I’ve spent the last two weeks monkeying around with the Samsung SCH-A790, and even though I’m no big shot, globe-trotting executive (the type of folks this unit was ostensibly made for), I love it. For the truly fortunate masses that don’t waste precious mental bandwidth tracking the (oft arcane) name and number of each new mobile phone released, Samsung’s A790 is the first to reach American shores that can switch between CDMA and GSM networks. Not that I could test this particular feature; While switching between GSM and CDMA modes is as simple as a clicking a radio button, the A790 operates solely on Verizon’s CDMA network in the US. Yet, for those folks that head overseas and onto GSM networks in the process, the A790 operates in the 900 and 1800 GSM bands, and thanks to an agreement with Vodafone roaming is seamless, if not cheap. International calling rates start around $1 per minute.
I can say this: The A790, like many Samsung phones I’ve used, has one of the best antennas out there. Some thanks certainly goes to Verizon’s superior network here in NorCal, but not once in the 14 days I’ve been using this phone did I experience a dropped call or static breakup, and that includes continuous usage during a road-trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and back. The 260K display is beautiful and, along with a wonderfully simple UI (another Samsung constant these days), the phone is a cinch to navigate.
It’s also pretty sharp looking. The chic silver and black clamshell design makes for a stylish looking device, hiding an innovative number pad that needs just 8 buttons to accomplish what most do in 12 (check the picture). Not sure why Mr. Executive needs a camera with his or her phone, and this one isn’t spectacular, but it’s not horrible either. As a bonus, it comes with all kinds of effects, including the ability to Sepia-tone your pictures and put silly frames around them. One can only assume these are helpful for MMS’ing the kids all those fun pictures of White Papers, meeting rooms, and jumping airport bars. One feature I liked was the A790’s ability to set up groups so I could spam large groups of unsuspecting friends and relatives with MMS messages at once. Now that’s good fun.
What’s not fun is charging the phone every three freakin’ hours, and that’s probably the A790’s biggest drawback: Sub-optimal battery life. Even on a full charge, I averaged a little less than 2 hours of juice when actually using the phone. (The specs say to expect 3 hours.) Other than that, there are only wish-list features missing. Namely, no support for EDGE or UMTS or EV-DO. But the A790 did offer reasonably quick CDMA 1X data access, so sending picture messages and downloading apps wasn’t too laborious.
All in all, playing with the A790 made it clear why Samsung is about to overtake Motorola as the world’s second biggest phone peddler. Their phones are easy to use, elegant, and reliable…and they always come out on time. All good things. For now, the A790 is only available to Verizon Wireless business customers. But a spokesperson told me the phone should be available to regular lackeys (like me) sometime in late-September or early October. If you’ve got $350 to drop, and don’t mind charging up a lot, you could do a lot worse than the A790.
Guest column by Matt Maier, wireless and gizmos writer for Business 2.0
Samsung SCH-A790 // Carrier: Verizon Wireless // Availability: Late September // Pricing: TBD (Around $350)
Update: So why did Matt do this review? In the words of a certain NRA director, “from my dead cold hands.” He would not let me have the phone. So I bribed him with promises of an unending supply of Frappachinos. Even that didn’t work. Actually with me being on deadline for the magazine, Matt decided to write the review himself. Thanks!