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Summary:

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 […]

samsung_sch-a790_1scha790_smasungI’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.

samsung_sch-a790_2It’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!

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By Om Malik

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  1. Bluetooth, bluetooth, bluetooth.

    Why on god’s green earth does Verizon not stock phones that are targeted to the business/basic rich people segment with bluetooth. The headsets alone are reason enough for them not to mention all the other capabilities you can have with a stupid 5 dollar chip. Yes I know the Motorola v710 came out, but I got it and it was garbage, so I returned the 500 dollar piece of junk. I waited about 3 months for that phone and three days after I had it I went back to my POS v60. I hate verizon, but unfortunately they have a choke hold on good service in the east coast.

  2. “… and they always come out on time.” Hey, give us a break ! I have been nagging Samsung to publish release information on the SGH-i505 – does anyone remember when this palm OS smart phone was firstly announced ? – to no avail. For your information, this phone was announced in March 2003. Now entering Q4 of 2004, still no sign of life of what was a very promising PDA-phone combo. I personally have given up on this one. Thumbs down for Samsung for misleading the consumers. I’ll be buying the Motorola Mpx 220 soon with all consequences for my PDA needs !

  3. Sprint has good service on the east coast.

  4. indeed. “always” is always a dangerous word. ;-)

    you’re right though, the i505 is waaay late. good luck with motorola, however. hope that Mpx220 comes out on time. moto has a history of missing their holiday release dates.

  5. First, the reviewer neglected to mention that the A790 doesn’t have GPRS, so “MMS’ing the kids all those fun pictures of … jumping airport bars” is only possible if you happen to be in a U.S. airport. That’s the biggest missing feature of this phone, IMHO.

    Second, who Photoshopped that photo of the Philly skyline onto the external display in the photo above, and why? I know it’s Photoshopped because that’s my photo:

    http://www.richbrome.com/philly/

    That same photo was added to an A790 photo that was on phonescoop.com for a while, but it was a different photo of the A790, and it hasn’t been on phonescoop.com for months.

    I’m not complaining – this isn’t any kind of major copyright thing – I’m just curious. Kind of weird to see my photography show up on another site like this.

  6. Anyone knows of a model with Bluetooth? May be, in some other market — like Korea? If this is A-790, may be, there is an A-792 or something, that will let me use it with my laptop?

  7. I enjoy your comments and reports and wish you every success. Treo may have- thanks to T mobile- a new life. The units have been configured for real estate professionals to provide instant net access for properties- entries on properties- and an IR interface/lock for house doors that allows the Treo to open the door to a property- show who was there before- and add you to the list.
    All this and memory and more– for half the user price- and on a membership rental agreement in Houston for about $30 per month. Just shows that apps drive hardware.

    Regards
    Chuck Bird

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