At 3.5 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and 3.9 ounces, the UTStarcom CDM-8945 is roughly the same size and weight as the LG and Samsung models, and it seems solidly built. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll see that it's slightly shorter and heavier than the SCH-A950 and slightly smaller than the VX8100. Then again, it's not enough to make a difference. The CDM-8945 is the only one of the three handsets with a telescope antenna--the LG has a stub, and the Samsung has none at all. The 1-inch external display supports a bright 65,000 colors and shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). It also functions as a self-portrait viewfinder for the camera lens, which lies just above, along with a small flash.
The internal display measures a broad 2 inches diagonally (176x220 pixels) and shows 260,000 colors. You can adjust the contrast, the font size, and the backlight time but not the brightness. Overall screen quality was good, but reds lean toward orange, which cast a subtle tinge on menu screens, pictures, and videos. Compared with other music phones, the CDM-8945 trailed the VX8100, which offered deeper blacks and cleaner whites in its video, but the SCH-A950 ranked about the same.
The CDM-8945's spacious navigation controls were more or less standard but still useful. There's a five-way toggle that gives one-touch access to the Web browser, Verizon's Get It Now menu, the pictures and video menu, and one user-programmable feature. There are soft keys, as well as dedicated camera/camcorder and speakerphone buttons on either side of the toggle, while the Talk and End/power keys and a dedicated Clear button sit just below it. Navigation through the standardized Verizon menus was easy enough, but we wish we could personalize the structure a bit more.
The CDM-8945's keypad is quite old-fashioned. Unlike the cool backlit digits on the Samsung and LG keypads, the UTStarcom keys are infused with a diffused lime-green glow reminiscent of retro cell phones. As a result, they're a bit hard to see. In particular, the green of the Send key and the red of the End key barely register. Dial-pad keys are large and rhomboidal, which helps reduce the chances of accidentally hitting the adjacent key.
On the rear of the CDM-8945 is its single button-size mono speaker--poor placement, especially if you hold the phone in your left hand. Both the Samsung and LG phones have stereo speakers mounted on either side of the hinge, which means fuller sound for both music and conversation. On the left spine are the headset jack, a volume rocker, and an unmarked key that activates the camera/camcorder; on the right spine is the TransFlash card slot.The UTStarcom CDM-8945 has a decent feature set, but it's far less comprehensive than that of either the LG VX8100 or the Samsung SCH-A950. While they come with Bluetooth and 1.3-megapixel cameras, the CDM-8945 lacks the former and has just a VGA version of the latter. Otherwise, the CDM-8945 offers a speakerphone, voice dialing (but not commands), and a set of helper apps similar to that of most other phones: a world clock, a calendar, an alarm clock, text and multimedia messaging, a notepad, and a stopwatch. You also get a 500-name phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. Callers can be organized into groups, or for caller ID purposes, you can pair them with a photo or a ring tone. The CDM-8945 comes with 20 polyphonic (72-chord) ring tones, and it supports MP3, EVRC, MIDI, unprotected AAC, AAC Plus, and WMA files.
As previously mentioned, the CDM-8945 comes with a low-evolution VGA camera. It's too bad UTStarcom omitted a higher-resolution model on a 3G phone. You can take pictures in four resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 176x144, and 160x120) and choose from a variety of features, including adjustable white balance, a self-timer, three picture-quality settings, five color effects, 15 fun frames, a brightness control, three shutter sounds, and a silent option. Camera functionality is marred by a slow-reacting LCD, and self-portraits are limited by the squat 0.5-inch-tall external LCD. Also, the tkX zoom is unavailable at the highest resolution. On the other hand, there are four handy flash options--off, auto flash, always on (that is, the flash illuminates whenever you take a picture), and on the shot. The camcorder takes MPEG-4 videos of up to 15 seconds in length with sound and similar editing options.
As one of Verizon's EV-DO phones, the UTStarcom CDM-8945 includes access to the multimedia V Cast service. V Cast content includes live and prerecorded material, such as NBC News updates, music videos, special offerings from E Entertainment and VH1, movie trailers, and video on demand; see our separate review for a full description. The phone also has an MP3 player, and it supports Verizon's V Cast Music, which lets you download music wirelessly and play it on your phone or your computer. Even though it's designed to use a TransFlash card (up to 512MB) to store music downloads and pictures, the CDM-8945 is equipped with just 64MB of flash memory and 32MB of RAM, enough to hold only a dozen songs or so.
You can personalize the CDM-8945 with a variety of wallpaper, sounds, themes, screensavers, and your own banner. You can download more options from Verizon with the WAP 2 wireless Web browser. You don't get any games, but the phone supports BREW 2.The UTStarcom CDM-8945 lagged a bit behind the LG VX8100 in almost all performance components, including voice reception and quality, Web access, and content downloading. (We did not have a Samsung SCH-A950 at the time of this review for side-by-side testing.) We tested the dual-band, dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) CDM-8945 in New York City using Verizon's network. Voice reception in Manhattan was solid; though comprehensible, voice quality at our end was warbled, thick, and muddy. At the other end, conversationalists reported echo and a "bottom of the barrel" sound. Top volume was adequate for no more than a quiet room.
But the CDM-8945 is fatally flawed in its lack of stereo speakers, its ring loudness, its speakerphone clarity, and especially its music capabilities. If you're going to be like that bowler in the Verizon Music commercials and hold your phone up for all to hear, you'll find that the CDM-8945's single speaker doesn't cut it. Speakerphone conversations are marred by frequent dropouts and only moderate volume, especially when compared to the boisterous dual-speaker sound of the LG VX8100. Both ring-tone volume and vibrate violence on the CDM-8945 can best be described as polite, as if the phone is apologizing for alerting you to a call. Ring tones are nearly impossible to hear when the CDM-8945 is in a pocket or a purse.
While it won't be noticeable to anyone not doing a side-by-side comparison, the CDM-8945 lagged a second or two behind the VX8100 in accessing and running applications or accessing and loading Web pages. For V Cast video, the VX8100 usually accessed menu screens faster, and clips buffered around five seconds faster than on the CDM-8945.
Music-download speed was a wash between the CDM-8945 and the VX8100. Oddly, neither downloaded a track at the same speed; one phone was always clearly faster, with no seeming rhyme or reason to the difference. Each phone ranged between less than a minute to more than two minutes to download a track. But our test UTStarcom phone suffered the oddest glitch on playback: no sound at the top volume level. Volume kicked in only when we lowered the volume a click, and music continued to play fine when we took it back up to the top volume again--weird.
With a promised talk time of 3.5 hours, the CDM-8945 offers the lowest rated time of the three Verizon music phones but not by much: 15 minutes less than the VX8100 and 25 minutes less than the SCH-A950. In our tests, however, we beat the rated time by an hour and measured an impressive 16.5 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the UTStarcom CDM-8945 has a rating of 1.39 watts per kilogram.