Samsung A990 Review


  • Retro design; excellent digital camera; VCAST content service


Our Score 7
User Score 8


  • Mediocre call quality at times; weak flash; expensive
Photo freaks will enjoy the great camera the Samsung A990 offers as well as the VCAST service and music player.


As technology continues to evolve and expand, cell phones keep accumulating new features that detract from the original idea of a portable phone. Features like built-in music players, digital cameras, and 3-D gaming are making their way into phones, but have yet to be implemented properly. Verizon customers are about to be blown away, though, by Samsung’s new A990 phone. This sleek black phone has a 3.2-megapixel digital camera built-in and a swivel screen to essentially transform the device entirely from a phone to a camera. It’s currently available from Verizon and costs $349.99 with a 2-year contract. But can it really replace your current digital camera? Read on to find out.
Features and Design
The first thing consumers will notice about the A990 when taking it out of the box is that this is a THICK phone. It’s thicker than the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and is similar to an old Motorola StarTac phone. Although the phone is thicker than most phones out there today, it’s also very sleek and businesslike. It has an all-black design with silver touches that people won’t be afraid to be seen with.

Obviously, the main feature of this phone is the 3.2-megapixel camera it packs. Not only can it do high-quality images, but it can export them via TV Out (cables are included) or via PictBridge technology. That’s right, you can plug this phone into a photo printer and print away. It also has a microSD slot included for extra storage and easy transfer options. Even if none of these transfer options appeal to you, you can always use the built-in Bluetooth and e-mail capabilities the A990 offers.

Don’t even think about using the camera on this phone like other cell phones. The big 240 x 320 pixel, 262k color screen flips around to fold over on top of the keypad transforming the phone into a full-fledged camera. Shutter controls and settings, including zoom, can be found on the right side of the phone, while music player controls are on the left side. The flash for this camera is still LED-based, which is a shame considering how nice the pictures in daylight are, so don’t expect this phone to take stunning pictures at nighttime. The maximum resolution for pictures is 2,048 x 1,536—a whopping size of a picture for a cell phone to produce.

Other included features are Verizon Wireless’ VCAST service, which offers streaming video, audio, and music store downloads in a crippled-DRM format, stereo speakers on the sides of the phone, and a big keypad that’s simple and easy to use. The outside of the phone sports a bright, crisp 65k color LCD display that shows the time and caller information.
Samsung A990
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Setup and Use

So we know this phone can be used as a music player, digital camera, and more, but how does the Samsung A990 fare when making phone calls? Thanks to Verizon, your calls are very clear and only get dropped occasionally (a problem when in certain indoor areas like malls), but the voice on the other end is not always crisp. Imagine not hearing enough highs but having a decent amount of lows and mids—that’s what you’ll be listening to during a conversation on the A990. But don’t go dismissing this phone yet, because the calls are extremely clear. You’ll be able to understand your party perfectly and calls do not seem to break up often.

The interface is nothing new. Since this is being marketed as a VCAST phone from Verizon, it uses the standard VCAST interface that phones like the LG VX8100 and Samsung A950 come with. It’s simple, easy to use, and pretty plain-Jane. Nothing really new has been added and you shouldn’t be expecting any radical changes.

If you plan on listening to music, go ahead, but don’t expect anything phenomenal from this phone either. As I stated, you have to use the over-priced Verizon VCAST service for downloads or you’ll be converting your MP3 collection to WMA files and then transferring them over.

What really makes this phone stand out above all other phones is the camera. Pictures taken with this device are of stunning quality. It truly can become a digital camera replacement for you if you still are using a low-end 3.2 (or lower) megapixel camera. Unfortunately, the flash on this phone isn’t too hot and is still LED-based, making it weak in dark photos. The interface is very similar to that of a professional-grade digital camera and is easy to navigate and sort through.

Samsung A990
The Samsung A990’s 3.2 Megapixel Camera
The lens on the back has a protective cover you slide up and down to take pictures with. Just flip the screen over, open the lens, and you’re ready to take pictures of friends, family, or whatever you’re interested in. Colors are rich and vibrant and come out well. I wouldn’t throw out my 6-megapixel digital camera at home yet, but my old Canon camera is definitely out of the picture (pun shamefully intended).

One really annoying feature, though, that must be pointed out to consumers considering buying this phone is the camera’s shutter button. If you hold the button down for more than a second or two rather than just tapping it, it switches over to camcorder mode for shooting video. This is a horrible problem that—until you get used to the flaw—will have you going nuts wondering why your pictures keep coming out as video clips.

Samsung A990
Image Courtesy of Samsung
So compared to other phones, how does the A990 stand up? As far as the camera on this phone goes, nothing else currently available in the U.S. market offered directly by a carrier will top it. Other phones like Nokia’s N73 also feature a 3.2-megapixel camera and the pictures it takes are better than the A990. But phones like the N73 are not readily available to the public, while the A990 is available directly and easily from Verizon.
Call quality isn’t as top-notch as it could be from Samsung, though. Their A950 VCAST phone has great call quality and no problems with calls dropping. Sony Ericsson’s W800 also has a great camera and decent reception. Remember, the quality of the calls are fine, but not the best in the business. It would be nice to see an update of the phone with kinks worked out, but we can only dream. Below are some sample images taken with the A990’s camera:
Sample Images
Sample Image 1 Sample Image 2 Sample Image 3
Click for a larger image

If you haven’t upgraded your phone with Verizon in some time, this could be the time to do it. Photo freaks will enjoy the great camera the Samsung A990 offers as well as the VCAST service and music player. However the phone has some issues with call quality and the camera UI – specifically holding down the shutter button too long. The average consumer will most likely enjoy this phone and will get plenty of use out of it in the long run. Worth the buy if you haven’t upgraded in awhile and you use Verizon.

  • Retro design
  • Excellent digital camera
  • VCAST content service
  • Mediocre call quality at times
  • Weak LED-based flash
  • Pricey

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