Last week Sprint announced the availability of the Samsung UpStage (aka SPH-M620). Sprint was kind enough to provide Skatter Tech with a unit for review. The dual-sided UpStage is notable due to having a phone on one side and a iPod-like Mp3 player on the other.
Although the phone is extremely compact, at first glance, the front side of the phone looks dull due to the tiny LCD display. However everything changes after turning the unit around to the backside. In terms of basic features the Samsung Upstage features a 1.3MP camera, microSD, Bluetooth, and background Music Playback. As a bonus Sprint’s service allows access to 99 cent music downloads, Live TV, Internet Radio, Games, Web Browsing, and other Power Vision services.
Samsung SPH-M620 Specifications:
- Provider: Sprint Exclusive (CDMA)
- Form Factor: Dual-Sided Candy bar
- Dimensions: 1.73W x 4.07H x .37D inches
- Battery: Up To 6.3hrs Talk Time with Wallet
- Screen: Front 176×65 & Back 176×220 pixels
- Digital Camera: 1.3 MP with 5x Digital Zoom
- Storage: ~53MB Internal + MicroSD (2GB max)
- Sound: Standard Headphones with Adapter
- Others: Bluetooth v1.2 + 4hr Wallet Battery
- Price: $150 + Tax w/ New 2-Year Contract
UpStage Body: 5/5 stars
This phone is tiny, measuring only .37 inches thick, making it thinner than the Motorola RAZR. Although a bit larger, the phone resembles the shape and form factor of an iPod Nano. The front side of the phone has a Alpha-Numeric Keypad for making calls or text messaging. The back side looks like an iPod Nano, but with a large screen and an square touch pad. The phone is small enough to fit in most pockets and can be placed flat on its back or front. The phone almost doubles in size after placing into the battery wallet, which I assume most people plan to use. Although the case allows access to both sides of the phone, it still becomes quite tedious to keep switching back and forth. Despite the fact that the unit is harder to hold with the wallet, the flexibility of removing the case is an advantage.
Displays: 4/5 stars
The front display is extremely small only 176×65 pixels making it hard to read text. Navigating the front display is quite difficult since it can only fit about one-line of data on the screen at a time. Luckily most functions of phone are performed through the large/bright 176×220 pixel screen on the back side. Unfortunately since there is no keyboard on the back, you will find yourself having to “flip” back to the front side for data entry.
Music Playback: 5/5 stars
The UpStage supports playback of DRM-Free MP3s, WMA, AAC, and WAV in addition to music purchased through Sprint’s Music Store. Sprint now offers .99 cent over-the-air downloads of high quality tracks (with a data plan). Music can be sorted by Songs, Artists, or Genre in the interface, however due to the lack of a search function, scrolling through hundreds of track is tedious. We still prefer Verizon’s standardized music playback application, which works on most of their phones. One big bonus is the ability to “hide” the music playback app while listening to music and continuing with other tasks such as browsing the web or playing games. Album Art is displayed during playback in addition to the track title, duration, and artist/album. Also supports playlists & shuffling songs.
Speaker and Sound: 3/5 stars
For a “music phone” the lack of a decent set of stereo speakers might be problematic. The phone’s single (mono) speaker does a mediocre job, which functions as a speaker for calls and music. As the volume level increases, the sound begins to crack. Although this should be fixed in a future model, the issue should be non-existent since most people will use headphones for music. (Adapter for standard headphones included.)
Digital Camera / Camcorder: 2/5 stars
The camera on the UpStage remains a mere 1.3 mega pixels while most new phones on the market are now 2.0. When the camera is activated, you must flip the phone around and use the large LCD on the back as the viewfinder. From our results, the image quality was mediocre and images were blurry even in well lit situations. Video clips may be recorded for a duration limited only by MicroSD capacity, however clips longer than 30 seconds may not be mailed. The small front LCD functions as a tiny viewfinder for self-portraits.
Battery Life: 5/5 stars
Unlike the majority of phones on the market today, the UpStage does not have a removable battery. Instead, the UpStage has a battery built into the unit. Since the unit is small and the talk time is only about 2.5 hours long, Samsung provides a battery wallet with the phone. When the phone is in its case, the talk time increases by over 4 hours. (up to 6.5 hours) Since the case is easily removable, you’ll have the freedom to choose whether you want the additional battery life or light-weight phone to carry around.
Usability & Interface: 4/5
The interface on the front is a joke, it only allows performing four menu actions: view call history, find contacts, add a contact, or send a text msg. Other than that, the only other use of the front is to display caller id, date/time, battery life, signal, and Bluetooth status. The interface on the back is a different story. The back is controlled by using the square touchpad at the bottom. UpStage users must make up & down motions on the left/right sides and left-to-right motions on the top & bottom instead of using circular motions to navigate as you would do on an iPod. (Apple Patent!) In addition the top left/right corners act as soft keys while the other labeled parts are the Menu, Back, and End buttons. The only hark key is the center Select/Play button. Although navigating becomes quite easy after a bit of practice, data entry will remain a hassle. For example, while browsing the web (back side), you’ll have to flip over to enter the URL text and then flip back to view the page. Some applications support an onscreen keyboard, however you’ll find yourself flipping back & forth a lot.
MicroSD: 4/5 stars
Like most phones on the market today, the M620 supports up to 2GB MicroSD cards. Since Samsung intends this phone to double as a MP3 player, as a bonus, they include a USB data cable, which most cellphone makers do not. The included CD assists installing the necessary drivers. When placed in “Sync Mode,” the phone appears as a disk drive. Windows XP users can either manage data themselves or use the included application. Mac OS X users must manage the data on the MicroSD themselves since the included software is Windows Media Player based.
P.S. 1GB microSD cards cost only about $12. 2GB microSD for ~$25
Bluetooth: 5/5 stars
The Samsung M620 uses Bluetooth 2.0, which supports the use of Stereo Headphones for music playback, in addition to standard headsets. The Bluetooth can also be used for transferring contacts, printing photos to wireless printer, and to connect to computers for use as a wireless modem. Another new feature is Audio Caller ID, which reads out a name or phone number when using a bluetooth headset. From our testing, sound quality was excellent there were no issues with pairing devices or other features.
Sprint Power Vision: 4.5/5 stars
At this time most Chatting, Navigation, and Gaming apps are not yet available for the M620 due to compatibility issues because of the unique controls, however new working versions should be available soon. Applications such as Google Maps Mobile and Opera Mini work great. The On Demand section provides access to News, Weather, Movie Show Times, Maps and more. Sprint Power Vision offers access to thousands of clips and Live TV channels such as ABC, FOX, MSNBC, CNN, and Comedy Central (plus radio). One of my favorite features is the built in Podcasting client, which streams any podcast you choose directly to your phone without the need of a computer. Saves the hassle of having to sync new files.
Designs similar to that of the UpStage have been available in Asia for a while, yet this marks the release of the first dual sided phone in the U.S. Although we like this phone a lot for its new innovative and compact style, text entry remains a hassle and is probably the #1 problem. Other than that, another thing we found frustrating was that songs you own may not be used as ringtones. Anyways this is one of the best phones Sprint has had in a while, therefore if you are ready to upgrade you should consider this. The Samsung UpStage is available in Sprint Stores and Online now for $150 + tax with a new 2-year contract. In my opinion this is quite a good deal since Sprint includes the Battery Wallet, headset adapter, USB Sync Cable, and a 64MB microSD all of which is not normally included.