Camera phones may be fun, but for the most part, they're not particularly useful. Armed largely with VGA lenses, these handsets produce pictures that are hardly good enough to print, let alone view on a phone's display. But Sprint PCS is aiming to change that with the introduction of the PM-8920. Manufactured by Audiovox, the compact handset raises the photography bar with its 1.3-megapixel camera. In addition to capturing printable photos, this mobile has a wealth of included options that almost blur the line between camera and cell phone. As expected, you'll pay for the features--$299--but you may be able to get it for less when signing up for new service. And as this will be one of many 1.3-megapixel camera phones to come, there's no need to rush out and buy this model.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Though the Audiovox PM-8920 is in the same family as the for Verizon Wireless, you'd never guess the two were related at first glance. The flip-style PM-8920 is slightly larger (3.4 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches) and heavier (3.9 ounces) than its predecessor, and its angular design stands apart from the earlier phone's curved lines. Yet they have some similarities; for example, they can easily fit in a pocket, and on either hinge, they sport attractive blue lights that flash for incoming calls.
Although the PM-8920 may appear rather boxy, this smooth, silver handset has its own sense of style. Its 1-inch, 262,000-color external display has a decidedly futuristic look. Bright and vivid, it shows the date, the time, battery life, and caller ID (where available), while the large camera flash sits immediately above the screen. What's more, we appreciated the dedicated camera button on the left spine, but the tiny volume buttons just below it were hard to press. We also weren't thrilled with the placement of the camera lens and the macro switch (see ), both of which are located on the top of the mobile's backside; we had to be careful our fingers didn't get in the way when holding the phone.
Open the phone, and the smart design continues. The 262,000-color display is viewable in most lighting conditions except direct sunlight, but it also goes completely dark without backlighting; be sure to adjust it to your liking. The crisp, animated menus (with a choice of three styles) were a pleasure to operate, and we enjoyed being able to scroll sideways through the different options. The side volume keys can also be used for moving through the menus.
We were somewhat divided on the main navigation buttons, which are straight from its sibling, the Audiovox CM-8900. A four-way toggle acts as a shortcut to the phone book, the scheduler, the Web browser, and downloads, while two soft keys open the menus and your messages. There's also an OK button in the toggle's center that activates the camera. But however useful, some of the keys are a bit small and make for easy misdials. Similarly, the well-spaced keypad benefits from a bright blue backlighting but is set flat against the phone, so it's difficult to dial by feel. Besides the sophisticated camera, which we'll get to later, the Sprint PM-8920 sports the standard features. There's a 500-name phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can organize contacts into caller groups or pair them with a picture or one of the 15 polyphonic ring tones. Just be advised that the pictures don't show up on the external display. You also get a scheduler, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, a two-way speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, voice memos, and a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser (compatible with Sprint's 1xRTT network).
It goes without saying the camera will be the PM-8920's main talking point, with choices that goes far beyond most camera phones currently available. You can take pictures in five resolutions (160x120, 320x240, 640x480, 1,024x768, and 1,280x960) using the CMOS lens; photos snapped at the highest setting should be printable up to about 4x6 inches. You also can adjust the brightness and choose from six white-balance settings (Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and manual), three quality selections (Fine, Normal, and Economy), and four shutter sounds. Alternatively, you can record your own sound or turn it off completely. Still other options include an 8X zoom, a self-timer, and a multishot option, which can take up to eight pictures in succession. A flash adds more wattage than usually seen on a camera phone, but it still won't light up a very dark room. There is no mirror for self-portraits, but an image shows up on the external display, which you also can use to take snaps when the flip is closed. If you want to really unleash your inner photographer, you can use the 40 Fun Frames or select a color tone (Normal, Sepia, Gray, Negative, Emboss, or Sketch).
Sprint says you'll be able to save up to 18 photos at the highest resolution and a whopping 300 at the lowest on the phone's 64MB of memory. There's no external slot for additional memory, however, so you'll have to be selective if you enjoy snapping photos at top quality. Moreover, while the camera offers loads of options for taking pictures, you have limited ways of getting them off the handset. You can upload them to an online album or send photos via Sprint's PCS service in a multimedia message with captions and voice memos. While this process was easy enough, you must first register at Sprint's Web site before you can send pictures. Alternatively you can transfer photos via a USB cable (not included), but there's no integrated Bluetooth or infrared (IR) port.
Personalization options for the PM-8920 are few. You can select one of three clock styles, compose a personalized greeting, and choose from a variety of tones and alerts for messages. There are few included wallpaper styles, so you must access more options on Sprint's Web site or snap some of your own with the camera. Likewise, there are no included Java (J2ME) games, so you must download titles before you can play. Ring tones, screensavers, and applications also are available, but fees for each vary. We tested the triband (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Sprint PM-8920 in San Francisco. Calls were clear and loud enough, though audio quality was occasionally hollow. On their end, callers said we sounded good and could only rarely tell we were using a cell phone.
Battery time was acceptable; we got four hours of talk time, beating the promised time by an extra half hour. For standby time we managed eight days, compared with the rated time of seven days.