Globe-trotting cell phone chatterers will get a kick out of Samsung's SCH-A790 for Verizon Wireless, the first cell phone in the United States to roam on both CDMA and GSM high-speed networks. The A790's sleek lines should also impress the jet-setter, and its built-in camera takes decent photos. Unfortunately, some key features--such as a speakerphone, conference calling, and native e-mail support--are missing, and our fingers had trouble with the overstyled keypad. With service promised in more than 100 countries, pond-hoppers will appreciate the A790's agility with international GSM networks, but domestic callers will be left wanting more. Priced at $350, the Samsung will impact your wallet, but a service plan should warrant a discount. The silver and black Samsung SCH-A790 is a study in cool. Decidedly understated, it has a flat, smooth face with few extremities, and the extendable antenna adds a minimal amount of bulk. Measuring 3.4 by 2.0 by 1.0 inches, it fits easily in a jeans pocket but feels a little heavy at 4.2 ounces. We especially like the shiny ebony face of the phone, which features the 65,000-color, external LCD. No bigger than a postage stamp, it shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). It's sufficiently bright, yet it's somewhat hard to see when the backlighting is off. We also liked the tiny LED light on the hinge that blinks for incoming calls, the understated Samsung logo, and the unobtrusive camera lens and flash.
Open the phone, and you'll find the vivid, 260,000-color internal screen. The 2.35-inch (diagonal) display looks gorgeous, and the text size is large, although it was difficult to see in direct sunlight. We were especially impressed with the animated menu, which shows a series of bubbles lined up in a colorful hallway; icons for each phone option are suspended in bubbles, and you click the five-way navigation control to move between the spheres. If you get tired of this elaborate and sometimes sluggish theme, you can always switch to a more traditional grid view. The main navigation keypad gets points for utility, but its design needs some work. A square four-way toggle has an OK button in its center, but both are much too small for bigger paws. Still, you get one-touch access to messaging, the Web browser, Verizon's Get It Now service, and one user-defined shortcut. There are also a dedicated camera button and two soft keys that activate the menu and open the phone book.
With silver horizontal bars in place of individual keys, as well as a black background, the A790's high-concept keypad certainly got our attention. Dialing numbers, though, was a tricky proposition, not only because the keys are small but also because two numbers share each button; when it comes to keys, boring and bigger are almost always better. Somewhat more sensible are the dedicated volume up/down keys on the left side of the phone and the one-touch camera button on the right side. We also liked the sliding cover for the headset jack on the mobile's top.The Samsung SCH-A790 comes with a mixed bag of basic features. You get a 500-name phone book with room in each contact for seven phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web site address, and notes. You also can assign contacts to caller groups or pair them with one of 30 polyphonic ring tones or a picture; images show up on the external display. Other standard features include a vibrate mode, a calendar, an alarm clock, text and multimedia messaging (in CDMA mode only), voice dialing and memos (again, CDMA only), a memo pad, a calculator, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, a world clock, and a to-do list. Missing, though, are such essential features as a speakerphone, conference calling, and POP/IMAP e-mail access; we recommend skipping the clunky, barely usable POP client that's available for download. We would also like to have seen an infrared port or Bluetooth in a phone this pricey.