Reviewed January 20, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Verizon launched a barrage of new phones for the 2007 holiday shopping season and the LG Venus, the Voyager and the Samsung Juke grabbed the headlines. The Samsung FlipShot with its 3 megapixel camera and autofocus lens got a bit lost in the shuffle, despite the relative rarity of high megapixel autofocus camera phones in the US. The FlipShot SCH-U900 is the follow-up to the Samsung a990 on Verizon. It keeps the same feature set with updated looks and the usual size and weight reduction. As a strong camera phone, the FlipShot takes great photos by 3 megapixel camera phone standards, has good looks and full set of multimedia features including stereo speakers, an excellent Bluetooth stereo headset experience and support for wide range of multimedia content on V CAST. Add a microSD card slot, built-in GPS and a full set of Bluetooth profiles, you’ve got a solid feature phone on top of that killer camera. The Samsung comes in two colors: black and red.
Design and Ergonomics
The Samsung FlipShot has a clean modern design that's slim and very attractive. It has defined straight edges on the sides with curves on the top and bottom. The external display and touch music controls live under a shiny dark plastic cover on the front. Lift the display up and you can rotate it 180 degrees to turn on the camera and use the larger main display as viewfinder. The side ports and buttons include two speakers (one on each side), charging port, camera options key, volume up/down (zoom in/out in the camera app) and a shutter button. The auto-focus lens lives on the back of the phone along with the flash. Unlock the back cover and you’ll see the battery and the microSD card slot. You don’t need to take the battery out to access the microSD card slot.
The Samsung FlipShot has a 2.2” main (inner) display and a spacious number keypad. You will find a dedicated camera/camcorder key and a dedicated speakerphone key next to a good-sized d-pad. The call Send and End buttons and Clr keys along with two shoulder menu keys flank the d-pad. The flip phone has a good weight and feels comfy in hand.
Phone Features and Reception
The Samsung FlipShot is a digital dual band 1x CDMA phone that operates on Verizon’s network with for EV-DO for fast data. The phone didn’t have the best reception here in the Dallas metroplex: it gets a full signal only when near cell towers. In spotty coverage areas where other Verizon phones gets 2 bars of EV-DO and 1x, the FlipShot gets 1 bar out of 4 and might even lose EV-DO coverage though it didn’t drop voice calls. When the EV-DO signal dropped out, we couldn’t access V CAST content though we could use the slower 1x for VZ Navigator. In weak reception areas, it’s helpful if you don’t cover the phone’s antenna (the antenna area is marked with a clear plastic instruction decal). In-call voice quality is good when in good coverage areas and the volume is plenty loud. When we made calls in spotty coverage areas we heard some audio distortion and drop-outs, though we could still hold a conversation.
The Samsung FlipShot supports common call management features including call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, call history, speed dialing (1-touch, 2-touch and 3-touch speed dialing) and voice command. The phone also supports multi-tasking when on a call and allows you to take notes, record voice, look up contacts and more. It also has whisper mode which increases the mic level to the max. The FlipShot comes with a phone book that can store up to 500 contacts. You can save 5 numbers, 2 email addresses, a speed dial slot, photo ID, ringtone and notes for each contact. For voice command, Samsung bundles Voice Signal’s excellent Voice Command software. You don’t need to pre-record voice tags to use voice dialing, and you can voice dial via Bluetooth headset and wired headset. In addition to voice dialing, you can also call up contacts for messaging/email and check phone’s status including battery, memory status and more. Voice Command worked well for both voice dialing and voice commands in our tests. For messaging, the FlipShot comes with the usual SMS, MMS and mobile Email support. Like all recent Verizon feature phones, the FlipShot supports Mobile Web 2.0 and has a mobile browser built-in. In addition, you also get web-based IM and Chat programs.
VZ Navigator and Other Software
Like all recent Verizon feature phones including the LG Venus, Voyager and the Samsung Juke, the Samsung FlipShot comes with location-based services including a GPS onboard and support for Verizon’s VZ Navigator. The aGPS on the Samsung worked very well in our road tests with very fast time to fix and reasonable accuracy. The map download was fast and voice guidance gave clear directions. VZ Navigator comes with POI (Point of Interest) data that you can search for restaurants, gas stations and much more. VZ Navigator costs $2.99/day or $9.99/month, but it offers good value if you need to get directions on the go along with extra features outside of navigation such as sending invitations and directions to other VZ Navigator users via messaging.
The Samsung FlipShot has Verizon’s new Flash-based interface with living wallpaper support. The default and bundled wallpapers and themes don’t really show off the FlipShot’s good screen quality or the coolness of Flash-based user interface. Download additional themes if you want to explore more on that front. You can set the phone to use either English or Spanish for the user interface. The menus are consistent with other Verizon feature phones that include Get It Now, Contact, Call history and Settings and Tools. You should feel right at home if you have used a Verizon feature phone before. In addition to the phone book, there’s a calendar, calculator, alarm clock, world clock, notepad and stopwatch. The business card scanner application (under Get It Now/Pictures and Videos) utilizes the 3 megapixel camera to take pictures of business cards and digitizes them into contact entries. While the business card scanner worked reasonably well on the LG VX9800 “V”, the FipShot’s scanner software didn’t fare well. It couldn’t get the simplest business cards right.
Display and Multimedia
The Samsung FlipShot has a rotate-able display that works in conjunction with the 3 megapixel camera: when the main screen is rotated in 180 the camera launches and the display becomes a large viewfinder for the camera. The main display is QVGA 240 x 320 pixels in resolution and supports 260K colors. The screen looks bright and color saturated. Though not the best screen we’ve seen in the recently released phones, the display does a good job at displaying photos and videos with balanced colors. The outer display is a 65K color CSTN screen that also comes with touch-sensitive music playback controls. You can lock the touch controls using the side key lock button to avoid accident touch press.
Even though the 3 megapixel camera is the attention-grabber, the phone is actually an excellent portable music player too. Like many recent feature phones released on Verizon, the FlipShot not only supports WMA and MP3 files, but also unprotected AAC and AAC+ files. The stereo speakers are loud and have great quality by mobile phone standards. It can fill a room with music easily and can be a nice conference phone when you are away from your conference room. While we were very happy that the Samsung comes with a standard 2.5mm headset jack, we were as usual disappointed that Verizon didn’t include a wired headset or USB cable for music transfer. If you need these accessories, you can buy the music essential kit from Verizon that includes both and software for music transfer. The music playback quality via wired headset was tinny and surprisingly, Bluetooth stereo headphones sounded better. If you are looking for that rich sound with channel separation, invest in Bluetooth stereo headset because this phone excels when playing music through a Bluetooth stereo headset.
Watching V CAST video can be different experience depending on EV-DO coverage. In good coverage areas, V CAST videos looked very good with short buffering times and audio in sync with video. In spotty to poor coverage areas, the video clips needed frequent buffering during streaming and the audio often gets wildly out of sync with video. V CAST video content has the usual wide variety of news, sports, entertainment, movie trailers, and more. Most of them are free. The Samsung supports 2D and 3D gaming, and you can buy and download games from a fairly large game library. We tested a good number of puzzle games (Jewel City, Brain Waves and more), arcade games (Guitar Hero, Tiger Woods PGA Golf Tour 07, etc.) and 3D games (The Simpsons, Empire Earth, etc.); all games played well. The d-pad was spacious enough for gaming and the speakers sounded good for in-game sound effects and BGM. The Samsung FlipShot also supports TV out function that allows you to show off photo slide show or videos on a big screen. Unfortunately the phone’s package doesn’t come with the TV-out Cable, which you can purchase from Verizon.
With 1.3 to 2 megapixel camera phones as the norm, 3 megapixel autofocus camera phones are the elite bunch here in the US. Sure there are 5 megapixel GSM camera phones like the Nokia N95 and the Sony Ericsson K850i, but those phones, without carrier subsidies, cost considerably more and aren’t compatible with Verizon’s network. The phone takes great still images by 3 megapixel camera phone standards: the images are sharp, colors are balanced and saturated, noise levels are low and the auto-focus lens focuses relatively quickly (phones aren’t as fast as dedicated digital cameras yet). Photos are over-sharpened, often making the shots look better though sometimes a bit artificial. The depth of the field in these shots makes for nice close-ups. The usual white-out in direct sunlight found on most camera phones (even on high-end ones) is minimal. The FlipShot’s only weakness is low-light indoor shots, which are very noisy and murky.
Flipped to camera mode.
As with last year's 3MP Samsung a990 on Verizon, the shutter button doubles as a means to switch between photo mode and video mode. When you take still photos, press down the shutter button slightly to start the auto-focus process, then give it a quick and firm press to take the photo. If you want to switch to video mode, you will need to press and hold the shutter button until the mode changes. It might take a bit of practice to work with the auto-focus lens, but once you know how it works it’s a piece of cake. Camera settings include light and white balance settings, effects, self timer, flash setting and quality settings. The camera can take photos in 8 resolutions ranging form photo ID size (160 x 120) to 2048 x 1536 pixels. For those occasions when auto-focus is too slow, the FlipShot offers multi-shot mode where it takes several pictures in quick succession. The image quality is very good in the multi-shot mode but you will need to capture them in a QVGA (320 x 240) resolution, not higher.
The Samsung FlipShot also takes video with audio. You can record either video messages (short) or longer videos, and in either QVGA or 176 x 144 resolution. The video quality is so-so: the video is watchable but there’s blockiness, especially in low-light scenes.
The Samsung FlipShot has Bluetooth 2.0 with support for most popular Bluetooth profiles including Headset, Hands-Free, Serial Port, DUN (Dial-Up Networking), A2DP/AVRC, Phonebook Access, Object Push for vCard/vCal, Basic Print profiles. We tested the Samsung with both mono Bluetooth headsets for making calls and with stereo Bluetooth headsets for listening to music. In our mono tests, we used the Cardo S-800 and the Plantronics Discovery 655 Bluetooth headsets. The Samsung didn’t have very clear audio for either incoming or outgoing voice via the Cardo S-800 and the volume was moderate with a usable range of 7 feet. But keep in mind that the Cardo S-800 sounded slightly muffled with several phones we tested including the Motorola Q Global which generally has excellent call quality over Bluetooth. The Plantronics Discovery 655 Bluetooth headset sounded better, though not as good as it did with several other phones we’ve reviewed and tested. Volume was loud with the Plantronics and FlipShot, and the range was about 10-12 feet (which is typical for the 655). For music playback, we tested the Samsung with the Motorola S9 and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo Bluetooth headsets, and both sounded excellent. Samsung has put some magical stereo Bluetooth software in its latest mobile phone and the FlipShot is no exception. Music sounded full via both the Plantronics Pulsar 590A and the Motorola S9 with good audio separation and very loud volume. The range is also slightly better on the stereo Bluetooth headsets, reaching about 15 feet on both headsets in our tests.
The Samsung FlipShot comes with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery (model: AB653039EZ) that’s 880 mAh in capacity. The battery is user replaceable and you can charge it with the included world charger. The claimed talk time on the standard battery is 4 hours, and our tests showed that number is about 30-45 minutes too optimistic. The claimed standby time is 350 hours which is a couple of days longer than our tests showed. If you need more juice, Verizon sells a $49.99 extended battery that’s 1300 mAh in capacity. If you are a heavy multimedia user and V CAST fan, you will almost certainly be needing more power as watching video on V CAST, playing games and even using VZ Navigator for an hour can use a good chunk of phone’s battery life. The extended battery boosts the claimed talk time to 6 hours and claimed standby to 450 hours.
If you use your mobile phone’s camera frequently and are looking for significantly better image quality, the Samsung FlipShot offers a worthy step up with its 3 megapixel camera and (relatively) fast auto-focus lens. The built-in multimedia features including V CAST content and the music player are a big plus for a camera-centric phone. The usual tools such as messaging, PIM, Bluetooth and memory expansion slot make for a well-featured phone.
Pro: Good looking. Excellent camera. Listening to music via Bluetooth stereo headset is absolutely a joy. VZ Navigator along with the built-in GPS work like a charm.
Con: Reception isn’t very strong; when in spotty coverage areas, voice quality and V CAST experience suffer. The battery life isn’t stellar. Package doesn’t include wired headset or USB cable.
Price: $149.99 with a 2-year contract and after $50 online discount.
Display:240 x 320 pixel resolution. Diag.: 2.2”. 260K color TFT internal screen. 128 x 96 pixel, 65K color CSTN external display.
Battery:880 mAh, 3.7V Lithium Ion battery. Talk time: 4 hours. Standby time: 350 hours. An extended 1300 mAh battery available for separate purchase.
Performance:56MB internal memory. Stores up to 500 contacts in phone book.
Size:3.76 x 1.83 x 0.73 inches. Weight: 3.88 ounces.
Phone:CDMA 1x 800/1900 MHz, digital dual band. EVDO for fast data with fallback to 1xRTT.
Camera:3 megapixel camera with auto-focus lens and a flash. Can take still photos in 160 x 120, 320 x 240, 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, 1280 x 960, 1600 x 1200 and 2048 x 1536 resolutions. Camcorder can record video with audio in 320 x 240 or 176 x 144 resolutions.
Audio:Built in mic and dual speakers. Supports 72-Note Polyphonic ringtones. MP3 player onboard to play MP3, WMA, WMA Pro, AAC and ACC+ files. Can record voice notes.
Networking:Bluetooth 2.0. Supports Headset, Handsfree, Serial Port, Dial Up Networking, Bluetooth Stereo Support for Music, Phonebook Access, Object Push for vCard, Basic Image for sending/printing non–protected images to a compatible device and Basic Print Profiles. USB.
Software: Verizon Flash UI. Multimedia software includes music player, video player and camera/imaging software. PIM applications include Contacts, Calendar, Calculator, Notepad, Alarm Clock and World Clock. Supports VZ Navigator and games sold separately.
Expansion:1 microSD card slot.
In the Box:FlipShot phone with standard battery, travel charger, hand strap, User Manual, Quick Reference Guide and Quick Start Guide.