Samsung Propel Pro

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INTRODUCTION

    It was the days before the iPhone, and Cingular got it right with the BlackJack. It was among the first candybar-style messaging devices, and it was a huge hit. Cingular became AT&T, and during that time, they released the BlackJack II, which turned out to be another winner, but not as popular as the original. Getting away from the BlackJack franchise, AT&T is out with what should have been called the "BlackJack Slider" – the Propel Pro. Does this device continue the legacy of the BlackJack-like devices, or does it miss the mark? Read on for more!

WHAT’S HOT

    Let’s talk specs. The Propel Pro is running with a Qualcomm MSM7201A CPU clocking at 528MHz. It has 256MB ROM and 128MB of RAM with microSD expansion (hot-swappable). It has quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900) and triband UMTS (850/1900/2100) with HSDPA. It has Bluetooth 2.0, aGPS, WiFi (B and G), and a light sensor. On the back is a 3.0MP camera with auto focus but no flash. Powering everything is a 1440mAh battery. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.

(all images link to larger versions)

The Propel Pro has a similar form factor to the BlackJack, but has a higher resolution screen (by 60 pixels vertically) and slide-down keyboard.

Here’s a shot of the box.

Inside the box we have a charger, sync cable, and some documentation. Hmm…where is the case and 3.5mm headphone converter?





Here is the unboxing video in case you missed it.

Device
Size (inches)
Weight (grams | ounces)
4.44" x 2.47" x 0.52"

132 | 4.65
4.44" x 2.27" x 0.63"

156 | 5.61
4.74" x 2.63" x 0.43"

157 | 5.53
4.33" x 2.09" x 0.59"

117 | 4.12
4.66" x 2.48" x 0.47"

130 | 4.58
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.64" x 2.36" x 0.48"

129 | 4.55
3.96" x 2.34" x 0.67"

133 | 4.76
4.68" x 2.44" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
4.58" x 2.42" x 0.47"

120 | 4.20
4.56" x 2.33" x 0.65"

178 | 6.28
3.92" x 2.41" x 0.60"

137 | 4.83
4.24" x 2.09" x 0.53"

117 | 4.12
4.17" x 2.00" x 0.85"

151 | 5.34
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.57" x 1.70" x 0.64"

140 | 4.94
4.88" x 2.44" x 0.53"

130 | 4.56
4.21" x 2.20" x 0.55"

120 | 4.20
4.53" x 2.47" x 0.47"

146 | 5.15
4.63" x 2.19" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.35" x 2.07" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
4.56" x 2.41" x 0.51"

125 | 4.41
4.44" x 2.36" x 0.55"

133 | 4.69
4.01" x 1.98" x 0.55"

124 | 4.37
8.28" x 4.67" x 1.08"

640 | 22.5
4.48" x 2.52" x 0.59"

154 | 5.43
4.17" x 2.38" x 0.68"

147 | 5.18
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.71"

165 | 5.82
4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
4.41" x 2.28" x 0.73"

140 | 4.94
4.01" x 2.00" x 0.45"

110 | 3.88
4.56" x 2.36" x 0.70"
200 | 7.05
4.30" x 2.40" x 0.60"
120 | 4.23
4.20" x 2.30" x 0.60"
136 | 4.79
3.70" x 2.30" x 0.60"
126 | 4.44
4.48" x 2.39" x 0.51"
116 | 4.09
4.60" x 2.60" x 0.50"

134 | 4.70

4.10" x 2.10" x 0.60"
150 | 5.30
4.40" x 2.32" x 0.75"
190 | 6.70

THE DEVICE

The slider actually has functionality – it will answer calls, plus lock/unlock the hardware keys. Nice!

The Propel Pro is covered with a shiny fingerprint-prone coating, which is all plastic. The device feels a bit cheap because of this.

On the top of the device, we see the light sensor next to the speaker.

Getting closer to the hardware buttons, we see the two soft keys that are raised and thus easy to feel for. Below that are the typical call start/end keys, home, and back. In the center is the cumbersome joystick.

The joystick is cumbersome because it doesn’t stick out enough…so flipping through emails and other lists is slow and uncomfortable at times.

The area surrounding the D-Pad is an indicator light. It glows red when charging, green when full, and purple when you have a new email. There is no way to turn this off to conserve battery.

The keyboard on the Propel Pro is pretty outstanding – if you have small or medium-sized hands. The keys are slightly raised and mashed together like the Q9h.

The keyboard is backlit when in use so that you can type in dark places.

Over on the left side, we see the power button on left, volume rocker, and microSD slot, which is hot-swappable.

And on the right side, we have Samsung’s proprietary jack for syncing/charging/audio.

Flipping over to the back, we find a large piece of the mirror-like chrome finish. After one day of careful use, this area already had scratches.

The 3.0 autofocus camera is surrounding by a piece of brushed metal which looks great. I wish they’d use this on other parts of the device! No flash is present with the camera, sadly.



Here is a hardware tour of the Propel Pro.

COMPARISONS

Here we have the family of BlackJack-like devices. From left to right, the BlackJack, BlackJack II, Epix, Propel Pro, Moto Q9h, and Pantech Matrix Pro.

Here they are in the same order, stacked. The Propel Pro is a pretty thick device.

The Propel Pro has several different choices for the Home screen. This is the default AT&T sliding panel interface. We’ve seen this before on other Windows Mobile Standard devices.

Here is something that is new, called Samsung Pop Up. This screen allow you to access frequently used programs, monitor messaging, and so on.

The Propel Pro has an annoying feature called message ticker, which will present you with a pop up envelope, like this one, anytime you have a new message. I turned this off.

Here are the various options you can use for the message ticker.

This Home screen, called WizPro, is a work of art, and has similar functionality to TouchFLO 3D…but without the heavy graphics. Here on the main tab, we can see our messaging, plus launch recently used programs.

In the Photo tab, we can toggle through our photos in a 3D-like view. Selecting any photo will open it full screen.

The Music tab allows you to play music right from your Home screen. It will also display album art.

The Organizer tab gives you a view of your calendar, which is great.

And the favorite people tab lets you assign buttons for the people you call the most.

Let’s drill into the Start menu. Since the Propel Pro has a 320×320 screen, you can see an extra row of icons, compared to devices like the BlackJack. The Propel Pro uses OZ messenger, allowing you to use Live Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo.

Going down the list, we find a lot of java-based trialware. MobiTV is a great way to watch live TV, but it costs money each month. The Propel Pro has the full suite of MS Office Mobile programs.

Going down the list, we see Voice Command which lets you talk to your device without training it. I’ve added Skyfire, which works very well on the Propel Pro.

Browsing the web with Skyfire on the Propel Pro was great.

If we go into organizer, we see the usuals.

Here is the requisite tip calculator.

The World Clock lets you keep an eye on the time in various places.

This is the OCR program, which will convert text that you take a picture of on the camera to text.

Here I have taken a picture of a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

And sadly, the conversion didn’t work very well.

In the games folder we have even more java-based trialware. Ugh!

SETTINGS

Let’s take a look at settings.

In Slide Settings, we can specify whether you can answer a call by sliding open the slider. You can also tell the phone to lock the keypad when the slider is up…highly recommended.

And from the Home Screen option, we can specify which of the many Home screen layouts to use.



In case you missed it, here is the software tour video which demonstrates some features mentioned above.

CAMERA

The Propel Pro did a terrific job capturing this outdoor scene. And no, all those drinks aren’t just for me =D.

Because there is no flash, indoor pictures can be noisy and a bit blurry.

Thanks to the autofocus, the Propel Pro can capture brightly-lit close ups with ease.

PERFORMANCE

    The Windows Mobile Standard operating system (non-touchscreen) is consistently better performing than the Professional (touchscreen version). The Propel Pro performs quite well and does great with multitasking.

BATTERY
    The Propel Pro has a 1440mAh battery. That said, it has solid battery life. With moderate usage (several web browsing sessions, a few calls, some GPS activity), I had 30-40% battery left at the end of a day. With heavy use, expect to go one day without needing a recharge, and with light use, expect to go two, maybe three days.

BUGS AND WISHES

    AT&T devices are especially known to come with a lot of Java-based trialware. Meaning – programs that you can only use for several minutes before you’re asked to cough up money for the full version. With a smartphone of this type, I would have expected for there to be less trialware and more full versions.

    Overall, the Propel Pro gets high marks for usability – it’s easy to interact with the phone from the hardware keys, except when using the annoying joystick-like D-Pad. On a device that has no touchscreen, having a good D-Pad is an essential, and the Propel Pro misses this mark in this respect.

    The chrome finish on the Propel Pro, while somewhat eye-catching and flashy, is totally impractical. It smudges and scratches way too easily, and I would have preferred a rubbery coating like found on the Dash. Also, the shiny coating makes the Propel Pro very difficult to see outdoors.

    In terms of accessories, I would have liked to see a case and a 3.5mm converter. As the name implies, the Propel Pro is the more "grown up" version of the Propel, and for that title we should get outfitted in the right bits.

PURCHASING

    The Propel Pro is available from AT&T’s website. It is sold for $149.99 with a two year contract.

PROS

  • Fantastic keyboard (for average-size hands)
  • Good screen resolution
  • Great one-handed usability
  • Slider is functional (to answer calls and lock device)
  • Easy dialing from the Home screen
  • Great photo quality in most situations
  • Good battery life
  • Good call quality/speakerphone
  • aGPS/HSDPA/WiFi
  • Indicator light is easy to see

CONS

  • Joystick-like D-Pad is annoying
  • Chrome finish is easy to scratch
  • No case or 3.5mm headphone converter
  • Too much java-based trialware included
  • A bit thick
  • Poor outdoor visibility
  • No flash on camera
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    If it’s any indication about how I feel about this device – this is my new daily driver. The high resolution screen, slide down keyboard (and feel of the keyboard), plus the high level of one-handed usability, makes the Propel Pro a lean and mean device if you want to be productive, especially with email. For those of you looking for a Touchscreen coupled with a nice keyboard on AT&T, the Epix may do you right.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.