capsule review

Samsung SGH-a707 (Sync)

At a Glance
  • Samsung SGH-A707 SYNC Cell Phone

    PCWorld Rating

    For a device that claims to be a music phone, the Sync makes listening to music more difficult than it should be.

It's standard for cellular carriers these days to tout a music service and phones that work with it. But most of these so-called "music phones" can't compete with dedicated digital audio players. This certainly holds true for Cingular's Samsung SGH-a707 (Sync) phone. And unlike competing services from Verizon Wireless and Sprint, Cingular's music service doesn't take full advantage of the device's mobile capabilities.

For example, the Sync lets you connect to Napster Mobile and Yahoo Music via Cingular Music--but you can't actually download music over a cellular connection. And though you can select tracks to buy, that merely sets them up for downloading to your computer. If you want to listen to downloaded music, you must transfer the tracks to the phone over USB or by copying them to an optional microSD card.

The phone, which is available from Cingular for $100 (with a two-year contract), gives you access to streaming audio from MobiRadio, XM Radio Mobile, MySpace Mobile, and Billboard Mobile (plus streaming video from a few providers), but of course, these are subscription services--MobiRadio, for example, costs $9 per month, on top of your voice plan charges and your data plan charges. In my tests, the audio from MobiRadio sounded surprisingly good over the phone's speakerphone, with few dropouts; but despite offering 50 stations, the selection seemed a little limited.

Why did I listen only through the speakerphone, you ask? Like many phones, the Sync lacks a standard headphone jack; instead it relies on a proprietary port that accepts only Cingular's earbuds. But the earbuds don't come with the phone, and Cingular didn't send them to us for our evaluation. A $40 kit contains the earbuds, a USB cable, and software; alternatively, you can use the phone with a set of Bluetooth headphones.

You can use the kit to transfer your own ripped music to a microSD Card while it's still in the phone--a big help because inserting and removing those tiny cards can be difficult. Some very nice touch-sensitive music controls on the phone's exterior work whether the phone is closed or open. The small (96-by-96-pixel) LCD on the outside shows the music track name and an attractive visualizer. But the phone's other music controls are pretty limited.

The Sync has a built-in 2-megapixel digital camera with a fixed-focus lens and no flash or LED illuminator, so low-light pictures look pretty drab. Pictures taken in moderate lighting looked okay, with adequately reproduced colors, but highlights got blown out easily, and most shots were at least slightly fuzzy. The phone captures video in 176 by 144 resolution at 15 frames per second, yielding movies that look fuzzy and choppy; an option lets you limit clips to conform to Cingular's miserly 300KB Multimedia Messaging Service transfer limit.

As a Web browser, the Sync supports Cingular's HSDPA network, so it's pretty fast for a cell phone. It formats pages well for easy reading, and you can adjust the size of pages. Quick-access menus help you handle instant messaging and Web mail, though you have to use the keypad to input text. The keypad numbers are sufficiently large but very slick, with little tactile feedback, so I had to look closely to make sure I was pressing the right keys.

Voice quality ranged from okay to terrible. One person I called insisted that I call back on another device, though I could hear her just fine. I called back on a Verizon Motorola E815, and she said that the quality was dramatically better. Another person I called said that she heard static, but that it wasn't too bad (she, too, agreed that I sounded better over the E815). A half-inch-tall sticker at the bottom-rear of the phone says, "For optimal call performance, do not obstruct this area during a call." It isn't hard to avoid the area, and I didn't find myself obstructing it in my calls, but it irked me to have to worry about it. In our lab tests, the phone's battery lasted 3 hours, 42 minutes--near the vendor's claimed talk time but among the shortest of any standard cell phone we've tested.

If you're looking for a phone that lives up to the "music phone" hype, you'll be disappointed in the Sync. It is inexpensive and does a good job with Web content, but it didn't win fans with its voice quality or talk time.

Alan Stafford

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    For a device that claims to be a music phone, the Sync makes listening to music more difficult than it should be.

    Pros

    • Good Web functionality
    • Good external, touch-sensitive controls

    Cons

    • No over-the-air music downloads
    • Earbuds cost extra
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