Tuesday, February 20, 2007

the long-awaited review of my new cell phone

I've had my new cell phone for about two months now, so it's time I posted the review I promised when I got it.

After years of using "candybar"-style phones, I wanted a clamshell/"flip" phone this time around. I spent several months checking Cingular and T-Mobile for possibilities, but I didn't see anything I liked enough to make the switch. Finally, in December I'd had enough, and I settled on either the Cingular 3125 (the "Star Trek" phone) or the Cingular SYNC/Samsung A707 (Cingular calls it the SYNC, Samsung the A707, so for simplicity I'll call it the SYNC for this review). Over Christmas I went to a Cingular store with my mother and we each looked at a variety of new phones. I spent about 20 minutes fiddling with the SYNC and really liked it. But I'd been lusting after the 3125 for months, so it was still at the top of my list despite a steeper price tag and the hefty service plan requirements from Cingular (a smartphone data plan for an extra $40/month on top of the voice plan). But the store in Johnstown didn't have the 3125, so I couldn't compare it to the SYNC. When I got back to New York, I went to a Cingular store in Manhattan and found both phones side by side. And when I tried each one out, I found that I didn't like the keypad on the 3125. It was a membrane-style keypad instead of buttons. I've got huge fingers, and I thought the potential for misdialing numbers was fairly high. That, and the SYNC's lower price, tipped the balance in favor of the Samsung phone. I made the switch, got a new voice plan with Rollover, a text message plan, and, the best part of the deal, unlimited data usage.

The SYNC is one of Cingular's new music phones. The idea is that you'll put your music on the phone and use it instead of an iPod. And for added benefit for Cingular, the phone provides easy access to Cingular's online music store, where you can buy and download songs directly to the phone. Verizon has had this service for about a year. Of course, my iPod is like a child to me, so I have no intention of using the music features of the phone. Besides, the phone doesn't come with headphones or a memory card. Cingular sells those as optional add-ons. It's also a video player. There's a link to "Cingular Video" on the menu, where you can watch TV show clips, sports highlights, and movie trailers. While this is a cool feature, I haven't used it much.

Here's what I like about the new phone:

  • The size: it's about half as thin as my old Nokia smartphone, and weighs about half as much as the old phone. When it's opened up for talking, it feels like a phone should feel. I don't feel like I have to cover my mouth and the phone's microphone to make myself heard. Also, it doesn't have an external antenna.
  • The large color screen. It's larger, brighter and more detailed than most of the other phones I looked at. And when I'm using the data service to read web pages, the text is easy to read.
  • The camera is better quality than my old phone, though the absence of a flash means that most of my photos come out muddy and dark anyway. I didn't buy the phone for the camera, though.
  • The MP3 ringtones. I've gone back to using the "Krusty the Clown" theme song as my ringtone, but unlike the version I had two phones ago, this time it's an MP3 of the track from one of my Simpsons soundtrack CDs.
  • The unlimited data plan. I already had unlimited data on my Blackberry, and that's paid for by the office, so initially I didn't want to get a data plan on my new phone. But it was a good deal on the phone so I got it anyway. And this weekend I figured out how to use the phone as a cellular modem, which means I can get online just about anywhere I can get a data signal. On Cingular's high-speed network, I had a connection around 250-275 Kbps, which is about 8 times faster than a typical dial-up connection. Next time my home Internet connection is down, I can use the phone as a modem in an emergency.
Here are some things I don't quite like:

  • opening the phone is a little difficult with one hand. I can flip it open with my thumb, but the amount of force required means that I usually push one of the buttons in the process. I haven't had a problem answering a call yet, but I'm sure eventually I'll flip it open and hang up accidentally.
  • The menu organization can't be changed. My old Nokia phone let you move menu items around and remove icons you don't use. The SYNC's menu is the same no matter what.
  • I can't re-map the "Music" button on the keypad to something more useful to me. I'm never going to use the phone to download or listen to music so I'd rather use that button for something else.
  • Somehow, this weekend, I found a way to turn on the music player while the phone was still in my pocket. The annoying thing is that the only MP3 files on the phone are my ringtones, so my phone started playing "Krusty The Clown" but no one was calling. I think I've figured out how to prevent this from happening, but we'll see.
  • The battery life is about 1/3 less than the old phone. I recharge the phone every other night, while the old Nokia phone could go three days without a recharge.
Overall, I'm really happy with my phone. I bought a charge/sync cable for my laptop, so I can recharge the phone at work, use it as a modem, and copy photos and songs to and from my home PC. I'm still not adept at texting quickly, and I don't have too many situations where a text message works but a phone call doesn't, so I usually just call. Like any new toy, I keep fiddling with the phone and messing around with it when I'm not doing anything else. So if we haven't talked in a while, give me a call. If I don't pick up right away, I'm just enjoying the "Krusty" theme.

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