As part of its special promotion packages, Sprint PCS regularly offers camera phones for as little as $99. So the obvious question is whether higher-end models such as Samsung's A600 flip phone ($350 list price), with its slick, swiveling screen design, are that much better. Dollar for dollar, they're probably not, but the A600 is certainly a step up from Sprint's entry-level, and it's a solid all-around phone with good call quality and reasonable battery life.
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Samsung's innovative screen rotates a full 180 degrees.
In terms of shape and size, this 4.4-ounce model, which measures 3.5 by 1.9 by 0.94 inches, resembles Samsung's old SPH-A400 flip phone. However, this one is distinguished by a large, sharp, 65,000-color, TFT, swiveling screen and a rotating barrel-camera lens in its hinge, which can also be found on the company's . You can flip the screen around while closing the phone, leaving the display exposed and allowing you to use it more easily as a viewfinder for taking self-portraits and other snapshots. We had no trouble with the swivel mechanism in the two weeks we had the phone, but we can't say how durable it will be after months of use.
We liked the phone's menu interface, the button layout, and the tactile feel of the ample, rubberized keypad. There are two convenient camera quick-launch keys: one on the top of the dial pad above the four-way navigation key, and one on the side of the phone. Both serve as the shutter-release button.
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Flashback: When the phone is closed, it resembles an old Samsung favorite, the SPH-A400.
Those used to having an external LCD for viewing the time and the incoming caller ID info may be disappointed that Samsung has chosen to go with an external multicolored LED instead. The futuristic-looking LED lights up different colors to indicate an incoming call or to alert you that you have voicemail.
Samsung includes a desktop charger--a.k.a. a cradle and an AC adapter--for the phone. This isn't a major drawback, but we would have preferred a travel charger (available as an accessory) so that we could carry one fewer piece of gear with us on the road.
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Lights and camera: The A600 is one of the few camera phones with a built-in flash.
The A600 certainly has the bells and whistles, but beyond the built-in camera--we'll get to that in a minute--this model by and large offers the core feature set of other Sprint PCS Vision-enabled phones, though with a little special sauce. Highlights include a 300-entry phone book, a calendar, a calculator, a world clock, voice-activated dialing, and picture caller ID, as well as support for 16-chord polyphonic ring tones in addition to the 21 included rings and vibrate mode. As with other Vision phones, you can download games and additional ring tones, plus images to use as screensavers, wallpaper, or photo caller ID, all for a small fee. The A600 has 32Mb (megabits) of built-in memory, which is less than what is available on other camera phones. Also of note: This phone is not MMS ready, which means it can not receive pictures from other MMS mobiles. Currently, this isn't an issue, as only MMS-ready phones on the same carrier can send and receive images from each other. But in the future, this will probably change.
The built-in VGA (640x480 pixel) camera, with its flexible, rotating barrel design, is among the better ones we've used to date, which isn't saying much. It produces images suitable for e-mailing, in-camera viewing, and maybe wallet-size prints. On the back of the A600, you'll also notice a tiny built-in flash that can be toggled on or off in the camera-options menu. Unless you're in a really dimly lit environment, the flash has little or no impact on photos, so we recommend turning it off to conserve battery life. You can also set a self-timer, as well as adjust brightness, white balance, and color tones. Like other camera phones, the A600 has one feature that adds a frame to your shots, while another allows you to fire off three quick shots in succession.
Depending on whether you choose high, medium, or low resolution, you'll get 27, 76, or 128 pics, respectively. As with other Sprint camera phones, the A600 allows you to easily send pictures to other Sprint PCS Vision users or an e-mail address, so long as you're in the Vision coverage area. If you're in analog mode--yes, this model features roaming--you will not be able to send pictures, receive e-mail, or surf the wireless Web.
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We wish Samsung would have included the lightweight travel charger with this model.
All in all, we were pleased with the A600's performance. We had no problem hearing callers, even amid the noisy streets of New York City, and callers said we sounded loud and clear most of the time. Naturally, service varies from city to city, but in our tests, we found this model's call quality superior to that of Samsung's popular A500.
Battery life was also decent, though not exceptional. Samsung rates the phone as offering up to three hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time with the included battery (an optional extended battery is available). We managed to surpass the talk time by an hour and a half but fell a bit short of the standby time. In general, if you use both the phone and camera regularly, you'll want to recharge every couple of days.