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Samsung SGH-ZX20 (AT&T) review: Samsung SGH-ZX20 (AT&T)

Samsung SGH-ZX20 (AT&T)

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
Back in January, when we first saw Samsung SGH-ZX20 at CES, we have to admit we took notice. Sure, the design wasn't particular impressive, and it paled in comparison to the company's Korean-market handsets, but the prospect of a 3.5G HSDPA handset from a U.S. carrier was exciting. Yet seven months later, we can safely say that much of that initial excitement has worn off. Not only did we have to wait a long time for the SGH-ZX20, but in the meantime LG beat Samsung to the punch with the LG CU500. And though the SGH-ZX20 delivers on its promised features, the CU500's sharper design is better suited to the advanced multimedia capabilities both phones share. On the upside, the SGH-ZX20 is fairly priced at $149 with a two-year contract. It's difficult not to use the word but when discussing the Samsung SGH-ZX20's design. For example, we give Samsung props for not pumping out yet another Razr imitator, but the SGH-ZX20 is far from eye-catching. We like its compact shape, but we aren't in love with the small and uninspiring internal display. The black-and-silver color scheme is attractive but we don't care for the monochrome external LCD. So really, the SGH-ZX20 is a mixed bag. While some users may like the modest design that blends in with many other Samsung handsets--it's almost indistinguishable from its predecessor, the SGH-ZX10--we were hoping for a somewhat more stylish form factor, particularly from a 3.5G handset.


Samsung SGH-ZX20 (AT&T)

The Good

The Samsung SGH-ZX20 offers decent call quality and comes with a full range of features including support for high-speed networks, world phone capability, Bluetooth, and a speakerphone.

The Bad

The Samsung SGH-ZX20's low-key design doesn't lend itself to its high-end features.

The Bottom Line

Though the Samsung SGH-ZX20 offers some cool features and solid performance, its mundane design doesn't do them justice.
Samsung SGH-ZX20
The Samsung SGH-ZX20's right spine holds the MicroSD card slot.

The SGH-ZX20 measures 3.5 by 1.9 by 1.0 inches and weighs in at 3.9 ounces. As a result, it's easily portable and will fit in smaller pockets. It also benefits from a solid construction, and it feels comfortable in the hand. An external antenna adds a bit more girth, but it doesn't feel flimsy. Front and center is the external display. Though it's big for the phone's size (1 inch diagonally), we were disappointed that it was monochrome only. It shows the date, the time, battery life, and signal strength, but it doesn't support photo caller ID. Though you can adjust the contrast or personalize the screen with a greeting or a rudimentary image, it's just below our expectation for a megapixel camera phone.

Immediately above the display is a small flash, while the camera lens sits in the middle of the hinge. In a nice touch, the lens swivels 180 degrees, enabling you to take self-portraits or shots of objects away from you. On the right spine is a button for changing the ringer profile and the covered MicroSD card slot. A volume rocker and a covered headset jack sit on the right spine, while the bottom end houses the charger port. We were hoping, however, for an external camera shutter.

Inside the phone is the 262,000-color TFT display. As previously mentioned, it's smaller (1.75 inches diagonally) than many other 3G phones, and at 176x220 pixels, it also has a lower resolution. While it's perfectly fine for scrolling through menus, playing games, and taking photos, it won't do justice to the streaming video. You can change the backlighting time, the brightness, and the font size and color. Yet like most Samsung displays, it's difficult to see in direct light.

The navigation controls and the keypad buttons take cues from the Samsung SGH-ZX10 as well. The four-way toggle is a bit small, and the OK button in its center instead acts as a Web browser shortcut when in standby mode rather than opening the main menu. We liked, however, that the toggle can be set to give one-touch access to four user-defined functions. Immediately above the toggle are two thin controls that activate the camera and open a secondary shortcut menu. While the keys were user-friendly, their placement above the two soft keys was confusing because we kept pressing them to activate the command on the screen. On the other hand, the actual soft keys are large, as are the Talk and End/power buttons and also the dedicated Clear control. The backlit keypad buttons are large, easy to read, and well spaced, but they're flush with the surface of the phone, which made dialing by feel difficult. The Samsung SGH-ZX20's phone book holds a hefty 1,000 contacts, while the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. Each entry holds five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, a Web address, a birthday, a job title and company, a nickname, and notes. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with one of 5 polyphonic (64-chord) or 10 MP3 ring tones. You can also assign photos to a contact, but as previously mentioned, they won't appear on the external display. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a daily and weekly calendar with an event scheduler and a task list, a calculator, a unit converter, a world clock, and a speakerphone. Instant messaging is on board as well with options for AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and ICQ, and in an improvement over the Samsung SGH-ZX10, there's full Bluetooth 2.0.

As we said earlier, the SGH-ZX20 follows the LG CU500 as Cingular's second HSDPA phone. A step above the 3G UMTS network on the SGH-ZX10, HSDPA is a 3.5G technology that essentially brings wireless broadband data speeds to a cell phone. Cingular is promising speeds of 400Kbps to 700Kbps for its HSDPA network, which allows for steaming video and quick downloads. The ZX20 supports Cingular Video, and its full assortment of programming that includes news clips, weather reports, and sports recaps.

Samsung SGH-ZX20
The Samsung SGH-ZX20 has a rotating camera lens.

The Samsung SGH-ZX20 has a 1.3-megapixel digital camera. You can take pictures in four resolutions (1,280x1,024; 640x480; 320x240; and 176x144) and use such features as a multishot and mosaic-shot options, four quality settings, brightness and white-balance effects, spot metering, three lighting effects, 50 fun frames, three ISO settings, a self-timer, and a 4X zoom. Take note, however, that zoom is not an option at the largest resolutions. The camcorder shoots clips in two resolutions, 176x144 and 128x96, with sound; editing options are on a par with the still camera's. Videos sent for MMS messages are capped at 20 seconds, or you can record for as long as an hour. Once you're done with your shots and clips, you can save them to the phone's 40MB of shared memory or to a MicroSD card.

Samsung SGH-ZX20
The Samsung SGH-ZX20 has decent if slightly washed-out photo quality.

If you'd rather just listen to some tunes, the Samsung SGH-ZX10 has a music player with support for MP3, AAC, and RealOne files, which you can store on the TransFlash card. The interface is Spartan, but it does the trick if you need aural entertainment in short stints.

You can personalize the SGH-ZX20 with a variety of wallpaper and background colors. You can purchase more options and more ring tones from Cingular. As for gaming, there are demo versions of five Java (J2ME) titles: Midnight Pool, Bowling 3D, Asphalt Urban GT 3D, The Last Age, and Power Inline X. If you want the full games or more choices, you'll have to buy them. We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS 800/1900) Samsung SGH-ZX20 world phone in San Francisco using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality was quite good and comparable with that of its predecessor, the Samsung SGH-ZX10. Callers could tell we were using a cell phone, but the handset performed admirably with little static, interference, or disruption. Volume quality was acceptable as well, and we experienced decent speakerphone and Bluetooth calls.

With the HSDPA network, downloads of games and ring tones was lightning quick. Web browsing was somewhat sluggish, however, and HSDPA coverage faded in and out when inside buildings. The SGH-ZX20 also supports UMTS, EDGE, and GPRS networks. At the time of this writing, our test phone wasn't approved to access Cingular Video to assess the streaming-video quality. Check back soon for a full report.

The Samsung SGH-Z20 has a rated talk time of 4 hours and a promised standby time of 10 days. Our tests revealed a talk time of 3 hours and 53 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-ZX20 has a digital SAR rating of 0.76 watts per kilogram.


Samsung SGH-ZX20 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8