Perhaps the most surprising thing about the CDM8950 is that it has quite a few features for a free phone. For starters, there's the 500-entry phone book with room in each entry for five numbers and two e-mail addresses. From there, you can add them to groups; pair them with a photo for caller ID, or one of 27 polyphonic ring and alert tones. Other basics include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a tip calculator, a calendar, a stop watch, a world clock, an alarm clock, a notepad, and voice commands. More advanced features include stereo Bluetooth, mobile IM (with support for AIM, Yahoo, and MSN), mobile e-mail and mobile Web e-mail support, a wireless Web browser, and GPS. It's compatible with location-based services like Verizon's VZ Navigator and Chaperone.
If you had told us that the CDM8950 had EV-DO, we would be surprised--and indeed, we were. That makes the CDM8950 quite possibly one of the most affordable 3G phones out there--we're hard pressed to think of other free 3G handsets. This EV-DO support provides the CDM8950 access to Verizon's array of broadband services like V Cast Video, Verizon's streaming video service, as well as V Cast Music with Rhapsody, Verizon's online music store. You can purchase songs over the air for $1.99 each, which also includes a simultaneous download to your PC. To save money, you can purchase those songs directly to your PC for 99 cents and then upload that song to the phone later. If you're a Rhapsody subscriber ($14.99 a month), you can load your subscribed tracks to the phone as well. The CDM8950 can support up to 4GB microSD cards for storing your music.
The CDM8950's music player is housed within the V Cast Music interface, which is unfortunate because this makes the navigation rather slow and clunky. The songs are grouped by genres, artists, and albums, plus you can create and edit your own playlists. Other music player settings include repeat and shuffle modes. When a song is playing, you can see the album art with the player controls underneath. You can also set the phone to airplane mode so you can listen to music while in flight.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the CDM8950 can take pictures in four resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120), six white balance presets, four color effects, and two capture modes (landscape and portrait). You can also adjust the self-timer, brightness, shutter sound, and multishot mode. Photo quality was decent for a 1.3-megapixel camera, with not a lot of blur and good color saturation. However, images did have an overcast look, which isn't helped by the lack of flash. There's also a built-in camcorder, where you can capture video in 176x144-pixel resolution. You can record in two lengths (up to 30 seconds for MMS or until the memory is full). Camcorder settings are similar to that of the still camera. As expected, the video quality is poor and choppy.
You can customize the CDM8950 with a variety of wallpaper, graphics, and ringtones. It doesn't come with any games. If you want more options and games, you can purchase them via the Verizon online store on the wireless Web browser.
We tested the Verizon Wireless CDM8950 in San Francisco using the Verizon Wireless network. We were definitely impressed with the call quality. Callers could hardly tell we were on a cell phone, and there was little to no interference. On our end, we could hear them loud and clear as well, with good natural-sounding voices. Speakerphone quality was not as good--our speakers sounded tinny and hollow, and callers could hear echo in the background--but we could still carry on a conversation just fine.
As for music quality, we would recommend using a headset for the best audio fidelity. The bass is a bit shallow and the overall sound was not as full as we would like, but for casual music listening while on the go, it works fine.
We're quite impressed with the EV-DO speed. We were able to download a 1.49MB song in just more than a minute, and loading simple WAP Web pages took mere seconds. The Verizon Wireless CDM8950 has a rated battery life of 4.7 hours of talk time and 11.7 days of standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 1 minute. According to the FCC radiation tests, the CDM8950 has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.