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Samsung SPH A500 review: Samsung SPH A500

Samsung SPH A500

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read
A year from now, there may be several flip phones on the market that match the SPH-A500's combination of stylish looks, compact size, strong feature set, and sharp color screen. And while we can't say that this is the perfect mobile, it's pretty darn close. Even without that free battery, the $299 A500 is well priced. When you figure in the costs of Sprint's PCS Vision service and any optional accessories, this may seem expensive. But for a premium flip phone with the A500's wealth of features and attractive style, you're still getting a reasonable deal. When most people get their hands on the A500 for the first time, they're pretty impressed with what they see. When it's closed, the 3.56-ounce phone is stylish and compact; it's one of the thinner flips available, and it still feels sturdy in the hand. But what elicits the wows is opening the phone to reveal a sharp, 128x160-pixel TFT color screen that displays eight lines of text and 65,000 colors. This is the best color screen that we've seen to date on a noncommunicator mobile. The external LCD, while monochrome, is also large and is even capable of displaying some graphics along with the usual caller-ID info.

Smooth edges: This Samsung is sleek, stylish and supercompact.

All the main buttons on the phone are backlit in a cool, blue hue except for the End button, which is conveniently backlit in red. We generally like the dialpad buttons; they're a decent size, slightly rubberized, and spaced out far enough to keep misdials to a minimum. We also appreciate the four-way navigational button above the dialpad--it makes scrolling through menus easier--and the dedicated volume control on the side of the phone. Our only gripe is with the placement of the wireless-Web launch button: it's smack-dab in the middle of the four-way nav control, while the OK/Enter button is on the left. Samsung would've been better off swapping the positions of the two buttons, as we found ourselves inadvertently hitting the wireless-Web launch button whenever we wanted to OK something on the screen.
This Samsung's interface is pretty slick, and it's customizable with downloadable graphics, pictures, and sounds that Sprint makes available as part of its PCS Vision service. The wireless-Web interface also looks jazzier, though it remains largely text-oriented. (See the Performance section for more on the wireless Web features.)
It's hard to recommend this phone to users who don't want to pay the extra money for the PCS Vision service since many of the phone's bells and whistles revolve around it. (Plans start at $10 per month on top of your voice plan.) Naturally, the standard features are all here: call history, a 250-name phone book, a calendar, text messaging, and a few demo versions of Java-based games--Space Invaders isn't bad. The A500 comes with 20 ring tones and a sample downloaded ring tones, all of which can be surprisingly loud. Therefore, you won't want to forget to turn the A500 to vibrate mode during board meetings--unless you're Jet Li and can fend off several attackers at once. The phone also has some useful voice-recognition and voice-dialing features, courtesy of Voice Signal Technologies.
Load em' up: Email pics from the phone with this cool camera accessory.

Some of the feature highlights are fun or frivolous. You can purchase downloadable screensavers and additional games--some are lame while others are somewhat addictive--for a few dollars, and you can even play them on a plane by using a special mode that turns off the cell radio. If you purchase the optional camera attachment, you can wirelessly e-mail poor-quality, low-resolution images to friends.
Speaking of accessories, there are supposedly plenty that will be available, including a game-controller attachment and a wireless-Web connection kit that allows you to turn your A500 (CDMA 800/1900/AMPS 800/1xRTT) into a modem. Get the USB data cable, and you can sync the mobile's phone book with your Outlook contacts. Plug in the keyboard attachment, and you'll have a much easier time responding to e-mail. (The A500 is compatible with Sprint's PCS Business Connection service, which allows you to receive corporate e-mail and view your calendar on your phone.) But many of these add-ons may not be available for several months or even at all--as is potentially the case with the keyboard.
In our tests in New York City, we found call quality to be generally quite good--the speaker is nice and loud. However, don't expect to pick up signals where your old Sprint PCS mobile couldn't. For example, we still didn't get a signal in our Manhattan office, while we could do so with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile phones. When we did get a signal, callers said that we sounded fine but not fabulous.
One complaint about the wireless-Web experience: though Sprint's 3G network is supposed to make surfing the wireless Web quicker, we didn't notice much of a speed boost. When we checked sports scores on this model and the monochrome Sanyo SCP-6200 simultaneously, we didn't get the information any faster on the Vision-enabled phone. Perhaps Sprint is still working out the kinks, but this was disappointing after our relatively good experience surfing the real Web on Handspring's Treo 300. To be clear, the lag time isn't long, but you still have to wait five seconds for the next screen to appear once you click a link. Even with the increased number of rudimentary graphics, we expected the lag time to disappear with the new 1xRTT data network.
On a more positive note, battery life was acceptable, which is saying a lot when dealing with a color screen. We managed to come in at just a few minutes short of the rated talk time of 2.5 hours, and we eked out 4.5 days of standby time. Yes, that falls short of the up to 9 days that Sprint says you can get, but standby numbers are generally inflated. It's worth noting that a $60 extended battery is available; you can even get one for free for a limited time by mail with the purchase of the phone.

Hit the road: The included travel charger is a plus.


Samsung SPH A500

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7