capsule review

Samsung UpStage (M620)

At a Glance
  • Samsung UpStage M620

Cell phones with multimedia capabilities generally struggle to balance the needs of a conventional handset and those of a music or video player. Samsung's UpStage responds to this problem by putting phone functions on one side of the device and multimedia functions on the other. This candy bar-style handset, offered by Sprint Nextel for $150 with a two-year contract, is less than 0.5 inch thick and not much larger than an iPod Nano.

The phone side of the UpStage has a very thin 1.4-inch color screen, a directional switch, and the usual soft keys for navigating menus, all topping a conventional phone keypad. The phone felt small but solid in my hand; I found its keypad quite usable, and the sound quality of voice calls was generally good. The multimedia side of the device accommodates a 2.1-inch display and a four-way capacitive touchpad whose central, mechanical play button took some getting used to. The excellent documentation warns users not to try to swipe it in a circle (like an iPod control wheel), but the temptation is strong.

A small Flip button on the unit's edge lets you toggle between the two sides, but the prompt to confirm that you want to stop playing music and start making a phone call gets old fast. (The phone halts music playback during incoming calls; the music resumes once you disengage the call.)

Unfortunately, whenever you have to input text while using the multimedia side--say, while browsing the Web--you must flip to the phone side. The device does present 'Flip' as a soft-key option, but the process is still tedious.

The Sprint Music Store (which now charges 99 cents for over-the-air purchases of music tracks) is prominently featured when you flip to the music side. You also get a PC Sync button for transferring music from your desktop to a MicroSD Card in the UpStage (the phone has a 64MB card, and it can support up to 2GB). Before using it, you must install the Sprint Music Manager desktop application on your PC and connect the phone using the included USB cable. The Sprint app is no Windows Media Player or iTunes killer, but it's serviceable enough. You can create playlists on the phone. I appreciated Sprint's decision to substitute an earphone adapter (complete with a microphone) for the mediocre-quality earbuds that come with most music phones.

The UpStage's flip case comes with a battery wallet--an innovative embedded battery that recharges along with the phone when you store the phone in the case. When it's charged, the wallet serves as an extended battery, considerably prolonging the handset's life between charges. In our tests, parking the phone in the wallet yielded a very good talk-time battery life of 7 hours, 43 minutes.

The UpStage also includes Bluetooth (for linking to a headset or for using the phone as a PC modem), a 1.3-megapixel camera capable of capturing 30-second MPEG-4 videos. It bundles Sprint TV, too, providing access to free and for-a-fee video clips as well as support for subscribing to and listening to mobile podcasts via VoiceIndigo's free mobile service.

For video viewing, the UpStage's screen is small, and the device falls short as a serious device for messaging or e-mail due to its lack of a QWERTY keyboard. But if you're a music lover who isn't especially keen about video, e-mail, or messaging, Samsung's approach might upstage Apple's iPhone--and its price certainly does.

Yardena Arar

At a Glance
  • This phone features an excellent music player and a unique--if ultimately impractical--two-sided design.


    • Clever design with great music features
    • Extra battery in case


    • Lacks a QWERTY keyboard
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