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Samsung MM-A900 (Sprint) review: Samsung MM-A900 (Sprint)

Samsung MM-A900 (Sprint)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
10 min read
Samsung MM-A900
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And in the tech world, imitation occurs frequently. Take, for instance, the Motorola Razr V3--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 Motorola Razr V3, 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.


Samsung MM-A900 (Sprint)

The Good

The Samsung MM-A900 has an attractive design and offers a powerhouse of features, including support for Sprint's 3G EV-DO network, a 1.3-megapixel camera, an MP3 player, Bluetooth, and a speakerphone.

The Bad

The Samsung MM-A900 suffers from tricky controls, unintuitive access to the speakerphone and Bluetooth, inconsistent performance, pricey song downloads, and low integrated memory.

The Bottom Line

Though the Samsung MM-A900 is unlikely to win over the most hard-core Razr fans, it's still a compelling and promising alternative to the popular Motorola phone.

Like the Motorola Razr, the Samsung MM-A900 is wide.

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.

We liked the Samsung MM-A900's bright external display and handy media player controls.

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 Razr, 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 Samsung SGH-P207, 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 Verizon's V Cast 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 Motorola Rokr E1, 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 the Samsung MM-A940 and the Samsung MM-A920.

The Samsung MM-A900 has a swiveling camera lens.

The 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions: 1,280x960, 800x600, 640x480, and 240x320. Other options include three image-quality settings, a flash, a self-timer, portrait and landscape modes, 10 fun frames, brightness and white-balance controls, eight color tones, and four shutter sounds, as well as a silent option. You also get a 5X zoom, but it's usable at only the lower resolutions. Like music files, all pictures are stored on the phone, but a nifty status bar tells you how much space is remaining. Image quality was admirable, with distinct colors. Unlike with the MM-A940, pictures were rarely blurry, but they tended to look washed-out.

The MM-A900 had good photo quality for a camera phone.

After you take a picture, a useful menu provides access to plenty of options, including sending your shot in a multimedia message, uploading it to Sprint's online album service, or assigning it to a contact for photo caller ID. Alternatively, you can use the included USB cable to send photos to a computer or to a photo printer with Sprint's PictBridge service. There's even an option if you're away from home. After uploading a picture to your online album, you can send them to be printed at a local retailer such as Ritz Camera or Longs Drugs (see Sprint for a complete list). We give kudos to Sprint for making it easy to do something with camera phone photos.

The camcorder records videos with sound in two settings: 30 seconds for multimedia messages and up to about an hour in Long mode. You can use the flash as light for filming in dark situations, and you can access a fair number of editing options that are similar to those on the still camera.

You can personalize the Samsung MM-A900 with a variety of screensavers; clock styles; wallpaper; and tones for messages, alarms, and calendar alerts. If you want more options or more ring tones, you can download them from Sprint via the WAP 2.0 wireless browser. You get five Java (J2ME) games demos: 2Fast2Furious, Block Breaker, Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, and World Poker. Sprint never gives you full versions of games, which is again the case with the MM-A900. One feature we like is a glossary of the possible screens icons that indicate the phone's status. Usually, you have to dig through the manual for such information, so it's a welcome addition.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Samsung MM-A900 in San Francisco using Sprint's service and had little problems getting a signal. Call quality was decent overall, but we noticed background hiss at times, and callers could tell we were using a cell phone. Also, while volume was higher when compared to the Motorola Razr, voices on our end occasionally sounded a bit hollow. Criticisms aside, we encountered no interference from electronic devices, and when we placed calls with the speakerphone, we were quite pleased with the clarity and volume. Though we wish the speakerphone were easier to activate, we like that we could close the phone without ending the call. When we used the MM-A900 with the Bluetooth Plantronics Explorer 320 headset, we had acceptable clarity overall, with no issues in the pairing process.

Music quality was surprisingly good through the stereo speakers on the front flap. Sure, it won't compare to that of a stand-alone MP3 player, but songs came through loud and clear. With the phone, open the speakers away from you, so sound quality will diminish somewhat. We tried downloading "Forever Young" by Youth Group and "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls. Each song took about 1 minute, 30 seconds to download to the phone. We'd like to see quicker downloads, but we're happy to be able to download songs on the go. Fortunately, when activating the player, it just takes a few seconds to start up.

EV-DO coverage was good within the city, even in buildings, but understandably grew spotty in outlying areas. Streaming video clips downloaded in just a few seconds, but playing quality didn't quite compare with that of Sprint's Samsung MM-A940. The phone didn't freeze or restart, but the clips tended toward pixelated and grainy. Still, they're a huge improvement over Sprint's 2.5G 1xRTT network. Remember that this is a cell phone, and the display can't compare to your living room television. Browsing was fast for the most part, but it was noticeably slow in some instances. For example, when using the on-demand GPS mapping application, it took up to 10 seconds to pan between map sections.

The Samsung MM-A900 has a rated talk time of three hours. That's low off the bat, and we got just 2.75 hours in our tests. For standby time, we came away with a solid 10 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the MM-A900 has a digital SAR rating of 0.9 watt per kilogram.


Samsung MM-A900 (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7