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Review: Samsung's SCH-a790 Global Phone from Verizon Wireless
Posted: 03-Oct-2004 [Source: Mobile Tech News]

[CDMA and GSM converge in the new Samsung SCH-a790 operating on the Verizon Wireless CDMA network in the US and internationally on Vodafone's GSM roaming network. ]

By Jean Panke, Mobile Tech News -- CDMA and GSM converge in the new Samsung SCH-a790 operating on the Verizon Wireless CDMA network in the US and internationally on Vodafone's GSM roaming network. Vodafone provides roaming coverage throughout Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. The a790 uses Qualcomm's MSM6300(tm) chipset solution. Newer smaller size chipsets and dual radio antennas have made it possible to fit both technologies into a very comfortable and competitive form factor.

The a790 makes a good first impression out of the box with its sleek silver and black housing. After opening the lid on its clamshell design and scanning through the menu, it is apparent the a790 has all the features that make state-of-the-art mobile phones practical and user friendly.

First, the a790 has a decent size (approximately 1-3/4"H x 1-3/8"W) 260,000 color main display and a 65,000 color TFT external display for picture caller ID. It offers an integrated digital camera including zoom, flash and a self timer. Advanced voice recognition software from VoiceSignal allows use of your natural voice to dial phone numbers, search the phonebook and launch phone applications (CDMA only). Additional features include GPS, PIM functions and 64 polyphonic ringtones.

The a790 has about an ounce more weight than other current handsets when using the extended battery. Even with the additional weight it has a good overall ergonomic fit. It has a uniquely styled keypad offering a new style key entry that works solidly. The overall keypad has your basic layout and there is a side camera hot key and volume key.

The a790 has some nice features that keep your phone from intruding unnecessarily into your life. 'Settings' offers four profiles including Normal, Meeting, Drive, and Outdoor for use in various situations. In addition, the a790 also has an enter silent mode/exit silent mode key, and an incoming call can be quickly rejected by pressing the right soft key to forward the call to voicemail. Note that the procedure for checking voice mail varies, depending on the mode of operation (GSM or CDMA).

All the standard Phonebook functions are available on the a790. Phonebook entries can be saved on the SIM card and viewed and copied to the Phonebook while in CDMA mode. Note: To edit or save entries on the SIM card, you must be in GSM mode. A V-card (virtual business card) attachment is also available but can only be sent in CDMA mode since this is a CDMA/MMS application. Another nice feature is the shortcut menu which can be customized to a user's particular needs.

For keeping track of those international roaming minutes, the a790has a Call Timers sub- menu. This includes the Last Call Timer for viewing the duration of your last call, Total Received for viewing the duration of total incoming calls received since last erased, Total Dialed for viewing duration of calls dialed from your phone. You can also use the Reset Timer to reset all of the above.

Security features include the ability to lock the phone, set up emergency numbers, enable or disable voice privacy, and set restrictions.

The a790's built-in camera has a 4X zoom and flash. Settings include image size, quality, flash, color, shutter sound, and auto save. When in picture taking mode, a line of icons appears along the bottom of the screen describing current camera settings including quality, zoom, rotate/flip, fun frame brightness, and color. If you want to change any settings, just highlight one and hit the up or down arrow key and select the change. Note: setting changes only apply to the current picture. The a790 also has a Media Gallery for browsing stored photos and doing all sorts of creative things for enhancing multimedia messaging.

One nice addition is the Image Retouch. This offers a way to perform image enhancements including hue, saturation, sharpness, resizing, gray scale, and invert color (reverses colors in the picture) plus the usual fun frame, rotate/flip options on photos stored in the Photo Gallery.

The Planner offers the usual calendar, to do list, alarm clock, time/date, memo pad and world time options.


With standard battery Dimensions: 3.4" x 2.0" x 1.0", Weight: 4.2 oz, Continuous digital CDMA talk time: Up to 2.9 hours, Continuous digital GSM talk time: Up to 3.5 hours, Standby Time CDMA/GSM: Up to 5 days

With extended battery Dimensions: 3.4" x 2.0" x 1.2", Weight: 5.1 oz, Continuous digital CDMA talk time: Up to 4.7 hours, Continuous digital GSM talk time: Up to 5.8 hours, Standby Time CDMA/GSM: Up to 10 day

Main Display: 176 x 220 pixel, 260K Color, TFT display External Display: 128 x 96 pixel, 65K color TFT display Mode: Dual band/single mode (1900/800 MHz digital) Mode: Dual band/single mode (900/1800 MHz digital)

Accessories: Leather Case, Hands Free Headset, Extended Battery, Standard Battery, Car Power Charger, Desktop Charger, Hands-Free Car Kit, Portable Hands-Free Car Kit, International Power Adaptor

Running primarily on the Verizon network, most functions are CDMA dependent including voice-activated applications, MMS service, two-way short messaging service, enhanced message service and GPS technology. Also, the only high-speed data service is available via Verizon Wireless in the US. GSM functionality makes domestic and international voice and text messaging service available on participating networks.

It is also important to only use the unique SIM card that comes with your SCH-A790. To use other SIM cards in your phone, you need to contact Verizon Wireless for further information. In other words, don't expect to walk into a kiosk in Europe to pick up a prepaid local SIM. Your phone won't pass Verizon's SIM-Lock test.

To change modes, in standby press the left soft key 'Menu' then press 'Settings', 'Phone Mode'. The Verizon (CDMA) and Int'l (GSM) options appear in the display. Use the navigation keys to highlight the desired mode of operation, then press 'OK'. A dialogue box appears in the display asking if you wish to change modes. Press the left soft key 'Yes' to change modes, or press the right soft key 'No' to return to the Phone Mode options list. If you press 'Yes', the phone restarts and powers up in the selected mode of operation.

International calling:

To call the US from abroad (GSM): In standby mode, press and hold the 0(zero) key to display the '+' symbol. This symbol automatically inserts the exit code for the country from which you are calling. Next press '1' to insert the US country code, then enter the area code and number. Press Send and the connection is initiated.

Calling internationally from another country (GSM): In standby mode, press and hold the 0(zero) key to display the '+' symbol. The '+' symbol automatically inserts the exit code for the country from which you are calling. Enter the country code of the person you are calling. Enter the area code, without the leading zero, followed by the number of the person you are calling. Note there are some exceptions for leaving out the zero such as Italy, Finland and Spain.

Calling another country from the US (CDMA): In standby mode, enter the three-digit exit code (011) for the US. Enter the country code for the country that you are calling. Enter the number that you wish to call, then press Send.

Calling internationally from another country (CDMA): This basically involves calls initiated inside Mexico. Calling locally dial the number. To call long distance dial 01 plus the number including area code. To call the US or Canada from Mexico, dial 011 plus the number including the area code. CDMA roaming is available in Bermuda, Canada, Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, South Korea and Venezuela. Charge is $0.69/per minute plus local carrier long distance charges, taxes and surcharge. Automatic Call Delivery charges for international incoming calls while roaming also apply.

What about charges?

When using your phone in CDMA mode in the U.S. and within your calling plan's home airtime rate and coverage area, your calls are applied towards your plan's allowance minutes. When using your phone in GSM mode when traveling abroad in over 100 countries, calls are $1.29 per minute plus applicable long distance.

People at home and abroad can reach you using the same mobile number. All your US and international calls arrive on the same monthly bill.

International long distance per-minute rates apply in addition to airtime rates on incoming calls and when roaming in GSM mode, on voice mail deposits and retrievals. International long distance charges vary depending on your location when a call or voice mail is received or retrieved. In most countries the rate is $0.65 per minute or $1.50 per minute but can be as high as $8.20 per minute in some countries.

Customers will pay $1.29 per minute for placing calls in most countries outside of the U.S., except if calling from Maldives, Indonesia, Sri-Lanka or Latvia where calls will cost $2.49 per minute. International Text Messaging is available in most countries and costs $0.50 to send and $0.05 to receive messages. When calling other countries from within the U.S., the standard international calling charges for most countries of $0.69 to $1.50 apply. Domestic calls placed from within the U.S. are from the customer's monthly America's Choice(sm) nationwide calling plan. TXT Messages sent and received within the U.S. are $0.10 for each message sent and $0.02 for each message received.

A major drawback to international roaming continues to be the hefty roaming and per-minute charges. Typically, you could be looking at an approximate $2.00 per minute in roaming and international calling charges using this handset on Vodafone's roaming network.

All in all, the SCH-a790 dual-mode phone certainly may be a harbinger of things to come. As dual-mode phones become more available and less expensive, the doors open for improved inter-carrier roaming agreements. The dual-mode handsets offer great potential in driving the market in the direction of increased compatibility and a substantially improved user experience.

Even for those who do not travel internationally, the option of having the best of both technologies is exciting. At this point, GSM has a substantially ubiquitous global footprint with over a billion cell phones in use while CDMA has a faster data service.

As far as the SCH-a790 goes, it has all the basics you need traveling while keeping excess baggage to a minimum. The frills are gone. What you get is an attractive style handset with a clean touchpad and navigation keys, a nice size screen and the must have 260,000 colors, and a decent built-in camera with good MMS functionality.

In addition, you get the advantage of having one personalized handset and one phone number for easy contact anywhere on the globe. For many of you, that's a mobile phone well worth having!

The Samsung a790 is available to consumers nationwide for $349.99 with a two-year customer agreement at the more than 1,200 Verizon Wireless Communications Stores across the country.

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