Ever since Verizon Wireless introduced V Cast Music at this year's CES, it has steadily expanded its lineup of compatible phones from just one model to three (Sprint, which has its own music service, has three music handsets as well). Yet the results of Verizon's efforts have been mixed. While we approved of the and are enjoying the , the UTStarcom CDM-8945 is a strange case. Normally, the CDM-8945 would be considered a workable midlevel phone, but the addition of V Cast Music takes it down a notch. Adding the service only raises expectations that the phone cannot meet, and the result is an unimpressive music phone. It lacks any external music transport controls, it includes only a single external speaker, its camera is just VGA, and it has no Bluetooth or included music-centric accessories. Overall, the CDM-8945 ($179.99, or $129.99 with rebates and a two-year contract) would be a slightly overpriced EV-DO phone for nondiscriminating low-tech users. But it pales in comparison to the Verizon's other clamshell-style music phones. Though the UTStarcom CDM-8945 shares a clamshell form factor with the and the , an obvious design difference separates the CDM-8945 from its music phone brethren: no external music controls. That means you have to open the phone to control the music--a critical design flaw. The CDM-8945 also differs in an equably noticeable but less important way: Its sleek, jet-black exterior is a sharp contrast to the more colorful VX8100 and SCH-A950.
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 or the . 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.