Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

Jealous of the booze, babes, and cellphones that our own Brian Lam and Jason Chen get to play with all week, I decided to do some follow-up research on the new Samsung SPH-M620 (or Sprint UpStage) that has them all in a tizzy, celebrating with wet Mouseketeer kisses.

So for this week's Frankenreview, I've "borrowed" reviews from CNET, PCMag, PCWorld (technically a hands-on), and Mobile Review to find out if for the first time in the history of human existence, Sprint landed an awesome phone before the other carriers.

Displays

Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

"The 65,000-color TFT display on the phone side also was a mixed bag. First off, it's tiny at just 1.4 inches diagonally (176x65 pixels). Normally we'd be up in arms about such a small screen, but we understand Samsung's motive—a bigger screen would have made for a bigger phone. It manages to cram in the date, the time, signal strength, battery life, and even photo caller ID, but the tiny dialing and message text may be too small for some users. (1)




Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

The majority of [player side's] real estate is taken up by the large, 2.1-inch (176x220 pixels) TFT display. With support for 262,000 colors, it's bright, vivid, and easy on the eyes. It's perfect for browsing through the complete set of user-friendly menus and for taking photos (1)


Flip Sides

Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

...this split-personality approach gets big points for innovation. It's also quite the looker and should evoke oohs and aahs from even the most jaded gadget enthusiasts. (1)

...every time you encounter something where you need to enter a letter or a number, you have to flip the phone over, enter the data on the keypad, and flip it back.... For instance, to enter a username and password on a Web form, here's what you do: Navigate to the entry box. Flip. Type in your username. Flip. Navigate. Flip. Type in your password. Flip. Navigate. (Are you getting dizzy yet?) (2)

I was a little confused the first time I encountered a text-input box on the music side, since no alphanumeric keys and no software keyboard appeared. But the device is smart enough to recognize the need to use the phone side, and I noticed that "Flip" had appeared on screen as a soft-key option.... When I used it and began entering text from the phone keypad (T9 text input mode is a welcome option here), "Save/Flip" also appeared as a soft-key option to return me seamlessly to the multimedia side. (4)

Controls
The four-way capacitive touchpad on the music side has a central, mechanical play button that took some getting used to. The excellent ...warns against trying to swipe it in a circle the way you would an iPod's control wheel, but the temptation is hard to resist. (4)

Compared with the iPod, the UpStage makes very poor use of the touchpad to move through long lists. A "sweep" of your finger down the whole touchpad skips only two options on a list. Holding your finger down at the end of the sweep steps through the list very slowly. Compared with, say, a quick twirl of the iPod click wheel, this makes moving to the end of 300 songs an ordeal. (2)

Music

Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

In syncing mode, you can transfer music from a PC to a Micro-SD card.... Before syncing, however, you must install and run the included Sprint Music Manager desktop application and connect the phone to your PC using the included USB cable.... you simply drag and drop tunes (or albums) from the desktop app's left-hand pane to a lower-right pane.... You can create playlists on the phone itself. (4)

Sound quality through wired headphones...is very good. And the included adapter means that you can use standard music-player headphones. The built-in mono speaker is loud but tinny when playing music, and podcasts over the speaker are inaudible. (2)

Battery

Frankenreview: Sprint/Samsung UpStage

...they left out a detachable battery—this thing is now literally built in the casing, not enabling the user to replace it on his/her own. (3)

We should note that this handset lasts for one day at 2-3 hours of music playback and radio, up to 1 hour of calls and few SMS. Should you be calling up the phone and music modes back and forth too often, the battery won't be happy with that either. Power users are likely to end up with less than one day of life time on their hands, while the rest of the audience should be aiming at one day of operation only. (3)

Another of the UpStage's innovative features: A stylish flip case with an embedded battery (Samsung calls the case a wallet).... The phone slides into the wallet and fits into a rigid cradle at the hinge. The included charging cable charges both the phone's battery and the wallet's battery. When stored in the wallet, the phone recharges itself from the wallet's battery. Sprint and Samsung's fact sheet says the phone's battery will support 2.5 hours of continuous talk time, which rises to 6.3 hours with the help of the battery wallet. (4)"

We didn't do a graph this week since only 2/4 of the reviews scored numerically (CNET 80, PCMag 60). But it sounds like if you aren't restricted to a DRM playlist and you can tolerate potentially excessive flipping, the UpStage is a decent music phone at a very reasonable $149 w/contract.