They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And in the tech world, imitation occurs frequently. Take, for instance, the --a.k.a. the cell phone that swept the mobile world this year. It's a no-brainer that other manufacturers would scramble to mimic the popular slim design, and as expected, Samsung is the first to offer a Razr reproduction, with its MM-A900. Offered only by Sprint, the Samsung MM-A900 equals the Razr's thin profile but raises the bar with a couple of refinements and some extra features not found on the Motorola handset, including a 1.3-megapixel camera with a swiveling lens and a flash, an MP3 player, and support for Sprint's new 3G network. Of course, Motorola is close on Samsung's heels with new models such as the Razr V3c for Verizon, but the MM-A900 is a strong effort nonetheless. It also has another thing in common with the Razr: the Samsung MM-A900 is pricey at $349, or $199 with a two-year contract. Like the trendsetting , the Samsung MM-A900 is all about a slim, sexy design. Fashioned in black, the MM-A900 is marginally bigger than the Motorola phone at 3.9 by 2.0 by 0.6 inches, and it weighs a bit more at 3.9 ounces, giving it a slightly more solid feel. Despite the added girth, however, the MM-A900 is still an incredibly thin phone that can slip into almost any pocket. Be aware, however, that like the Razr, it can be difficult to feel the phone's vibrate mode in your pocket.
On the Samsung MM-A900's front flap, you'll notice some immediate differences--and some improvements--over the Razr. The external display is about the same size on both handsets, but the MM-A900's has a higher resolution and supports 65,000 colors rather than 4,000. As you'd expect, the screen shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, caller ID, and photo caller ID (where available). It also serves as a viewfinder for self-portraits.
Above the display is a LED that blinks for incoming calls (you can turn it off) and doubles as a camera flash. On the hinge is the camera lens, which can swivel 180 degrees to take self-portraits or shots away from you. Though not completely necessary, it's a nice addition, and we're impressed that Samsung could cram it into such a small form factor. Below this display are stereo speakers as well as convenient play, pause, rewind, and forward buttons that control the media player when the handset is closed. Completing the outside of the phone are a volume rocker and the charger port on the left spine and a camera shutter key and a headset jack on the right spine.
The Samsung MM-A900 saves some of its best design accoutrements inside the phone. We were drawn immediately to the gorgeous internal display. Vivid, bright, and rich in detail, it's smaller than the Razr's at 2.2 inches (diagonal), but it supports 262,000 colors instead of 65,000. You can't change the contrast, but you can control the backlight time, the brightness, the font size, and the color for dialing. You can choose different font styles as well, but they were too busy for our tastes. Menu designs on Samsung phones tend toward flashy and colorful, and the MMA-900 is no exception. Available in a choice of styles and colors, they are easy to understand, and we like that you can scroll sideways through top-level menu options.
Below the display is the huge navigation array. A circular five-way toggle gives instant access to four user-defined functions. There are also two soft keys that in standby mode double as shortcuts to the contacts list and a programmable Favorites menu, a dedicated Back button, and the normal Talk and End/power buttons. As with the Razr, the controls are completely flat with the surface of the phone to ensure the Samsung MM-A900's slim stature, but we found them easier to use here. Since the keys are so big, we didn't have many problems dialing, but they won't be for everyone; you should take the phone for a test-drive before buying. The keypad buttons also take after the Razr in that they lie flush with the phone and resemble one big touch pad rather than individual keys. On the Razr, this effect drew mixed reviews from users who complained that it was hard to use and malfunctioned over time. A similar reaction will most likely greet the MM-A900, but Samsung does a better job of making the keys more textured. Still, it's equally difficult to dial by feel on the MM-A900, and the white backlighting is rather dim.Though its design is one of the star attractions on the Samsung MM-A900, this phone has a lot of brains behind the beauty. The 500-contact phone book holds five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a nickname, and notes for each contact. You can assign callers to groups or pair them with a photo and one of 9 monophonic or 20 polyphonic (72-chord) ring tones. You can also set a special ringer if you're roaming out of your home calling area. Other basic features include a vibrate mode; a speakerphone; text and multimedia messaging; five one-minute voice memos; a scheduler; a task list; AOL, Yahoo, and MSN instant messaging; a countdown timer; a memo pad; a world clock; a calculator; and an alarm clock. You get 50MB of integrated memory shared among all applications. That amount would be respectable for most cell phones, but given the MM-A900's mediacentric applications, we were hoping for more. Like the , the MM-A900 has no external memory slot--one thing Samsung couldn't cram in.
More advanced features include voice dialing and commands, e-mail support, speech-to-text message dictation as found on the, and PC modem capability with the included USB cable. We were glad to see full Bluetooth, with support for wireless file transfers, but you have to go into two menus to activate the feature, then pair the phone with another device. Putting all Bluetooth functionality into one menu is more ideal. We like the speakerphone, but you can't turn it on until after you make a call. And even then, it takes two clicks to do so.
By supporting the Sprint's growing 3G EV-DO network, the Samsung MM-A900 offers a lot of attractive multimedia content under its slim hood. There are more goodies than on the Motorola Razr V3, but Motorola's Razr V3c compares favorably. We first browsed through the streaming video offerings. They're similar to what you'll find on service, but Sprint's Power Vision provides more content choices and slightly higher data speeds (400Kbps to 700Kbps). Available channels include CNNtoGo, ABC News, the Weather Channel, the Cartoon Network, Music Choice, Access Hollywood, Diva for beauty and fashion tips, and Fox Sports. There also are some unexpected choices, such as Swimsuit Model TV, Smash TV featuring extreme sports, and Adult Swim, which is billed as adult programming for the Cartoon Network. You can get full-length movies on Mspot Movie, but we can't imagine why you'd watch a full film on a tiny cell phone screen. Sprint TV offers movie previews and even more programming, including the Discovery Channel, CNET.com reviews, C-SPAN, and the Learning Channel. Most channels cost $3.95 or $4.95 each, or you can purchase bulk plans for $15, $20, and $25. If video isn't your thing, the phone supports streaming Sirius radio. You can get up to 20 channels for $6.95 per month, and if that isn't enough, you can choose from Mspot Radio and Rhapsody Radio.
The Samsung MM-A900 also supports Sprint's new on-demand service. You can get up-to-the-minute news, sports, and stock market updates. Moreover, you can personalize the information by punching in your zip code. And since the phone has GPS capability, you can access movie and TV listings, weather reports, and maps for your current location. Finally, there's an online phone book and dictionary.
As we reported earlier, another way the Samsung MM-A900 trumps the Razr is with its integrated music player, which supports MP3 and AAC files. You can download songs in AAC format wirelessly from Sprint's Music Store, which is a definite improvement over Cingular's, where you must connect to iTunes via a computer. The player interface is primitive, but it includes album art and is easy to understand. You can control the player through the navigation toggle or the player buttons on the front flap. Once the tracks are loaded on your phone, you can organize them into playlists, use the shuffle and repeat modes, or activate the airplane mode for listening to music with the phone functionality off.
But before you get too excited, there are a few catches. Beyond a short preview, songs cost a staggering $2.50 each, and there's no way to buy in bulk. And unless you buy one of the Power Vision packages listed above, you'll be charged for airtime as well as the tunes themselves. Also, while you can buy songs for use on your PC (at the same price), they're in WMA format and aren't playable on your phone. You can back up songs from your phone on a PC, but they aren't playable there. On the upside, Sprint's Music Store can play nonprotected songs in the supported formats. Since the MM-A900 lacks an external memory-card slot, all music downloads are stored on the integrated 50MB of shared memory. That will give you enough songs for commuting but not for a longer trip. If you're hoping for more space, you may want to consider Sprint's other music phones such as theand the Samsung MM-A920.