Editor's note: Since the time we posted this review, Verizon has added new V Cast cities. Please see CNET's quick guide to 3G for a complete list.
Verizon's exclusive club of third-generation (3G) EV-DO phones gets a new member with the Audiovox (now owned by UTStarcom) CDM-8940, a relatively compact yet nondescript flip phone that manages to pack in some admirable features. Inside is a 1.3-megapixel camera, an MP3 player, a 256MB Mini SD card, and support for Verizon's debuting . Power users will miss Bluetooth and infrared connectivity, and budding photographers will be irked by Verizon's wrongheaded decision to disable phone-to-PC photo and video transfers via the Mini SD card, but overall, we were impressed with the handset. At $250 after a $70 rebate and with a two-year service plan, the Audiovox CDM-8940 is a bit pricier than Verizon's first V Cast phone, the , but for the most part, you get what you pay for. Despite its support for the new EV-DO networks, the silver and black Audiovox CDM-8940 has an unremarkable, garden-variety flip-phone design. Measuring 3.6 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches and weighing 3.9 ounces, the handset looks smaller than most other 3G mobiles we've seen, but it's actually just as thick, if a hair shorter, than the bulky . Because of its extra girth and its stubby, retractable antenna, the CDM-8940 makes for a tight but manageable fit in a jeans pocket. Some users might like the subtle design, but keep in mind it won't exactly turn heads.
The familiar Verizon logo lies just above the phone's 1.25-inch external screen, which boasts an impressive 262,000-plus colors and displays the time, date info, signal strength, battery life, ringer mode, network connectivity, and caller ID (where available). Strangely, the phone doesn't support photo caller ID. Sitting just beneath the display is a small play/pause button, which you can press to play music or wake the sleeping external LCD, and a thin speaker.
Flipping open the mobile, we were impressed by phone's large, razor-sharp internal LCD. Measuring a full 2 inches diagonally, the 262,000-color display looks smashing. Colors are bright and vivid, with plenty of image detail, especially in the impressive animated menus; we love the pop-up submenus. Our only complaint is that the TFT screen is tough to see in direct sunlight.
We had no trouble with the CDM-8940's large, easy-to-use keys. The five-way navigational keypad has shortcuts for messaging, Web browsing, and Verizon's Get It Now service, and there's a dedicated key for the speakerphone, which you can turn on before making a call--very nice. Rounding out the controls is a volume up/down rocker on the right side of the phone, just above the dedicated camera button, while the cover for the Mini SD slot sits on the left side. The keypad buttons are of adequate size, but they're placed flush with the surface of the handset.
Turn the phone around, and you'll see an LED flash and a small, silver door; slide it open with your fingernail to find the boxy camera lens. Right next to the lens on the side of the phone is a little plastic slider; when you push it down with your thumb, the small lens assembly slides out of the handset, like a turtle's head poking out from its shell. The mobile warns you if you try to take a picture without opening the lens cover, but it won't stop you from leaving the cover open--which, to our chagrin, we often did. There's no fish-eye mirror for self-portraits, but the Audiovox's cool self-portrait feature (see ) more than makes up for the loss. The Audiovox CDM-8940 comes with a mixed bag of features, including the aforementioned speakerphone, a 300-entry phone book with room for multiple entries, photo caller ID for the internal screen only, three-way conference calling, caller groups, voice dialing and memos, text and multimedia browsing, a rudimentary calendar with a monthly but no weekly view, three alarms, a memo pad, a calculator, a world clock, and a stopwatch. You also get plenty of memory: 64MB of shared RAM onboard and 256MB in the Mini SD card. An included SD adapter lets you plug the card into your PC. While that's not bad, we would have liked Bluetooth and infrared connectivity, especially considering the phone's photo and music features.
Of course, the crown jewel of the CDM-8940 is its support for Verizon's 3G EV-DO network and its $15-per-month , giving you the ability to watch hundreds of video clips as well as download souped-up games. Surfing on the phone's WAP 2.0 Web browser also gets a welcome boost from the EV-DO connection. Just keep in mind that Verizon's EV-DO service covers only 32 cities, so make sure your town is on the list before snapping up this or any other similarly equipped mobile.
Adding to the phone's wow factor is its 1.3-megapixel camera, which takes photos at four resolutions, ranging from 1,280x960 to 160x120 pixels, and comes with a 4X digital zoom, a small, built-in LED flash, a 5-to-10-second self-timer, several picture effects (such as gray, sepia, and negative), and about a dozen cheesy photo fun frames. We especially liked the self-portrait mode, which switches the viewfinder to the external display, allowing you to see yourself when the phone is flipped open. You can also use the camera when the handset is closed; just press the dedicated camera button on the side of the phone to turn on the external viewfinder.
Picture quality was excellent for a camera phone, but don't expect 35mm-camera-quality images. While our images were generally noise-free, detail was a bit soft, and colors looked a little washed out, even in well-lit conditions. The CDM-8940's video recorder did a decent job; recorded in the 3GPP videoconferencing format, the 176x144-pixel movie clips were relatively watchable, but they're still a bit jerky. Unfortunately, you can record only about 15 seconds at a time--a shame, in light of the memory on the Mini SD card.
Speaking of the Mini SD card, we were eager to transfer our snapshots and video clips from the storage card to our PC. Unfortunately, none of the files would open on our Windows laptop. At first, we thought it was a glitch, but no--Verizon Wireless has disabled the Mini SD card's ability to transfer photos or clips to a PC. Instead, you'll have to send them individually via Verizon's GetPix and GetFlix messaging services, which could be a headache if you've snapped, say, a few dozen photos. This smacks of Verizon's decision to , and we don't like it.
The CDM-8940's rudimentary music player lets you listen to MP3s stored on the Mini SD card. Happily, you can transfer them back and forth from your PC, but don't expect much in the way of controls. You can play, pause, and skip tracks; tweak the repeat; shuffle modes; and gaze at the groovy visualization, but there's no way to fast-forward or reverse within a song, and there are no equalizer controls of any kind. Don't toss your portable music player just yet.
The mobile boasts solid customization options, including the ability to choose one of four wallpaper patterns for the internal and external screens or use snapshots for the internal--but not external--face. You can also use a snapshot from the photo gallery as your screensaver. Additionally, you have your pick of 20 polyphonic ring tones, which you can assign to individual contacts in your address book. However, we wish you could choose a ringer profile such as home, outdoor, or meeting. We tested the Audiovox CDM-8940 (CDMA 800/1900; 1xEV-DO) in New York City and had no trouble with our voice calls. Our buddies on the other end came through loud and clear, and they said we sounded like we were calling from a landline. Speakerphone quality was good, and we could hear clearly when using a headset.
The phone's V Cast performance was also excellent; video clips loaded within 30 to 45 seconds, and we didn't run into any pauses for buffering. Web browsing was speedy, and games and applications downloaded in a flash. Our tunes sounded fine over the CDM-8940's included stereo headset, although audiophiles will miss the deep bass and detailed high range of pricier earbuds.
Battery life was satisfactory. We beat the rated talk time of 2.25 hours by 20 minutes. Standby time was 8 days on a single charge, compared with the promised time of 7.9 days. According to the FCC, the CDM-8940 has a digital SAR rating of 1.15 watts per kilogram.