Samsung A950 Review

Samsung A950

“With wonderful multimedia options, stereo speakers, and a great display and camera, you”
  • External music controls; VCAST service; brilliant display
  • No MP3 playback; crippled software; lengthy menu structure; problematic UI
MSRP $389.99

It’s no secret that Samsung makes high quality phones; in fact, today they are one of the main providers of mobile phones to cellular carriers. One of Samsung’s latest phone offerings, the A950 for Verizon Wireless, is a great mix of features and showcases Verizon’s new VCAST service stupendously. However, the phone does have a few flaws, such as a high price and crippled software. Read our full review for the whole scoop.

Features and Design

The Samsung A950 is a flip-phone with some unique features. It uses Verizon’s CDMA network for calls and data at the 800/1900 MHz band. The phone features Bluetooth technology, so you can make calls on your headset, and it also has advanced voice-dialing options.

When you take the phone out of the box, you’ll immediately notice the music player controls on the front. You can use four buttons to play/pause, stop, and skip tracks, and a jog-dial to scroll back and forth through a song. The jog-dial is a neat feature for a flip-phone, especially since it’s on the outside. Thankfully, it works great and is perfect for getting to the breakdown or solo in your favorite song. Above the jog-dial is an external color screen with 65,000 colors and a 128×96 resolution–very impressive for a screen on the outside of the phone. The screen can display everything from album art during music playback, to your face when taking a self portrait.

The integrated 1.3MP camera is quite nice. It resides above the aforementioned screen and offers a very bright LED flash. The camera in the A950 is better quality than the 1.3MP camera found on another Samsung phone, the T809. We aren’t exactly sure why, but can only speculate its using different components.

Also nice are the speakers on the phone’s sides. We’re talking dual speakers with very loud, clear stereo sound, making movies and music very entertaining. You normally wouldn’t find such speakers on a phone. You’ll also find a dedicated camera button and volume controls, a TransFlash card slot for adding storage to the phone, and a headphone jack. Unfortunately, the headphone jack isn’t standard size, which kills any chance of using good headphones with this phone. Then again, the A950 is being marketed as a VCAST phone, not a “Walkman Phone.”

Opening the phone reveals a beautiful 176 x 220 pixel, 262,000-color TFT screen. It’s nice for viewing and displays videos wonderfully; you won’t have any trouble reading it. The keypad is what you’ll normally find on a Verizon-based Samsung phone. It has a four-way directional pad with shortcuts and an “OK” button in the middle, two generic function buttons on the side, “Send” and “End” call buttons, and a “Clear” button. The phone also features a dedicated speakerphone button, which is a welcome feature. You’ll no longer have to dig through an onscreen menu to activate the speakerphone; you can just hit a button and start talking. Nothing else is special, just a basic 12-digit number pad, etc.

Samsung a950
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Setup and Use

One of the phone’s features is EV-DO, allowing for high-speed downloads from the VCAST service. Without EV-DO, this phone would be severely crippled. The interface is simple, good for a Verizon phone usually plagued by bad UI. The menu button reveals only five tabs, with multiple selections available for each tab:  “Get It Now,” “Messaging,” “Contacts,” “Recent Calls,” and “Settings & Tools.” This poses a problem. Samsung is obviously trying to keep the interface clean and well-constructed. However, this means they must cram every option into these tabs. Consequently, instead of having easy access to your music and videos, you have to traverse through multiple menus.

Fear not; after spending a week or two with the A950, you’ll get used to the number-key shortcuts and will use those instead to breeze past the endless amount of menus. Some menus are not my favorite and are a bit confusing at first, such as the “Add Contact” screen. The design could be cleaned up. Sony-Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia all do this screen pretty well; now it’s your turn, Samsung! Otherwise, the UI isn’t too shabby and its flaws can be overlooked.

Samsung A950The main purpose of this phone is not even making calls, but using Verizon’s VCAST service. VCAST offers games, movies, and music on-demand. For $1.99, you can download a song to your phone and listen to it. This service has good and bad points. The catalog for VCAST is extensive. You’ll find tons of albums by your favorite band, including complete albums. Getting a song any time and transferring it to your Windows XP-based computer is a great feature that justifies the $1.99/song price tag. However, the song is crippled with DRM, and not just any DRM–Windows Media DRM.

The media player software on the A950 will not play MP3s. That’s right. No MP3s for you. You must convert your songs to WMA format to have your music on this phone. This is a huge problem that I hope will be addressed by the VCAST service, as it discourages me from buying music. The inability to play MP3s will surely be a deciding factor for some when pondering whether to purchase this phone.

As far as VCAST videos go, they are the best deal around. There is a great amount of free content available in the form of video clips to watch and enjoy. I was able to go on VCAST, browse over to Comedy Central > South Park, and stream a three-minute clip of an episode for free. Stream, mind you–not download–but for free, I’m not complaining. The quality of the video was great and enjoyable to watch. VCAST seems to have done on-demand video correctly, and I thank Verizon for this feature.

Lastly, the calls on this phone are great. This is a Verizon phone, so you should expect good reception most of the time. The call quality is clear and has no interference. This is a solid, easy-to-use phone as far as calls go; I’m glad Samsung didn’t forget this aspect while designing the phone for multimedia use.

Performance

This is a very strong flip-phone. Compared to similar phones currently available on the US market, the A950 from Samsung is near the top. The dedicated multimedia controls, dual screens with great color, and 1.3MP camera make this a phone for the multimedia enthusiast. You’ll appreciate the dual stereo speakers and will annoy many people while passing by, I’m sure.

Without VCAST service, this phone would be lacking and underutilized. But the ability to get video on-demand and watch it on a great screen makes the phone stand out. The VCAST music library is extensive; you won’t be disappointed there, either.

Music playback on the A950 is not as great as it could be when comparing it to something like a Sony-Ericsson W800i. Instead of being dedicated to one feature, this phone runs the gamut and offers different services correctly, albeit not as strongly as they could be. It is by no means a failure, though, and for the price of $99.00 with a two-year contract, you’re getting a good deal.

Conclusion

The Samsung A950 is supposed to be an entry-level phone, but it feels like more. With wonderful multimedia options, stereo speakers, and a great display and camera, you’re getting a huge bang for your buck. The phone doesn’t play MP3s, though, which is obviously a huge problem, and at times the interface is lengthy and flawed. However, you’ll likely be satisfied. The A950 encompasses all kinds of technology into a stylish, red flip-phone that is sure to please.

Pros:

  • External music controls
  • VCAST service
  • Brilliant display

Cons:

  • No MP3 playback, crippled software
  • Non-standard headphone jack
  • Lengthy menus, problematic UI

Editors' Recommendations