Samsung MM-a900 Review

Samsung MM-a900

“While the A900 may seem to be excellent in almost every respect, the lack of expandable memory severely cripples this phone.”
  • 9mm thin; Sprint PowerVision EV-DO capable; external music transport; stylish
  • No expandable memory; hard to read dial keys; short battery life
MSRP $349.99

Summary

When it first appeared, most folks dismissed the Samsung MM-A900 as a mere knock-off of the Motorola RAZR, the iPod of the cell phone world. Many people spoke to soon. While the broadband EV-DO-capable A900 (available from Sprint for $199.99 with a two-year contract), may lack the RAZR’s iconic style and solid metallic feel, it is slightly superior in almost every other aspect. However, while both phones will turn heads, neither phone incorporates a removable memory option, which means that neither is a good choice if your interest is combining your phone with an MP3 player. Although, if you’re considering either the A900 or the RAZR mainly to up your cell sartorial splendor, your choice may come down to which carrier you prefer. The RAZR is available from Verizon and Cingular and the A900 is only available from Sprint.

Features and Design

Samsung has endowed the A900 with the usual spate of state-of-the-art capabilities and applications including broadband EV-DO with Web browsing, live, streaming and downloadable clip TV viewing, multimedia and plain text messaging, Bluetooth, a 1.3 Megapixel camera/video recorder, video and MP3 playback, PictBridge for easy picture printing sans PC. It also includes MP3 music ring-tones, voice dialing, Samsung’s speech-to-text technology, voice memo recording, a 500-contact phone book, and both calendar/scheduler and alarm clock.

While there’s no external memory slot, the A900 does include 47 MB of memory, more than most phones in its class (including the RAZR). However, it does not possess the capability to store enough songs to last an average commute or exercise session.

The A900 (3.86 x 2.01 x .57 inches) has nearly identical dimensions of the RAZR (3.86 x 2.08 x 0.54 inches). At 3.9 ounces, the A900 is slightly heavier than the RAZR (3.35 ounces) and, with its top up, the A900 is half an inch longer — all of which amounts to a wash as far as the physicality’s are concerned. But it is here that the similarities between the two phones end.

Unlike the RAZR, Samsung has clearly designed the A900 as a music phone. Directly beneath the external LCD screen are three music transport control buttons — rewind/skip back, play/pause and fast forward/skip ahead. The RAZR lacks external music controls. Just below these are twin stereo speakers. On the left spine is the volume toggle and on the right is the camera/voice recorder key.

Like many Samsung cell phones, the 1.3 megapixel camera lens is mounted in the hinge between the two halves and rotates 180 degrees. A bright flash is located just beneath this swiveling lens.

When open, the A900 is a bit simpler in design than the RAZR, especially the pedantic key layout. But the A900’s dim white backlit doesn’t light up the small numbers and letters well, especially compared to the Broadway bright blue backlight on the RAZR.

However, the A900’s 1.78 x 1.53-inch, 262k-color internal and its .81 x .81-inch, 65k-color external LCD screens are slightly brighter than those on the RAZR, although the main RAZR screen offers better contrast.

Samsung MM-a900
Image Courtesy of Samsung

Performance

For conversations, the voice quality on the A900 through both the earpiece and the speakerphone is a bit thick and is a little below the quality of the RAZR. Although, the A900 maintained a more consistent connection to Sprint’s network than the RAZR to Verizon’s or Cingular’s with fewer drop outs and dropped calls.

On the camera side, the A900’s rotating lens enables a wider variety of shooting angles, although we found self-portraits problematic — we always appeared upside-down in the viewfinder for some reason. Picture quality is above average for phones with a 1.3 megapixel resolution and a plastic lens. The flash helps a bit in dim lighting conditions.

Web access via the Mobile Web 2.0 WAP Web browser, music and video clip downloading from Sprint’s online music store and Sprint TV channels, and photo uploading using Sprint’s EV-DO network was noticeably faster than comparative downloads, uploads, and streams using the RAZR on Verizon’s EV-DO network. Web pages, clip and streaming TV, and picture uploads all took less than 10 seconds; song downloads took on average around 30 seconds to a minute.

For video, beyond the RAZR’s slightly more contrasted screen, RAZR’s one main advantage is its ability to view downloaded or streaming video in landscape mode by holding the phone sideways. Video on the A900 can only be viewed within the normal vertical portrait screen.

None of this addresses Sprint’s high-priced music downloads — a head-scratching $2.50 a track that allows you to get two versions of the song, one stored on your phone and the other on your PC. Verizon charges $1.99 per track when downloaded via the phone and just 99 cents using Windows Media Player for the same dual usage. Sprint’s confusing array of TV pricing plans and the lack of clarity between included vs. premium content also pale in comparison to Verizon’s simpler V CAST menus and pricing.

At a miserly 3 hours, talk time is surprisingly short on the A900, probably a consequence of the thinner battery. Obviously, watching TV on the large LCD will shorten this time considerably.

Conclusion

While the A900 may seem to be excellent in almost every respect, the lack of expandable memory severely cripples this phone’s capabilities. Perhaps future versions will include a memory slot behind the battery, similar to what Motorola will include in its next generation RAZR due later this spring. But if you’re a Sprint customer and plan on using your phone as a music player, we’d recommend the more pedantic but superior Samsung MM-A920, a more traditional clamshell with external music controls and, most importantly, a TransFlash (microSD) card slot.

Pros:


  • Razor-thin

  • EV-DO network capable

  • Sprint PowerVision compatible

  • External music transport controls

  • Rotating camera lens

Cons:


  • No external memory card slot

  • Poor keypad backlighting

  • Short battery life

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