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Mobile Tech News Reviews Samsung's SCH-a610
Posted: 14-Mar-2004 [Source: Mobile Tech News]

[A look at the latest camera-enabled handset from Verizon Wireless, the Samsung SCH-a610.]

By Jean Panke, Mobile Tech News -- At first sight, the SCH-a610 really looks different than other clamshell phones due to its 180 degree rotating camera wheel in combination with its flip-screen design. The a610 is a newer version of the Samsung A600 and offers extended battery talk time of up to 311 minutes compared to 210 minutes for the A600 as well as expanded MMS and phonebook capabilities.

The display on the a610 has good clarity at 128 x 160 pixels and offers a 65K color TFT screen. The addition of a flash really helps when taking pictures in low light. Since the a610 is BREW-enabled, gaming is a high-speed adventure due to the use of compiled code vs. interpreted code as in J2ME. Overall, the screen size and color quality make for fun viewing of pictures, it offers a decent gaming experience, and offers "easy on the eyes" text readability.

Let's take a look at the main features of the a610.

CAMERA:

This handset has a 0.3 megapixel camera with a 4x digital zoom. The camera is built into the axis of the flip. There is a camera wheel on the left side of the phone that rotates the lens anywhere up to 180 degrees. You just view your subject on the display screen, change resolution or zoom settings as needed, snap the picture and either erase, save, or send it. A picture can be sent to as many as 10 people right from the phone for one user fee.

There are three resolutions available depending on the quality of pics you want and the number you want to be able to save in the phone's memory. You can use the camera button on the right side of the phone or the OK key to snap the picture. Pics can also be taken with the flip-screen rotated clockwise or folded closed. When folded, the volume key on the side acts as a function key for changing the view or angle of the shot and adjusting the settings. A self timer is available if you want to get yourself into the picture.

There is also a multi-shot feature for taking pictures in succession at the press of a button. I had some fun with this feature taking some panorama shots in rapid succession. At high resolution (VGA 640 x 480) you can take three pictures in succession, medium resolution (QVGA 320 x 240) 5, and low resolution (QVGA 160x 120) 7.

Besides having a variety of frames available for your pictures, the a610 has six color tone settings available including normal, sepia, monochrome, negative, emboss and sketch. You can also chose how your photo is compressed which reduces its overall size from fine, to normal or economy quality settings. Once you store pictures in the gallery, you can view them individually or as thumbnails. Pictures can be sent to the Online Album or a slide show can be created to send to anyone on the Send To list presented in the order and duration they have been pre-set.

Camera notes:

Verizon Wireless sends pics to PC's as an email attachment. They appear in 640 x 480 resolution on your PC monitor. In comparison, pics sent via Sprint PCS are sent via a web-page. What you get in your email is a lower resolution version of the picture. To see a higher resolution version you need to click through a link (the pic) to a Sprint web page. Resolution of these pics is 474 x 357. Even if you have a handset that can produce 640 x 480 pics, you will only see the lower resolution version on your PC. The difference was readily apparent when viewing pics from each carrier side by side on my laptop.

It appears one major reason Sprint PCS uses the web-page format is so the voice tag comes along with the photo for easy listening. After spending a considerable amount of time hunting down the software to hear the voice tag on the Verizon Wireless pic attachment, it was not to be found. The end result is pics emailed to PC's via Verizon Wireless do not have accessibility to the voice tag. Voice tags can only be heard on another Verizon Wireless handset. However, if you tag one of the preloaded Melody lines, the email Melody will arrive as a Midi attachment for listening.

Remember the digital zoom setting is only changeable when in the medium or low setting. When set at high, only 1X is available.

Make sure you have your email address in your Phone Book prior to sending a picture. I was not able to get the address line to switch from "123" to "ABC" via any option display. If someone figures this out, please email us at Mobile Tech News.

MMS:

There are five options for sending and receiving an MMS message. First, the handset can send a Pix Message to a PC (per above, address apparently must be entered in the address book prior to attempting to send). Second, a PC user can send an MMS to 4235551212@vzwpix.com (sample number, enter actual number w/area code); third, phone to phone but only within the Verizon Wireless network; fourth, phone to Pix Place, or fifth, Pix Place to phone. Pix Place is the Verizon Wireless' web-site devoted to picture messaging. At Pix Place you can save camera phone pics online and use message composer to create unique picture messages.

TEXT MESSAGING:

SMS messaging is available for phone to PC, PC to phone, and phone to phone with inter-carrier operability. The a610 has T9 text entry available.

FOR DEVELOPERS:

Developers will appreciate knowing that this phone's browser identifies itself as follows:

User-agent: SEC-scha610 UP.Browser/4.1.27a UP.Link/5.1.2.3

Accept: application/vnd.wap.wmlc;Type=1108, application/vnd.wap.wmlc, application/vnd.wap.wmlscriptc, application/vnd.uplanet.signal, application/vnd.uplanet.cacheop-wbxml, application/vnd.uplanet.alert-wbxml, application/vnd.uplanet.channel-wbxml, application/vn

BREW APPS:

BREW uses less processing power than J2ME and has the possibility of faster and more complex applications, including gaming and streaming video. J2ME is platform independent and open, making it possible to download games, pictures, etc. onto many phones from a variety of web sources. With BREW, all downloads have to be done through the Verizon Wireless GetItNow service.

WEB BROWSING:

Although the a610 is CDMA2000 1X ready and capable of high-speed data delivery, the browser does not make use of 1X for data transport. Instead, it relies on a switched connection. When using 1X, an icon appears on the top line of the phone display. When the web browser is activated, a phone icon appears showing the handset is now using a switched connection instead of 1X. Besides slower speeds and lack of graphic capability, using a switched connection instead of 1X means all data is being paid for per minute vs. per MB as with data. Certainly not cost effective for the user.

MMS and SMS use 1X and the data speeds are much improved. These faster download, email, and exchange speeds really make picture taking, saving, and sending much more enjoyable.

The a610 offers Openwave's WAP 1.x browser meaning it displays text and basic graphics only vs. XHTML which is graphics rich. Apparently MSN is running the Verizon Wireless WAP portal. It is a semi-closed portal offering limited availability to a small number of sites reachable via a menu of specific topics and headings.

TALK MODE:

In talk mode there are some nice features such as the ability to mute the phone, prevent recipients from seeing the sender's number, displaying the phone book menu and viewing call logs. You can also add pauses for ease in usability when calling an automated system which often requires a password or account number.

The voice recognition capability is really impressive with this handset. The e610 uses speaker-independent technology so the phone doesn't need to be "trained" to understand your voice. In fact, when I was storing numbers the phoned timed out because I was speaking too slowly and taking too much time. Additional options include: digit dial, name dial, accessing phone book, calendar display and several others. Each time I used one of these functions it worked quickly and successfully.

In exploring the keypad, I was pleased to learn this handset has easy to use setup and management keys. For example, you can press and hold the lower right key to put the phone into silent mode or press the send key and all your recent calls show up in the display.

IN ADDITION:

The SCH-a610 features PIM (Personal Information Manager) functions and 911 GPS functionality.

SUMMARY:

If you're primarily looking for a new handset with the latest voice features and the fun and functionality of an embedded digital camera along with challenging and graphics-rich gaming, the a610 may be the one for you. It's being advertised for $179.99 through Verizon Wireless after a $50 rebate if you sign a two-year contract. All in all, this handset measures up very well against the other camera phones in its price category. However, if you're interested in a rich graphic mobile Internet experience, look somewhere else.

Top-rated features: camera design, flash, picture resolution, screen clarity, readability, sound, ease of navigation, voice recognition capability.

Bottom-rated features: web browsing, listening quality in normal phone mode, sending pics as emails (still can't figure out how to enter an email address via "ABC" -- only via the phone book).

Update: Good news! One of our readers cracked the code on entering an email address via "ABC."

Steve Eschenberg says, "In order to enter an address via "ABC," push the left soft key/option button, scroll down one notch to "<123>", then hit the right navigation key (next to "OK"). The deal is that you can scroll left to right within the options that you scroll up and down to get to!"


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