Let's be honest--many of the extra features that manufacturers cram into cell phones are of limited appeal to those who mainly want to use their handsets to make calls. To be sure, the Samsung MM-A880 sports a ton of multimedia bells and whistles, but in this case, its best feature is also its most useful. Thanks to its excellent voice-activation capabilities, the MM-A880 is a fine choice for those who like or need to place calls while driving. Sprint PCS is offering this phone for $180 with a two-year agreement--a good price, considering how much is packed into the unit. The Samsung MM-A880 sports the same basic look as other handsets the manufacturer has designed for Sprint PCS. With this model, however, the brushed-silver casing is attractively accented on the outer trim by a slight shade of lavender. That said, it's not too flashy to whip out in the middle of a business meeting. It's fairly compact at 3.35 by 1.73 by 0.93 inches but a touch hefty at 4.7 ounces. The postage stamp-size external display supports 262,000 colors and shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength and caller ID (where available). It also serves as a viewfinder for taking self-portraits, and you can assign pictures taken with the integrated megapixel camera as screensavers or as photo caller ID for individual contacts. Above the screen is the camera lens and a small flash.
Open the lid and you'll see a vibrant, 1.8-inch-diagonal 262,000-color screen. It's great for viewing photos and the user-friendly menus (available in two styles), but it disappears in direct light. Unlike with the external screen, you can change the backlighting time, as well as the font size and color, but you can't alter the brightness. We liked, however, that you could choose from nine clock styles, including an option that shows two times simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the MM-A880's dial pad feels cramped. Add to that that the buttons are both smooth and flush, dialing by feel is difficult. That said, the blue backlighting is sufficiently bright. A button on the right spine provides access to camera and camcorder functions, while the left spine features a volume rocker and a standard 2.5mm headset port. A four-way navigation toggle just below the hinge provides shortcuts to user-defined features.
In standby mode, the OK button in the middle of the four-way navigation toggle accesses the camera functions. Given that there's already a dedicated camera button, we would have preferred the option to assign this button a different function in standby, as well. On the other hand, we could designate the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. There are also two soft keys that open the menu and contacts when in standby mode, a Back button, and the basic Talk and End keys. The VOD (video on demand) button on the inside hinge provides one-touch access to the phone's media player, where you can watch television via Sprint TV or listen to radio programming.You can store up to 500 contacts in the Samsung MM-A880's phone book, each of which can hold five numbers, as well as e-mail and Internet addresses. You can assign each contact a photo and any of the 18 polyphonic (64-chord) or 8 monophonic ring tones, and you can organize contacts into groups. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a 30-second voice memo, a world clock, a calculator, an alarm clock, a memo pad, and a speakerphone. We were disappointed that the Samsung MM-A880 lacked Bluetooth and an infrared port.
This handset's biggest selling point is its voice-activation technology, which lets you place calls, access contacts, launch applications, and check the signal and battery strength by dictating commands. Pressing and holding the Talk button launches the Voice Services feature. If you have a headset with an in-line call button, this makes for a great hands-free feature to use while driving. You can instruct the phone to place calls to contacts in your address book. For contacts with multiple numbers, you can specify whether to call "home" or "mobile." You can also dictate the number that you wish to dial. This feature worked perfectly each time in our tests. You can also use Voice Services to launch the text-messaging window.
The 1.03-megapixel camera takes pictures in 1,152x864, 640x480, 320x240, or 216x176 resolution. Other options include a flash; three quality modes; a 5X zoom usable at only the lowest resolutions; a brightness setting; a white-balance control; a 5- or 10-second self-timer; 10 fun frames; and seven color tones, such as Cool, Sepia, and Aqua. The camcorder can record 15-second videos with sound and editing options similar to the camera's. If you press and hold the camera button with the cover closed, you can use the external LCD to take a self-portrait.
When done with your photos and videos, you can send them via a multimedia message, upload them to Sprint's Web site, or save them to the phone's memory. You can even assign a stored video clip to play on the internal display during incoming calls. Like the Samsung MM-A800, the MM-A880 supports PictBridge, which enables you to connect the phone to a compatible photo printer with a USB cable. From the camera menu, a link to Fujifilm.com lets you order prints directly. Despite these nice camera-related options, we found the picture quality to be lacking, especially for prints.
If you'd rather be entertained instead of doing the entertaining, you can use the MM-A880's media player to download and play videos and music from Sprint. You can preview channels from Sprint TV, including NBC Mobile, Fox Sports, and the Weather Channel, before purchasing them for $9.99 per month. We watched some samples that we found entertaining, but the overall quality was blurry, and there were several hiccups. Since Sprint's videos run on a 2.5G 1xRTT network, data speeds are anywhere from 50Kbps to 70Kbps compared with to 300Kbps to 500Kbps on Verizon's 3G V Cast service. Also, since video clips play at 15fps, as opposed to the 30fps that you'd see on a television set, don't expect too much from the experience. In addition to video, you can stream music.
The MM-A880 can be personalized with a variety of screensavers and sounds. If you're bored with what's on the phone, you can download more with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. You can also download ring tones and 3D Java (J2ME) games, but the only installed title is a demo of Ms. Pac-Man.We tested the dual-mode/triband (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Samsung MM-A880 in the Chicago area on the Sprint PCS network. Call quality was good on our end, and callers had few complaints, saying we sounded clear even when we used the integrated speakerphone. On our end, however, the speakerphone volume was low, and cranking up the volume only caused distortion.
Battery life was also impressive. We reached 4 hours of continuous talk time from the lithium-ion cell, beating Samsung's rated 3.3 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the MM-A880 has a digital SAR rating of 1.38 watts per kilogram and an analog SAR rating of 1.48 watts per kilogram.