorted by priority, status and due date- and a simple memo pad.  Other standards, like a calculator, world clock and converter are also present.  All and all a very solid effort by Samsung on a media oriented device.


The Instinct has arguably the best onscreen QWERTY we’ve ever tested, so we were not surprised to see the Memoir perform admirably.  Like the Instinct, the Memoir allowed for quick, virtually error-free typing right out of the box, and it one-ups its iPhone killing brother by ACTUALLY offering a T9 keypad in portrait mode!  One very cool feature is that when you select a key it is enlarged by stretching it to the side so that you can see the letter you pressed even though your finger is covering it.  The left half of the keyboard stretches to the right side and the right half to the left.  That software designer deserves a raise.  The handwriting recognition mode worked pretty well too after a few minutes of getting used to it, but the delay between the input and recognition makes it an impractical solution.  One thing we were sad to see omitted was threaded SMS messaging.

One of our gripes with the Pixon was the email client’s lack of preconfigured clients.  For example, we couldn’t even set up our Gmail account without manually entering the servers.  Luckily T-Mobile has tapped OZ for their email client, and on the Memoir it clocks in at v2.8.10.  It comes preconfigured with most popular providers and if not found you can provide your own settings.  Our Gmail setup was quick and easy this time around.  Performance, however, was decidedly slow.  We got several errors when trying to load the inbox, and even when it and messages did load it took forever (minutes, sometimes.)  We’re in a 2G market, but app is not graphically intensive so email shouldn’t have any problems loading in a few seconds.


The Memoir is a quad band GSM phone.   Where available it offers HSDPA 1.8 for 3G data, or EDGE when in 2G areas.  It features Bluetooth 2.0 and supports the HSP, HFP 1.5, OPP, FTP, SAP, A2DP, AVRC, BPP profiles.  It allows for GPS navigation using A-GPS for faster locks.

The web browser is listed as a full HTML browser, but in reality it is pretty limited.  Like we’ve seen with the Instinct and Glyde, the browser isn’t nearly as capable as offerings from Apple or Opera.  Though the phone does support Java and we were able to download Opera Mini, we could not get it to actually connect to the internet which is a huge drawback when trying to browse the internet.  With the included browser page rendering was good but over EDGE it took forever to load, so much so that only mobile pages were wroth the effort.


The included media player is quite good, but not perfect.  It had no issues reading ID3 tags and album art for our music, but when we threw it a curveball by loading a double disc it didn’t quite get the track listing right, rather it had disc  1 song 1, disc 2 song 1, disc 1 song 2…  Still, as this isn’t billed as an iPod replacement we were happy enough.  The lack of a 3.5mm jack is a big draw back for those planning to use this as a music device, however.  The included headphones are nothing special, similar in quality to the iPod buds.  It handled videos well also, reading .mp4 files with a myriad of FPS encoded with either H.263 or H.264, but when the resolution exceeded 320x240 it choked up and even reset on us.  Turning the device switches the orientation just as you would expect.


Lets be honest, you’re only reading the review for this section.  In fact, we bet a number of you skipped right to it and have no idea what has been said up to this point.  So lets get on with it, with no further ado we present to you sample shots from the 8 megapixel Memoir!

As you can see, the results were pretty impressive.  The Memoir definitely fared better in natural lighting, where images were crisp and details sharp.  Color representation was slightly mellow, but nothing that Photoshop can’t fix.  Low-light images tended to cause motion blur even when the subject was stationary, and images were also very dark when the light was low.  For instance, the picture of the beer taps was actually taken in early dusk lighting (bright enough that you wouldn’t have your headlights on) but the flash deemed itself necessary to be used and the result looks darker than it was.  The kitchen shot was taken in total darkness, and while the Xenon flash of the Memoir is better than the LED one on the Pixon, it still is not totally suitable for nighttime use at more than a few meters.

Starting the camera cold took about 3.5 seconds, capturing the image took another 2 sec, and saving the image took 4-5 sec.  ~5 sec from startup to capture isn’t too bad, but the save time nearly doubled that so taking pictures in quick succession won’t be pleasant.  This is a shame, because the Pixon saved images very quickly.  There is a continuous shooting mode, which allows you to snap 9 pictures in succession, but the low resolution pictures are piss-poor and blurry, and the feature is worthless.

There are other shooting modes as well, the most interesting of which is panoramic.  Shooting panoramic pictures has never been easier, and the results were great.  When you initiate the mode there are four arrows, one in each direction.  You choose which way you will be moving the camera, and then snap your first photo.  A green outline stays on the viewfinder, and you as you move it begins to match up with the outer edge of the viewfinder.  Once it is lined up the next image is automatically snapped, and so on and so forth until you take four images.  The final result is a seamless panoramic image, with no overlays like we found with the Touch Diamond’s panoramic mode.

There is also a smile shot and mosaic mode.  The latter is interesting in that it lets you take a number of different shots which are stitched together as one.  We feel this would be more appealing to the artistic ones out there, or the teenage girl crowd who love silly collages.

Settings include White Balance, Exposure Meter, Anti-Shake, WDR (for clear imaged in backlight conditions) and Blink Detection.  The user can manually adjust the Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness.  There is an ISO setting also, but it is curiously locked on auto  no matter the resolution or shooting mode.  Images can be geotagged with the built-in GPS.  Just like the Pixon the UI is pretty boring to look at, but its functionally and usability is wonderful.

The video camera records at an impressive 720x480 maximum resolution.  Options are more sparse; the user can simply adjust the white balance and turn WDR on and off.  The results were good, though not as impressive as we saw on the Nokia N96.

Samsung Memoir sample video at 720x480 pixels resolution
* Note that due to codecs support, you may not be able to play the file.


We had some terrible issues with call quality on our first unit, but T-Mobile sent us another and it was noticeably better.  It is still not a strong point of the Memoir however, with callers rating us at 7/10.  They complained that we sounded a bit nasally, and on our end they sounded distant.  Volume and clarity was good, the issues lay mostly in the sound quality.

Battery life is rated at a slightly above average 5.5 hours of talk time.  We did manage to fully drain the battery through the course of a couple of days with mostly picture taking, combined with light web browsing and one phone call.  While not bad, battery life could be better.


The Memoir is an admirable cameraphone that has a lot of other highs.  While the phone performance could have been better, it was acceptable given the otherwise strong feature set.  We like to see Samsung bringing a headlining product to the US not too long after its international debut, and hope that the Memoir will sell well and help start a trend.  For those looking to replace their point and shoot the Memoir definitely deserves a long look.  While it may not be able to match the SD790’s of the world it can sure hang with the Coolpix.


  • Best cameraphone the States has ever seen
  • Crisper images and Xenon flash improves on the Pixon
  • Good size and design


  • Poor phone performance
  • TouchWiz is only so-so when it comes to functionality
  • Still not a solid nighttime camera

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