Sanyo's new phone, the Katana, is named after the beautifully and brilliantly crafted swords used by Japan's legendary Samurai warriors. While comparing the design and workmanship of this phone to that of a Japanese master swordsmith might be a bit of a stretch, there are some areas of similarity. Katana swords are not about excessive detailing; they are about perfecting the general form to improve the function. In these areas, Sanyo's Katana is much like these ancient swords: unencumbered by unnecessary features, but well-structured for its primary purpose ? communication.
The Katana is an important addition to the Sprint family of phones, offering sleek style and solid performance in an affordable clamshell phone. With its availability in several trendy colors and features like a VGA camera, several Bluetooth profiles, and diverse messaging capabilities, this phone is designed for the fashion-forward consumer.
The Katana is Sanyo's answer to the Motorola RAZR ? compact, stylish, and available in a vibrant color palette. With dimensions of 3.88" x 2.02" x 0.58" and a weight of 3.40 ounces, its specifications are almost identical to those of the RAZR, but somehow the phone feels more substantial. It fits nicely in the palm of my hand, and the crisp click I hear when I open or close the phone is oddly pleasing.
The Katana is a beautiful phone. It has a rectangular shape, with curving edges and sharp angles melded together to create a look of technology blended with high-fashion. The camera lense is discretely located on the front of the phone, above the crystal-clear external screen, and the antenna is internal, so it doesn't distract from the appearance of the phone. (However, since the internal antenna is located in the bottom edge of the phone, you could interfere with the quality of your service if you cover the antenna with your hand or cheek.)
You can really show your personal style with one of the four rich and gorgeous color choices: Blue Sapphire, Mystic Black, Cherry Blossom Pink, and Polar White (available only at RadioShack). The Cherry Blossom Pink and Polar White phones are accented in gray, the Blue Sapphire phone is accented in black, and the Mystic Black phone is all black. The interiors of the phones complement the exterior colors, using combinations of the primary color and the accent color. The background color shows through the transparent keys, which are illuminated with a pleasant blue backlighting.
The numeric keypad and associated operational keys fill most of the bottom half of the phone. A navigation panel is situated above the keypad. It includes a central, dual-purpose key (the Menu / OK key) and the navigation keys you use to move through the menus, which also function as shortcuts for quick and easy access to Send Quick Text (up), My Content (down), Voice Memo (right), and the Web (left). The navigation panel is flanked by four additional keys, three of which perform standard operations and one that is a camera shortcut.
The charger jack and volume control buttons are located on the left edge of the phone, and the headset jack and a camera shortcut button are located on the right edge of the phone. The design of the external features is a bit of a disappointment. When you open the phone, the buttons flank the interior screen on the top half of the phone rather than the keypad on the lower half of the phone. It just isn't comfortable or practical to use the keys in this position. This is not such a big deal for camera operations because the internal camera key is a more logical choice when the phone is open, but it is an unnecessary difficulty when it comes to volume control. If you are like me and have to adjust the volume of the phone depending on who's on the other end of the line, the location of the external keys is a real bummer.
The Katana's buttons are flush with the phone, which I typically dislike immensely, but these buttons are an exception. They depress with authority, and I have no problems using them with ease. Most importantly, the Menu / OK key is elevated slightly higher than the navigation keys that surround it, so I never accidentally hit an adjoining button. It is possible that the flat keys could still be a hinderance for people with large fingertips, but I don't encounter any difficulties associated with the design of the keys.
The Katana is a dual-band/tri-mode phone, which means that you get the combined coverage of dual-band and digital dual-band networks. For digital service, this phone operates on CDMA networks in the 800 MHz and 1900 MHz bands, so you can roam on other carriers' networks in addition to your Sprint PCS network coverage. For analog service, this phone operates in the 800 MHz band, which allows you the possibility of coverage in places without digital service. If you travel extensively, the Katana might not be your best choice since it does not work with GSM networks (the primary networks outside of North America).
This phone has many of the standard tools you would expect, including a world clock, an alarm clock, a schedulable calendar, a stop watch, voice memo capabilities, and a calculator. The world clock on the Katana is especially well done ? it includes multiple cities in many of the time zones (instead of just one city per time zone), which can be very handy if your knowledge of geography is as sketchy as mine. The stop watch is also designed with the user in mind. With the push of a button, you can simultaneously record the time for one lap and start the timer for the next lap. You can record up to five laps at a time and save the lap data for later comparisons.
As with most or all contemporary phones, Airplane Mode is offered for those times when you aren't allowed to send or receive data on your phone, but you still want access to other functionality. Games are one way to pass the time when you are on a long flight, and this phone comes with four preinstalled games (Midnight Pool, Ms. Pacman, Tetris, and World Poker). Unfortunately, all four games are only demos. If you want any full-access games on your phone, you will have to download them.
Two outstanding features of the Katana are Wireless Backup and Update Phone. With Wireless Backup, you can upload your contacts' information to Sprint's website so you have access to it if your phone is stolen or damaged beyond repair. (You do have to pay an extra fee for this service.) Update Phone is a function in the Tools menu that allows you to update your phone's software quickly and easily without having to call Customer Service or take it into a Sprint store (a time-saving improvement from previous Sprint phones).
The menu structure of the Katana is extremely intuitive. You should be able to pick up the phone and be ready to go almost immediately. One great element of the menu structure is that you can designate the left softkey (the top key to the left of the navigation panel) as a shortcut to something you access regularly. I change my shortcut frequently depending on my specific needs at the time. When I travel, I designate the world clock; when I have a lot of appointments, I designate the calendar; when I have several crucial deadlines, I designate the alarm clock.
You can easily access the Katana's VGA camera using either the internal or external camera shortcut key. As a security measure to avoid accidentally turning on the camera, you have to hold down the external button for approximately 3 seconds to activate the camera. The external key allows you to shoot a photograph without opening the camera, which makes for painless self-portraits. Since the lense is flipped 180 degrees when the camera is open, images taken this way are upside down. I was surprised by this occurrence the first time I took a picture using this method, but it is easy to turn the picture right side up using the Rotate function.
The Katana is capable of taking photos in three sizes: a minimum resolution of 160 x 120 pixels, a medium resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, and a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. You can zoom up to eight steps at the middle resolution and up to twenty steps at the lowest resolution, but you can't zoom at the highest resolution, which is a bit of a disappointment.
The best features of this camera are the options. They aren't complex or cutting edge, but you can do some really fun stuff with photo manipulation, like adding stamps, frames, captions, or color overlays to your images. There are also several effects you can set before you take a picture, like selecting one of the picture modes (Normal, Beach/Snow, Scenery, Night/Dark, and Soft Focus) to change the appearance of your photo or choosing from the multi-shot options (Multiple Shots and Stitch Shot). Multiple Shots lets you take several shots in rapid succession, which is useful when you are photographing action shots. To get the effect of a panoramic or wide-angle shot, Stitch Shot allows you to structure a series of photographs by showing you part of the previous picture so you can line up your next shot to match. There are also a number of standard options that let you control things like brightness, white balance, shutter sound, and color effects.
While you can order 4 x 6 prints of your photos directly from your cell phone using the Prints by Mail function, the Katana doesn't really take print-quality photos. I suppose there are times when you just have to print a photo, like when your dad dresses up as a member of KISS for Halloween. Other than that, however, the images this camera takes are great for use on your phone or to send to friends' phones, but they aren't high enough quality for much more.
The Katana's displays are two of its best assets. The external screen is a full 1.0" (90 x 64 pixels) in size. It is a 65,000-color TFT LCD display that provides a crisp and clear picture and allows you to quickly view signal strength, battery strength, date and time, a screensaver (if selected), picture caller id, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. The interior screen is more or less a bigger version of the external screen at 2.2" (240 x 320 pixels), but its size makes its clarity and brilliance even more breathtaking. The only downside to these displays is that they can be somewhat difficult to view at certain angles in direct sunlight.
The Katana has the clear and precise call quality and voice clarity that has come to be associated with Sprint, although there are some volume issues with the phone. For some reason, the speakerphone is located on the back of the phone, so it can be difficult to hear the ringers or a person speaking if it is impeded in any way. The installed ringer tones and melodies also do not have enough volume variation. (Quite frankly, the ringers aren't that great in general; there aren't many options and the options that do exist are very similar to each other.) Downloaded ringtones are also fairly quiet, although you can alleviate that somewhat by downloading a loud ringtone.
For those times when you need to turn off your ringer, the Vibrate options on this phone are top-notch. You can select from four different vibration patterns, and the vibrations are substantial enough to draw your attention, even if you are distracted or the phone is in your purse.
One of the accessories included with this phone is a 2.5 mm audio jack adapter, which allows you to use a variety of stereo headphones with ease. However, since the Katana doesn't have an MP3 player or satellite radio capabilities, it is likely that a standard headset or Bluetooth headset are all you really need.
This phone supports the SMS messaging protocol for sending basic text messages. It has the predictive (T9) text input option, as well as a personalized dictionary where you can save unique words (like names, places, or slang) you regularly use in text messages. I am thrilled by the time-saving, editable preset messages that come installed on the phone. Some of them I use as is, while others I edit to suit my messaging habits. With twenty preset messages in both English and Spanish (for a total of 40), there is ample room for establishing the preset messages you need.
If you want to send multimedia messages, you can send images to up to 16 of your friends at the same time using Sprint PCS Picture Mail. As an extra bonus, you can add a text or voice message with the image when you send it. You do have to establish a Picture Mail account to use this service, but it doesn't take long to set up.
The Katana really does offer all the different messaging services you might want, from instant messaging through Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL to visiting chatrooms and checking your e-mail with ease. Using Sprint PCS Mail is a snap if you want to use a Sprint e-mail address, but you can also easily access additional providers, like Hotmail, Yahoo!, Earthlink, and AOL.
The Katana doesn't have a lot of flexibility when it comes to how you access the Internet, but what it has works quite well. WAP 2.0 enables you to browse the web quickly and effortlessly whenever you have mobile service. This phone also can serve as a cellular modem for your desktop or laptop PC (with the purchase of additional service from Sprint).
The Bluetooth capabilities of this phone are outstanding. Four useful protocols come preinstalled on the phone: The Headset Profile (HSP) coordinates with Bluetooth headsets, the Hands-Free Profile (HFP) manages the settings for Bluetooth hands-free devices, the Dial-Up Network Profile (DUN) allows your phone to function as a wireless data cable between your PC or PDA and a network, and the Object Push Profile (OPP) allows you to send contact information or business cards between devices.
Bluetooth can be a confusing technology to understand and maximize. Sanyo and Sprint endeavored to make it as painless as possible through the Katana's documentation and menu structure, but I recommend that you read the User Manual and ask the salesperson as many questions as you need to ask. The better you understand this technology, the more you will be able to get out of it, and this phone has a lot to offer when it comes to Bluetooth.
The Sanyo Katana is a smashing phone for those who want a lot of style but don't need a lot of excess features. All the basic functionality is there, and it's wrapped up in a pretty package at that. With its expansive messaging and Bluetooth capabilities and its crystal-clear voice quality, this phone does a great job of keeping you connected.
This phone is not designed for technophiles or people who organize their entire lives through their cell phones ? too many features are absent for this phone to appeal to those kind of users. It is designed for hip consumers who want all the standard communication features in a phone that achieves accessory status. In that effort, Sanyo fully succeeds, and I give them four stars for finding that place where form and function finally meet.