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MTN reviews Sprint's VM4050 Video Phone from Toshiba
Posted: 12-Jul-2004 [Source: Mobile Tech News]

[Mobile Tech News reviews the last in a series of Sprint PCS currently available video-enabled handsets and the only one with 260K 18-bit color.]

By Jean Panke, Mobile Tech News -- The VM4050 is one of three available Sprint video-enabled handsets and the only one with 260K 18-bit color. I was skeptical that the increase in available colors would make a significant difference on a mobile phone screen. Wrong!

The easy readability and clarity of the 260K screen is a welcome improvement over 65K handsets. In addition, this handset lets you prop open the handset at different angles, instead of only closed or open. So if I'm sitting and working with the phone on a table, for example, I can adjust the phone to get optimal screen performance, similar to my laptop.

The main TFT screen on this handset measures 2.2" and supports 260K colors, the outside 1" color LCD STN screen supports 65K colors. The exterior of the clamshell design offers basic simplicity. The exterior 1" color LCD display sits just below the movie light and the camera lens. An earphone jack is on the upper right and the charger port is on the bottom. Two keys sit on the left side. The bottom button activates the camera and the upper set of keys operates the volume control. There is also an extendable antenna. Opening the phone exposes the keypad. The top two left and right keys operate the screen options while the center Menu key brings up the available options. Below that sits the 4-way navigation button with a center OK button. To the left is the Talk button and to the right is the End button. Below that sits a row of three keys. The left key activates the Speakerphone and the right key activates the Camera functions. The middle key is the Back key. Below this row sits the twelve-key keypad.

The menu includes Call History, Phone Book, Messaging Web, Downloads, Pictures/Video, Voicemail, Settings and Tools. One of the functions is Voice Guidance. This function offers voice output for Handset Status, Incoming/Outgoing telephone number, Name Tag, Call History, Idle Mode Menu Position and Call Guard. Tools offers Voice Memo, a Calculator, Schedule, Alarm and Countdown Timer.

Camera Functionality: The camera has two resolution settings, high at 480 x 640 and medium at 240 x 320. The picture taken at medium setting really doesn't view differently on the handset. The benefit comes in the ability to enlarge the picture to full size when viewing it on a computer screen. I prefer the high resolution photos for that reason. However, if you're sending to another handset, medium works fine. Users can attach a voice memo of up to 10 seconds in length to any video clip or still photo.

I really had a good time with the camera features and played around a long time with the options. The 17 fun frames were really appealing and had some nice effects. Once again, the 260K colors enhance this feature as well as the variety of picture effects. There is a 1X and 2X zoom, a self-timer and a flash setting. All in all, a fun little camera. Although the optics aren't where they need to be to create really quality digital photos, this camera phone is very competitive when it comes to picture clarity and quality.

Video Capability: The VM4050 offers recording, playback and the ability to send a 15-second video clip using MPEG-4 Video at 128 x 96 pixels. The optional attached audio is mono with a sampling rate of 8000 Hz at 16 bits. FPS is generally 7.5 and is variable depending on camera movement during recording. Data size tends to be around 290K for a 14.28 second clip. I experimented in different light settings and found the movie light to be almost useless. You really have to play around a lot with the video capability in order to capture video that's worth saving and or sending. I found in outdoor bright light there were a lot of artifacts. Daylight in a well lit room offers the most optimal recording opportunity. You will also notice on playback, there is a slight time lag between the audio and video.

Even though this handset has been receiving some criticism for sound quality, I found the audio playback that accompanies the video very decent, particularly in comparison to other handsets Mobile Tech News has reviewed in this price range. My complaint with the audio is in playback of recorded memos. For some reason the volume is very low and almost inaudible. However, when you take a recorded memo and use it as a "ringer," the volume is fine. Go figure! Available volume control options include Key, Earpiece, Speaker Phone, and Power On/Off. In testing this handset in speaker phone mode, I found it to be very easy to hear and be heard when testing it with the phone resting on a table in front of me with moderate background noise.

One of the fun things I really enjoyed creating was a variety of personal ring tones via individual greetings I recorded using Voice Memo and then tagging them to fun pictures I took of my favorite incoming callers. Instead of ring tones, I had recorded messages of each caller's voice saying something amusing and then tagging that to a matching fun caller id picture of them.

The Web offerings on the VM4050 include the Openwave browser Version 6.2.2. With such a great display, I'm puzzled why Sprint isn't offering a full HTML browser on this handset. Considering all that great color and nice screen size, an HTML browser really would have been a great way to show off the display compared to the built-in WAP 2.0 browser.

Strengths: more color variation and larger screen size for a crisper, more well-defined screen image, customizable menus, and personal ringers using voice memo option, decent still photo quality and clarity.

Weaknesses: poor battery life if you're a high-demand user (be sure to purchase an extended battery offering 5.4 hours of continuous digital talk time compared to 3.3 hours with the standard battery), no Bluetooth or infrared or usb cable for PC syncing, WAP 2.0 vs. HTML browser.

Of the three video phones currently available through Sprint PCS, I like the Toshiba best. They all run pretty even, but the increased colors and screen size pull this handset out by a neck at the finish line. Plus, it's also the least expensive of the three! The Toshiba VM4050 (SRP: $329.99) is currently available for $179.99 at participating locations, after discounts to customers who sign a 2-year Advantage Agreement.

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