Though integrated cameras have become quite common in cell phones, video capability is just beginning to make its mark in the handset world. Enter the Sprint VM-A680, Samsung's first stateside videophone/camera phone and one of the slickest and smallest we've seen recently for Sprint service. Offered by Sprint PCS, the handset offers a smart flip-phone design, high-resolution displays, and extensive multimedia features. At $309.99, it's more than a tad expensive, but you should be able to find it for as low as $149.99 with service--and at that price it's a great deal.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The first thing you'll notice about the Sprint VM-A680 is its tiny size. Samsung managed to cram a lot into a compact (3.3 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches) and featherweight (3.4 ounces) package. It's hardly noticeable when carried in a pocket or a bag, but it still enjoys a relatively solid construction and a comfortable feel. Styled like many of Samsung's latest flip phones, the VM-A680 largely resembles the bulkier , with its shiny silver finish, rounded edges, and stubby antenna.
But the newer handset improves on the VGA 1000's design by boosting the external LCD screen to 65,000 colors. Bright and vivid, the screen shows date, time, caller ID (where available), battery life, signal strength, and picture Caller ID. It also doubles as a mirror when the backlight turns off; just watch for smudges. The camera lens and the flash sit just above the screen--a placement far more convenient than that of the rear-facing lens on the VGA 1000.
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Small world: the Sprint VM-A680 has a slim profile.
Flip open the phone, and you'll find a crisp, 1.75-inch (diagonal) main display. Also supporting 65,000 colors, it can be seen in most lighting except direct sun. The easy-to-use menus are colorful and animated, but some popular features, such as voicemail, took three clicks to open in our test. You can, however, program the four-way navigation rocker to give one-touch access to user-defined functions. A volume rocker on the left spine also lets you scroll through the menus, and a dedicated camera button sits on the opposite spine.
Surrounding the four-way toggle are dedicated Menu and Back keys and an OK/Messaging button. We prefer to have the OK button in the middle of the toggle, but a camera key sits there instead. The navigation keys are well spaced and nicely sized, but the blue-backlit keypad buttons are small. And as they are set flush against the phone, they made dialing by feel a bit difficult. The Sprint VM-A680 has plenty of features to keep most talkers happy. You get a 300-name phone book with room for up to six numbers and two e-mail addresses per contact. You also can assign contacts to a caller group, enter their birthdays, and pair them with one of the 10 polyphonic (32-chord) ring tones (there's also a vibrate mode). You can even choose to hide contacts from wandering eyes by using a lock code. Other features include text and multimedia messaging, a voice memo, a calendar, a to-do list, a world clock, an alarm countdown timer, an airplane mode, a memo pad, and Java (J2ME) support. As with the , you also get a handy voice-recognition feature (with six command options) that's powered by Sprint's Voice Signal Technology.
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Sitting pretty: the flash and the camera lens sit above the colorful external screen.
The real draw on the VM-A680 is its user-friendly VGA camera, which rivals the one on the . It offers a wealth of options, such as a self-timer, a multishot mode (for shooting up to 15 frames in succession), a 10X zoom, and a tiny but surprisingly bright flash. And for extra zing, there are six choices of shutter sounds, including the attention-grabbing Say Cheese and a Silent mode. The pictures weren't the best quality we've seen, but you can choose between six white-balance settings, eight color tones, three resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 160x120), three quality settings, and 14 fun frames. Fortunately, you can use the fun frames and the zoom at any resolution--a marked improvement over the .
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The VM-A680's image quality is average for a camera phone.
The video feature is equally fun. You can take up to 15 seconds of video, with or without sound, and choose between several brightness, color, and white-balance settings. A self-timer allows you to delay filming for up to 10 seconds, and the camera flash can be used as a light. We especially like that you can use both the camcorder and the camera with the cover closed, while a clear image for self-portraits shows up on the external display. Likewise, sending photos and video to an e-mail address or another Sprint PCS MMS-ready handset is an easy, step-by-step process, and you can add captions or voice memos.
You can customize the VM-A680 with a variety of menu and clock styles, screensavers, greetings, and sounds. The handset's WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser allows you to surf the Web via Sprint's 1xRTT network and access Sprint PCS Vision for news, weather, sports, and other information. You also can download more ring tones, screensavers, and Java (J2ME) games and applications, though fees for each item vary. We tested the triband (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Sprint VM-A680 in San Francisco using Sprint's service. Getting reception wasn't a problem, but callers could tell we were using a cell phone. On our end, conversations were clear, though voices did sound tinny from time to time.
Battery life was largely good. We coaxed 3.25 hours of talk time from the phone, essentially matching the rated talk time of 3.2 hours. For standby time, we managed 8 days, beating the promised time of 7 days.