Reviewed September 5, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
When Sprint first introduced the Sanyo Katana line, they filled a gap for Sprint customers who wished to have a RAZR, which Sprint didn't offer. The Katana phones sold well and have become a staple of Sprint's flip phone line up even after the RAZR made it to Sprint. The Katana models were entry-level phones both in terms of features and pricing until the Katana DLX came out last year. The DLX had powerful features including GPS with Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV and music store support. In August of 2008, Sprint introduced a new Katana model, the Katana Eclipse, at the same time they introduced a new RAZR (VE20). Both phones are priced as mid-tier feature phones with an introductory price of $99 with a 2-year contract, though the Motorola RAZR VE20 has a higher list price. What does the new Katana Eclipse add to the Katana DLX? Not much in terms of tech specs, but sports a new design that centers on flashing LED lights for the phone's notifications and functions.
Like the Katana DLX, the Katana Eclipse has a built-in GPS with Sprint Navigation, a music player and Sprint Music Store access, Sprint TV and radio, Bluetooth with A2DP and a 1.3 megapixel camera. The Katana Eclipse is a CDMA phone that's offered by Sprint exclusively in the US and it currently comes in silver.
With almost identical technical specs between the Katana DLX and the Katana Eclipse, the buying decision will come down to the looks. While both Katanas are flip phones and have similar sizes, you've got to ask yourself: do I want a phone with 7-color flashing LEDs when someone calls me? If the answer is yes, then the Katana Eclipse is your phone. The silver flip phone has a mirror-like front cover with an external display, music controls, speaker grille and the built-in camera flanked by two LED strips. The LEDs not only have multiple colors but also can blink, pulse, echo and flash in multi-color combo patterns. And applications can use their own colors and patterns for notifications.
The rest of the flip phone looks rather generic: it has a good sized number keypad, standard call send and end buttons, menu keys and a 2" TFT display. Side buttons and connectors include a volume rocker, blade-style charge port, camera launch button, 2.5mm stereo headset jack and microSD card slot. The battery lives under a door in the back.
Phone Features and Reception
The Katana Eclipse is a CDMA digital dual band phone with EV-DO for fast data. The Katana DLX got a very strong signal, but the Katana Eclipse takes it down a notch and gets just good signal strength. The voice quality is good though; even in weak reception areas the voice sounded good and didn't drop calls. The loudspeaker has good sound quality and high volume, making this phone a decent conference call phone. Like most of today's feature phones, the Katana supports call management features such as call waiting, three-way calling and call forwarding. The LED lights come in handy when it comes to caller ID and incoming messages, and you can set different colors and flashing frequency to indicate who's calling or texting. The Katana Eclipse comes with a phone book that can store 500 entries with 700 total phone numbers, 1000 email addresses and 500 URLs. Also included are speed dial (98 total), call history and voice command by VoiceSignal.
Voice dialing worked great via the phone and via Bluetooth headsets. We tested the Plantronics Explorer 330 and the Jawbone II Bluetooth headsets with the Katana Eclipse. The voice quality wasn't clear using either headset with the Katana, and we heard audio distortion even at a close range.
The Katana Eclipse has EV-DO for data and Sprint offers its Power Vision plan that allows you to access the web, email, the Sprint music store and more. The phone comes with the Access Netfront v3.4 web browser that works great with WAP sites but doesn't display full HTML pages well. The Katana also supports web-based email and IM, and offers support for Sprint's wireless backup feature.
Entertainment at Your Fingertips
Like the Katana DLX, the Katana Eclipse has a built-in music player with support for Sprint's Music Store and it also supports Sprint TV and Java games. The music player can play MP3, AAC and AAC+ files, which means songs you ripped from CDs with iTunes will play on the Katana Eclipse. The Sprint Power Vision data plan allows you to access the Sprint Music Store and buy tracks over the air. Songs from the music store cost $.99 per track and when you purchase songs over the air and download them to your phone, you can also download them later to your PC for free. The Katana Eclipse upgrades the included microSD card from 128MB to 256MB with SD card adapter, and the microSD card slot supports high capacity microSDHC cards. Music playback through the front firing speaker is good and volume is loud. The Katana also has a 2.5mm stereo out jack and it has support for Bluetooth A2DP. We tested the Katana with the Samsung SBH500 Bluetooth stereo headset and it sounded great with booming bass and loud volume.
The Sprint TV experience is similar to the Katana DLX on a 2-inch display that supports 65K colors. Sprint TV quality depends mainly on the signal strength. In well-covered EVDO areas Sprint TV looked great with smooth pictures and audio that's in sync with video. But in areas where the phone gets less than half signal strength, TV programs looked blocky and had noticeable frame drops. Sprint offers some free channels for news, sports (including NFL Mobile Live) and entertainment; and some premium channels (for a monthly fee) including full TV episodes of today's hot new TV series, comedy programs and more. There is also a Sprint Movie rental services available, a service allows you to watch full-length feature films, and Sprint radio services. Games played smoothly on the Katana Eclipse with good sound and responsive controls.
Front LED lights in action.
GPS and Sprint Navigation
Another feature that gives the Katana some clout is the GPS that supports Sprint Navigation. Even though the Katana Eclipse came out at the same time as the Motorola RAZR VE20, it runs a different version of TeleNav that powers Sprint Navigation. As a result the navigation and POIs are ever so slightly different. The GPS on the Katana has a fast fix time and accurate location calculation. But like the Moto RAZR VE20, the Katana Eclipse needs a bit of time to catch up to your current location early in the route. Once it's in sync with your real time location it works like a charm. By default Sprint Navigation will find the fastest route and gives you choices of optimized traffic or pedestrian routes. Both routing and rerouting were expedient in our tests, after the initial slight delay, and voice guidance was right on target. The POI data is a little older than the version for the Moto RAZR VE20, but it does offer user ratings for restaurants, hotels and more. As with most GPS phones, the Katana lets you share locations or any address with friends via location messaging. Also onboard is the Live Local Search which has more recent POI listings than the POI database on the TeleNav version.
The camera is another area where the 2MP Motorola RAZR VE20 has a leg up on the Katana Eclipse. The Katana has a 1.3 megapixel camera with 12x zoom, and the camera phone can also record video. The specs might not look much but the still images it takes are actually not half bad. The photos have a reasonable amount of details and the colors are generally balanced in outdoor environments. In overcast conditions, the camera phone loses some color and contrast. Indoor shots are quite decent as well; images are sharp with good depth. The camera can capture still images at three resolutions: 960 x 1280, 480 x 640 and 240 x 320 and in three quality levels. The Katana Eclipse offers manual settings for white balance, brightness, sharpness, contrast and has self-timer and multi-shot modes.
Video clips were noticeably blocky though audio was in sync with video. The Katana Eclipse can record videos at 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions and in fine quality (25 seconds), normal (35 seconds) or 120-minute length to store on a microSD card.
The Katana Eclipse comes with a standard rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that's 840 mAh in capacity. That's a smaller battery than the one in the Katana DLX but the claimed talk time matches that of DLX. Our tests showed the claimed talk time was on target, and the Katana Eclipse lasted a week in standby. Two tasks drain battery faster than anything else on the phone: using GPS navigation and watching Sprint TV. If you use the phone to navigate a couple of trips (1-2 hour trips) and watch Sprint TV for a couple of hours a day on top of making phone calls and checking/sending messages, you will need to charge the phone every 1-2 days. If using data isn't a big part of your daily routine, then the phone can last you quite a few days on a charge.
For Katana DLX users, the Katana Eclipse offers little reason to switch, unless the new look and the LED lights were just the things you've been waiting for. The Katana Eclipse's smaller screen and lower-end camera don't compete well with the RAZR VE20. But if you are looking to upgrade from an entry-level feature phone and like the LED lights (specially for young mobile phone users), the Katana Eclipse has all the bells and whistles a mid-tier feature phone should have.
Pro: LED lights make it easy to use the phone in the dark and more visual indications than most flip phones when closed. The Katana comes with a strong set of entertainment features including TV, music, radio and gaming. GPS and Sprint Navigation work reasonably well on the phone.
Con: Reception isn't very strong. The processor is a bit slow for the GPS navigation and there's a delay before location info catches up with reality. Very little change in specs from last year's DLX.
Price: $99.99 with 2-year contract after mail-in rebate and discount. $299.99 without contract.
Display:Main LCD: 2.0" QVGA 65K color TFT screen. Resolution: 240 x 320 pixels. External LCD: 1.0" 65K color LCD.
Battery:Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, 840 mAh, user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 4.6 hours.
Performance:Phone book can store 500 entries.
Size:3.6 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches. Weight: 3.4 ounces.
Phone:Digital Dual-Band CDMA 800/1900GHz bands. EV-DO for data.
Camera:1.3 megapixel with up to 12x digital zoom. Support multi-shot feature. Still image resolutions: 1280 x 960, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240. Can take video with audio.
Audio:72-Chord Polyphonic ringers. MP3 player onboard to play music in MP3, AAC and AAC formats. 2.5 mm stereo audio jack. Can record voice memo. Has 4 vibration alerts.
Networking:Bluetooth v2.0. Supported profiles: GAP, SPP, GOEP (General), HSP (Headsets), HFP 1.5 (Hands-free car kits), OPP (vCard transfer), DUN (Dial-up networking), FTP (File Transfer), BPP (Bluetooth Printing), A2DP, AVRCP (Stereo Bluetooth) and PBAP (Phone Book Access). USB 2.0.
Software:Grid view and list view menu UI with bilingual (English and Spanish) support. File Manager and music transfer tool onboard. Web browser onboard and Web-based email and IM supported. PIM tools include Contacts, Calendar, Calculator, Countdown Timer, Alarm Clock, World Clock and Stopwatch.