The Samsung UpStage comes with a feature set that strongly complements its conversation-piece exterior. We'll address the basics first. The phone book is smaller than we expected, with a capacity of just 500 contacts. Each entry has room for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, notes, and a nickname. You can save callers to groups or pair them with a photo or one of 29 polyphonic ring tones.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a memo pad, and a planner. And on the higher end, the UpStage offers voice commands and dialing, mass USB storage, instant messaging and e-mail, and a speakerphone. Bluetooth also is on board, and thankfully, the UpStage includes stereo and object exchange profiles. Indeed, we were able to transfer a photo onto the phone with no problem. The UpStage comes with 70MB of internal shared memory. That's a bit on the low side, but a 64MB MicroSD card also comes in the box. If you're going to be a heavy music user, the UpStage can accommodate 2GB cards.
Of course, the UpStage is all about music. Its offerings in that department are similar to Sprint's other music phones, but they're satisfying on the whole. You can access Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. Alternatively, you can use Sprint's Sync Manager software and the included USB cable to transfer songs already on your PC to the phone. The onboard digital music player is nothing too fancy. Though you get album art, the features are limited to repeat and shuffle modes and you can't use MP3s as ring tones. Hopefully, Sprint will improve the dull and somewhat plodding music interface soon.
The UpStage comes with an airplane mode for turning off the phone's calling functions while listening to music in flight. You can also minimize the music player in order to use applications while your tunes are playing. If you don't have a stereo Bluetooth headset, Samsung includes a 3.5mm headphone adapter in the box. It's doesn't actually include headphones too; rather, it's just a microphone and the proprietary connection for the UpStage.
As an EV-DO phone, the UpStage offers full support for Sprint's 3G services. You can connect to Sprint's Power Vision streaming video services for a variety of content, much of which is exclusive to Sprint. Included are Sprint TV, which offers movie previews and programming from channels such as CNN, VH1, ESPN, Comedy Central, and the Cartoon Network, as well as from the carrier's PowerView service, which offers additional shows and downloadable content. If radio is your thing, you also can stream tunes form Sirius Radio. Sprint Movies delivers full-length, pay-per-view movies straight to your phone, while mobile podcasts are available from Samsung on a broad range of topics. Furthermore, you get Sprint's On Demand service for access to a host of information such as news headlines, sports scores, and weather updates personalized for your zip code, In all, there's an impressive assortment of options.
The UpStage's 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions, from 1,280x160 down to 176x220. Other camera features include three quality settings, brightness and white balance controls, a night mode, a self-timer, four color effects, 10 fun frames, a 5x zoom, and four shutter sounds as well as a silent mode. The camcorder records clips with sound and a selection of editing options similar to the still camera's. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds, or you can shoot for as long as the available memory will permit. For easy photo printing, the UpStage supports PictBridge technology for transferring images directly to a printer. In our tests, photo quality was good but not great. Colors were sharp and there was enough light, but unless we held the camera perfectly still, images tended to be a tad blurry.
You can personalize the UpStage with a variety of screen savers, clock styles, and sounds. If you don't get enough options on the phone, you can always buy more using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The UpStage comes with demo versions of five games: Midnight Bowling, Nightclub Empire, Pac-Man, Tetris, and World Series of Poker. Avid gamers will have to buy the full versions, but be warned that gameplay is somewhat difficult using the touch pad.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung UpStage in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was admirable overall; voices sounded natural, and we had enough volume. On the reception side, there was little static or interference, and we had no trouble getting a signal. Though they could tell we were using a cell phone, callers reported no significant problems either, even when we were in noisy environments. Also, we had few troubles speaking to automated calling systems. Our only complaint was that the audio sounded somewhat harsh at times. It wasn't a huge deal, but the bass-heavy effect was noticeable in a few different calling situations. Speakerphone calls weren't always reliable. On our end the sound was fine, but callers couldn't quite hear us unless we were in quiet environments. On the other hand, we didn't have any problems with voice commands.
We successfully paired the UpStage with the Samsung SBH170 stereo Bluetooth headset. Call quality remained decent on both ends, though callers had slightly more trouble hearing us at times. We also used the headset to listen to music and were generally satisfied with the sound quality. There was slight bass-heavy effect to the sound, but that could be due to the headset. We also listened to music using the headset adapter and some generic 3.5mm earbuds and had the same experience. Without the headset, music quality wasn't quite as good due to the somewhat unimpressive output of the single exterior speaker.
On the whole, the UpStage's EV-DO connection was strong, even when were in buildings. Streaming video quality was on a par with that of other Samsung EV-DO phones, such as the Samsung SPH-M610. Few of the videos were pixilated and grainy, except when there were quick movements on the screen. There was also little choppiness, and only one video paused for rebuffering. The sound from the videos mostly matched the movement of the speakers' mouths, but it was too low and bass-heavy when we didn't use a headset.
The connection to the Sprint Music store took more than few minutes to load the first time around. It was much longer than we've encountered with other Sprint music phones, but once we were up and running the connection was pretty solid. Songs took a just few seconds to download from the Sprint Music store, and it took about a minute and a half to transfer 40MB of music from our PC--not bad at all. The Music Sync software was easy to use and loaded without a hitch, but the music player had a tendency to be somewhat sluggish at times. What's more, we also had a bit of trouble when we disconnected the Bluetooth headset in the middle of a paused song. When we restarted the song, the UpStage was unable to play songs downloaded from the PC. The error message didn't clear unless we turned off the phone and started it again. It happened only once, but it's a still a point of concern. At the time of this writing, Sprint said it was investigating the issue,
The UpStage has a rated battery life of 2.5 hours talk time. That's pretty low, but when using the extended battery, the promised talk time climbs to a more respectable 6.3 hours. In our tests we managed to beat the rated time for the internal battery by an extra half hour but we fell short of the promised time for the extended battery by coaxing just 5.5 hours on a single charge.
Music-only battery life is promised at 7 hours or as long as 16 hours with the extended battery. Yet we managed to pull much more juice from the UpStage in our tests. Using the internal battery, we managed 11.3 of music time while the extended battery gave us a full 27 hours for our tunes--impressive indeed. According to the FCC, the Samsung UpStage SPH-M620 has a digital SAR rating of 1.4 watts per kilogram, which is rather high.