After introducing its V Cast Music downloading service earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Verizon Wireless has steadily expanded its lineup of music phones. The options range from a simple upgrade to the LG VX8100 to the totally new Samsung SCH-A950. And now, just weeks after Sprint introduced its newest music phone, the LG LX550, Verizon gives us the Samsung SCH-A930. Clad in basic black, the SCH-A930 offers much of what you'd expect from a music phone, including EV-DO support, Bluetooth, and an external memory card slot. In an improvement upon the UTStarcom CDM-8945, the SCH-A930 has external music controls, but they aren't as user-friendly as those on the SCH-A950. Also, our EV-DO coverage was quite inconsistent. The SCH-A930 is competitively priced at $149, but you can get it for as low as $39 with a service contract.
Verizon Wireless takes a new design tack with its Samsung SCH-A930. Clad entirely in black, it looks a bit different from the carrier's other music phones--not quite as eye-catching as the Samsung SCH-A950 but a step above the UTStarcom CDM-8945. The overall form factor is rather boxy and dull, but it comes in at 3.6 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches, and at 3.9 ounces, it's slimmer than most of its EV-DO brethren. It fits in a pocket easily, and it felt comfortable in our hand while talking. The construction was mostly solid as well, though the flip-opening mechanism was looser than we would have liked.
In an alternative design twist, the rectangular external display has a vertical orientation down the middle of the front flap. We're used to seeing such handiwork from Kyocera, but this is the first time this type of screen has shown up on a Samsung. Despite its small size and monochrome resolution, it displays a lot of information, including the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). On the downside, however, the text is small, and there's no way to change the font size. Like most other V Cast Music phones, the Samsung SCH-A930 has a set of exterior controls that let you activate and play music when the flap is closed. You can also scroll through music on the exterior display, but the experience is less user-friendly than on other Verizon music phones. Since the display is so small, it can't show a miniature player menu, as does the external display on the SCH-A950. Instead, it shows only one line at a time.
Above the Samsung SCH-A930's display is the camera lens, which can rotate 180 degrees from back to front. You can take self-portraits with ease, and you can use a small flash on the front flap for dimmer environments. However, because the external display won't support photo caller ID, it can't function as a viewfinder either. As a result, you must shoot all photos with the phone open. Completing the exterior of the handset are a volume rocker and a voice dialing/speakerphone button on the left spine, while a covered headset jack and a Micro SD card slot sit on the right spine. There is no exterior camera shutter.
Inside the phone, you're drawn immediately to the internal display. It's a typical Samsung affair, bright and vivid, but it's not so easy to see in direct light. Measuring 2 inches diagonally (176x220 pixels) and supporting 262,000 colors, it does its job well, and it's more than adequate for viewing photos and using the standard, if boring, Verizon menus. You can change the backlighting time and the font style.
The navigation array is huge and well sized for even the largest hands. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button; two soft keys; dedicated shortcut controls for the camcorder and voice dialing; the Talk and End/power keys; and a Clear key. All controls are tactile and easy to use, and the toggle doubles as a shortcut to the Get It Now menu, the V Cast menu, the Web browser, and one user-defined function. The big keypad buttons are well spaced too, but they're flat with the surface of the phone, and the backlighting isn't very bright.
The Samsung SCH-A930 has a 500-contact phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers and e-mail addresses. You can organize contacts into groups or pair them with a photo for caller ID. Remember, though, that photos won't show up on the external display. You also get ring-tone caller ID, but the phone comes with only 10 polyphonic (64-chord) tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a notepad, a calendar, a world clock, a stopwatch, and instant messaging (AOL, MSN, or Yahoo). Road warriors can use the speakerphone (operable before you make a call), voice dialing and commands, and POP3 e-mail support, and while there is Bluetooth, it supports only profiles for a headset and dial-up networking. You can't use it to exchange files.