Samsung T159 (T-Mobile) review

The Samsung T159 for T-Mobile is a simple little flip phone that's worth checking out if voice calls are your main priority.
Photo of Samsung T159 (T-Mobile)

Plenty of T-Mobile users recently had reason to rejoice when the carrier unveiled its long-awaited iPhone. But not everyone needs a phone as powerful as that. There’s still a market for simple flip phones, and the $19.99 Samsung T159 is there for anyone who’s looking for a phone to just make calls. It’s simple to use, with a large number pad and good call quality. But the camera is poor, there are few other features, and the phone ultimately costs a little more than it probably should. It’s a decent option if you want something simple, but you don’t have to look too hard to find something better.

Design and Call Quality
The Samsung T159 measures 3.8 by 1.9 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs just 2.9 ounces. It’s made entirely of black plastic with a lightly textured finish on the back panel. There’s a volume rocker on the left, and a Camera button on the right, below the covered power/nonstandard headphone jack. The black-and-white 1.07-inch external display shows the time, date, reception, and battery life at a glance, and will show the name or number for incoming calls, but it only stays illuminated for a few seconds before turning off.

The internal 1.8-inch display features 160-by-128-pixel resolution. It’s very small, and there’s no way to change the font size, but at least the default is readable. The number pad below is better. The keys are large and backlit, though there isn’t much separation. Still, they’re big enough that you probably won’t press the wrong button. Above the number keys is a simple directional pad with a Select button in the middle.

The T159 is a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) GSM device that runs on T-Mobile’s HSPA 7.2 network (there’s no Wi-Fi support). Reception is good and call quality is above average. Voices sound very full and clear in the phone’s earpiece. Calls made with the phone are also quite good, with solid background noise cancellation. The speakerphone sounds clear but a bit thin, and is loud enough to hear in the car, but not outside. The T159 had no trouble pairing with my Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, and the Nuance-powered voice dialing app worked well. Battery life was a little short, at 5 hours and 33 minutes of talk time.

T-Mobile’s new contract-free plans start at $50 per month, which gets you all the talk and texts you want, along with 500MB of high-speed (3G) data per month, after which your speeds are slowed to 2G. $60 gets you 2GB of high-speed data, while $70 gets you unlimited high-speed data. These are excellent rates compared to competitors like AT&T and Verizon. On the other hand, you’re paying for all that data on a phone that just can’t do much with it. If all you want is a simple phone to make calls, you can save $10 per month and still get unlimited talk and text with a phone on Virgin Mobile.

And while the T159 costs just $19.99 up front, you have to pay a $3 monthly fee for 24 months, which works out to a total $91.99. You can also pay for the whole thing up front and avoid the monthly surcharge. But really, a phone like this should be free.

Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions
The UI is responsive and easy to navigate, though some functions can be hard to find. The home screen is mostly blank, aside from links to the main menu and Web browser. The main menu features nine different shortcuts, which link you to your contacts, messages, settings, and a T-Mobile app store.

There are no email or IM clients, though you can still access email through the Access NetFront 4.2 browser for WAP pages. But the phone’s screen is so small, and the browser is so outdated, that trying to surf the Web feels like more trouble than it’s worth. For text messages, you’ll need to type out letters using the number keys, which is always a pain, but at least the number keys are big and easy to press. The T159 displays messages individually, or threaded, in the style of a conversation.

There’s no microSD card slot, but you get about 100MB of free storage, which is more than enough, since there isn’t much you can store. Multimedia support is virtually nonexistent, as there are no music or video players.

You do get a 1.3-megapixel camera, which you can access by pressing the Camera button on the right side of the phone. Images look dark and grainy, especially those taken indoors. Videos max out at a tiny, blurry 320 by 240 pixels, and you can only record 30 seconds at a time, not that you’d want more.

The Samsung T159 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. But in a world filled with seemingly space-age smartphones, sometimes something old and familiar can be comforting, which is the case with the T159. But it’s not hard to find better options. The keyboarded Samsung Gravity TXT is a better choice if you like texting, and if you’re interested in functions beyond just making calls, you’re better off with a smartphone. Phones like the HTC One S or HTC Windows Phone 8X cost a lot more than the T159 overall, but you’re still paying the same monthly service fees, and you’re getting a phone that can do a whole lot more.

Specifications
Service Provider T-Mobile
Phone Capability / Network GSM
Screen Resolution 160 x 128 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 3.8 x 1.9 x 0.6 inches
Weight 2.9 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Form Factor Flip Phone
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 1.3
High-Speed Data EDGE, HSPA 7.2
802.11x/Band(s) No
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
GPS Yes
Screen Size 1.8 inches
Battery Life (As Tested) 5 hours 33 minutes
Bluetooth Version 2.1 + EDR

Verdict
The Samsung T159 for T-Mobile is a simple, affordable little flip phone that's worth checking out if voice calls are your main priority.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc