The front of the Sanyo MM-9000 has a relatively small 1.1-inch-diagonal LCD that supports a vibrant 260,000 colors. We were able to adjust the backlight timer to four different time settings, including an always-on option, which, when combined with downloadable wallpaper, personalizes the phone and improves the look. The screen displays a good amount of information, including a personalized greeting, battery life, signal strength, the time, and other indicator icons, such as messages and sound on/off. Located above the display is the large speaker for voice and Ready Link calls, while the camera lens is well placed at the top middle of the front flap. It's out of the way of your fingers, and there's also a macro setting switch for close-up pictures. On the left side of the front flap is a large six-color LED light, which also doubles as a very bright flash for the camera. You'll notice there's no self-portrait mirror, but the external display acts as a camera viewfinder when the flip is closed.
Normally, we like shortcut buttons, but the Sanyo MM-9000's keys are a bit confusing. Below the headset jack on the left spine is a button that serves a variety of functions when the flap is closed. We like that it automatically routes calls to the speakerphone--saving you from opening the phone--but in standby mode, it also triggers a keyguard at the slightest touch. It must then be turned off with the voice-commands button (see below), but you have to wait a few seconds. A keyguard has its uses, of course, but the fact that it activates so easily and that it can't be turned off altogether is annoying. If held a long time, the same button initiates the Ready Link, but the difference between the two motions is arbitrary. More often than not, we wound up starting the keyguard when we meant to make a Ready Link call. What's more, the same control is supposed to start the voice recorder when Ready Link is off, but we were never able to work it correctly. Just below, the volume rocker also has multiple uses, as it adjusts the audio level and lets you scroll through the menus. But don't hold it too long, or it turns on the LED as a flashlight, which is then of course turned off by the Ready Link button.
On the Sanyo MM-9000's right spine is a button to record voice dialing and commands. There's also a dedicated camera button next to it. Pressing the camera button quickly opens a menu, where you can choose from the still-camera video recorder and--oddly enough--the voice recorder. Holding down the key takes you directly to the still camera. Here, though, is the kicker: The side buttons on the right do nothing if you neglect to clear out of the menu before shutting the flip. Also, we are baffled as to why, with the multitude of options for exterior buttons, there are no dedicated media player buttons on the front flap, as on the Samsung MM-A940.
If you want to get back to a calmer state after the frustration over the exterior controls, just flip the Sanyo MM-9000 open. The amazingly clear 2.1-inch internal display supports 260,000 colors, and the result is a clear wow factor. You have a choice of four font sizes and four display themes, and you can change the contrast and the backlighting time of the screen. There's also an animated mouse that you can turn off. Unfortunately, the display on the MM-9000 is the only internal design feature that justifies such excitement. The five-way navigation toggle has shortcuts to the settings menu, the phone book, the messaging menu, and the media content menu, and unfortunately, it's not programmable. Above the toggle are the dedicated camera button and the Back button, as well as two soft keys that open a Favorites menu and launch the Web browser when in standby mode. Although none of the above controls are backlit, there is a backlit dedicated speakerphone button--always a nice touch. Like the navigation array, the keypad buttons are flat with the surface of the phone, making it difficult to dial by feel. The buttons are small, although well spaced, and are lit by a blue-backlit keypad with an adjustable timer. Due to the size of the letters, however, not all buttons can be read in the dark.With a 300-plus-page user guide, the Sanyo MM-9000 is certainly not for the faint of heart. The 300-entry contact book is rather small, and though you can store up to six phone numbers, one e-mail address, and one Web address per contact, the memory tops out to 500 phone numbers and 300 addresses each. Ready Link contacts go into a separate phone book with a capacity of 200 entries. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with one of 16 polyphonic (72-chord) ring tones and a picture; the picture ID and the name show up on the external LCD. Also, you can select a vibrate mode, and you can set the phone to speak the name of the person calling if they are a recognized contact. Organizational features include a calendar with a to-do list, a timer, a 5-minute voice recorder, an alarm clock with five settings, a stopwatch with five lap settings, a world clock, and a calculator. We like the added feature of being able to add words to the dictionary of the T9 predictive text. We are puzzled as to why neither Bluetooth nor an infrared port is included, especially for such a high-end phone. Bluetooth is available on the Samsung MM-A940.
Other features on the Sanyo MM-9000 include text and multimedia messaging, PC syncing, e-mail, instant messaging (AOL, Yahoo, and MSN), and voice SMS for sending voicemails directly to contacts without making their phones ring. The speakerphone is one of the stronger features of the handset, as it can be activated before you make a call. Another nifty feature is the call-screening mode, which allows you to set the length of time before the answering machine activates. We did have a little issue with the voice commands, which appear to be sexist, following only lower-pitched male voices. Also, while you do get voice dialing, only 20 voice tags are allowed.
Our favorite feature on the Sanyo MM-9000 is the powerful media player, which allows you to stream TV, radio, music videos, sports, weather, and other media content. Although similar to Verizon's V Cast service, Sprint's Power Vision service offers more content choices and slightly higher data speeds (400Kbps to 700Kbps). Available channels inaclude CNNtoGo, ABC News, the Weather Channel, the Cartoon Network, Music Choice, Access Hollywood, Diva (beauty and fashion tips), and Fox Sports. There also were some unexpected choices, such as Swimsuit Model TV, Smash TV (extreme sports), and the Adult Swim channel, which is billed as adult programming for the Cartoon Network. You also can get full-length movies on MSpot Movie, but for the life of us, we can't imagine why you'd watch a full film on a tiny cell phone screen. Sprint TV offers movie previews and even more programming, including the Discovery Channel, CNET.com reviews, C-SPAN, and the Learning Channel. Most channels cost $3.95 or $4.95 each, or you can purchase bulk plans for $15, $20, and $25.
We like the ease of the Sanyo MM-9000's music player, which did allow us to preview songs before we bought them. We also like the interface of the music store, which allowed us to get to our content easily, create playlists, shuffle songs, and easily listen to our songs after shopping. On the downside, though, songs cost a staggering $2.50 each. When playing our tunes, we could close the flip when listening to music, and the name of the song would appear on the external LCD.
Information addicts will have fun with Sprint's On Demand Internet service. You can get up-to-the-minute news, sports scores, and stock market news. And since the phone has GPS capability, you can access localized movie and TV listings, weather reports, and maps for your current location. Finally, there's an online phone book and dictionary. The map we pulled up was about a half a mile off.
The Sanyo MM-9000's 1.3-megapixel camera is excellent with a fair number of options, but you get only three image resolutions--960x1,280, 480x640, and 240x320. You can set the flash to automatic, on, or off. The 20X zoom worked well, as did the macro feature, which allows you to take up-close-and-personal shots of people, perfect for the photo caller-ID feature. Other camera options include a self-timer, brightness and white-balance adjustments, nine fun frames, three quality settings, eight color choices, and seven picture modes. You can shoot up to 120 minutes of video clips with sound if you have the larger Mini SD card; otherwise, they max out at 30 seconds. Two video resolutions are available--176x144 and 128x96--and editing options are similar to the still camera's. When finished with your shots and videos, you can send them to a friend or save them to the phone. Memory space depends on the image size--up to 351 pictures at the lowest resolution or 33 at the highest. You can also save to the included 16MB Mini SD memory card. Sprint's PictBridge lets you print directly to a PC with the included USB cable. Unfortunately, our computer insisted on installing a driver from a nonexistent CD.
Picture quality for the Sanyo MM-9000 was good but nothing spectacular. Edges were slightly fuzzy, and colors weren't sharp, but it's better than those of a VGA camera. The video camcorder, which captures only seven frames per second, is obviously not like watching TV, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality. The camcorder handles quick movement with ease, and the videos are not as pixelated as you might expect.
You can personalize the Sanyo MM-9000 with a variety of wallpaper, color tones, and sounds. You can always get more options if you want them, and you can download additional ring tones as well; you get 18MB of integrated storage. The handset supports MIDI, 13K QCELP, CMX ringer, MP3, AAC, and AAC+ custom files. We were disappointed, however, that we couldn't preview the polyphonic ring tones or screensavers available on the Sprint network before buying them. We need to be able to hear what portion of the song the ring tone will play, and can they really expect us to buy a screensaver based on the description? True to Sprint's usual fashion, you get demo versions of three Java (J2ME) games--Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, and Jamdat Bowling. That said, we appreciate the airplane mode, so you can still use the games and the voice recorder without the RF functions.We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Sanyo MM-9000 in the San Francisco area using Sprint's network. Call quality was exceptional, and the reception remained strong in typical problem areas. Callers said we sounded clear, and they could not tell the difference between an outside and an inside call, nor could they tell we were using a cell phone. We did not get any interference from the computer or the car speakers. Calls over the speakerphone and the included headset were clear as well.
The Sanyo MM-9000 music player's sound is decent, although the tunes start to get distorted at the louder levels. Of course, with the speaker on the back of the phone, you lose a lot of the sound when watching video, but it doesn't make much of a difference because of the loud volume setting. Overall, we were impressed with the quality and the speed of downloaded content and streaming video. The media player also launched very quickly and didn't run into any compression issues. However, it eats up battery life. We were also impressed with the Web capability, which was far better than the majority of browsers we tested.
The Sanyo MM-9000's battery life is inconsistent. Although we got 3.5 hours of talk time in our lab tests and beat the listed talk time of 3.2 hours, we had to recharge the phone a couple of times a day if we used it often. Also, heavy use of applications such as streaming video lowered the battery life to a skimpy 1.5 hours. Standby time was better, however, at 11 days. The phone did heat up slightly when used continually for talking, but it did not when used for the Internet or other media services. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sanyo MM-9000 has a digital SAR rating of 0.12 watts per kilogram.