Samsung U700 Ultra 12.1 Review

After the great success of the RAZR and sibling SLVR series, Motorola defined the standard of a slim phone. The market changed, and every manufacturer had to take the RAZR as an example and develop rival models. The ambitious Koreans from Samsung like to be "world first" and try to always offer the latest technology, so they soon started offering rival models under the Ultra-series branding. That way we saw the world's thinnest phone (X820 Ultra 6.9) at 6.9mm thickness, and the world's slimmest slider with 3-megapixel camera, the D900 Ultra 12.9. In February 2007, Samsung announced the second generation of slim devices, the Ultra II series, which don't really slim the profiles down, but come with upgraded functionality. The X820 is replaced by the Ultra 5.9 U100, and the D900 by the Ultra 10.9 U600. The U600 is very identical to the D900, but the bigger brother U700 Ultra 12.1 is its 3G-capable upgrade, which allows for faster speed of the Internet and video calling feature.

As it can be expected, the U700 is slim and sexy slider. The Ultra II series replace the math black plastic of the previous group with glossy materials and metal trims, which give for the fashionable appearance of the phones. The U700 we are using is in silver, but there is also a version in dark-gray/black. It fits very well in the hand and thanks to the light weight and slim profile is put into a shirt's pocket with no worries. The only thing we didn't like in the construction is the back side, which is made of thin and soft plastic and that is the reason the battery cover creaks and wobbles.

The slider opens easily but one doesn't really feel the spring mechanism, supposed to help with the movement. The bump at the end of the bottom slider prevents from pushing the upper slider from its beginning and you have to put your fingers on the front side, over the navigation keys or the display, which we did. Unfortunately, this will keep the display surface constantly dirty, as it is a fingerprint-magnet, typically for a glossy and shiny device.

Keep it clean, in order to see the display better. It is 2.2" large with QVGA 240x320 pixels resolution and showing up to 262 thousands colors. Typically for a Samsung, the display has bright and saturated colors and superb contrast, but we are disappointed that the yellow dominates, and everything looks a little yellowish - the white is not white, and the other colors are not very realistic. The resolution to size ratio is excellent and the only drawback is the number of the colors, which don't transit really smooth from one hue to another. It is visible in direct sunlight, but if it is dirty, the visibility will decrease.

Below it are the touch-sensitive keys, with the upper two rows being exactly on the same surface as the display, being totally flat. Little raised are the answer and reject at the end of the slider. The technology used requires to keep your finger over the button you want to use, and in a second or so, the action is performed. Due to the software, the most frequently used touch keys will be the right software key and the reject, used for respectively "back" and "go to homescreen". The left soft key doubles the function of the central position of the D-pad most of the time, and the shortcuts won't be keys you really use often. For answer and reject, most people will use the slider open/close. Still, we are not keen on these touch-sensitive keys and would prefer standard ones, even if they have to be totally flat. They have slow response and lead to undesired actions when you just want to “clean” the front side with a finger, moving it over the surface.

When the phone turns the display off in order to save battery power, you won't be able to activate it with the touch-sensitive keys, and have to press some of the others, for example the D-pad. This circular key can be pressed in the four directions and in the middle, as a standard 5-way key. But its top is spinning, acting as a scroll. It resembles an iPod wheel, but is less sensitive and acts slower, less accurately.

Standard keys are used for the numeric keypad, positioned on the bottom slider. They are in RAZR style, but the surface is not metal. Their size is above the average and have almost no space between each other, press soft and return tactile feedback, unlike the navigation ones. The backlight here is white with slight pink nuance, matches the style of the whole phone and helps you to read the characters in the dark. This is important, as there is almost no relief and you have to look at the keys as you press them.

The left side houses the volume rocker and the Samsung port for charger / headset / cable connection and on the right are situated respectively the camera shortcut and the microSD hot-swappable slot. The connection port and the memory card slot are covered with protective plastics, which match the style of the device. On the top is the small power on/off key. Its function isn’t carried by the reject key,as it is touch sensitive one and cannot start the phone (doesn’t act without power). Above the display are the speaker and the VGA camera for video calling. It can also be used for taking of pictures


The software reminds of earlier Samsung models but even if you have not used one, it will be easy to get used to it. From the homescreen, where you will see the time, service information and the carrier name, none of the soft keys lead to the main menu. You open it by the central position of the D-pad. The ordinary shortcut to the phonebook - the down direction is now replaced with shortcut to Google application, and you have to open the menu to go to the contacts, which is very illogical thing as you use this menu almost any time you start a call.

The main menu can be displayed as either 3x4 grid of icons or as a list. When you open it, the pointer is on the sub-menu you've last used. The icons increase in size and have colorful backlight when you go over them, but if you scroll fast they won't appear due to a small lag. The sub-menus are shown as list and if a field has other sub-options, they will display as another list connected to the first. The phone lacks visual themes and even color schemes for personalizing. The only way to do this is to change the homescreen wallpaper, the shown information and the dial-pad interface.


The slim and sexy U700 is not stupid, and has enough memory to store 1000 contacts with multiple numbers. Adding a new one will shows you a few fields you will probably need most often, but "add field" option allows you to add additional information including many numbers, emails, addresses, etc. We are happy that a contact can have a few numbers of the same type, for example 3 mobile-private phone numbers. This is excellent and reminds us of the S60 smartphone system and the U700 is the only phone that supports that from all of the Ultra II devices. You can attach personal ringtone and picture for a contact, but the image is very small both on an outgoing and incoming calls.

The phonebook is displayed as vertical list, and when a contact is selected its number and small image (if one is attached) show. Searching finds results only in the first name, which is an unpleasant problem of most non-smart telephones. The contacts can be sorted in groups that allow for common image and ringtone.


Almost all functions of the Organizer are in the Applications menu. Here are the simple Memos, limited to 100 characters. A Task can have title, details, start/due dates, alarm and priority level (1-3). The voice recorder can be limited to 1/2/3/4/5/60 minutes or to size, suitable for MMS. It can be used for self-memos, but if you keep the phone at distance bigger than 30-40 centimeters, the voices will be hard do understand. Here also are the World Clock, the Calculator with scientific option and link to the unit Converter, the Timer and the Stopwatch and the RSS Reader. The last one uses the internet standard RSS to obtain information such as news, from feeds you've added.

The Calendar and the Alarm are as separate icons in the main menu. The calendar can be previewed for month/week/day and has settings for Starting day and Default view. An entry can be added as Appointment/Anniversary/Holiday/Important/Private. The fields allow for Title, Description, Start/end time/date, Location, Alarm (before XXX min/hour/day) with repeat option.

There are 4 alarms by default but you can create more. Each one can have different time, melody and recurrence options. The U700 can be set to auto power for alarm, if it is shut off.

The phone has 20MB of built-in memory and slot for microSD cards to increase it. The best way to use it is to store the camera photos on the internal memory and music files on the memory card.


The Messages menu houses the text/multimedia messages and the emails. You can set up to 5 email accounts. For keeping the data down, one can set downloading limit of 100/300/500KB but there also is an option for automatic polling of emails at interval of 0.5/1/3/6/12/24 hours. The fast data helps for fast retrieving of the emails.

Templates can be saved for text/multimedia messages, but there are none predefined. T9 predictive text system helps for faster text input. It is the most widely used system of this type.


U700 is only tri-band GSM/EDGE phone, using 900/1800/1900 MHz technology, it is not fully usable in the States but only in locations where 1900 MHz band is present. Additionally, the 2100 MHz 3G UMTS categorizes it as Europe-bound phone, as this 3G band is not supported in America. The support of HSDPA 3.6mbps theoretically allows for very high speed of data transfer over the air. If you insist on phone that have real global-roaming, the U600 doesn’t have 3G but is quad-band GSM.

Locally, the Ultra 12.1 can connect wireless via Bluetooth 2.0. Using a cable, it can be connected to a computer and synchronized with it. Unfortunately our unit didn't come in retail box with either cable or software.


The internet browser is NetFront which opens standard HTTP pages, not adapted for phone preview. Still, it cannot be compared with advanced phone browsers like that of Symbian S60 smartphones or the iPhone. The NetFront will open the page and do the job, but not as comfortable as you’d like to.

The browser is also used as a document viewer, as it opens Word/Excel/Powerpoint and PDF files from the memory! We had no problem with even large PDF file (1.5MB) but when it comes to complex Excel sheet with lots of data (text), the browser isn't convenient even in fullscreen view. It doesn't display it as a computer with small display, but with wrong formatting. Opening a mid-sized PowerPoint file, the program said "File too large" and didn't visualize it. Overall, it works, but not flawless. You will probably be able to preview the files you want, if they are not too complex and big.


On the back of the upper slider, the Ultra U700 has a 3.2 megapixel camera with auto-focus, mirror and LED flash. The portrait-oriented interface starts for 4 seconds and uses the whole display as a viewfinder. Pressing the left soft key a small settings menu appears over it, from where you can select:

  • Switch camera:
    • Rear Camera
    • Front Camera
  • Shooting mode
    • Single shot
    • Multi-shot
    • Mosaic shot
    • Panorama shot
  • Size (6 resolutions)
  • Flash (off/on/auto)
  • Timer (off/ 3/5/10 sec)
  • Effects:
    • No effects
    • Black & White
    • Sepia
    • Negative
  • Frames: (no/select)
  • White balance
    • Auto
    • Daylight
    • Incandescent
    • Fluorescent
    • Cloudy
  • Viewfinder mode
    • Fullscreen view
    • Fullscreen view and indicator
    • Fullscreen view and guidelines
  • Camera shortcuts - view

Additionally from the right software key you can go to Settings mode where additionally can set the quality (compression), night-mode, exposure (matrix/spot), saving options, shutter sound, zoom sound, brightness sound, storage, default name.

A strange thing is that our unit does not focus when the shutter key is pressed. It just takes photo, as if the camera is with fixed focus, doesn’t give any indication for auto-focus action. But even like that, it was very slow - takes 6 seconds until the captured image is shown and another 6 to show back the viewfinder, which is total of 12 seconds between two images, or less than 6 images in a minute!

The Quality is mediocre. In bright outdoor light, the images have realistic colors and exposure, but previewed at full size shows artifacts, noise and small amount of detail. Don’t shoot close-up objects, as they will appear blurry – the camera isn’t suitable for Macro. When shooting indoors, the valid rule is “The darker it is, the lower quality of the images is” and the flash can help at close distance, but it gives for unrealistic color representation.

The phone can also capture video clips but the maximum resolution of 176x144 pixels (QCIF) makes them unusable! We would have like to see at least a QVGA (240x320) at minimum 15 fps and MPEG4 H.263 quality in a phone like that. The smaller U100 and U300 can capture QVGA and CIF videos.


The Media Player sorts the multimedia files by: Last played / All / Recently played / Most played / Artists / Genres / Albums / Composers / Playlists, similar to other music players of modern phones, like the Walkman of Sony Ericsson for example. We would have liked to see sorting by rating, but it is missing. The user can create playlists, add music from the memory to it and reorder the added tracks. When a track is played, the interface displays the Album Cover, the file name, Artist, rating, options (shuffle/repeat), duration and the d-pad keys' function. From the menu you can rate the track, transfer the music to Bluetooth and turn the shuffle and repeat on/off. Unlike the U100 and the U300, this phone doesn't feature Equalizers and "3D Sound" options.

The video player doesn't play QVGA video, displaying "unsupported resolution". This is stupid, as most videos for phones are encoded in this resolution as most modern mid- and high-level phones use QVGA displays, just like the U700.


Samung SGH-U700 Ultra 12.1 is not a smartphone, but it supports JAVA MIDP 2.0, so third party applications and games can be added to it. Straight out of the box, it comes with Google search application which acts as shortcut to the site, and we find useless even inconvenient, as replaces the shortcut to the phonebook from the home screen. It also lacks any games, and comes only with JAVA application Google Maps, which uses the Internet to get the data from.


We didn’t really get used to the touch-sensitive keys of the U700, and performed most operations slower than normally. The lag between key “press” and the action takes its time and if you want to do everything fast, skip to another phone.

In the reception test we put all phones through, the U700 performed best among the three Ultra phones (U100, U300, U700) but that doesn’t mean it is a signal-beast. It has just average reception and we rate it 5 out of 10.

The call quality is way better, and is one of U700’s strongest sides. The microphone is sensitive and your voice is strong and very clear on the other side. You sound realistic, but little muffled. Incoming sound is extremely strong, if we can rate it more than 10 out of 10 we would! Most people will turn the volume down a few levels and will than realize that the quality is also excellent.


The Samsung U700 left us with mixed feelings – we are definitely not keen on the touch-sensitve keys, but some people may think they are just normal. The design is attractive, but the dimensions are not ultra-small as with the U100 for example. The software has its pros and cons, good music player (still worse than the one of U100 and U300) and mediocre camera. We really like that the sound quality during a call is very high, which increases the phone’s overall rating significantly.

If you NEED 3G for either fast retrieving of the emails (as the browser is mediocre) or for video calling, this is the only Ultra slim Samsung with it. But if not, the U600 will offer you sexier design and quad-band GSM that can be used anywhere a network of this type is present. If you don’t need lots of memory and don’t plan to use the phone as a music player, better check the U100 which comes at half the thickness.


  • Sexy design
  • Excellent sound quality
  • 3G and microSD slot


  • Touch keys cause problems
  • Mediocre camera quality for 3-megapixel unit
  • Tri-band only

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