"Mostly good with a few major hidden flaws"3.0 starson by SnowcrashEMT
Pros: For those who want Verizon at home and to be able to take your phone overseas, this is the only game in town. Nice styling, beautiful internal screen, well-made menu.
Cons: Pre-installed ringtones are worse than aweful, can't use downloaded images on the external screen, included mandatory proprietary headset needs a redesign, no data link to PC
Summary: This phone is only available to business users, and as far as I can tell, only through Verizon. So when designing a dual CDMA/GSM phone, you'd expect Samsung to have the needs of business users in mind, and in many ways they clearly did.
Starting with the outside, the phone's styling is the kind of sleek savvy that goes well with a suit, or just looks cool around town, so bravo to Samsung for that. The external screen is well-made, too - good color, large enough to display everything you normally want to know at a glance (signal strength, battery level, phone mode, any new text/voice messages, the date, and either a large time display or who's calling). Yet it's not so big that it looks bulky or awkward on the phone's face, so bravo to the design team there too.
The outter screen does have one disadvantage for the customization-hungry, which is that you can only use pre-installed pictures as the background for it. Probably not a big deal for most people, since the phone comes with 8 pre-loaded pics - 6 scenic shots, a variation on the Verizon logo, and one that seems to not be usable for the external screen. But again, for customization-hungry users, it's something to note.
While we're outside the phone, let's talk about the headset. Since they made this phone to accept only one proprietary headset, they were nice enough to include that with the phone. Smart move, and a nice touch, if somewhat of a consolation prize. If you happen to be one of those people whose ears just seem to be the perfect home for a regular old ear-bud, you can count your blessings and skip this next paragraph. Otherwise, read on...
The styling on the headset is again well-done, but the benefits end there. The first problem is that it's just a normal ear-bud design, which never stays in my ear longer than I hold it there. Maybe that's a problem limited to my own physiology, but given the rise of over-ear designs, I doubt it. Even if you do get the earbud to stay in, the microphone/control piece is situated so close to the earbud on the cord that it's impossible to use the included clip to alleviate its pull on the bud, which is considerable. Bottom line is that unless your ear is just perfectly formed to this bud, it's going to fall out either when you take your hand away or when you move normally. Kinda defeats the purpose of a hands-free headset. While I don't mind being told which headset I have to use, Samsung badly needs a redesign on this one. Oh, and the normal alternative to an ear-piece, the speakerphone, is a function missing from this phone.
The inside of the phone gives me something good to talk about. Several somethings, really. The screen is absolutely magnificent, and yes, customization-fiends, you can use any picture you please as the background (screen diminsions, minus the top & bottom bars, are 186h x 176w pixels). I really can't say enough how thrilled I am with the quality and design of the screen. The phone looks every bit as sleek as it does in all the pictures online.
The interface deserves a commendation, too. The menu has a soft-key, and it uses a nice 3x3 grid of easily-recognizable icons. Without any text explanation (which is also provided when an option is highlighted), the average user could figure out what will happen when they press OK on any of the menu options. Also, when an option is highlighted, the icon is made to look as though it's in the foreground compared to the rest of the menu (slightly larger, overlaps adjacent icons), so there's no question about what you're selecting. It would've been easy to make this menu poorly, but Samsung created this perfectly. I've never been happier with a menu's layout or funtionality.
Back to the main screen, I mentioned that the Menu is one of the soft-keys. The other is for Contacts, which is your phonebook+. I say "+" because the phonebook entries also hold e-mail addresses, webpage URLs, home addresses, v-cards, and even user-made notes for each entry. Basically, if there's something you want to know about a person in your phonebook, you can put it in there.
The phonebook, as a list, is bland but very usuable. No fancy graphics, just a list of names. As with most phones, you can jump to a letter by pressing the corresponding key (e.g. to get to the "k"s in your phonebook, press 5 twice). But you can keep entering letters, and the phonebook with keep searching - so you can type out the first few letters of a person's name, instead of going to the "k"s and then scrolling down to find whoever you're looking for. It's a nice touch for users with lots of contacts, like many businesspeople do.
So, the two soft-keys are Menu & Contacts. As for the rest of your oft-used functions, there's a button for the voice-kit (voice-recognition, which I'll get to later), up- and down-arrows on the side of the phone for volume/vibrate/silent control, one on the other side for the voice memo menu, and then the directional-pad. On the d-pad, down goes to the messages menu (text, voice, mms), left goes to Openwave (Verizon's internet), right goes to Verizon's Get It Now menu, and the up button is customizable to whatever you'd like. As nice as the menu is, these well-designed keys mean that you may almost never have to use it.
Ok, so I've sung the praises of the design and some of the funtions, now for the huge caveats I mentioned in the summary, which are the "hidden" flaws - ringtones, data cable, and earpiece.
I've already talked about the earpiece, and the problem with the data cable is that there isn't one. At all. Anywhere. There's no data connectivity with this phone, which means no syncronization between your phone's contacts and your computer's, or your respective datebooks. For business users or just tech-savvy customization-fiends, this can be a gigantic downside.
Then there are the ringtones. I could rant about this forever, because Verizon's scheme seems like the biggest ripoff in the history of music, and while Samsung doesn't run that scheme, it's hard to say they weren't at least complicit in the problem.
Here's what I mean - this phone is made for Verizon, unlike other models that are made to work on multiple networks (e.g. GSM phones). So when making this phone, Samsung had to know it was going to be used exclusively by Verizon customers. Not to say that Samsung engineers should know the intricacies of Verizon's services, but when someone sat down to design this phone, you'd think they'd say "Ok, what services does Verizon offer that would affect our design of this phone? Oh, they charge $2 each month to use one ringtone? Maybe we should include a few decent ringtones..."
Here's a brief side-rant: $2 each month for one ringtone?!?!? Do they realize that iTunes sells the full verson of pretty much every song they have as a ringtone for a one-time fee of $0.99?!? In the first month, a Verizon ringtone is 2x as expensive as just buying the whole song from iTunes, and that factor keeps going up each month (e.g. 4x in the second month, as you've spent $4, and 6x in the third, as you've spent $6). I can't understand why other networks haven't blasted Verizon for this enormous flaw yet. Cingular, take note - you have phones that work with iTunes. Exploit this. Had you done so, I might have signed with you instead of Verizon. Seriously.
Why would ringtones make me choose a different provider? Every pre-installed ringtone on this phone can be placed in one or both of two categories - songs from an 80s video-game soundtrack and songs heard in carnival booths worldwide. I'm not exaggerating here, so think long and hard about how much tolerable ringtones are worth to you. If it's $2 each month for the same tone, then you're ok with Verizon. Having your phone ring in a meeting is embarassing enough without people thinking you have Sonic the Hedgehog in your pocket. A simple, classic telephone ring would've been enough to satisfy me, but even that isn't on this phone.
I can't stress enough how terrible the ringtones included with this phone are. They're not just not-flashy, and they're not just unpopular. They're so bad that I don't want anyone to call me when my phone isn't on vibrate. Oh, and for those thinking they can join Samsung's Fun Club to get free tones, don't bother - Verizon customers are not welcome. I tried to sign up, and my choices for network were AT&T, Cingular, T-Mobil, or Sprint.
Maybe this is a problem more with Verizon than with this phone, but if you have this phone, you use Verizon, so the two aren't really sepearable here.
So to recap, the phone is overall well-made, but had I known about the flaws I described, I would have had to think much harder about signing up with Verizon just to get this phone. Hopefully Samsung or another company will respond by making a few new designs for dual CDSM/GSM phones that don't have this model's downsides.