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Samsung SCH-A970 (Verizon Wireless) review: Samsung SCH-A970 (Verizon Wireless)

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The Good The Samsung SCH-A970 supports a 3G EV-DO network, Bluetooth, an MP3 player, a TransFlash slot, a speakerphone, and a 2-megapixel camera and camcorder with optical zoom.

The Bad The Samsung SCH-A970 is bulky. It also suffers from spotty EV-DO coverage and disappointing photo quality.

The Bottom Line The Samsung SCH-A970 is a good choice for a rich multimedia experience, though the promised features don't always live up to expectations.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Samsung SCH-A970

Verizon Wireless's latest 3G V Cast phone, the Samsung SCH-A970 is a compelling package of multimedia and communication tools. Along with support for Verizon's high-speed 3G network, the handset offers a 2-megapixel camera/camcorder, an MP3 player with external playback controls, Bluetooth support, and a TransFlash card slot for additional memory. The phone is bulky, however, and its fancy features sometimes fall short, with spotty EV-DO coverage and subpar photo quality. Still, the A970 will tempt those looking for a phone that supports Verizon's high-speed data network. The Samsung SCH-A970 is available for a pricey $349. Call the Samsung SCH-A970 the anti-Motorola Razr V3. At 3.7 by 1 by 1.84 inches and 5.07 ounces, this handset is hefty. And while there's no protruding antenna, the A970 won't slip easily into your pocket. But that's also the case with Verizon's other 3G phones such as the LG VX9800, so we didn't mind it too much. The all-silver case makes it appropriate for business settings, and the exterior display (see below) becomes a mirror when the backlighting is off.

Big and bulky: The Samsung SCH-A970 is not a lightweight.

At first glance, you might think the A970's external display takes up half of the front face, but it's just an illusion. Set in mirrored frame, the postage stamp-size display is small for the mobile's dimensions, but it still packs in the date, time, battery life, signal strength and caller ID (where available). Be warned, though, that the resolution is dim, and it's impossible to see in direct light or when the backlighting it off. And what's worse, you must open the phone to activate it again. The next elements you'll notice on the front flap are the handy audio playback controls just below the display. Yes, the A970 works with MP3s, and you can activate the player to hear songs without opening the display. Verizon's LG VX8100 has similar controls, but they were inoperable for the first few months after the phone was introduced. This time, you get full functionality out of the box. The final features on the front of the phone are the stereo speakers.

The flip on the Samsung SCH-A970 is unusual. After it flips up to a right angle, the display also rotates 90 degrees in each direction. This design quirk is necessary because the camera lens and flash are placed unusually on the left end of the hinge, which accounts for some of the phone's bulk. Twisting the lens instantly starts the camera, but the opposite is not true when you rotate the display back to its normal position. The upshot here is that it's easy to take self-portraits or pictures of subjects at unexpected angles. It also looks as if you're using a mini digital camera instead of a cell phone. Take care, however, with the folding mechanism. The flip mechanism is quite loose, and the cover has a tendency to twist 90 degrees when attempting a one-handed open or close.

Play it again: The SCH-A970 has convenient player controls.

The 262,000-color internal display is gorgeous, with bright, vibrant hues. It's difficult to see in direct light, but it does the job for viewing photos and scrolling through the simple, yet dull menus (Verizon is standardizing its menu system for all its phones). You can change the backlighting but not the contrast or brightness. Below the display are the navigation keys, including a five-way button with shortcuts to the calendar, the V Cast menus, the Web browser, and the downloads menu; two soft keys; a Clear button; and the Talk and End keys. The dial pad is roomy, though the keys could be raised a bit for easier touch dialing. The right spine of the case includes the camera shutter, a volume rocker, a speakerphone button, and an Options key for accessing camera/video functions, though this key works only in camera/video mode with the cover flipped and folded. When the phone is in camera mode, the volume rocker also works as a zoom control. The left spine sports the headset jack and the TransFlash expansion slot. The A970 comes with a bulky desktop charger, and you'll have to shell out extra dough for a more convenient travel charger.

The Samsung SCH-A970 has plenty to offer aside from the 3G V Cast features. The 500-contact phone book includes entries for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with a picture (the photo shows up on the external display), as well as any of 10 polyphonic or 5 monophonic tones. There's a vibrate mode; a calendar; text and multimedia messaging; voice dialing; a world clock; a notepad; AIM, MSN, and Yahoo instant messaging; a speakerphone; and a calculator. Also, VoiceMode speech-to-text technology enables you to dictate your text messages with moderate success. Bluetooth is included as well, but as with other Verizon handsets, it isn't fully capable. According to the carrier, it has profiles for wireless headsets, hands-free accessories, syncing with compatible PCs, and some file transfers, but it doesn't support all OBEX profiles. The MP3 player is a nice touch, and it's easy to use, but it plays files from the TransFlash card only.

The main attraction, of course, is Verizon's EV-DO service and access to its V Cast multimedia content. When we were able to maintain relatively decent coverage (more on that in the Performance section), Web surfing was noticeably zippy in EV-DO mode. With speeds between 300Kbps and 500Kbps, you'll definitely appreciate how quickly you can browse content from such sites as CNN and the Wall Street Journal. The V Cast content includes live and prerecorded material, such as NBC News updates, music videos, special offerings from E Entertainment and VH1, movie trailers, and video on demand.

Say cheese: The SCH-A970 has a large camera lens.

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