If most burly cell phones can be represented by, say, Harrison Ford and sexy phones by Brad Pitt, then the UTStarcom (formerly known as Audiovox) CDM-180 for Verizon Wireless is Danny DeVito--or, if you're from an earlier generation, Stubby Kaye. Short and squat but not wholly unattractive, the CDM-180 gets its unusual shape from its equally unusual landscape display. Yet despite its distinctive design, the CDM-180 offers an average feature set and a mixed performance. It's also worth noting that the phone doesn't take full advantage of the wide body conceit. Still, it may satiate anyone with a taste for a simple yet odd-looking cell phone. At $119 with a one-year contract or $69.99 with a two-year contract, it's also fairly priced. Strictly speaking, it's not its width that makes the UTStarcom CDM-180 fascinating; it's the lack of height. At 3.0 by 2.1 by 1 inches, the CDM-180 is just as wide as the Motorola Razr V3, but since it's an inch shorter, it almost looks square when viewed straight on. What's more, the short and squat form factor not only gives it a snug fit in small pockets but conversely can also be difficult to locate in a large purse or bag. The CDM-180 is a bit hefty at 3.7 ounces, and the external antenna measures a full inch high. Criticisms aside, the phone does have a solid feel, and despite its shape, it is relatively comfortable to hold while talking. Just remember that if you're a right-hander, your index finger will end up resting on top of the external color screen during calls. If you're a southpaw, however, the antenna stub makes an excellent index-finger balance point.
The UTStarcom CDM-180's black and silver color scheme is simple--neither attractive nor repellent. The postage stamp-size external display shows a bright 262,000 colors and displays all the usual information, such as the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). On the left spine is a volume rocker and a camera button, while the rear-facing VGA camera is mounted on the top of the phone near the hinge, just where your finger will go as you open the flip. Below the lens is the battery latch, but since it's exposed on the right side, it's far too easy to remove.
The UTStarcom CDM-180's design is marred by some annoyances inside the flip. First off, you'll notice the 1.8-inch-diagonal display has a landscape orientation--not something you see every day on a cell phone. With support for 262,000 colors, it does its job well, but we were divided over the usefulness of the landscape design. While it's useful for typing long text messages, the only other applications that take advantage of the 1.6-inch landscape LCD are the camera photos and the games, which were designed specifically for it. Other images such as wallpaper, however, are simply stretched to fit, and Web pages have a white vertical strip to the right when no graphics fill. Any long menus also require more scrolling since not as many choices fit on a screen.
You would think the UTStarcom's wider body would result in larger dial and navigation keys, but strangely, that's not the case. Dial-pad keys are widely spaced, which will help those with large fingers, but the navigation array is shockingly small, as are the dual Back and Speakerphone keys. On a different note, the Send-key backlight is closer to turquoise than traffic-light green, and the End-key backlight hues skew nearer to purple than red. The rest of the dial pad and the soft menu keys are poorly illuminated with a bright but splotchy cool-blue backlight that actually makes it harder to read the keys in the dark.If you're going to design a phone with aesthetics that are sure to attract attention, it ought to be packed with features that reflect the interest its looks will receive. Yet for the most part, the UTStarcom CDM-180 offers a run-of-the-mill feature set with just a couple of standouts. The 500-contact phone book has room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. Contacts can also be paired with any of 20 polyphonic ring tones or a picture for photo caller ID. Other offerings include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, e-mail support, 1-minute voice memos, 99 speed-dial entries, a calendar with a scheduler, a notepad, an alarm, a world clock, a calculator, and a stopwatch. Aside from the basics, you get a speakerphone, as well as voice dialing and commands, which require training for complete hands-free dialing.
One of the more disappointing features on the UTStarcom CDM-180 is the VGA camera, an endangered species in an increasingly megapixel-camera world. While the CDM-180 boasts one of the better flashes in the biz, all you're illuminating is a low-resolution VGA picture. Even in moderate light, you're better off without the flash, which tends to bleach the subject if too close but fails to adequately illuminate outside of about 4 feet away. You get a choice of three resolutions--640x480, 320x240, and 160x120--as well as a variety of photo-editing options. Photo quality was unimpressive, and most shots came out fuzzy.
The UTStarcom CDM-180 includes 15 types of wallpaper and a variety of other customizable display options, such as fonts and color themes, as well as 16-character personalization banners. If you want more options or ring tones, you can download them via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. Alternatively, the CDM-180 is able to play real music-format tones available via Verizon's Get It Now download store, although at only 1X speed, browsing, previewing, and downloading can be time-consuming. War of the Worlds is the included game, although the tightly packed navigation array may make any gameplay awkward.We tested the triband (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 900) UTStarcom CDM-180 in New York City while wandering the streets, as well as traveling in both trains and cabs using Verizon's network. Vocal quality was plenty loud but hollow and splotchy--there were more dropouts than we're used to with Verizon. At the other end, coconversationalists compared it to sounding as if we were in a well, especially on calls to other cell phones, where we experienced a pronounced echo at both ends. Speakerphone volume was low, with expanded complaints of poor hollow sound and echo. Volume for both voice and ringers at the highest of five levels was loud and vibration alert plenty vibratory.
Web-browser performance was better than average; it took the UTStarcom CDM-180 only 15 seconds to get to the Verizon Web home page and slightly less to load subsequent pages. Connection to Get It Now was faster--the store doesn't want you to wait in order to buy. Ring-tone download of "American Woman" took around 15 seconds and downloading Pac-Man only around 12 seconds, which was quite fast for a nonbroadband phone.
The rated 2.7-hour talk time is surprisingly below average, as is the less-than-eight-day standby time. We got 4 hours, 6 minutes of talk time in our tests, and we met the promised standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the UTStarcom CDM-180 has a digital SAR rating of 1.15 watts per kilogram.