Review posted Aug. 26, 2006 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Update, Augst 2007: Check out the Katana DLX which replaces the Katana.
Sprint is the only US carrier who hasn't offered the Motorola RAZR. Instead they've found some interesting alternatives in the super-slim flip phone category. If you want a feature phone with a slim form, built-in Bluetooth, VGA camera, a large display, basic PIM (Personal Information Management) applications and the NetFront web browser that supports Sprint PCS Vision (but not PowerVision) services, the Katana beckons. Named after the Samurai sword, the Katana has a very similar 0.6" thin body and a feature set that’s similar to the Motorola RAZR.
Design and Ergonomics
The Katana looks like the RAZR with thin panels and an antenna bulge at the bottom. This CDMA phone measures in at 3.88" x 2.0" x 0.58" compared to the RAZR’s 3.86 x 2.08 x 0.57 inches. The Katana doesn’t look as solidly built as the RAZR since the Katana has very thin plastic covers that have more low-end look. When the phone is closed, you will use the color external screen for information such as signal strength, time, battery status and incoming caller IDs as well notifications. Above the display you will find the VGA camera lens. You can launch the camera application and take self-portraits without opening the flip by pressing the camera button on the right side of the phone. Below the LCD is a LED light that shows phone connection stats and more. The mono headset jack also lives on the right side. You will find the volume up and down rocker on the left side of the Katana along with the charging port. You will find the speakerphone grill right below the battery door.
When you open the clamshell, you will see the vibrant 2.2” main color display and the earpiece above the display. The keypad on the Katana has a slightly better feel than the RAZR’s and has blue backlight. The number keys are separated from each other but aren’t raised much and won’t provide you with much feedback when dialing by touch. There is a small dot on the number 5 which centers the number pad. Above the number keys you will find a three-key row that includes Talk, Speaker and End/Power buttons. We prefer the dedicated speaker launch button on the keypad to a side button as you will often hold the sides of the phone when talking. You will find the square 5-way directional pad above the number pad and it’s flanked by two soft keys and another camera launch button and the Back key. The mic hole lives below the number pad and just above the antenna bulge.
The Katana currently comes in four colors: Blue Sapphire, Mystic Black, Cherry Blossom Pink and Polar White. It's likely we'll see more colors in the future.
Phone Features and Reception
The Sanyo Katana is a dual-band/tri-mode CDMA phone. It operates on Sprint’s 800 and 1900 MHz digital networks with support for 800 MHz analog, a feature that’s hard to find nowadays thanks to disappearing analog towers. The Katana’s reception is middle of the road. That’s not as good as the Treo 700p on Sprint network here in the Dallas area, but it’s better than the Samsung a920. In a very strong coverage area, the Katana gets full signal strength and in good and fair coverage areas, the Katana usually can get 50% coverage strength. The voice quality on Sprint is very good: voice is crisp and loud without any distortion.
The Katana offers basic phone features that are comparable to competitors’ phones in this class. These features include a loud mono speakerphone that you can launch by pressing the dedicated speakerphone button on the keypad; call redialing, mute calls, missed call alerts, three-way conference call and more. The Katana supports speed dialing which gives you 8 slots for your favorite numbers, polyphonic ringtones and vibrating ringer, airplane mode and silence all mode. The Sanyo also offers voice dialing feature, though not through voice recognition. You must record voice tags for your contact entries to use the voice dialing feature. The voice dialing works very well as long as you record the tags yourself. If you want true voice command you can use the Sprint online voice command database where you can store 500 contacts and dial by a person’s name after you press the * then Talk buttons on your Katana.
For data, the Katana supports Sprint’s Vision service that runs on their 2.5G 1xRTT network. It can handle web surfing, sending messages and checking email, but speed is slower than 3G EVDO Power Vision. The performance on accessing Sprint ‘s music store and photo site is quite good and same can be said for downloading messages.
Display and Gaming
The Sanyo Katana has a 2.2” QVGA LCD that can display 65K colors at 240 x 320 resolution (QVGA). The screen is bright enough to make images look good with reasonable color saturation. Outdoor viewing is abysmal. It isn’t as bright as the Samsung SCH-a990 but the Samsung costs much more. The main display on the Katana also functions as the viewfinder for the camera. When the clamshell is closed, you can use the 1” external color TFT LCD which is very readable despite its small size. You will find ample information on the external screen including caller ID, signal strength, battery status, Bluetooth status, time and more. The external screen also functions as a viewfinder for self-portrait photos.
While the Katana disappoints music fans since it lacks a music or MP3 player, it comes with Gameloft Midnight Pool which is a very cool pool game with easy-to-learn controls and three game demos including Namco MS. Pac Man, Jamdat Tetris and mForma World Poker Tour. You can purchase full version of these games and other new games on Sprint’s website directly from your phone. Performance playing these games is very good without any delays in gameplay or frame drops. The sound effects are loud and clear through the speaker.
The Katana has an integrated VGA camera that’s takes decent photos by VGA camera standards. With more and more camera phones weighing in at 1.3 megapixels, VGA feel outdated. But it’s certainly better than nothing when you want to snap a fleeting moment. The camera application offers basic functions such as a self timer, white balance and brightness settings and digital zoom. Maximum photo resolution is of course VGA (640 x 480), and the camera offers QVGA resolution (320 x 240) and a low resolution (160 x 120) for caller photo ID. There are also three image quality levels you can choose from depending on how good you want the pictures to look and how big a file you want to send or store.
While photo quality isn’t as good as that of the Treo 650’s VGA camera (one of the best among phones we’ve tested), it’s better than many low-end VGA camera phones and images have reasonable color saturation and light balance. You will notice full sun shots look washed out, (a problem which plagues all VGA cameras), and a warm color bias in indoor shots with incandescent light (also not uncommon). Noise levels are quite low by VGA camera standards.
Once you’ve taken a photo with the Katana, you can save it to the phone’s internal memory or send it to other compatible phones, email or upload it to Sprint’s picture site. The Katana’s internal memory can hold up 33 photos taken in Fine mode at VGA resolution. You can send a photo to 16 contacts at once. The Katana doesn’t have a memory card slot or Bluetooth file transfer support.
You cannot take videos with the Katana’s camera.
The Sanyo Katana has an integrated Bluetooth radio, v1.1 that supports Hands-free and Headset profiles, DUN (Dial Up Network) for using the phone as a wireless modem for computers and PDAs, and OPP which only works for vCard transfer.
Pairing the Katana with the Cardo scala 500 and the Jabra FreeSpeak 250 Bluetooth headsets was a breeze and the sound transfer to the headset smoothly. On the Katana you can set the priority for either the phone or the headset so that the calls will channel through your weapon of choice. The voice quality via Bluetooth headset varies when using with the Katana. The Cardo scala-500 has minimum crackling digital noise but volume is also low on both incoming and outgoing voice. The Jabra Bluetooth headset has a loud volume but also some noticeable digital distortion on the incoming voice. The outgoing voice via the Jabra is good. You can get about 15 feet (with the Cardo scala 500) to 20 feet (with the Jabra 250) between the phone and the headset before you start to hear crackling, breakups and other ill effects.
You can also use the Katana as a Bluetooth modem for your computer or PDA, although the 1xRTT speed doesn’t make much of a case for using this feature. We paired it successfully with the Intel iMac and went online using the phone as a mode. If you have trouble pairing the computer and the phone, use the Menu key after entering the passcode instead of the key it prompts you to use. Sending contact card is equality easy via Bluetooth, but the Object Push stops here as it can’t transfer other files such as images.
The Sanyo Katana comes with a standard Lithium Ion battery that’s 820 mAh in capacity. That’s not too small a battery for a phone that doesn’t have MP3 and video playback capabilities. The claimed talk time is 3.6 hours which seems optimistic in our tests. Talking for 30 minutes on the phone, pairing it with Bluetooth headsets, taking 5 photos and send them to email addresses used about 1/3 of the battery life while keeping the Bluetooth radio on. If you are heavy on the messaging and web usage along with some photo taking and moderate talk time, be prepared to charge the phone everyday. There is no claimed standby time, but in our tests it lasted more than a week in standby mode. If you don’t use the phone very frequently you can put it in power save mode which will prolong the battery life on a charge significantly. If you travel a lot and can’t get to an A/C outlet before using up a charge, you can purchase an extended battery that’s 1350 mAh in capacity which will almost double your talk time.
Messaging, Web and PIM
The Katana offers SMS/MMS, Sprint PCS Mail and IM and chat features for messaging. Sending and receiving text messages is almost instant, but MMS take a while to get through between carriers if you are sending MMS to phone numbers on other carriers’ networks. The Sprint PCS email and IM features are handy since the phone doesn’t come with an email client. You will need to set up your account online and the speed is decent for the 1xRTT.
The Katana comes with a WAP browser that takes you to Sprint’s WAP portal. The portal has links to your messages, downloads, news, weather, sports, entertainment, finance info and more. The browser displays WAP sites fine, but don’t expect it do much more.
To manager your personal information, the Katana offers a contacts database what can store up to 700 phone numbers in about 500 contact entries. That’s pretty standard for a feature phone. The Katana supports several address fields including URL, email address, and several phone numbers per record. You can add picture caller IDs, special ringtones, speed dials and voice tags to contact entries. The contact database has group support and is integrated with phone dialing, voice dialing and messaging. In addition to the contacts database, you also get a calendar application that has a monthly view and a day view. You can keep your event schedules and appointments in the calendar and set alarms to remind you of the events. There is also a simple To-Do List application that allows you to keep a list of to-dos with status. You will also get Stop Watch, Alarm Clock and World Clock applications.
This slim feature phone by Sanyo is Sprint’s answer to the “where is the RAZR?” question. The VGA camera, built-in Bluetooth, good voice quality and large QVGA screen give the phone more than just good looks. It even comes in Cherry Blossom Pink to compete with the pink RAZR, and I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of the color variations yet.
Pro: Slim design that fits the bill as a stylish feature phone. Voice quality is very good and the screen is large and reasonably bright. Built in camera that takes good photos by VGA standards and messaging apps that allow you to send these photos to other phones, emails or print services. Bluetooth works well with Bluetooth headsets. Has a loud speakerphone and supports voice dialing.
Con: Though slim, the plasticy housing makes the phone look cheaper than the RAZR. If you are in an area that has sub-par coverage this might not be the right phone for you. The battery could last longer, and doesn’t have the staying power to handle heavy messaging and lots of web surfing. No memory card expansion slot.
Price: $79.99 with new contract and after rebates; $279.99 without a contract and rebates.
Size:3.88” x 2.0” x 0.58” inches. Weight: 3.4 ounces.
Phone:CDMA digital dual-band (800 MHz and 1900 MHz) and analog 800 MHz. 1xRTT for data.
Camera:VGA camera with digital zoom. Camera resolution: VGA (640 x 480), QVGA (320 x 240) and QQVGA (160 x 120). Can’t take video.
Audio:Built-in mono speaker, mic and proprietary headphone jack with 2.5mm adapter. Voice tag dialing supported. 72-Chord Polyphonic ringtone support. Voice memory, unique ringtones and vibrate as well as silent features supported.
Networking: Bluetooth 1.1.
Software:Contacts, Calendar, text and MMS client, World Clock, Alarm Clock, Stop Watch, To-Do List, Calendar, WAP browser, camera software and games.
In the Box:The Katana phone with a standard battery, travel charger, a headset adapter and a printed users guide.