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Sprint is trying hard to push new services using the third generation (3G) wireless networks like data access, music or video. Many are saying that 2006 will be the year of cellular TV just as 2005 was the year of MP3 phones. Feature-wise, it makes sense but I’m not sure about how the economics will work. The Samsung A920 is a 3G capable phone that’s affordable and once you add the various rebates that Sprint is proposing it might costs $100 or less. Not only the Samsung A920 can stream TV shows to your phone, it can also be used as a high-speed wireless modem (good initiative, Sprint). But this will the topic of another post… So how good is the Samsung A920?

Physical Description
The A920 is a nicely designed phone that has a smooth exterior with a small LCD display that shows signal, time and incoming calls. There is no visible antenna (I can’t stand them – I own a Treo 700w…) but cool stereo speakers are apparent on each side. Even today, it is not very common to find stereo speakers on cellphones so I’ll certainly not complain. Flip the phone open to reveal the very nice 2.2 inches, 320×240 (QVGA) screen. I have to admit that it is one of the best that I’ve seen on a phone and it’s obviously a great choice for a video phone.

Wireless Service
Let’s start with the basics: I’ve been running around the San Francisco Bay Area with it, and I did not have any troubles with the reception. The voice quality is actually largely better than with our Cingular Treo 650. It’s not an apple to apple comparison because the phones and networks are not the same but it is worth mentioning because the difference is noticeable.

The TV service works well. It looks like it’s running at 15 frames a second (versus 30 frames per second for standard TV) but I found the image quality to be OK, although slightly blurry. The TV video stream doesn’t use the Samsung A920’s display at its full potential. There’s an interesting selection of channels that will hopefully continue to grow.

Web Browsing
Any 3G phone should have a decent web browsing capability. This is clearly not the case with this phone. The browser is so bad that I’m not using it at all even to read basic news sites. Additionally, the characters are way too big. There’s not much of a point in having such a high-resolution screen if the user can’t have the option to use small fonts (to display more information). In my opinion, this is a severe mistake in the user interface (UI) design. The Treo 700w can display a lot more information with a lower-resolution (240×240) display… what a shame.

Possible improvements
The single most important thing that needs a fix is the user interface. The most used options should always be visible without pressing the Menu button (contacts, TV, SMS, Photo). If it means obscuring the background image, then so be it. Today’s video quality is just good enough to watch a show. I hope that progress will be made to have a crisp 320×240 video stream, in full screen.

Conclusion
The Samsung A920 has great technical strengths and the Sprint service is working very nicely on it. It has a few weaknesses but comes at a somewhat affordable price. Higher-end phones are also available: take a look at the Samsung A900 or if you don’t mind the additional bulk and money, the PPC-670.

Filed in Cellphones . Tags: Hands-On.
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