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Samsung SCH-U900 review: Samsung SCH-U900

Samsung SCH-U900

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Kent German
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Kent German Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has 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).

7 min read

7.6

Samsung SCH-U900

The Good

The Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900 has an attractive, user-friendly design, a solid feature set, and an admirable speakerphone. It also offers an excellent megapixel camera with great photo quality.

The Bad

The Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900 had middling streaming-video performance, and the call quality wasn't the best we've heard on a Verizon phone. Also, the business-card reader was unimpressive.

The Bottom Line

Though it could offer better call quality, the Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900 is one of the best camera phones we've seen in a while.

Though you wouldn't know it from its name, the Samsung FlipShot for Verizon Wireless is a redress of the carrier's earlier SCH-A990. Also called the SCH-U900, the FlipShot offers a similar array of camera-centric features (what would you expect with a name like "FlipShot"?) in a comparable flip phone design. That's not to say the FlipShot doesn't offer any improvements over its predecessor; it has a stereo Bluetooth profile, a business-card scanner, and dedicated music controls below the external display. On the whole ,the FlipShot is a solid effort. The design is user-friendly and the camera is one of the best we've seen on a cell phone. But while call quality is satisfactory, the multimedia performance remains somewhat uneven. You can buy the FlipShot for a reasonable $199 with service. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.

Design
As mentioned previously, the FlipShot has a lot in common with the SCH-A990. Both have a standard, if somewhat boxy, flip-phone design with straight lines and sharp angles. They also resemble standalone cameras when viewed from behind because of the large camera lens and flash. But more importantly, the FlipShot also features a swiveling display that can rotate 180 degrees. It's an interesting and somewhat gimmicky feature, but it allows you maximum use of the camera. To take self-portraits, just open the front flap and rotate it clockwise until the display (which also acts as the viewfinder) faces the rear of the phone. To take regular shots, you can then close the phone so the main display faces outward. Not only does the latter movement activate the camera, but the phone also takes on the comfortable ergonomics of a standalone shooter. In a change from the SCH-A990, the FlipShot lacks a sliding lens cover, but that's not something we miss.


From the back, the FlipShot looks very much like a camera.

Though it manages to pack in a wealth of features, the FllipShot isn't a clunker. At 3.76 inches by 1.83 inches by 0.73 inch, it's about the same size as the SCH-A990 but it manages to shed some girth to weigh in at 3.88 ounces. It feels comfortable in the hand and it slips easily into a pocket, and we like that Samsung didn't go overboard (as the company tends to do) in making the phone excessively thin. The flip and swivel mechanisms feel sturdy; in both cases we had to give a firm nudge. Front and center is the 65,000-color external display. It's smaller than we'd like (1.25 inches, 128x96 pixels) but it shows all the information including photo caller ID. You can change the display wallpaper and the clock style.


The FlipShot features a swiveling display.

Below the display are touch controls for the music player. You can activate the player by pressing and holding the Play/Pause button and then scroll through your playlist using the Rewind/Skip controls. Pressing and holding the Play/Pause button will turn off the music player. The SCH-U900's memory card slot isn't in the best location, unfortunately. Though it's not behind the battery itself, it is behind the battery cover.

The left spine of the FlipShot holds a speaker, a 2.5mm headset jack, and the charger port. The right spine features the remaining exterior controls plus another speaker. In the FlipShot's normal mode, you'll find the volume rocker, a button that locks the exterior controls, and a key that will activate the flash for a short period so you can use it as a flashlight. When the phone is open, the latter button activates the camera and serves as the camera shutter. And when in camera mode, the volume rocker serves as the zoom control while the aforementioned locking button allows you access to the camera's menus without using the main navigation array. On the whole, it's a convenient arrangement.


You can rotate the FlipShot's internal display so that it faces outward.

Inside the SCH-U900 you'll find the attractive 260,000-color (320x240 pixels) main display. At 2.25 inches, it's big enough for navigating the menus, playing games, and taking photos. What's more, its vibrant and crisp resolution does everything justice, from animations to graphics. You're offered a set of menu interface designs, including one that has a camera theme, but all of the options feature Verizon's standard, and a somewhat convoluted, organization system. You can change the display contrast and backlighting time, and you can adjust the dial font size and style and the menu font size.

The FlipShot's navigation array has been redesigned so the controls are now flush with the surface of the phone. Though that makes them slightly less tactile than on the SCH-A990, the array's large size makes misdials rare. The four-way toggle serves as your primary interface tool. You can program it to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions while the OK key in the middle of the toggle opens the main menu when the phone is in standby mode. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone control (nice), a shortcut to the camera/camcorder, Talk and End/Power buttons, and a Clear key. The dialpad buttons are also flat with the surface, but, as with the navigation array, the keys are large. Also, raised lines between the individual buttons made it easy to dial by feel. The numbers on the keys are large and brightly backlit.

Feaures
The FlipShot has a 500-name phone book. Though that's a tad small for a phone of this caliber, each contact has room for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo for caller ID. You can also assign them a personalized ringtone, but we were disappointed that on a music phone we were only offered seven, 72-chord polyphonic tones. Other essential offerings include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, a speakerphone, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad. Beyond the basics, the FlipShot offers USB mass storage, speaker-independent voice commands, instant messaging, and Web-based e-mail. Bluetooth is on board, as well, and we were glad that Samsung included a stereo profile. On the other hand, it's too bad that in typical Verizon style the SCH-U900 doesn't offer all Bluetooth object exchange profiles. Also, you won't find calendar syncing.

Samsung emphasizes the FlipShot's camera features, and rightfully so. Its 3-megapixel shooter is one of the best we've seen on a cell phone in a while. You can take pictures in eight resolutions (2,048x1,536 down to 160x120) and choose from three quality settings, three color effects, and three white-balance settings. There's also a digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution), spot metering, ISO, an auto-focus, three multishot models, a flash, a self-timer, and a brightness control. What's more, the camera offers settings for taking various kinds of shots. You can take portrait, landscape, macro, and night photos, and you can select special settings for shooting pictures at night, in bright daylight, or with a backlight behind your subject. That's a thorough selection of offerings, to say the least.


The FlipShot's camera is fully equipped.

The camera menus are easy to use, and we like that you can toggle between the various windows at the touch of a button. For example, when you're inside a submenu, pressing the Clear button will take you back to the main menu instead of closing the camera interface completely. We also like that you're given a handy meter to track the remaining memory both on the phone itself (56MB) and on the memory card. For more personalization, you can choose from three shutter sounds and three "ready sounds" (such as "Say cheese!"). Or, if you so desire, you can turn off the sounds completely.

The SCH-U900's camcorder takes pictures in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with sound. The editing options aren't as extensive as on the still camera, but you still get a good selection of options including three quality settings, a self-timer, a choice of color effects, and adjustable brightness and white balance. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for up to 10 minutes. The SCH-U900 offers a few methods for getting photos off the phone. You can upload them to an online album, transfer them via Bluetooth or a multimedia message, and you can use Veriozn's PictBridge service.


The FlipShot offers excellent photo quality.

Photo quality on the FlipShot is quite good. Colors are bright and object lines are crisp and distinct. The flash also offered a good amount of light for dim situations, and the autofocus helped to keep the camera steady. Photos had little of the blurriness that we see in other camera phones, but we wouldn't have qualms about printing them out. Our only complaint was that some photos were too bright, but it wasn't a big deal. Videos were decent, as well. There was less pixelation than we're used to seeing, and the sound quality was admirable. But still, it couldn't handle very quick movements. Unfortunately, the SCH-U900's business-card scanner was unreliable. It could capture names and e-mail addresses, but most phone numbers came out jumbled.

As an EV-DO phone, the FlipShot supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including the "="">V Cast music store. The music player interface is the same on most other Verizon handsets, which is to say it is pretty minimalist. You can set your own playlists, but the player's options are limited to shuffle and repeat modes. The player supports WMA and MP3 files but you can't use music tracks as ringtones. The SCH-U900 also supports Verizon's VZ Navigator GPS service.

You can personalize the FlipShot with a variety of wallpapers, display themes, and alert sounds. You also can type a personalized banner. You can download more customization options and additional ringtones from Verizon using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Unfortunately the SCH-U900 doesn't come with any integrated games, so you'll have to buy titles if you want to play.

Performance
We tested the dualband (CDMA 800/1900) FlipShot in San Francisco. Call quality was decent, but it wasn't quite as good as we've heard on other Verizon phones like the LG VX8350. Though the signal was clear and free of static, voices were a bit distorted. Our friends sounded rather breathy, and others sounded like they were heavy smokers. Also, we noticed a slight hiss in the audio at a few points. None of these issues distracted from our overall experience, but they are worth noting.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a cell phone, and they reported a fair amount of wind noise, but they weren't dissatisfied with the call quality. Automated calling systems could understand us, though it's best if you're in a quiet location. Speakerphone calls were quite good. The speakers on the side of the phone are well placed, and they deliver loud audio. We could understand our callers, and they could understand us.

Streaming video quality on the SCH-U900 was uneven. The EV-DO connection was strong, and Web and V Cast pages loaded quickly, but we noticed a fair amount of pixelation in the videos. Small text on the screen was unreadable and quick movements were choppy and blurry. On the upside, the audio was satisfactory and the sound was in sync with the video, but on the whole it wasn't the best V-cast experience.

Fortunately, music quality was better. Thanks to the stereo speakers, the audio was quite loud. In fact, it was good enough to be heard across a large room. Likewise, we were impressed by the sound clarity and sharpness. It won't replace your MP3 player, but it comes close. It took 45 seconds to download a 1.58MB song, which isn't bad.

The FlipShot has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 14.6 days standby time. An extended battery is available, which boosts the promised times to 6 hours and 18.75 days, respectively. We performed our testing without the extended battery and received a talk time of 4 hours, 25 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests the Samsung FlipShot SCH-U900 has a digital digital SAR rating of 1.4 watts per kilogram.

7.6

Samsung SCH-U900

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7
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