cell phone, but there's something special lurking beneath the surface. As the first phone released to support Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV service, the SCH-U620, also known as the Samsung Mobi, offers a new multimedia experience never seen before on a U.S. cellular network. V Cast Mobile TV brings full-length television programs to your cell phone in a quality far superior to the carrier's EV-DO network. Sure, the display is small, but it's an innovative and satisfying service. And though the next phone in the Mobile TV lineup, the LG VX9400, is more lust-worthy because of its slick swivel display, the SCH-U620 still wins points for ease of use, decent call quality, and an otherwise solid feature set. You can get it for $199 with service.
At first glance, the SCH-U620 doesn't appear to be anything special. With rounded edges and a slightly oval shape, it looks like a variety of other Samsung slide phones on the market, such as the Samsung SGH-D600. It's compact, but a bit thick at 3.76 inches long by 1.86 wide by 0.85 inch deep and weighing 3.7 ounces. The slider glides smoothly, and the keypad buttons are slightly raised, providing a nice tactile experience, which is hard to find a slider phone. It's not the height of style, but the SCH-U620 isn't exactly boring either.
There's one thing, however, that gives the game away that this is no ordinary cell phone. On the right spine of the phone is a pull-out TV antenna. Since it looks nothing like a normal cell phone antenna, our test unit solicited stares and inquiries when the antenna was displayed in its full glory. Below the antenna are dedicated shortcuts for the speakerphone, the camera buttons, and the Mobile TV service, while a volume rocker, a headset jack, and the microSD card slot sit on the left spine. Stereo speakers rest on either side of the phone, and a charger port sits on the SCH-U620's bottom end. The camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are easily accessible on the rear face.
Given the phone's multimedia features, dedicated music playback controls would have been a nice touch. As it is, you have to use the five-way navigation toggle to open the music player and control your tunes. Even worse is how tedious it is to find any saved multimedia content. You have to wade through several menus just to find that song or video you downloaded. A dedicated button for the music player would have been helpful. On the upside, the toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, while the star key launches the voice commands function. Other navigational controls on the SCH-U620 consist of two soft keys, a Clear control, and the Talk and End/power keys.
On the whole, the SCH-U620's menus are easy to follow and are a step above Verizon's standardized interface. The only caveat is that because the menus use Flash, they can be a little pokey. Still, the "TV Channel" interface is particularly attractive, with large icons and a movie marquee-like "Now Playing" header scrolling across the top. Highlighted menus appear in yellow against a black backdrop. (Wait, aren't those Sprint's colors?) Also on the plus side, the 262,000-color QVGA screen, measuring 2 inches diagonally (240x320 pixels), allows for vibrant display of graphics.
The highlight of the SCH-U620, of course, is the V Cast Mobile TV service. Currently available in 20 U.S. cities, Mobile TV features eight channels of live television programming, including CBS, Comedy Central, and ESPN (Verizon plans to offer more channels down the road). Not all of the content offerings on the channels are "live" as in simulcast; some of the content is time-shifted (David Letterman at 11 a.m.?), while other programs are delivered specifically for the Mobile TV service. Also, it's unclear how program times will change as you move from city to city. Still, we were able to watch the NCAA basketball tournament live while away from home. Mobile TV also includes parental controls, in case you don't want your little one watching Reno 911 on the sly.
Pressing the left soft key switches the Mobile TV picture to full-screen mode, which lets you watch programs on a more-comfortable landscape orientation after turning the phone sideways. Although watching a full episode of, say, CSI on a 2-inch screen isn't a compelling experience, the Mobile TV could certainly come in handy during commutes or while waiting for a flight. If you spend a lot of time on the road, you may find the service worth the extra monthly fee (plans range from $13 to $25). And don't worry about shuttling between calls and TV mode. If you decided to accept an incoming call (or a text message, for that matter), the SCH-U620 smartly suspends the Mobile TV application. When you end the call, you're returned to the program you were watching--which is still in progress, of course.