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The 1.3-megapixel camera is set into the handset's hinge and swivels so you can take self-portraits easily with the external display. A flash sits just below the lens, while a multicolored LED is embedded behind the Samsung logo on the front flap. A dedicated camera button sits on the right spine, and a volume rocker and headset jack are located on the left spine.
Inside the phone is a relatively large 2-inch-diagonal display that supports an eye-popping 262,000 colors. It is great for viewing photos and videos and makes 3D games playable. But be advised that you can't change the font size and the screen is hard to see, both in direct sunlight and when the adjustable backlighting is turned off. Below the display are the navigation keys for maneuvering through the user-friendly menus, available in two styles. A four-way toggle acts as a shortcut to messaging, the Web browser, Verizon's Get It Now service, and one user-defined function. There's also an OK button in the toggle's center, which is always a plus, and we appreciated the toggle's large size. Other controls consist of two soft keys, a Clear button, and the traditional Talk and End keys.
The keypad buttons were a distraction, however. Though they are well-spaced and have a bright backlighting, they are flush with the surface of the phone. As a result, it was difficult to dial by feel.The Samsung SCH-A890's key selling point is its compatibility with Verizon's V Cast service, which offers a variety of streaming video content at data speeds of 300Kbps to 500Kbps. Yet the phone is loaded with other features as well. The address book can store as many as 500 contacts with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, and notes. Other calling features include caller groups, voice-activated dialing (see below), and picture-caller ID (on the external screen). Contacts also can be paired with any of 40 polyphonic or 5 monophonic ring tones. The A890 also comes with a vibrate mode; text and multimedia messaging; a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser; and a suite of basic productivity applications, including a calendar, a to-do list, a voice-memo recorder, an alarm clock, a memo pad, a world clock, and a calculator.
The voice-activated dialing is based on VoiceSignal's technology, which lets you dial names, numbers, or access virtually any phone option by voice. Unlike many voice-recognition systems, VoiceSignal does not require you to train it first, but this also means that anyone can use the voice-command system for your phone. This type of voice recognition would be great with a wireless headset, but sadly, the A890 doesn't support Bluetooth.
The megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions: 1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240 and 160x120. You also get a choice of three quality settings, five color modes, and three shutter sounds along with a silent option. A feature we haven't seen before is a "ready sound" that plays just before you take a picture. Besides "Say cheese," you get three other choices, or you can turn it off completely. Other controls include a self-timer, a 4X zoom, a brightness control, and an editing function that lets you rotate the image or flip its orientation. We also were impressed that the phone came with a flash, although it is only effective up to about a foot. The mobile is capable of recording 15-second MPEG4 clips with sound and offers editing options similar to those found in the camera. When finished with your shots, you can save them to the handset, but you get a limited 8MB of memory. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many camera phones today, there is no way to get pictures or video off the camera directly; you have to mail them via Verizon's network.
You can personalize the phone with a variety of wallpapers and sounds. Additional customization options and ring tones are available from Verizon's Get It Now service. You don't get any integrated games, so you must get them through the V Cast service.We tested the dual-band Samsung SCH-A890's (CDMA 800/1900; EVDO) in New York City using the Verizon Wireless network. The sound quality was generally good with clear conversations and volume, although we did have some dead spots from time to time. We also really liked the voice-recognition performance that let us place calls without touching the keypad.
Video clips from the V Cast service were of good quality. The feed was mostly smooth, but remember, at just 16fps, it is not designed to mimic your television. It's available in only 32 cities nationwide. Although the SCH-890 was designed to be a multimedia phone, the rear-mounted speaker is a little disorienting. It is fine for playing games, but it means that when you watch video, the volume is much louder for the person in front of you than for the person watching the screen.
The phone delivered nearly 4.5 hours of talk time, matching the rated time almost exactly. It lasted for a full week of standby time on a single charge. While that's a few days short of the promised time of 14 days, it's still admirable. We were disappointed, though, that the mobile only includes a desktop charger, which means you can't talk on the phone when it's charging. Road warriors should invest in a travel charger ($29.99).