The Samsung SCH-U420, otherwise called the Nimbus, is one of the hottest new phones to come to Alltel Wireless, a large regional mobile-phone company that mainly focuses on the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country, but has low-cost roaming agreements with Verizon and Sprint for nationwide service. The SCH-U420 is the latest in a line of sleek Samsung sliders, much like the previous Samsung SGH-D807 from Cingular and the Samsung SGH-T809 from T-Mobile. It's also the first Alltel phone to feature Axcess technology, a new service from the carrier that lets you surf the Net and download XM radio content, ring tones, games, and more. You can get not one but two of them for $49.99 with a two-year plan.
There's no question that the SCH-U420 is centered on design. While not anything new, its slim slider form factor is still unquestionably attractive. The phone measures a compact 3.7 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches and weighs only 3.2 ounces, resulting in a tremendously light feel in the hand. The phone slides open upward with a slight push on the bottom end, and slides closed with a little more force from the top. Opening the phone one-handed feels pretty natural, but we found closing the phone to be more of a two-hand operation.
Definitely one of the most eye-catching aspects of the SCH-U420 is its luscious 1.8-inch 262,000-color screen. The colorful menu icons appeared to pop from the display, and we liked how the fonts were easy on the eyes. You can change the backlighting time of the display and the keypad, but there's no contrast or brightness setting. The font settings for the dialing text are changeable, either in terms of size or style, but the same settings don't apply for other texts.
The navigation keypad underneath the screen consists of two soft keys, a rectangular four-way toggle with a middle OK button, and the Send, Clear, and End/Power keys along the bottom. The toggle also acts as shortcuts to a contacts list, the Axcess Shop, the wireless Web browser, and the ringer-type menu where you can select a ring tone. Slide the phone up to reveal the dial pad, which wasn't the best we've seen. Besides being slippery, the keys were flat with the surface of the phone. While they were easy to press and dial, we still thought they were a bit too smooth for our tastes. The left spine of the SCH-U420 is home to a thin volume rocker, while the right spine houses a dedicated speakerphone key and a dedicated camera key, both of which are similarly skinny. The camera lens is located on the back of the phone at the very top, which is only revealed when the phone is opened. Next to the camera lens is a self-portrait mirror and an LED flash.
The Samsung SCH-U420 comes with a 500-entry address book; each entry can accommodate up to five phone numbers, a-n email address, and a picture ID, and be assigned a group and one of 16 polyphonic ring tones. Features include text and picture messaging, Bluetooth, speakerphone, vibrate mode, e-mail, voice dialing, and access to Axcess, Alltel's Web portal service. There are also a simple collection of organizational tools such as a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, world time, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator.
Normally we're not huge fans of VGA cameras when compared to megapixel ones, but considering the phone's price range, we're willing to accept it. Camera settings include three resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 160x120), a self-timer, flash, multishot, white balance (Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent), quality (Fine, Normal, Economy), color tones (Normal, Black and White, Sepia, Green, Aqua, Antique, Cool, Warm), and the choice of three shutter sounds. Alternatively you can turn off the sound altogether. After taking the photo, you can send it to your friends via multimedia message, though you can't seem to transfer the image via Bluetooth. The picture quality was acceptable, although it retained the blurriness we've come to expect from a VGA camera.
Personalization options are plenty with the Samsung SCH-U420. You can personalize its wallpaper, themes, and the clock format on the main display. Greeting banners, screensavers, ring tones, and message alerts also are customizable. The SCH-U420 supports BREW applications and games, and comes with RealTone JukeBox that lets you purchase and download ring tones, a game called Zuma, and CGL, which is an application that lets you download wallpaper and ring tones that are related to your college of choice. You can also download more via Axcess, Alltel's Web browsing application.
We tested the trimode (CDMA 850/1900, AMPS 8500) Samsung SCH-U420 in San Francisco using the Alltel network. Call quality was surprisingly good, and we hardly heard any interference over the line. Callers from a landline could hardly tell we were on a cell phone, except for when we were walking down busy street sidewalks. Call quality also suffered a little in windier environments. The speakerphone can be turned on prior to dialing, and we found the quality to be pretty good. The volume was sufficiently high, and callers could hear us as long as we spoke up a little. Pairing the SCH-U420 with the Plantronics Discovery 655 was not a problem.
The SCH-U420 has a rated talk time of 4 hours and a rated standby time of 9 days. We managed to get 4 hours and 10 minutes of talk time in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the SCH-U420 has a digital SAR rating of 1.28 watts per kilogram.