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At first glance, the SCH-U620 doesn't appear to be anything special. With rounded edges and a slightly oval shape, it looks like a variety of other Samsung slide phones on the market, such as the Samsung SGH-D600. It's compact, but a bit thick at 3.76 inches long by 1.86 wide by 0.85 inch deep and weighing 3.7 ounces. The slider glides smoothly, and the keypad buttons are slightly raised, providing a nice tactile experience, which is hard to find a slider phone. It's not the height of style, but the SCH-U620 isn't exactly boring either.
There's one thing, however, that gives the game away that this is no ordinary cell phone. On the right spine of the phone is a pull-out TV antenna. Since it looks nothing like a normal cell phone antenna, our test unit solicited stares and inquiries when the antenna was displayed in its full glory. Below the antenna are dedicated shortcuts for the speakerphone, the camera buttons, and the Mobile TV service, while a volume rocker, a headset jack, and the microSD card slot sit on the left spine. Stereo speakers rest on either side of the phone, and a charger port sits on the SCH-U620's bottom end. The camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are easily accessible on the rear face.
Given the phone's multimedia features, dedicated music playback controls would have been a nice touch. As it is, you have to use the five-way navigation toggle to open the music player and control your tunes. Even worse is how tedious it is to find any saved multimedia content. You have to wade through several menus just to find that song or video you downloaded. A dedicated button for the music player would have been helpful. On the upside, the toggle can be set as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, while the star key launches the voice commands function. Other navigational controls on the SCH-U620 consist of two soft keys, a Clear control, and the Talk and End/power keys.
On the whole, the SCH-U620's menus are easy to follow and are a step above Verizon's standardized interface. The only caveat is that because the menus use Flash, they can be a little pokey. Still, the "TV Channel" interface is particularly attractive, with large icons and a movie marquee-like "Now Playing" header scrolling across the top. Highlighted menus appear in yellow against a black backdrop. (Wait, aren't those Sprint's colors?) Also on the plus side, the 262,000-color QVGA screen, measuring 2 inches diagonally (240x320 pixels), allows for vibrant display of graphics.
The highlight of the SCH-U620, of course, is the V Cast Mobile TV service. Currently available in 20 U.S. cities, Mobile TV features eight channels of live television programming, including CBS, Comedy Central, and ESPN (Verizon plans to offer more channels down the road). Not all of the content offerings on the channels are "live" as in simulcast; some of the content is time-shifted (David Letterman at 11 a.m.?), while other programs are delivered specifically for the Mobile TV service. Also, it's unclear how program times will change as you move from city to city. Still, we were able to watch the NCAA basketball tournament live while away from home. Mobile TV also includes parental controls, in case you don't want your little one watching Reno 911 on the sly.
Pressing the left soft key switches the Mobile TV picture to full-screen mode, which lets you watch programs on a more-comfortable landscape orientation after turning the phone sideways. Although watching a full episode of, say, CSI on a 2-inch screen isn't a compelling experience, the Mobile TV could certainly come in handy during commutes or while waiting for a flight. If you spend a lot of time on the road, you may find the service worth the extra monthly fee (plans range from $13 to $25). And don't worry about shuttling between calls and TV mode. If you decided to accept an incoming call (or a text message, for that matter), the SCH-U620 smartly suspends the Mobile TV application. When you end the call, you're returned to the program you were watching--which is still in progress, of course.
If you don't live in a Mobile TV coverage area, the SCH-U620 will have limited appeal for now. And in some cases it may not even be available for you to buy. Yet even without the service, the SCH-U620 would still be a decent phone, although no more appealing than any other Verizon EV-DO phone. It supports V Cast streaming video, and you can purchase WMA and MP3 music files from the carrier's V Cast Music service for use on the phone's music player. Video-on-demand offerings include YouTube and AtomFilms, though some VOD content requires an extra fee. The SCH-U620 also supports Verizon's VZ Navigator GPS service.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes photos in five resolutions--from 1,280x960 down to standard VGA. Other camera features include a flash, a self-timer, color effects, white balance, a multishot mode, three quality settings, ISO, spot metering, and a choice of shutter sounds. The camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) and offers a choice of editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you should be able to shoot up to an hour of video. The SCH-U620 comes with a respectable 69MB of internal memory, but you're better off investing in a healthy microSD card. Photo and video quality was decent, although we found the colors to be a bit washed out.
The phone book holds as many as 500 entries, with multiple contact information per entry. With Bluetooth support, you can wirelessly connect a PC or other Bluetooth-enabled devices (including stereo headsets) to the phone. We had no problem exchanging contacts between the SCH-U620 and a Samsung SPH-A640. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia, voice commands and dialing, messaging, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock , a stop watch, and a notepad. There's also mobile instant messaging, which supports AOL, MSN, and Yahoo services.
We tested the SCH-U620 in the Chicago and San Francisco areas, though the latter currently is not a V Cast Mobile TV market. Call quality was generally good. On our end, voices sounded loud and clear. Similarly, callers had no problems hearing us, even when we were using the phone outdoors, although they could tell we were using a cell phone. Reception remained strong in most areas, and the EV-DO connection was reliable. Downloading a four-minute music video took about two minutes over Verizon's EV-DO network, which isn't bad.
The Mobile TV picture quality is stunning, provided you're able to get a strong signal. Forget the jerky, heavily pixilated video images you've become accustomed to seeing streamed over 3G networks; Mobile TV delivers crystal-clear, full-motion images at 30 frames per second (EV-DO streaming services cap out at 15fps). The display, however, is small for video use, especially when you're staring at it for more than a half hour. We're looking forward to the bigger display on the LG VX9400.
Rather than relying on streaming over a 3G network, Mobile TV uses a portion of the UHF spectrum different from the one used for standard over-the-air broadcasts. As such, the cellular and TV signals are independent from one another, and you don't need any calling bars to watch the TV programming. We saw no lag between audio and video, and the video itself was crisp and vibrant. Some programs displayed a bit more artifacts than others, but nothing like previous mobile video-streaming services. Channel hopping on Mobile TV isn't quite instantaneous, but it's quick enough--there's about a two-second lag between selecting a channel and the feed coming through, about what you get with satellite TV.
Unless you're in a fairly quiet room, you'll want to use a headset to listen to your broadcasts. The speaker isn't quite loud enough to hear clearly in public environments, and the quality is somewhat tinny. Even while riding in the passenger seat of a car with the windows up, we often had to strain to hear everything. Also, we often had trouble getting a TV signal indoors unless standing near a window. Even then, the signal was intermittent, causing frequent hiccups in the broadcast.
The Samsung SCH-U620 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours of talk time and 10 days standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 2 hours and 50 minutes instead. According to FCC radiation tests, the SCH-U620 has a digital SAR rating of 0.958 watts per kilogram.