Music phones come in all shapes and sizes, from the sleek and svelte Samsung Trance to the more modest-looking LG VX8360. The Verizon Wireless CDM8950 (made by PCD) is definitely of the latter variety. It's not stylish at all, but it does have external music player controls and access to V Cast Music. You won't get much else aside from a 1.3-megapixel camera and the usual Verizon Wireless broadband services though. We would recommend the LG VX8360 over this, since it has the same features but is much better designed. However, the CDM8950 is available for the unbeatable price of free with a two-year contract, so that might be the better option if you're on a tight budget.
The design of the Verizon Wireless CDM8950 is as dull as they come. Measuring 3.7 inches long by 1.9 inches wide by 0.8 inch thick, the CDM8950 looks like an ordinary gray-and-black clamshell with sharp corners. On the front of it is a 1-inch external display with support for 65,000 colors. It shows the date, time, battery, signal strength, and caller ID. You can adjust the clock format, but nothing else. The front display also acts as a self-portrait viewfinder with the camera, plus you can view the currently playing song when the music player is activated. Above the display is the camera lens.
Under the external display are the external music player keys that let you control the music while the phone is closed. Though the keys are crammed close together, they're raised above the surface and are easy to press by feel, which is good when you want to pause a track with the phone in your pocket. Under the external music keys is a thin external speaker grille.
When you flip open the phone, you'll find a nice 2-inch diagonal display with 262,000-color support and 176x220-pixel resolution. The screen looks bright and colorful, and really shows off the bold animated graphics. You can adjust the backlight time, the wallpaper, the display theme, the menu layout, the size of both dialing and menu fonts, and the clock format. You can also replace and reposition menu items.
The navigation array consists of the usual two soft keys, a square navigation toggle with middle OK key, a dedicated speakerphone key, a dedicated new text message key, the Clear key, and the Send and End/Power keys. The four-way toggle doubles as shortcuts when in standby mode. You can map user-defined shortcuts for the up, left, and down directions, while the right direction corresponds to a My Shortcuts menu, which you can customize with up to four shortcuts as well.
Though the CDM8950 doesn't have the best number keypad we've ever tried, it's not the worst either. The keypad is spacious, and the keys are raised enough above the surface to dial by feel. We would prefer that the navigation array wasn't quite so cramped though.
On the left spine of the CDM8950 are a voice command key, the volume rocker, and the headset jack, while the microSD card slot and camera key are on the right. The charger jack is on the bottom.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the CDM8950 is that it has quite a few features for a free phone. For starters, there's the 500-entry phone book with room in each entry for five numbers and two e-mail addresses. From there, you can add them to groups; pair them with a photo for caller ID, or one of 27 polyphonic ring and alert tones. Other basics include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a tip calculator, a calendar, a stop watch, a world clock, an alarm clock, a notepad, and voice commands. More advanced features include stereo Bluetooth, mobile IM (with support for AIM, Yahoo, and MSN), mobile e-mail and mobile Web e-mail support, a wireless Web browser, and GPS. It's compatible with location-based services like Verizon's VZ Navigator and Chaperone.
If you had told us that the CDM8950 had EV-DO, we would be surprised--and indeed, we were. That makes the CDM8950 quite possibly one of the most affordable 3G phones out there--we're hard pressed to think of other free 3G handsets. This EV-DO support provides the CDM8950 access to Verizon's array of broadband services like V Cast Video, Verizon's streaming video service, as well as V Cast Music with Rhapsody, Verizon's online music store. You can purchase songs over the air for $1.99 each, which also includes a simultaneous download to your PC. To save money, you can purchase those songs directly to your PC for 99 cents and then upload that song to the phone later. If you're a Rhapsody subscriber ($14.99 a month), you can load your subscribed tracks to the phone as well. The CDM8950 can support up to 4GB microSD cards for storing your music.
The CDM8950's music player is housed within the V Cast Music interface, which is unfortunate because this makes the navigation rather slow and clunky. The songs are grouped by genres, artists, and albums, plus you can create and edit your own playlists. Other music player settings include repeat and shuffle modes. When a song is playing, you can see the album art with the player controls underneath. You can also set the phone to airplane mode so you can listen to music while in flight.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the CDM8950 can take pictures in four resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120), six white balance presets, four color effects, and two capture modes (landscape and portrait). You can also adjust the self-timer, brightness, shutter sound, and multishot mode. Photo quality was decent for a 1.3-megapixel camera, with not a lot of blur and good color saturation. However, images did have an overcast look, which isn't helped by the lack of flash. There's also a built-in camcorder, where you can capture video in 176x144-pixel resolution. You can record in two lengths (up to 30 seconds for MMS or until the memory is full). Camcorder settings are similar to that of the still camera. As expected, the video quality is poor and choppy.
You can customize the CDM8950 with a variety of wallpaper, graphics, and ringtones. It doesn't come with any games. If you want more options and games, you can purchase them via the Verizon online store on the wireless Web browser.
We tested the Verizon Wireless CDM8950 in San Francisco using the Verizon Wireless network. We were definitely impressed with the call quality. Callers could hardly tell we were on a cell phone, and there was little to no interference. On our end, we could hear them loud and clear as well, with good natural-sounding voices. Speakerphone quality was not as good--our speakers sounded tinny and hollow, and callers could hear echo in the background--but we could still carry on a conversation just fine.
As for music quality, we would recommend using a headset for the best audio fidelity. The bass is a bit shallow and the overall sound was not as full as we would like, but for casual music listening while on the go, it works fine.
We're quite impressed with the EV-DO speed. We were able to download a 1.49MB song in just more than a minute, and loading simple WAP Web pages took mere seconds. The Verizon Wireless CDM8950 has a rated battery life of 4.7 hours of talk time and 11.7 days of standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 1 minute. According to the FCC radiation tests, the CDM8950 has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.