Samsung Alias SCH-u740
“Most functions perform admirably, but you may never get accustomed to this schizophrenic configuration.”
- Dual band (800/1900) EV-DO network compatibility; bright display; external microSD slot; stereo Bluetooth
- Crowded and confusing keypad; not AAC music file compatible; no 2.5mm headset jack
With the SCH-u740’s unique double-hinge design and QWERTY keypad, Samsung has tried to solve the nagging problem of composing text messages on a standard cell phone. Outwardly, the champagne-colored SCH-u740 (available from Verizon for $99.99 USD with the usual two-year commitment and online rebates, or $149.99 USD in the store) looks like a standard thin clamshell, and the lid flips up like a regular clamshell for normal phone operation. But, it also flips up horizontally like a little notebook PC. Under this unique dual-hinged lid is a combination QWERTY/numeric dialpad. Flip it vertically, and you get numbers. Flip the lid horizontally, and you get a QWERTY keyboard.
Great idea, right? Except this keypad might as well be a bowl of alphabet soup with letters and numbers swirling helter-skelter in a jumbled mess. Also, phone applications are arbitrarily and unnecessarily segregated between those that work with the lid up vertically and those that work only with the lid up horizontally. Most functions perform admirably, but you may never get accustomed to this schizophrenic configuration.
Features and Design
Warning: rant ahead.
We are continually amazed at what can only be explained as thoughtlessness on the part of cell phone makers. Applications are shoveled into today’s phones as frenziedly as coal into Titanic’s boilers, with only slightly less disregard to the consequences. Don’t interface designers realize that someone actually has to use these patchwork collections of unrelated technologies? Hasn’t the success of the iPod (and the buzz over the iPhone) been a clue to the ample rewards of spending even a modicum of time on how a person actually interacts with a multi-function cell phone?
Designers seem to think that merely having a good idea means they don’t have to actually make it work; the SCH-u740 is one in a series of these lost opportunities. We’re not as much mad as we are frustrated at this continual disregard for interface design execution.
End of rant.
As noted, the dual-hinged flip on the u740 is a great idea and a real eye-catcher. Really. Conceptually, the u740 combines the usability of a standard cell with the text messaging capabilities of a Sidekick, squeezed into a RAZR-like form factor. Brilliant – until you peek under the lid.
Upon lifting the dual-hinge hood, you are confronted by a dizzying array of 36 keys, not counting the navigation and phone controls. By comparison, there are only 35 keys on a standard Blackberry, the Motorola Q, and Samsung’s own Blackjack, all more functional and less confusing devices. In fact, at 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches and 3.6 ounces, the u740 is nearly the same size and weight as the far superior Blackjack (3.84 x 2.04 x 0.58 inches, 3.6 ounces; $149.99 USD from Cingular).
With all this key clutter, you’d think the numerical dial keys might be segmented by, say, a different color like those on a Treo or Blackberry. They are — they’re a dark grey. But, when the backlight is on, all keys completely blend in with the surrounding black keys and black background. Imprinted on each of the 10 dialpad keys are a single QWERTY character, a dial number and the usual three or four multi-tap letters. When the flip is up in portrait mode, the numbers and letter groupings are oriented correctly, and the QWERTY letters are lying sideways. When the flip is up in landscape mode, the QWERTY letters are upright, and the numbers and the small dialpad letters are sideways. All these characters — similarly-sized, the same color, and in the same font, all squeezed onto the heads of the tiny buttons — are like looking at a sheet of tiny hieroglyphics.
And why do you need the miniscule dialpad alpha characters if you have a QWERTY keyboard?
Then, there’s the absurd applications segregation. Some functions work only in portrait mode, for reasons beyond our comprehension. Why, for instance, should we have to rotate the phone from portrait to landscape to use the music player or access the Web? If you happen upon a horizontal-only app, you have to close the lid, re-flip, and drill through the menus to find that app again.
However, the one application you SHOULD be forced to use with the phone held horizontally, text messaging, you CAN use in vertical mode (except when the phone is vertically oriented; the QWERTY letters are lying sideways and locked out). When you type a text message while in vertical mode, you have to use the numeric keypad and multi-tap alpha characters. We’re baffled.
Each of the four positions on the navigation array are mapped to directly access specific functions or menus: north = Web access, south = calendar, east = V CAST Music menu, and west = pictures/video menu. As noted, the Web is accessible only in horizontal mode. So, turn the phone around, flip up the screen, click the “north” (now “west”) button, and…you get the pictures/video menu. We guess it makes sense that the navigation array realigns itself for the new position, but it’s still confusing.
The screen itself is a large and bright 2.25-inch, 176 x 220 pixel, 262K-color TFT LCD bracketed by thin stereo speakers.
Things are a lot more orderly outside than in. Above the one-inch, 96 x 96 pixel, 65K color external LCD is the 1.3 MP camera lens. Below are touch-sensitive music controls, active only when the music player is running. Unfortunately, you cannot activate the player from these controls. Fortunately, on the left rim of the top flap is a “hold” keypad lock key which locks the controls to avoid accidental skipping or pausing when the player is playing.
On the left spine is the dual AC charging plug/proprietary headphone jack; the u740 is one of the rare Samsung cells without a 2.5mm stereo connector. Included is a four-inch headset adapter dongle that has a 2.5mm jack and the same proprietary jack so you can charge while talking or listening, but there are no earbud phones included. The u740 has stereo Bluetooth if you want to avoid this whole adapter business. (Although, we had problems getting music to play through our Bluetooth headphones; hopefully this is just a glitch in our test model and not a systemic problem).
Also on the left spine is the unnecessarily confusing volume toggle. When using the phone vertically or closed, pushing “up” increases the volume and pushing “down” lowers the volume, which is normal. But with the screen up in horizontal mode, pushing “up” — now left — LOWERS the volume, while pushing “down” — now right — RAISES the volume. Huh?
On the right spine are the speakerphone key and the external microSD slot. There is no dedicated camera key on the outside of the u740, which means the external screen can’t be used as a viewfinder unless the flap is up — this makes as much sense as anything else on this wacky phone.
The u740 includes e-mail, mobile IM, and chat, and is equipped with Verizon’s VZ Navigator, which enables location-based service (LBS) applications, a 1.3 MP camera, and an MP3/WMA-compatible (sorry iPod users) music player. The u740 also includes a personal organizer, calendar with scheduler, notepad, alarm clock, world clock, calculator, and stopwatch. The 500-entry phone book has room for five numbers per contact, two e-mail addresses, a picture, a personalized ringtone, and notes.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Testing and Use
All these frustrations aside, the u740 is actually an excellent phone. Reception is steady on Verizon’s EV-DO network, and call quality is crisp and clean. You can hear the interior speakers even with the flap closed and speakers seemingly flush with the keypad. Ringtones are loud and the vibrate mode is adequate.
Wireless Web access is speedy, with boot up in around 10 seconds and pages usually loading in less than five seconds. Music downloads are among the speediest we’ve experienced.
Pictures taken with the 1.3 MP camera/camcorder are superior, even when compared to shots snapped with 2 MP models. Colors are bright and true, images are crisp, and black levels are high with deep contrast. Under the “Options” menu are a variety of picture settings, such as color effects, white balance, and metering, along with a self-timer. There are multiple flash settings, even if the flash itself is weak. Indoor shots in medium or low light are blurry and predictably grainy. After snapping a shot, there are convenient soft menu options for saving or erasing.
But while image quality is high, accessibility is low. We couldn’t figure out how — or if it’s even possible — to transmit photos via Bluetooth, even though we had no trouble establishing a connection between the u740 and a PC. We ended up hot-swapping the card and using a card reader to move our shots out of the phone.
As noted, the music player is only available in horizontal mode, which becomes more annoying each time you forget and have to turn the phone around. This is not the only annoyance. There is no direct access to the player. You have to drill through the menus to get to the player. Once you get into the player, you have to hit “shuffle” to get your songs to start playing in a new sequence; otherwise, you get the same sequence of songs as the last time. In total, you have to click through six screens before music starts playing. There are no EQ settings. Entering the “Options” menu pauses the music for no discernable reason. Like most music phones, you can’t perform other functions with the music playing. The track, artist, and progress bar appear in the external screen.
When a call comes in and the lid is closed, you don’t get an option to answer or ignore. As soon as you flip the flap up, an “ignore” soft key choice flashes for a nanosecond, then the call is automatically answered. When you end the call, the music doesn’t resume. You have to close the vertical lid and reopen the phone in horizontal mode, drill through the menus to reboot the player, and start all over again (which means, of course, you won’t hear the rest of the song that was interrupted by the call).
Rated talk time is 3.5 hours, and standby time is 8.3 days, both average.
Mirroring its dual-hinge lid, the u740 is a dichotomy. It does so many things well — great little camera, great reception and voice quality, speedy wireless Web service — but then makes them frustrating and difficult to use. Great ideas, but they’re poorly executed. Disappointing.
• Dual-hinge design
• Large, bright, 2.25-inch screen
• Speedy EV-DO network compatibility
• QWERTY keyboard
• Excellent 1.3 MP camera
• Touch-sensitive external music controls
• Confusing keypad
• Confusing application access
• No 2.5mm headphone jack
• No direct music player access/poor music application
• No AAC compatibility
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