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Reviewed May 1, 2007 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
In Spring 2007 Verizon Wireless, ahead of other US carriers, launched true digital TV services for mobile phones in nearly 2-dozen metro areas in the US. While mobile users have been watching digital television programs on their phones in Asia, we’ve only had mobile video services rather than TV broadcast programming. The digital mobile TV launch marks the beginning of the “cell-evision” era and along with the service Verizon launched two phones that you can watch TV on: the LG VX9400 and the Samsung u620. The Samsung u620, the smaller one of the pair, comes with bright QVGA screen, 1.3 megapixel camera, microSD card slot, Bluetooth and V CAST content support. The Samsung is a dual band digital CDMA phone that works on Verizon’s 1x voice networks and it has EVDO support for fast data. While it has all the features that make the phone comparable to other high-end V CAST feature phones, the Samsung u620 offers the unique convergence of mobile phone and mobile digital TV.
What exactly is Mobile TV? No, it's not the usual V Cast video clips, in fact the service doesn't use the phone's data connection. Rather it's digital broadcast TV over-the-air, much in the same way traditional TV broadcast works. This means that phones like the LG VX9400 and the Samsung U620 have tiny TV tuners and not so tiny antennas that you'll telescope up when you want to watch TV. Verizon calls this service V Cast Mobile TV, and it currently has an 8 channel lineup (we're sure more will come in the coming years) that runs 24/7. Like regular TV, you'll see a TV programming grid when you press the dedicated TV button, and channel programming is always running in real time: there's no on-demand or DVR. This means you'll need to catch your favorite show when it's broadcast, and it means content is always changing, unlike stale video clips. The schedule doesn't match regular local TV broadcasts, which means you can catch a CSI show at 10am, but your favorite CBS 10 a.m. show might air at a very different time.
This Verizon service costs $25/month for all 8 channels plus V Cast (video and music) and Mobile Web. The $13/month Limited package gets you 4 channels and the $15 TV Basic package gets you all 8 channels but no V Cast video/music or Mobile Web. The 8 channels are NBC, NBC News, Fox Mobile, MTV Mobile, Comedy Central, CBS Mobile, Nickelodeon and ESPN. We're in one of the metro areas with Mobile TV service and reception is generally good. The picture is stunningly clear and sharp when in a good reception area but can drop audio and/or video frames in marginal coverage areas (say in a large building or in the center of a large house). When in a good coverage area you'll have no problems recognizing your favorite actor's mug, but digital blockiness and dithering in weak coverage spots will make it harder to ID his or her tiny visage. Remember, this is a broadcast digital TV service from MediaFlo and it does not use Verizon's voice and data networks, so your phone's 1x and EVDO signal bars bear no relation to the TV signal.
Design and Ergonomics
The Samsung u620 is a slider phone that feels extremely comfortable in hand thanks to its curved, nearly egg-like shape. The Samsung is smaller than the LG VX9400 and looks like a normal slider phone, but don’t let the looks deceive you. The Samsung u620 has a bright display that can play TV shows in landscape mode, a compact form that fits your hand, easy to use keypad, d-pad and menu controls and much smaller antenna compared to the one on the LG VX9400. You have easy access to the microSD card and the 2.5mm standard headset jack located on the left side of the phone. On the back of the Samsung, you will find the 1.3 megapixel camera with flash and self-portrait mirror. Quick-launch hardware buttons include loudspeaker button, camera/camcorder, mobile TV and volume rocker. The charging/syncing port is Samsung’s proprietary connector located on the bottom of the phone.
Unlike the LG VX9440’s flip up landscape display, you will put the Samsung u620 sideways to watch TV programs in landscape mode. While it has a smaller display than the LG, the Samsung u620 keeps the size of the phone down for those who don’t want the added bulk.
Phone Features and Reception
The Samsung u620 is digital dual band (800/1900 MHz) CDMA phone with EVDO for data. The phone gets 2/3 of full signal strength in well-covered areas and 1 bar of EVDO and 1 bar of 1X in spotty areas. We didn’t experience any dropped calls in even spotty coverage areas, but we did have V CAST video streaming interruptions and music download interruptions due to loss of signal. The call quality on the Samsung is good, but not as good as the super clear voice on the LG VX8700. Music playback sounds much better than the in-call voice quality on the Samsung. The DSP is a bit weak and as result your call recipients will hear wind noise and road noise more. The dual-side stereo speakers work great for conference calls.
The Samsung u620 support most common phone features including 3-way conference call, call waiting, call mute/unmute, speakerphone and speed dialing. The Samsung u620 offers an uncommonly high number of speed dials and you can assign 999 speed dials to the phone. When in Contacts, you can select a number and press the Option button to assign speed dial slot. The Samsung also offer multi-tasking when in a call. You can take notes, record calls, send SMS messages and more while talking on the phone. Like many recent feature phones, Verizon bundles VoiceSignal’s excellent VSuite software that allows you to use voice command and voice dialing on the Samsung. You don’t need to pre-record voice tags for voice dialing and you can check phone status, call up email or phone number for sending messages and more using the voice command.
Display and Mobile TV
The Samsung u620 has a 2” TFT LCD that’s capable of displaying 262K colors. Like the LG VX9400 (the other mobile TV phone in Verizon’s current line up), the Samsung u620 display is 240 x 320 QVGA resolution. The quality of the display is very good, bright, sharp and color saturated. Though it doesn’t have the “glossy” look like the LG’s screen and TV characters have better flesh tones on the LG. But images look sharp and colorful on the Samsung, and games look very color saturated. You can change the screen brightness and contrast using the Settings & Tools menu.
Watching digital mobile TV is a joy on the Samsung. You can launch the mobile TV program grid by pressing the menu button on lower right side of the u620. TV shows look amazingly sharp and don’t have the blockiness and frame drops you see in V CAST videos. When in good digital mobile TV coverage areas, the picture is so sharp that you can clearly see the actor’s hair strands and even eye lashes. Picture quality will degrade in marginal coverage areas such as in large buildings, and you will see blockiness in the pictures and frame drops. Like on the LG VX9400, the TV antenna on the Samsung u620 is crucial to the picture quality. You won’t see much if you don’t extend the antenna and you will see less performance if you block or fiddle with the antenna.
Multimedia and Gaming
The Samsung u620 comes with Verizon’s basic media player that supports MP3 and WMA format songs. You can download music tracks from Verizon’s music store by clicking on Get It Now option on your phone. Most tracks on Verizon’s music store cost $1.99 per song. The download speed for songs isn’t the fastest we’ve seen on V CAST. You can also play your own MP3s by syncing them to the phone via desktop PC (using Windows Media Player) or by putting the tunes on microSD card in the “my_music” folder. The package doesn’t include a USB cable to sync with PC, you will need to buy it separately. Before copying songs to the card, use the phone to format the card so it creates the proper directories, including the “my_music” folder. The audio quality is excellent through either the built-in stereo speakers on the Samsung, through Samsung’s own wired stereo headset (not included) or via Bluetooth stereo headset. The sound is clear and full with great bass. If you’re into playing MP3s on your phone, the Samsung u620 will not disappoint in terms of sound quality.
The performance for playing video clips on V CAST is decent when the EVDO signal is strong, and when the signal is weak (1-2 bars on the signal meter) V CAST videos sometimes have trouble streaming. As result you will see interruptions in playback when the videos are buffering or it just might stop playing altogether. We’ve been long time fans of Verizon’s V CAST video service, but comparing the video quality and speed to their digital mobile TV service, V CAST video technology looks a bit outdated.
Gaming is a pleasure on the Samsung u620. The D-pad and numbers are easy to use as game controls. The phone performs well in action games such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Alien vs. Predator 3D. The screen is bright and colorful for gaming. You can download games from Verizon Games via the Get It Now menu.
Like the LG VX9400 mobile TV phone it competes with, the Samsung u620 also features a built-in 1.3 Megapixel camera with flash and self-portrait mirror. But the picture quality is inferior to the LG’s. Photos usually have very noticeable brown cast, but that occasionally flips to an extremely cool color cast. The photos lack color saturation in both indoor and outdoor shots. Photos taken in direct sunlight look like they were taken at dusk. Lighter objects are whited out in both indoor and outdoor shots. Noise levels for a 1.3 megapixel camera are acceptable. The Samsung u620’s camera can take still images at 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 and photo caller ID resolutions.
The camera on the Samsung u620 can also record video with audio. The video clips taken with the Samsung look dark using the default settings even in a well-lit indoor environment. The camera doesn’t deal with mid to low light areas well and whites out in direct sunlight. Videos look the best when shot in a bright indoor environment. Audio however is perfectly in sync with video. You can record video clips in either QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) or 176 x 144 resolution. You can record short clips for MMS video messaging or long video clips with the length limited only by available storage space. You can store videos on either phone’s internal memory or a microSD card.
The Samsung u620 has Bluetooth v1.2 and supports Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile, A2DP, Dial-Up Network (DUN) Profile, Object Push Profile (for vCard and vCal) and Serial Port Profile. We tested the phone with several Bluetooth headsets including the Cardo Scala-700, Gennum nX6000 and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo headsets over A2DP. The Samsung u620 paired with all headsets with ease. The voice quality is middle of the road for both incoming and outgoing voice. The incoming voice has noticeable digital processing effects which reduce the clarity. But you should have no problem understanding your callers. The outgoing voice lacks DSP power in reducing noise. The Samsung’s audio has some trouble canceling ambient noise and this issue carries through to Bluetooth headsets. Using both the Scala-700 and the Gennum nX6000 when making calls, our call recipients complaint about background noise that interfered with voice. However in quiet environments this isn’t an issue. Working with the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo Bluetooth headset, the Samsung plays music tracks in stereo. The music quality via the Pulsar is excellent. When a call comes in the music player will pause the music playback and resume after you finish a call. You can also use the controls on the Pulsar to stop/play the tracks, take/end calls and change the volume. The range between the phone and the Bluetooth headsets is also middle of the road: getting about 10-15 feet on all headsets. Voice dialing and voice command via Bluetooth headset work like a charm.
The Samsung u620 comes with a standard Lithium-Ion battery that’s user replaceable. The included 3.7v rechargeable battery is 1000 mAh in capacity (model: AB553446GZ) and that’s a respectable amount of juice for a phone that has mobile TV in addition to a full set of features that are comparable to other high-end V CAST feature phones. The claimed talk time is 3.5 hours and standby time is 250 hours (both estimates exclude any digital mobile TV time).
Like many V CAST phones, the Samsung u620 consumes power the fastest by connecting to Verizon’s V CAST services via EDVO. Playing several video clips and reading a few news items for 45 minutes will cost you ½ of a full charge. In comparison, the same amount of battery life will give you 45 minutes of mobile TV, plus taking 15 photos with the built-in camera and listening to music via stereo wired headset for 15 minutes. If you access V CAST multimedia content and watch TV frequently throughout the day on top of talking on the phone, expect to charge the phone daily. That said, TV is less of a power hog that we’d have guessed, and uses less than EVDO and V Cast video.
Should you need extra juice, consider the extended battery that’s 1550 mAh in capacity and boosts talk time to 5.4 hours and standby time to 350 hours. The extended battery is not included with the phone, and you can purchase it separately.
The Samsung u620 has a Flash user interface and the same menu interface found on most recent V CAST phones. The Samsung comes with PIM applications including Contacts, Calendar, Notepad, File Viewer, alarm clock, World Time, stopwatch and calculator. The contacts database can store up to 500 entries and each entry can have up to 5 phone numbers and 2 email addresses. You can assign groups, ringtones, caller IDs, speed dials and add notes to contacts entries. The calendar program offers monthly view, weekly and day view and supports recurrences and alerts. You can have up to 8 events per day. For messaging, the Samsung offers SMS, MMS and web-based email via Verizon’s Mobile Web 2.0 browser.
If you want to jump on the cell-evision wagon and you are in one of the digital mobile TV coverage areas, the Samsung u620 is one of the two choices at the moment. The small size and comfy form means you don’t have to get a bigger device just because you want an added feature. The performance for mobile TV is excellent and the device feels zippy in gaming and application launches. The audio quality for music playback is outstanding. For mobile multimedia buffs, the Samsung u620 has a lot to offer.
Pro: More pocket-able than the LG TV phone, very good ergonomics, speedy in most tasks, excellent mobile TV performance, good display that can go landscape when in TV programs and in some games, and great music playback quality.
Con: Reception isn’t the strongest, EVDO services can be spotty in not-well covered areas. Camera has surprisingly poor performance. Battery life is just so-so.
Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract
Web sites: www.samsung.com, www.verizonwireless.com
Display: 2” QVGA (240 x 320) 262K color TFT LCD.
Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1000 mAh. Claimed talk time: 3.5 hours. Claimed standby time: 250 hours. Both times exclude watching mobile TV. Extended battery available but not included with the package.
Performance: 42.7 MB of total download capacity. Phone book holds up to 500 entries.
Size: 3.76 x 1.86 x 0.85 inches. Weight: 3.7 ounces.
Phone: CDMA digital dual band (800/1900 MHz) with EVDO for data.
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel camera with flash and self-portrait mirror, CMOS. Can record video with audio. Still image resolutions: 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 and picture ID. Video resolutions: 320 x 240 and 176 x 144. Up to 10x zoom, no zoom for highest resolution photos.
Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 2.5mm stereo headset jack. Music player included. Voice recorder included for recording up to 60 sound clips.
Networking: Bluetooth v1.2. Supported profiles: Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile, A2DP, Dial-Up Network (DUN) Profile, Object Push Profile and Serial Port Profile.
Software: Verizon flash user interface. Calendar, contacts, notes, music player (MP3 and WMA), V Cast video player, Mobile TV player, the usual Verizon Get it Now applications, video player supports MPEG4, 3GP and 3G2 file formats, Mobile Web 2.0 with browser, text, MMS and web-based email.
Expansion: 1 microSD card slot.
In the Box: The phone with standard battery, travel charger, printed User Guide and Quick Reference Guide.