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.
On the upside, Cingular Music's pricing scheme appears to be quite reasonable. If using Napster, subscribers pay the normal Napster-to-Go subscription fee of $14.95 per month. For phone purchases, a new service called Napster Mobile enables users to preview and buy songs from the phone for just $0.99, far cheaper than Sprint's maximum fee of $2.50 per track and Verizon's charge of $1.99. A Yahoo Music subscription costs $11.99 per month with no additional fees and eMusic offers specialized content for Cingular's Sony Ericsson Walkman phones, including the W810i or the W300i. For even more music fun, Cingular Music offers access to 25 XM Satellite radio channels for $8.99 per month, a song ID service to identify mystery tracks heard on the radio, access to Billboard Mobile for music news and show information, streaming music videos, and a community site for musical discussions via text or instant messaging.
The music-player interface is a bit generic and features a simple animated graphic with the track name, artist, and album on both the internal and external displays. We were hoping for album art as well, but it's perfectly serviceable for listening to tunes. Features were limited as well. Though you can create play lists and choose from shuffle and repeat modes, there's no equalizer. But of course, we love that the Sync supports a stereo Bluetooth profile. When playing music while the phone is closed, the external controls and display become inactive after a few seconds. Though this timing is unchangeable, a quick press of the button on the right spine will make them active again. Stay tuned for a closer investigation of Cingular Music and the A707's player.
The Sync has a high-quality, 2-megapixel camera that takes pictures in six resolutions from 1600x1200 down to 240x180. Other features were plentiful and included five quality settings, a night mode, a 2X zoom (not usable at the highest resolution), a multishot option with three speed choices, a mosaic shot mode, three color effects, 20 fun frames, a self-timer, a white balance setting, and three shutter sounds (there's no silent option). We enjoyed the wealth of camera shortcuts, but the camera had a bit of a lag when shifting between options. The camcorder shoots clips in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) with sound and editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 45 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. The Sync comes with a healthy 50MB of shared memory for photos, videos, and downloads, but you'd be wise to invest in a MicroSD card. Photo quality was actually good; colors were sharp and lighting was good overall. Video quality was decent, showing less pixilation than we've seen on other camera phones.
You can personalize the Sync with a variety of wallpapers, background colors, greeting messages and alert sounds. If you're dissatisfied with the choices that come with the A707, you can always buy more options from Cingular. You can download more ring tones, and for even greater personalization, you can save clips of your favorite MP3 files as ring tones--nice. Gamers can choose from five demo titles (World Poker Tour, Platinum Sudoku, Diner Dash, Bowling 3D and Asphalt Urban GT 3D). Of course you'll need to buy the full versions for extended play.
We tested the quad-band Samsung Sync (GSM 800/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco. Call quality was fine but not exceptional. Though the audio was clear, and the volume level was loud, voices sounded harsh at times and almost robotic. There was also noticeable static at times, particularly when we were near electronic devices. On the other end, callers reported few problems, and we had no trouble being understood by automated voice-response systems. Speakerphone calls were loud, but there was some patchiness to the audio quality, and callers had trouble hearing us in noisy environments. Bluetooth headset calls were about the same--decent but not fantastic.
Streaming video quality on the Sync was satisfactory, and we had no problems getting strong HSDPA coverage. There was little pixilation and the phone didn't pause to rebuffer. Volume also was decent, though occasionally the sound didn't quite match the speaker's mouth. That's a minor point, however, and the Sync's large display was a treat to view. Music quality sounded pretty good, though volume could have been a bit higher. We'll report back soon with a more thorough assessment of the SGH-A707's music performance. At the time of this writing, we weren't able to test it with headphones, but it's worth noting that the Sync uses a proprietary, wired headset without an adaptor for higher-quality sound.
The Samsung Sync (SGH-A707) has a rated battery-life talk time of four hours and a promised standby time of 10 days. It has a tested talk time of three hours and 57 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sync has a digital SAR rating of 0.236 watts per kilogram.