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Samsung has developed something of a penchant lately for assigning nicknames to its cell phones. In the past couple months alone we've seen the Beat, the Blast, and the Hue. Sometimes, we're not always sure where the monikers come from--we're still hung up on the "Upstage"--but other times the name makes perfect sense. Take for example, the new Samsung Gleam for Verizon Wireless. Though we were skeptical at first, the Gleam (aka the SCH-U700) does gleam in the sunlight. Its skin is highly reflective and shiny, particularly the gold and black model that we reviewed. The feature set is mostly high end; it has Bluetooth, a 2-megapixel camera, and a music player, and it supports the usual set of Verizon 3G services. Call quality was fine, though multimedia performance was mixed. The Gleam is available for $149 with service.
The Gleam's overall shape and dimensions aren't what make its design unique. At 3.88 inches by 1.91 inches by 0.55 inch, the Gleam is a bit taller than most flip phones, but we've seen its internal antenna and thin profile before in a few Samsung phones. Also, at 3.25 ounces, it's not too heavy nor is it excessively light. Rather, what makes the Gleam stand out from the cell phone crowds is its highly reflective skin. Sure, we've seen it before in handsets such as the Motorola Krzr, but--as we said earlier--the SCH-700 shows more than its share of bling. While some might enjoy the eye-catching look, others might grow tired of the fingerprints and smudges that the Gleam attracts by the ton. The blue and black version is more subdued than the gold and black model, but there's a reason it's called the "Gleam," as well.
The Gleam's external display takes a back seat to the phone's design. It's rather small (1 inch diagonal) for the phone's overall size and its resolution is rather low (96 by 96 pixels). On the upside, it supports 65,536 colors, so it will show photo caller ID and you can use it as a self-portrait viewfinder, but on the whole we'd like a brighter display on such a bright phone. You can't adjust the brightness, backlighting time, or font size. Below the display are external music controls, which let you activate and use the music player with the flip closed, and a pair of speakers. Above the display is the camera lens. It's in a convenient location but it's too bad it doesn't have a flash as well. On the left spine are a volume rocker and a camera shutter, while the right spine holds a button for locking the player controls and jacks for the headset and charger. On the Gleam they're handily separated into two separate ports so you can use both accessories at the same time. The SCH-U700 also has a microSD card slot; too bad you need to remove the battery to access it.
The Gleam is just as shiny on the inside. Gold accents surround the display and the keypad while the individual controls are silver. The display itself is a highlight of the phone's design; it measures 2.1 inches (240x320 pixels) and supports 262,000 colors. Graphics were very sharp with eye-popping colors and the animations were smooth. When Samsung originally announced the phone, it made a big deal of the "living wallpaper," which wasn't exactly clear to us at the time. Basically, this is wallpaper that changes from light to dark, depending on the time of day. It's somewhat gimmicky, yes, but it's certainly unique. The Gleam also has a big car theme. The living wallpaper shows a driver's view of an animated country or city street with dashboard-like dials to show your text message and voice mail count. One of the menu designs also has a car theme, though it does nothing to make Verizon's menu organization system easier to use. And if that's not enough, you choose an alert tone that sounds like a car horn. Oh, and in case you were wondering, you can change the backlight time, the dialing font size and style, and the clock format.
The SCH-U700's navigation controls consist of a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a clear control, shortcuts for the speakerphone and voice dialing, and the Talk and End/power keys. The controls are flush, but the toggle has some tactile ridges that make it easy to use. The other buttons are the tiniest bit slick, but their large size prevented misdials. For more shortcuts, you can set the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined functions.
The keypad buttons are also large and we liked the ridges between the individual rows. Again, they're a bit slick but we didn't have much of a problem when dialing or texting. The numbers on the keys are large and brightly backlit but we noticed the numbers blend in with the phone's silver color. As a result, they can be difficult to see, so users with vision impairments should test the SCH-U700 before buying.
The Gleam's phonebook holds 500 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and any of eight polyphonic ringtones (you think you'd get more on a music phone). Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a notepad, and a world clock. But that's not all. The Gleam also offers Bluetooth, a speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, instant messaging, and e-mail.
As an EV-DO phone, the SCH-U700 supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including the
The Gleam's 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 down to 176x144. Editing options are plentiful and include a self-timer, brightness and white balance controls, four color effects, three quality choices, a multishot setting, a night mode, ISO and spot metering, and a digital zoom. The camcorder takes clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144). Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. The SCH-U700 has about 50MB of available user memory. That's shared between all functions, so you're better off buying a microSD card for maximum storage. Photo quality was good but not fantastic. Though most colors were bright, reds and oranges were a bit blurry. Also, some objects appeared a tad grainy.
You can personalize the Gleam with a variety of color themes, wallpaper, and sounds. Alternatively, you can download more options, and more ringtones, with the wireless Web browser. The SCH-U700 doesn't come with any games but you can buy titles from Verizon. Just remember that the carrier uses BREW in its phones.
We tested the Samsung Gleam in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was generally good with clear audio and loud volume. Voices sounded natural most of the time, but at higher volumes our callers sounded a tad harsh. It wasn't enough to make our calls unsatisfactory but you might want to avoid turning up the volume too much. And in any case, since the phone does a decent job in noisy locations, we mostly avoided the issue. On their end, callers could tell we were using a cell phone, but they reported no significant problems. A few reported that we sounded somewhat robotic but that wasn't a universal assessment. Automated calling systems could understand us most of the time but not so much when there was a lot of wind.
Speakerphone calls were acceptable, though we had to be fairly close to the phone to be heard clearly. The same was true on our end. Though the speakerphone was loud, it didn't seem to carry very far. Voice dialing worked most of the time, but you really need to be in a quiet area for the best results. Bluetooth calls were good, but, as expected, it varied by headset.
Music quality was quite satisfactory thanks to the twin speakers on the front face. Not only was their output quite admirable, but also the audio quality was pretty clear. As with most music phones, the audio was somewhat tinny, but still, it was fine for short stints. The EV-DO connection for music downloads was satisfactory, as well. We downloaded 1.5MB in about 40 seconds.
Video quality wasn't as sharp, unfortunately. Though the sound was decent and voices matched the speakers' mouths, we noticed a fair amount of pixilation. Also, swift movements tended to be blurry. The signal was solid, however, and we never lost a connection or had to pause for rebuffering.
The Samsung Gleam SCH-U700 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Gleam has a digital digital SAR rating for 0.872 watt per kilogram.