After Sprint and Verizon Wireless introduced their music-downloading services in late 2005 and early 2006, we were left wondering when Cingular Wireless was going to make a musical move of its own. The carrier made a few feints in that direction this year, but it wasn't until earlier this month that Cingular finally launched Cingular Music and the Samsung Sync. Also called the Samsung SGH-A707, the Sync is more than just the initial handset to support Cingular Music; it also supports Cingular's 3.5G HSDPA network and offers a 2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and an external memory slot. The design is attractive, though decidedly unflashy, and its performance is acceptable, despite some fuzzy calls. The Sync is available for a very reasonable $49 with service.
We'll be frank: the Samsung Sync flip phone isn't a trendsetter when it comes to design. It's not ugly by any means, but the black color is rather ordinary, and the form factor is a tad boxy. At 3.46x1.89x0.68 inches, it won't fit in a compact parking space, but it still slides easily into a bag and into smaller pockets. And though it's rather thin we love that the SGH-A707 isn't blindly chasing the now-tired craze for skinny phones. It's also a tad weighty (3.85 ounces), but in return you get a well-constructed handset that has a solid, comfortable feel in the hand. The hinge feels especially sturdy.
Though the external screen on the Sync is small (1 inch; 96x96 pixels) for the phone's overall size, the display shows just about all the information it should, including the date, the time, the signal strength, and the remaining battery life. It also displays photo caller ID and acts as a viewfinder for the camera lens, which is located right above the screen. Unfortunately, there's no flash to brighten up dim environments, and only the display's contrast is changeable. Below the display sits the touch-sensitive music controls, which allow you to play and pause music and fast-forward and rewind between tracks when the phone is closed. The controls were user-friendly and not overly sensitive--in fact, they required a firm touch. To start the player when the front flap is closed, you must press the silver bottom on the right spine, which also activates the camera and the ringer profile list. Above it is a very recessed Micro SD card slot (you'll need sharp nails to remove a card), while the headset/charger ports and a volume rocker rest on the left spine. Stereo speakers sit on either side of the front flap.
The Sync's internal display is huge at 2.24 inches (176x220 pixels), and it supports 262,000 colors. It's very easy on the eyes, offering vibrant, eye-popping colors and readable text. As with most Samsung displays, it's difficult to see in direct light, but you can change the brightness, the backlight time, and the font size, color, and type. We continue to enjoy Samsung's simpler menu structure--the pop-up secondary menus are particularly cool--and we had no trouble navigating through our various choices. Our one minor quibble is that the display shows fingerprints and smudges quite easily.
The SGH-A707's navigation array immediately below the display has its good and bad points. The keys are large and well-spaced, but we wish they had a more tactile feel. And, they're just about flat with the surface of the phone, so they tend to be slippery. Also, the "OK" button opens the Web browser in standby mode rather than opening the menus, an arrangement that we would consider to be more convenient. The four-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined shortcuts while a handy secondary shortcut button sits just to the left of the toggle. There are also two soft keys, a dedicated button for launching the music player, the traditional Talk and End/Power buttons, and a clear key.
The Sync's backlit keypad buttons are similar to their navigation counterparts. Though they are large and well-spaced from each other, they are almost flat with the surface of the phone and rather slick. We didn't have any misdials but it wasn't easy to dial by feel.
Though the Sync's multimedia prowess is its star attraction, we'll get the basic offerings out the way first. The king-size phone book holds 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two Web addresses, a nickname, a birth date, an Instant messaging handle, a company name, a job title, two street addresses and notes (the SIM cards holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups, pair them with a photo, or assign them a ring tone for caller ID. It's worth noting thought that the Sync comes with just 10, 64-chord polyphonic tones, which is pretty low for such a multimedia phone. Other standard features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice memo recorder, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a currency-and-unit converter, a world clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. If you're tired of talking, the SGH-A707 also offers an integrated Oz e-mail client for Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL accounts, and supports AOL, Yahoo and MSN instant messaging. Full Bluetooth with a stereo profile is onboard, and a speakerphone, USB connectivity and modem capability round out the higher-end options.
As an HSDPA phone, the Sync supports wireless broadband data speeds via Cingular's 3.5G network. Fortunately, the phone is backwards compatible with the carrier's slower (but still 3G) UMTS network, so you'll get zippy coverage in most urban areas. You can enjoy the standard streaming-video options available through the carrier's Cingular Video network, including various news, sports, weather, and entertainment programming. MobiRadio and MobiTV support is included, and the HSDPA support promises quick downloads of large files.
As previously mentioned, Cingular Music is the carrier's answer to the existing music download services from Sprint and Verizon. But instead of creating its own music store as its rivals had done, Cingular chose to partner with existing music services like Yahoo Music, Napster to Go and eMusic. Cingular Music subscribers buy music from those partners either on their PCs or their phones. On the surface that all sounds fine, but here's the important catch for the time being: songs purchased on the A707 will download only to the user's PC and not to the phone. To get your tracks into the phone, you'll have to transfer them with a USB cable. And while that's annoying in itself, neither a memory card nor a USB cable comes with the phone, so you must purchase them separately. We'd prefer Cingular include at least one accessory, even if they'd charge a few dollars more. Cingular says it will activate wireless music downloads in the near future, but until that time, it's a rather circuitous process to get tracks into your phone.