Review: Samsung Memoir

You like the nightlife? You like to boogie? So does Samsung’s new Memoir camera phone. If you have trouble remembering your nocturnal escapades, fear not: This phone will log all your activities in 8-megapixel stills and MPEG video. But stick to the phone functions if you walk around in broad daylight (more on that later).

In design, the Memoir looks more camera than phone, with a touchscreen and digicam-oriented controls. The entire back of the phone is taken up by a large touchscreen display; Talk, Back and End buttons occupy one side.

Leaps and bounds ahead of other cam phones, the Memoir’s not limited to the 8 megapixels it captures. In shooting mode, the touchscreen has shutterbug controls, like zoom, brightness, timer and flash that float around the image. And just hitting the shutter will take you into camera mode. The Memoir includes a 1-GB microSD to augment the phone’s 100 MB of storage (and it’s an easy-access slot, rather than hidden under the battery).

But for all its convenience, the Memoir simply isn’t a competitor for even the lowliest of dedicated cameras. First off, it’s pokey: slow to focus, slow to snap and very touchy when it comes to movement. And though it touts a 16x digital zoom, it has no optical zooming option.

And the camera’s light sensitivity will have you running for the shadows like a vampire with a hangover. We tested the phone in New Orleans, taking daytime shots of Mardi Gras parades that looked washed out, lacking the deep colors that punctuate Carnival costumes. The resulting images were actually lighter than what the camera showed onscreen before the shot. You can change the brightness level, but a better-calibrated auto function would have helped a lot. To make matters worse, the multilayered touchscreen is terribly dim in sunlight, making it hard to check a shot or phone a friend outdoors.

If you stay in your coffin ’till sundown, you’re ready to rock. The phone’s Xenon flash isn’t the brightest, but it beats the weaker LEDs of other phones, and it makes for good bar or restaurant shots. The ringer is incredibly loud, so you won’t miss a call, though the speakerphone could have a bit more muscle. While the phone is great for messaging and calls, don’t try to use it for e-mail — the phone fetches messages with all the speed of a recalcitrant teen on a handful of Vicodin. The e-mail functions are buried in the menus, and both Gmail and Yahoo mail clients run slowly. Even deleting a message takes an eon.

With its abhorrence of light and the lack of good e-mail options, the Memoir is better suited for the casual user — and preferably a night owl. The five-hour battery life seems good at first, but you’ll whittle that down rapidly if you’re snapping photos all night. It looks cool and it works well in certain conditions, but it’s really not the all-around camera replacement we’ve been waiting for.

  • Camera Resolution: 8 Megapixels
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