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Old 06-11-2006, 4:03 PM
joeyny1999 joeyny1999 is offline
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Thumbs up Samsung A930 review with images

Samsung's SCH-A930 is a dual-band CDMA cell phone for Verizon Wireless. Clad in basic black with external music player controls, this flip phone is one of the less flashy looking handsets in Verizon's VCast-compatible line up. Don't let the plain design fool you, though: The A930 is more than capable of making calls and entertaining you with a variety of built-in and network-based media options.

As Verizon standardizes the user interface on almost all of their phones (the company says this makes things easier for customers when they switch handsets), weighing the merits of a device like the A930 is somewhat dependent on how many extra services you're willing to pay the carrier for. Verizon's EV-DO data network provides a number of optional services from WAP Web browsing to VCast streaming video and music downloads. I ran the A930 through its paces on as many of Verizon's media options as I could find. How'd it fare? Read on.

The A930 has something of a throwback look to me, which isn't to say that it's at all outdated. Rather, amidst the current trend of ultra-thin mobiles with etched metal keypads and exotic glass finishes, the A930 is something of a fashion misfit with its no-nonsense all black body. Measuring 91 x 48 x 25 mm, the A930 is over three times as thick but also 20% shorter than Samsung's new super-slim SCH-T519 "Trace" handset. An all-plastic construction keeps the A930 reasonably lightweight at 113g (though, for the sake of comparison, the Trace is a mere 71g), though the phone does feel lighter in hand.

The phone has something of a sleek look to it when closed, thanks to the car hood-like slope and bold lines of the external housing. A horizontally-aligned center panel features an OLED display and three buttons that allow access to time and call/network information as well the music player when the phone is closed. The front panel also houses a light that's used for the swiveling camera sensor and the requisite Samsung and Verizon logos, done up in very subdued silver.

Flipped open, the A930 has a pretty standard clamshell phone layout. The top half is primarily given over to a large 2" display flanked by more logos and the top-mounted speaker, which is flanked by a silver plastic panel. The bottom half features a very roomy keypad that I found easy to use, even with my large digits. A standard 12-button dialing arrangement is topped with two rows of three buttons each: Send, Clear, and End/Power topped by Camera, a four-way navigation pad with a center OK key, and Voice Dial. All buttons are done in black with silver labeling save for the Camera, Nav/OK, and Voice keys, which are silver with black print. The overall look is kind of industrial sleek with a little bit of silver chic thrown in for good measure.

The top "panel" formed by the flip hinge when the phone is closed is rather unique in its design. Rather than forming a flat edge, the two halves of the closed phone form a sort of bulbous curved surface with a noticeably cut out on the bottom half. This is to accommodate the swiveling camera sensor, which is centrally mounted in the top half of the hinge. You really have to see the phone to understand what this looks like; the design doesn't really affect functionality one way or another, but it is a bit different than anything else I've seen.

On the left side of the phone, we find two more silver buttons: a rocker switch used to control volume and a dedicated speakerphone key beneath that. I found the speakerphone button to be quite handy, though I could see how it could lead to inadvertent usage. The right side of the phone is entirely black, including plastic-capped headphone and microSD memory card ports labeled with etched-in icons.

The back of the phone is entirely black - including a few more logos - save for a sticker alerting us to the "Internal Antenna Area." Most of the panel slides off to reveal the battery and SIM card slots. A single
accessory port that handles the included AC charger is mounted on the bottom panel of the "keypad half" of the phone and is protected by a plastic cap.

Though the A930's weight lends it a pleasant heft without feeling too bulky, the phone took on a strange and somewhat cheap feel when I flipped it open and shut. What feels like a spring - but apparently is the vibrating alert mechanism - buzzes noticeably when the handset snaps fully open or shut. Something about feeling this buzz radiate throughout both halves of the phone into my hand gave me the impression that the device wasn't so sturdy. I don't actually think this is true - and certainly didn't have any durability issues with the A930 during testing - but the handset lacks that solid feel that speaks to luxurious build-quality as found in, say, the Motorola K1 KRZR.

Features click to view full specs
As a VCast-compatible phone, the A930 is packed with entertainment-oriented features. Thing is, most of them require you to pay Verizon a little extra for monthly or a la carte VCast service.

The built-in digital music player works with music files purchased and downloaded from the VCast music store. Files may also be loaded onto an optional microSD memory card for use on the phone, but the A930 only supports WMA format music, and not MP3 or AAC (iTunes) files. Music playback was easily controlled using the main keypad as well as the external controls, and it was handy to be able to activate, control, and exit the music player with the phone flipped shut. The external OLED display wasn't as convenient as the main screen for browsing tracks and playlists, but it got the job done. Purchased music can also be synched back to a PC for phone-free enjoyment, but only with a microSD card or USB data cable (both of which cost extra), as Bluetooth file transfer is not supported.

Access to streaming audio and video content via VCast requires EV-DO reception, which was a little hit and miss. There were times when I had a voice network signal but no EV-DO, and others when EV-DO dropped out in the middle of a stream. I tried a few other Verizon phones in the same locations, and they secured much more reliable EV-DO connections, so the problem seemed to lie with the A930, and not Verizon's network.
When network access was strong, streaming video played very well on the internal screen. VCast offers a variety of programming, from news and information to short clips culled from network and cable television programming, and some made-for-Verizon features as well. The A930 also supports Verizon's VZ Navigator service, which provides GPS-like location-based services including turn-by-turn directions.

I'm not a huge fan of Verizon's user interface, and while I was able to find my way around, some menu descriptions seemed particularly odd. My wife, for instance, wondered why she couldn't find a song I had just downloaded. When I located it under Get It Now -> Get Tunes & Tones -> My Music, she asked, "Why isn't there just a File Browser like on my Samsung phone?" Good question. Maybe Verizon has a good answer.

The A930 also features standard cell phone applications including a contacts manager with photo and ringtone caller ID and groups support, a calendar with appointment and to-do alarms, and a well executed Voice Commands system. Customization is limited - as is the case on all Verizon phones - but I was able to change the display's wallpaper from the VCast logo to a photo of my choosing.

A 1.3 megapixel sensor mounted in the aforementioned swivel mount provides the A930 with solid middle-of-the-road photo taking capabilities. Image quality is solid for a 1.3MP camera, with crisp colors and sharp detail under optimal lighting conditions but noticeable graininess and color inaccuracy on photos taken at night or in poor lighting. The flash light helped on the occasional indoor shot, but doesn't have sufficient range to do much in general. A wide variety of photo settings are available, including the standard resolution, quality, and white balance settings, and a few features like adjustable metering not often found on cameraphones.

The A930 can also take video clips with sound. Length of video clips is capped at 15 seconds for MMS messages and 10 minutes for other videos. Video quality wasn't quite on par with that of still images, as considerable graininess marred the footage.

One note about the swiveling camera: While the design allows for easy shooting of self-portraits as well as subjects at most any angle relative to the phone, the external display cannot function as a camera viewfinder. As such, the phone must be flipped open for effective picture or video taking.

The internal 2" TFT screen on the A930 is quite nice - bright and vivid, though hard to read in direct sunlight. Capable of resolutions of 176 x 220 pixels at up to 262,00 colors, the main display is more than adequate for everything from menu navigation to video playback, if not quite state-of-the-art.

As mentioned, Verizon's interfaces are fairly locked down, but wallpapers and text styles are customizable. Animated clips may also be used as wallpapers. Another nifty feature is that the user can change the font used to display numbers as they're dialed.

The external OLED display is small, simple, and aligned to be held horizontally. While limited to just four shades of blue-green and fixed font sizes, the screen does show quite a bit of information, including time, date, voice and EV-DO signal strength, battery level, caller ID, and music player information. While also a bit hard to read in direct sunlight, this display proved quite handy if not as flexible as the full-fledged mini displays now found on many other flip phones.

I tested the dual-band CDMA A930 on Verizon's network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice quality was stellar. Calls came through loud and clear on both mine and the other end, and I kept the volume no higher than the middle of the range.

Calls on the built-in speakerphone were also loud and clear, as were ringtones and audio alarms. Ringtones are limited to the ten that come with the phone or additional ones purchased from the VCast store. The dual internal speakers also worked fairly well for music playback - for a cell phone, anyway. A 2.5mm headphone jack supports optional wired headsets, including stereo earphones. As always, I scratch my head wondering why a carrier wouldn't include stereo earphones with a music-centric phone like this. Wouldn't a great out-of-the-box music experience drive customers to buy more music from the online store?

The A930 supports Bluetooth audio devices. I was able to easily pair a Bluetooth earpiece with the phone, and voice quality with the earpiece was good. It should be noted that some other reviewers have reported problems with certain Bluetooth earpieces, so your mileage may vary. Stereo over Bluetooth is not supported.

The A930 has support for SMS and MMS messaging. Composing SMS and MMS messages was straightforward, as was attaching images, videos, and audio clips to MMS messages. Samsung's predictive text input system worked well, though I prefer the messaging interface (and UI in general) on Samsung's unlocked phones over that found on Verizon branded handsets.

Email is supported through Verizon's optional Mobile Web 2.0 "VZW Email" service, which makes it easy to set up access to an AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! account. Accessing other email accounts is possible through third party WAP-based services. Sending and receiving of email messages is accomplished through the WAP interface, and not an integrated client. Instant messaging, on the other hand, is possible via the built-in Mobile IM client. Again, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo instant messaging is supported out of the box.

Internet access on the A930 happens by way of Verizon's VCast, and Mobile Web 2.0 services, all of which are optional for-fee services. The Web browser on the A930 is WAP-based, and works well with Verizon's content as well as most WAP Web sites. HTML browsing is not officially supported and generally does not work very well.

Verizon's VCast service offers a wide variety of streaming audio/video and downloadable audio content. As a reviewer, it was fun to browse through the offerings, watch a few videos here and download a few songs there to check out. As a paying consumer, however, just remember to keep track of how much all of this entertainment costs - streaming media on your phone is a fun, and addictive, way to kill time while waiting for friends or appointments.

So long as I had EV-DO coverage, the VCast service worked quite well. Streaming content buffered quickly and generally played smoothly with only the occassional need to re-buffer midstream. The music store offered a decent selection of songs, all of which downloaded pretty quickly to the phone in medium-quality format ready for immediate playback. Songs may also be synched for playback on a PC.

Going further in-depth regarding the Internet capabilties of the A930 would read more like a review of Verizon's service than the handset itself. Suffice it to say that almost anything Internet-related that you might do on the A930 will fall under the umbrella of Verizon's content. That being said, if you're willing to pay for it, Verizon offers a lot in the way of information and entertainment. However, if you're looking to browse the Web beyond Verizon-branded offerings, this probably isn't the handset for you.

The A930 supports CDMA 800/1900 bands and 1xEV-DO data on the CDMA 2000 band. The phone is locked and so may only be used on Verizon's wireless network.

Bluetooth is supported on the A930, but functionality has been limited by Verizon to support for mono audio devices only. The phone paired easily with a Bluetooth headset and worked well for voice calling.

The phone also features a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards. No microSD card is included in the retail package.

The Samsung SCH-A930 is a solid mid-range handset in Verizon's line-up of VCast compatible phones. Something of a throwback, design-wise, the handset eschews the current trend of ultra-thin phones in favor of a more substantial obsidian black form with bold edges and strong sloping lines. An externally mounted OLED display provides plenty of information in a no-nonsense manner, and works well with three adjacent music player buttons for access to your tunes without having to open the device.
While nothing jumped out at me to recommend the A930 over other Verizon handsets, there's not much preventing me from recommending it, either, save for somewhat spotty EV-DO reception. The phone works well, has a middle of the road 1.3MP camera, large internal display, and a roomy keypad that's easy to use.

If you like the looks of the A930, it just might be the phone for you. It's one of the least expensive VCast phones Verizon offers, and is more than workable as a music player if you spring for an aftermarket stereo headset. The A930 isn't as flashy as Verizon's KRZR K1m, but for some people that's a good thing. Basic black never goes out of style, after all.

Author: Noah Kravitz
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