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Samsung SCH-U540 review: Samsung SCH-U540

Samsung SCH-U540

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
6 min read


Samsung SCH-U540

The Good

The Samsung SCH-U540 has admirable music quality and a generous range of features including 3G support, Bluetooth, and a speakerphone. Call quality was decent too.

The Bad

The Samsung SCH-U540 has a dull design with a flat keypad and an average display. Also, video and picture quality was unimpressive, and it lacks stereo Bluetooth.

The Bottom Line

Though it has a couple of strong points, the Samsung SCH-U540's design and performance don't quite do its feature set justice.

We tend to expect a lot from the design from a 3G cell phone. Rather than looking for a generic handset where 3G functionality is almost an afterthought, we expect elements like a rich display, stereo speakers, and external music controls, all of which strongly complement any multimedia prowess. Verizon's newest EV-DO phone, the Samsung SCH-U540, manages to nab a couple of these points but on the whole its dull design and uneven performance don't quite match its media-centric feature set. It's not a terrible phone to be sure, but Verizon offers better EV-DO handsets like the LG VX8300. The SCH-U540 is $99 with service, or you can find it cheaper online.

The SCH-U540 won't stand out in the cell phone crowd. Though it maintains a slim profile and comes in two colors (silver and blue), it borrows elements from previous other Samsung phones. From the outside, it bears a close resemblance to Cingular's Samsung Sync; both phones share external music controls with the same external display and camera lens. On the other hand, the SCH-U540 isn't quite as boxy, and we like the addition of the stereo speakers. At 3.8 inches by 2.0 inches by 0.6 inch, the SCH-U540 is slightly bigger than its predecessor, yet it's significantly lighter at 2.8 ounces. Though much of the phone is covered in plastic, it still manages a relatively comfortable feel in the hand, and the hinge seemed especially sturdy.

The external display is a tad small (1 inch and 96x96 pixels) but it manages to cram in all the essential information, including the time, the date, the signal strength, and the battery life. Also, since it supports 65,000 colors, it displays photo caller ID and you can use as a viewfinder for self-portraits. Unfortunately, the display goes completely dark when the backlighting is off but you can activate it again by pressing a side button. A covered headset jack, a camera shutter, and a dedicated speakerphone key sit on the right spine, while a volume rocker rests on the left spine.

You can use the SCH-U540's external music controls both to open and control the music player.

Above the display is a camera lens, while the external music controls sit just below the screen. The controls are touch-sensitive but you can use a button below the volume rocker to lock them while playing your tunes. The stereo speakers sit on the lower end of the front flap, and the charger port rests on the bottom of the phone. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover but fortunately you don't have to remove the battery as well.

The SCH-U540's internal display is a decent size at just more than 2.2 inches diagonally (176x220 pixels). It supports 262,000 colors but it's not terribly vibrant, and it's difficult to see in direct light. The standard Verizon menus look a bit better due to a tweaked design but it's still not our favorite interface system as some features such as the camera are still too difficult to find. On the upside, you can change the backlight time, the brightness, the contrast, and the dialing font size and style.

The navigation array is quite spacious and shouldn't pose a problem to users with larger hands. A four-way toggle gives access to four user-defined functions, while a central OK button opens the main menu. There are also two soft keys, a dedicated camera button, a voice-dialing key, a clear control, and the Talk and End/power buttons. The keypad buttons are also quite large, and the backlit numbers on the keys should be big enough for most users. Similar to most thin phones, the keys are fast with the surface of the handset, with little separation between the individual buttons. That makes it hard to dial by feel, though we liked that the controls weren't too slick.

The SCH-U540 has a 500-contact phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can assign contacts to caller groups, pair them with a picture for photo caller ID, or assign them a ringtone. Only nine, 72-chord polyphonic tones are included, which is fewer then we'd like to see on a multimedia handset. Other features include a vibrate mode, voice commands and dialing, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a stop watch, a calculator, a world clock, an alarm clock, instant messaging and e-mail, a speakerphone, and a notepad. Bluetooth is on board as well but it doesn't support stereo (A2DP) and most object exchange profiles.

The camera doesn't come with a flash.

The 1.3-megapixel camera allows you to take pictures in five resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, 160x120, and 128x96). Other camera features include a night mode, brightness and white balance controls, three quality modes, a metering exposure, adjustable ISO, a multishot mode, a self-timer, seven color effects, and a digital zoom. There are also a fair number of shutter and camera function sounds, or you can silence it completely. The camcorder records clips with sound and offers editing options similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 15 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the phone's available memory permits. Overall, the SCH-U540's photo quality is much too blurry for a megapixel camera. The handset comes with approximately 15MB of internal shared memory so we suggest relying on a memory card.

The SCH-U540's photo quality wasn't impressive.

As an EV-DO phone, the SCH-U540 supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services including the V Cast video service and the V Cast music store. The music player's interface is identical to those on other Verizon phones. You also have the option to purchase a variety of Verizon applications including VZ Navigator and ChaperoneParent.

You can personalize the SCH-U540 with a variety of alert tones, display themes, wallpaper, screensavers, and banners. You can always buy more options if you're dissatisfied with what comes on the phone, or you can get more ringtones. Unfortunately, the phone does not come with any games.

We tested the dualband, dualmode (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Samsung SCH-U540 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was decent overall, though voices sounded a tad hollow; almost as if the sound was coming from across a room. It wasn't a huge problem but voices didn't always sound natural. There was plenty of volume though, and we experienced no interference from other electronic devices. Also, we had no problem getting a signal.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine with little distortion or static. They also reported acceptable volume, even when we were in a noisy environment. Speakerphone and Bluetooth headset calls were about the same; calls were quite loud and neither party had much trouble understanding the other. We had less luck when calling a voice-automated service, however. We had to repeat ourselves a few times to be understood, even when we were in a quiet room.

Music quality was quite satisfactory. The stereo speakers provided a decent output and the audio quality was good. Also, we had no issues hearing the music even when we were on a busy street. Still, we prefer using a stereo headset, albeit a wired one, for the best experience. Just remember that like most cell phone speakers the audio can be a bit bass heavy; this isn't the type of crystal-clear sound that will rival your home stereo system. The EV-DO connection remained strong for the most part; it took about 2.5 minutes to download a 3.7MB track, which isn't bad. Video quality wasn't as good. Though videos weren't pixilated and never paused for rebuffering, they were a bit jerky and the voices didn't quite match the speakers' mouths.

The Samsung SCH-U540 has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 8.3 days standby time. We managed to eke out a talk time of 4 hours, 20 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the SCH-U540 has a digital SAR rating of 1.34 watts per kilogram.


Samsung SCH-U540

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7