After introducing its V Cast Music downloading service earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Verizon Wireless has steadily expanded its lineup of music phones. The options range from a simple upgrade to the LG VX8100 to the totally new Samsung SCH-A950. And now, just weeks after Sprint introduced its newest music phone, the LG LX550, Verizon gives us the Samsung SCH-A930. Clad in basic black, the SCH-A930 offers much of what you’d expect from a music phone, including EV-DO support, Bluetooth, and an external memory card slot. In an improvement upon the UTStarcom CDM-8945, the SCH-A930 has external music controls, but they aren’t as user-friendly as those on the SCH-A950. Also, our EV-DO coverage was quite inconsistent. The SCH-A930 is competitively priced at $149, but you can get it for as low as $39 with a service contract.
Verizon Wireless takes a new design tack with its Samsung SCH-A930. Clad entirely in black, it looks a bit different from the carrier’s other music phones–not quite as eye-catching as the Samsung SCH-A950 but a step above the UTStarcom CDM-8945. The overall form factor is rather boxy and dull, but it comes in at 3.6 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches, and at 3.9 ounces, it’s slimmer than most of its EV-DO brethren. It fits in a pocket easily, and it felt comfortable in our hand while talking. The construction was mostly solid as well, though the flip-opening mechanism was looser than we would have liked.
The SCH-A930 wears only black in a relatively compact form factor.
In an alternative design twist, the rectangular external display has a vertical orientation down the middle of the front flap. We’re used to seeing such handiwork from Kyocera, but this is the first time this type of screen has shown up on a Samsung. Despite its small size and monochrome resolution, it displays a lot of information, including the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). On the downside, however, the text is small, and there’s no way to change the font size. Like most other V Cast Music phones, the Samsung SCH-A930 has a set of exterior controls that let you activate and play music when the flap is closed. You can also scroll through music on the exterior display, but the experience is less user-friendly than on other Verizon music phones. Since the display is so small, it can’t show a miniature player menu, as does the external display on the SCH-A950. Instead, it shows only one line at a time.
The music-player buttons are useful, but they’re not a match for the retro external display.
Above the Samsung SCH-A930’s display is the camera lens, which can rotate 180 degrees from back to front. You can take self-portraits with ease, and you can use a small flash on the front flap for dimmer environments. However, because the external display won’t support photo caller ID, it can’t function as a viewfinder either. As a result, you must shoot all photos with the phone open. Completing the exterior of the handset are a volume rocker and a voice dialing/speakerphone button on the left spine, while a covered headset jack and a Micro SD card slot sit on the right spine. There is no exterior camera shutter.
Inside the phone, you’re drawn immediately to the internal display. It’s a typical Samsung affair, bright and vivid, but it’s not so easy to see in direct light. Measuring 2 inches diagonally (176×220 pixels) and supporting 262,000 colors, it does its job well, and it’s more than adequate for viewing photos and using the standard, if boring, Verizon menus. You can change the backlighting time and the font style.
The navigation array is huge and well sized for even the largest hands. There’s a four-way toggle with a central OK button; two soft keys; dedicated shortcut controls for the camcorder and voice dialing; the Talk and End/power keys; and a Clear key. All controls are tactile and easy to use, and the toggle doubles as a shortcut to the Get It Now menu, the V Cast menu, the Web browser, and one user-defined function. The big keypad buttons are well spaced too, but they’re flat with the surface of the phone, and the backlighting isn’t very bright.
The Samsung SCH-A930 has a 500-contact phone book, with room in each entry for five phone numbers and e-mail addresses. You can organize contacts into groups or pair them with a photo for caller ID. Remember, though, that photos won’t show up on the external display. You also get ring-tone caller ID, but the phone comes with only 10 polyphonic (64-chord) tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a notepad, a calendar, a world clock, a stopwatch, and instant messaging (AOL, MSN, or Yahoo). Road warriors can use the speakerphone (operable before you make a call), voice dialing and commands, and POP3 e-mail support, and while there is Bluetooth, it supports only profiles for a headset and dial-up networking. You can’t use it to exchange files.
The SCH-A930 comes with a swiveling camera lens.
As an EV-DO phone, the Samsung SCH-A930 supports Verizon’s V Cast video service and V Cast Music. The interface and menu structure for the music and video players are similar to those of other Verizon EV-DO handsets, and the content offerings are about the same as well. The 1.3-megapixel camera can take pictures in four resolutions, from 160×120 up to 1,280×960. Other settings were plentiful. You can choose from six white-balance options, six color effects, four metering options, a multishot feature, three quality options, and three shutter sounds (plus a silent option). There’s also a flash, a self-timer, and a 10X digital zoom, though the last option is unusable at the highest resolution. We weren’t huge fans of Verizon’s menu structure, but we loved the photo menu, which allows you to keep viewing your subject, while various pop-up menus display the editing choices.
The camcorder takes videos with sound in two time formats: 15 seconds for multimedia messages or up to 10 minutes for storing on the phone. Speaking of which, you get 31MB of internal shared memory in addition to the aforementioned Micro SD card slot. You’ll need to buy a card, however, as one is not included with the phone. Photo quality was quite good, with distinct colors and object lines. Lighter colors looked a bit washed out, but our snaps were enjoyable overall.
We liked the SCH-A930’s photo quality.
You can personalize the Samsung SCH-A930 with a variety of wallpaper, display themes, alert sounds, and clock styles. Since this is a Verizon phone, there aren’t that many included choices, so you’ll need to buy more options and ring tones via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. There are no included games, so avid gamers will have to buy titles.
We tested the dual-band, dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO) Samsung SCH-A930 in San Francisco using Verizon’s service. Call quality was good overall, though some voices sounded robotic at times. Volume was exceptionally loud; however, we could hear callers plainly, and they reported the same. Calls over the speakerphone and a Bluetooth headset were also satisfactory, and we had no problems establishing a connection with a headset. We also had no trouble getting a signal for phone calls, but our EV-DO coverage was much spottier than it was on other Verizon 3G phones we’ve tested. We had a lot of difficulty in buildings and outdoors in general, and overhead obstructions caused more service problems.
Streaming video quality over the V Cast service was on a par with that of the Samsung SCH-A950–the clips were clean but not too pixelated. Music downloads took just less than a minute, a bit longer than on the SCH-A950 but still speedy enough. Yet, the above findings were true only when the phone had acquired an EV-DO connection. Because our 3G service was unreliable with this phone, the connection dropped out in the midst of a track download or a video stream on more than one occasion. Overall, it was a frustrating experience, though it may be more due to Verizon’s network rather than the phone itself. Music quality was about what we expected for a phone–good but nothing spectacular–though the stereo speakers weren’t very powerful.
The Samsung SCH-A930 has a rated talk time of 4.3 hours and a promised standby time of 8.3 days; we got 4 hours, 32 minutes of talk time in our tests and 10 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Samsung SCH-A930 has a digital SAR rating of 0.77 watt per kilogram.