With cell-phone-makers cramming ever more sophisticated features into their phones, it's easy to forget that for some people, e-mail, GPS, and videos are overkill, and call quality and usability are what matter most. PCD's rather clumsily named CDM8635 for U.S. Cellular is such a phone. It combines the elegant simplicity of a classic flip phone with a few design perks and excellent call quality to create a satisfactory handset for entry-level users. As with the Verizon Wireless Coupe, the CDM8635's convenience buttons mapped to 911 and emergency contacts gear it toward seniors and those with medical concerns. Also see our list of other phones for seniors, including the well-known Jitterbug J.
With its sleek lines and modern touches, the CDM8635's classic clamshell body is certainly no eyesore. At 3.85 inches high by 1.96 inches wide by 0.79 inch thick, it's a fairly compact little number that makes for easy toting, though it could get lost in a cavernous handbag. Its 3.52-ounce weight feels solid in the hand, but it isn't overly heavy.
Though the CDM8635 looks black at first glance, a careful sunlit look reveals dark blue specks set within the glossy, plastic body. A black border with wavy blue pattern surrounds the 1.5-inch grayscale external display. It shows the time, date, battery level, and reception bars. Pressing in on the phone's volume keys illuminates the external display, which is typical for this type of phone.
On the right spine is a 2.5mm headset jack (we always prefer the 3.5mm standard), and buttons to trigger both voice dialing and the camera. The left spine houses the volume rocker and a Micro-USB charging port. A bare-bones 1.3 megapixel camera takes up residence on the back next to the phone's external speaker.
The 2.2-inch internal display supports 260,000 colors. The screen looks bright, and all text, from the time and date to the menu options, are in a large font that's easy on the eyes. Additional settings let you adjust the duration of the backlight on the screen and keys, though the font size isn't flexible.
Below the CDM8635's screen are four dedicated shortcut keys that respectively zoom in and out when you're entering text, initiate the speakerphone, open the alarm clock, and activate the photo gallery. The navigation array includes a familiar four-way toggle with a central OK button. On either side are the two soft keys, and below that are two more shortcut keys that are mapped to an emergency contact list, and to 911. While that 911 button is in prime territory for accidental pressing, rest assured that the CDM8635 will ask you again before dialing for help.
Above the dialpad keys are the Send, Clear, and End buttons. The backlit keys are large and separated. While not raised from the surface, we had no problems typing, though we've had better experiences on other phones.
As a phone built with beginners in mind, the PCD CDM8635 has more features than you'd think. Unlike some cell phones aimed at seniors, it has a full complement of 500 address book entries, each with room for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and a street address. A birthday reminder would further round out the features, but that's a minor point. There is, however, support for groups, and a provision to assign a ringtone and photo to each contact.
The organizer contains an alarm clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a calendar, voice memos, a stopwatch, a world clock, and a notepad. It can text and send multimedia messages, and has speed dial memory for up to 98 numbers.
Keeping its novice audience in mind, the PCD CDM8635 contains wizards that help first-timers navigate the phone. There are the help balloons, which are switched on by default and briefly describe each menu option. Clear hearing is another unique menu option that offers three ways to help boost sound for sensitive ears. The Slow Speech option slows the incoming voice to make it easier to parse words. A noise suppressor can dampen background sounds in loud situations, and the Pitch Adjustment tool will inflate the caller's vocal pitch to sound higher, which may be easier on some callers' ears.
The CDM8635 also includes "Easyedge," an online store operated by U.S. Cellular that sells wallpaper, and sells ringtones in the Tone Room portion of the carrier's shop. Unfortunately, the Easyedge interface breaks with the rest of the phone's conscientiousness with tiny text and a harder-to-see design.
Believe it or not, the CDM8635 has a 1.3 megapixel camera. It offers three resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240) and three photo quality settings (high, medium, and low). Digital zoom is available for lower resolutions. After taking a photo, you can set it as your wallpaper or as a photo ID, send it as a picture message or upload the shot to an online album. The low megapixel count makes us wonder if including a camera was worth the effort, though we like the option it affords to assign a photo to a contact.
In addition to the photo album is the "sound album," which stores and plays back MP3, PMD, and SP-MIDI attachments.
We tested the PCD CDM8635 in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network. Call quality on the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) phone was impressive, with high vocal fidelity and volume. There was almost no perceptible background noise in our indoor and outdoor tests.
Callers also commented on the excellent quality, noting in one call that we sounded like we were as close as next door. In another call, a caller observed that we sounded entirely intelligible, but a little off, as though the phone were cutting off the higher frequencies.
The CDM8635 has a rated battery life of 250 minutes talk time and a 13.75-day standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 18 minutes. FCC radiation tests measure its digital SAR at 1.39 watts per kilogram.