With ultra-thin phones, wireless carriers have learned that good design sells. Virtually every manufacturer produce thin models and carriers want more because they sell. The Sprint Sanyo Katana is a potentially popular phone: it’s simple, elegant and works well as a telephone. So what do we think of it and how does it compare with similar phones?

Obviously, anyone who’s thinking about getting a Katana will also look at the Motorola RAZR. In fact, the phones are physically very similar. We happen to have a RAZR Dolce & Gabbana here, so I’ll compare the two, leaving the “luxury” aspect of the RZAR D&G out, of course.

All the basic phone functions of the Katana are covered, no problem there. The keyboard is okay and the sound quality is very decent in my opinion (in Palo Alto, we have a solid reception). The menus are easy to use and I didn’t have to dig to setup the ring volume or to look at the call history. The directional pad with the quick SMS access is practical for heavy text users. With the Sanyo Katana, users can start texting after only one click. On the RAZR, it takes 3 clicks to get there.

sanyo katana charge and sync connectorThe Katana is very similar to the RAZR, but I found two important differences:

First, the Sanyo has a much better display: 240×320 pixels vs. 176×220 for the Motorola RAZR. That’s a big difference that anyone will notice. The Sanyo display also has better contrast, brightness and view angle. It’s head and shoulders above the RAZR’s previous generation display.

Secondly, the RAZR has a mini-USB charge/sync port: that’s great. Unfortunately, the Katana has (for obscure reasons) a proprietary port that will oblige users to get a new charging cable for the car and so on… I’ll say it again: there are no excuses for not using a mini-USB port! It’s lame to create proprietary sync/charge connectors.

Both phones have external displays but the RAZR’s isn’t as useful as the Katana one: For example, if you miss a call, the RAZR won’t tell you what the number called you! (yup, it’s crazy) The Katana will display who called without having to open it – that’s the whole point of having an external display I guess…

Web Browser
sanyo katana displayAlthough it is web-enabled, I would not recommend trying to access web sites designed for desktop browsers. Reading mobile-formatted content is a much better idea even if the latency (delay between page requests) is somewhat high. Also, set the font size to “small” as the default one is way too large, even for mobile content. Manufacturers have to either stop putting myopic personnel in charge of the User Interface, or they have to get a decent vision plan that reimburses prescription glasses.

Battery Life I haven’t done any benchmarks, but I think that the talk time is around 3 hours. Honestly, it has never been a problem and I don’t expect most people to complain. If you need to be one the phone all the time, buy a bigger phone or charge it everywhere (car, office…), but don’t buy a thin phone then complain about the battery life.

Data and Bluetooth users will be frustrated with the battery life. If you fall into the “heavy user” category, think again before getting this phone.

It’s the same “yada yada” than everybody else. The pictures aren’t great, they are in low-resolution (VGA) but I don’t think that customers would spend one more dime on the camera, so it’s a non-issue (at least to me)

Taking and sending a picture to an email address takes a minute and a half if you have to punch the e-mail address and about 45 sec if you use one of your pre-recorded contact. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is quite long.

The Sanyo Katana is a good alternative to the RAZR. It has a much better display and a better user interface. It’s a pity that Sanyo is using a proprietary port to charge/sync, especially when the battery isn’t strong. A USB port would have made things so much easier for users. The Katana is a little more expensive ($30 more when signing a new contract), but if it wasn’t for the slightly better look of the Motorola, I’d recommend the Katana over the RAZR right away. The black version of the Kanata is my favorite, but it also comes in Blue and Pink.

Before deciding on anything, go to a Sprint store and play with it a little, to get an overall feel for the phone and the keyboard. Look at the Sprint Samsung A900 while you’re there.

Sprint Sanyo Katana: $79.99 with new service

Filed in Cellphones. Read more about Hands-On.

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