A few years back, Motorola generated a lot of buzz in the mobile phone community with their ultimately ill-fated MPx (MPx300) dual-hinge clamshell. The mpx packed a full QWERTY keyboard into a standard flip phone form factor, and opened both the "long" and "short" ways for use either as a traditional phone or widescreen device. While that phone was a little ahead of its time (it's big problem was not enough horsepower for its intended functionality), the idea of a dual-hinged clamshell handset was, and still is, very intriguing.
Apparently the folks at Samsung also find the dual flip phone interesting, because they've released a handful of them over the past few years. The most recent is the SCH-u740 for Verizon Wireless. The u740 packs a full QWERTY board along with a 1.3 mp camera, color display, and a 3G VCAST music and video player with external display and media controls into a slim, stylish flip phone design. Though some may be put off by the abundance of buttons on the handset's main panel, if you're a messaging maven the u740 might just be the next best thing to a full-blown smartphone.
I really, really like the design of the u740. It's detractors will say that there are too many buttons, the buttons are too small, and the button layout is too confusing. I'd counter that if you're interested in this phone, you're interested in getting a full QWERTY board in a small flip phone's body, and you won't be too put off by having to learn its layout. At 97.5 x 52 x 15 mm, this handset is much smaller than any QWERTY-wielding smartphone out there, with the (possibly lone) exception of HTC's new S710 "Vox."
When closed, the u740 looks much like any other slim clamshell handset, with the exception of its somewhat thick hinge. The front panel houses the camera sensor and LED flash assist light along with an external display and three touch-sensitive music player controls. From the closed position, the front panel can be flipped open the "regular" way for voice calls, or twisted up the "long" way for access to messaging, Web, and video functionality. The design is somewhat similar to Samsung's D307 (Cingular) or Nokia's n93 and n93i phones. My review unit was finished in a glittery champagne colored plastic with black trim, though an all-black version is now available as well. Open the phone and you'll find a 2.2" display flanked by twin (stereo) speakers on the top panel, and the aforementioned "chock full O' buttons" layout on the bottom panel. Looking at the handset as you would a traditional flip phone, the layout basically consists of a navigational array - 5-way D-pad flanked by two softkeys and dedicated Send and End/Power keys -positioned above a QWERTY layout. There is an extra softkey in the lower left corner of the panel - this button serves as the right softkey when the phone is in widescreen mode (it winds up in the lower right corner when the handset is rotated).
I found the keys pretty easy to use despite the somewhat crowded layout of the QWERTY board. Held in widescreen mode, the u740 fit comfortably between my hands and left my thumbs well-positioned for typing. The buttons themselves are long, slim ovals with a nicely rounded "raised bubble" shape that made for easier and more accurate typing. While the sheer abundance of keys and somewhat confusing UI system (we'll get to that later) will probably leave the novice cell phone user cold, the u740 really isn't made for that user, anyway. Its intended audience should delight in wiling away the hours tapping out SMS messages in widescreen/QWERTY splendor.
The left panel of the phone houses a rocker switch for volume and plastic-capped headset/charger port on the lower half, and a hold key on the upper half. On the right side you'll find a speakerphone button and another plastic capped port, this one for removable microSD memory cards. The back of the handset is largely given over to a battery cover.
All in all, the U740's design will appeal strongly to a relatively small subset of mobile phone users: frequent text-messagers who want a full QWERTY keyboard but don't need the power of a smartphone or even the bulk of Verizon's LG VX-9900 "enV." While the enV packs more features and a roomier
While messaging is the u740's true raison d'etre, it's also a full-featured multimedia phone compatible with Verizon's VCAST 3G network. The handset can play music in stereo from microSD cards either over its built-in stereo speakers or via wired or wireless headphones. Music can be controlled from the main keypad or using three touch-sensitive controls mounted on front panel of the phone. The controls (like most touch sensitive controls) were a bit erratic, but not as bad as some, and the external display provided access to relevant artist/song information when the handset was closed. Full-scneen video playback is available, but hampered by the relatively low-resolution main display on the u740.
The u740 features a standard suite of PIM applications including a contacts manager with photo, photo and ringtone caller ID, an organizer with calendar, appointment and to-do alarms, and the like. However, the many features of the u740 are hampered by Verizon's clumsy user interface system, which is made even worse by the fact that certain applications can only be accessed when the phone is in widescreen mode.
While it stands to reason that users would do most of their message composition and video-watching with the phone in this position, I found it maddening that Verizon decided to make these applications (and a few others) unusable in regular flip position. Just trying to remember which features require which orientation will certainly be enough to keep some potential customers away from this phone. Verizon customers can access the full array of VCAST offerings on the u740, including the VCAST music store, video clips, and Get It Now games.
I downloaded a few games and wound up getting hooked on Texas Hold 'em Poker. Gaming on this handset was quite comfortable thanks to the widescreen orientation, though the D-pad wound up being much better positioned for lefties than righties. The u740 is also compatible with Verizon's VZ Navigator turn-by-turn directions service as well as their new Chaperone Parent service. Chaperone Parent is designed to help parents locate their children (or anyone locate anyone else, really) via GPS tracking.
I should mention that it's not Samsung's fault the menus and applications are installed as they are; in fact, I'd love to see an unlocked GSM version of the u740, if only to see how the industrial design might be put to a bit better use.
Samsung's cameras tend to be of average quality no matter how many megapixels they pack in there. The 1.3mp model on the u740 is no exception - it takes decent pictures, particularly in good natural lighting, but it's not going to replace your digital camera. The flash assist light makes low-light shots possible, but they tend to come out grainy and/or with distorted colors. While the camera mode takes a few seconds to start up, shutter delay is pretty minimal, which is nice. Standard picture adjustments and editing capabilities are included, and photos can be saved to phone or memory card memory and attached to MMS or email messages for sending.
The camcorder can shoot video with sound at 15 frames per second at 176x144 resolution. Clips can go as long as you want, provided you have sufficient memory available in the phone or on a memory card. Cameraphone videos taken with the u740 were - you guessed it - about average for a cellphone.
I'm not entirely sure why Samsung opted for a relatively low-res main display on the u740, given its VCAST compatibility and stereo speakers. The 2.2" TFT main screen can display 262,000 colors, but only at 176 x 220 pixels. While this is fine for reading and writing messages, it makes for lousy full-screen viewing of images and video clips, which is really too bad considering that holding the handset in widescreen orientation makes it feel like a miniature theater what with its wide display and dual speakers. Bumping the resolution to QVGA (320 x 240) really would have done a lot for the handset's multimedia capabilities. That being said, the display is just fine for messaging, which really is the u740's main calling card.
As mentioned, the menu system on this phone is passable at best and quite frustrating at its worst. Beyond the locking out of certain features depending on which way you have the phone flipped open, Verizon really didn't seem to do much to optimize their standard UI for the u740's widescreen capabilities. Music store and Mobile Web screens, in particular, could really take much more advantage of the landscape orientation than they do.
The external display is a 96 x 96 pixel STN color display that can render 65,000 colors. It works well for status updates, caller ID, and music player functionality when the phone is shut.
I tested the dual-band CDMA u740 on Verizon Wireless' network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice quality through the internal earpiece was generally excellent. I almost always captured a strong signal, and voices were generally loud and clear on both ends of the conversation, though I did hear some hiss here and there during calls. The speakerphone worked well, and was quite loud during both speakerphone calls and music play back.
The u740 comes with a 2.5 mm headphone adapter, but no stereo headset or standard (3.5mm) headphone adapter. Listening to stereo music over headphones requires the purchase of an additional 2.5 to 3.5mm adapter or wireless bluetooth headphones. When I got the u740 wired up to headphones (using two adapters daisy chained together), music played from the phone sounded pretty good, though songs I purchased from the VCAST store were of the low bit rate variety currently favored by wireless carriers.
Bluetooth audio devices are supported, though the A2DP Stereo Bluetooth profile is not. I had no trouble pairing a mono earpiece with the phone using Bluetooth, and voice quality was quite good.
Messaging on the u750 includes SMS and MMS as well as IM support for AIM, MSN, and Yahoo!; Email is handled through Verizon's optional WAP-based system (Mobile Web 2.0) or Wireless Sync application, which I found overpriced and underpowered. The handset's hardware is so well tailored for a quality messaging service, it's a shame to see it as hampered as it is by Verizon's software. Photos and Videos can be attached to MMS messages with relative ease, as can short audio clips. Message composition was a snap on the u740's display, though its somewhat low resolution and largish font limited the number of lines of text that could be displayed at one time.
Internet on the u740 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Verizon's EV-DO data network provides for speedy Web surfing and downloads. On the other hand, Verizon's lame "Mobile Web 2.0" browser limits your browsing experience to a small subset of what's available on the Web. Additionally, the WAP browser employs a big font that results in lots of scrolling when reading information online. Verizon's Broadband Access Connect service allows for use of the u740 as a PC modem via Bluetooth or USB cable (not included). Given the speed of Verizon's data network, this is an attractive feature for business travelers and other laptop-toting, on-the-go types.
A dual-band CDMA phone, the SCH-u740 supports the 800/1900 bands as well as EV-DO data transfer. The phone is locked to the Verizon Wireless network. Bluetooth is supported on the u740, including Vcard Push plus headset, hands-free operation, serial port, and dial-up networking. The phone also paired easily with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and worked well for voice calling and stereo music playback. The u740 also features a microSD slot for expansion via removable memory cards. No microSD card is included in the retail package.
I'm something of a geek and something of a style freak when it comes to gadgets, and mobile phones, of course, are just about the ultimate gadgets right now. I want my mobile phones to do everything - voice calling, messaging, email, Web, music and video playback, games - and I want them to pack all of that functionality into slim, lightweight packages that look good. I'm perfectly happy to deal with a bit of a learning curve in order to master a do it all handset that requires a number of menus or multi-functional buttons in order to put everything plus the kitchen sink into my hip pocket.
Given that self-assessment, the Samsung SCH-u740 for Verizon Wireless is definitely the kind of phone I like. It's a flip phone that opens in two directions. It's got more than 40 buttons and two screens but is only 15mm thick. Best of all, it's a messaging powerhouse that looks like a regular old phone to the unknowing outsider.
All in all I really liked the u740 despite Verizon's best efforts to put Samsung's clever hardware design to shame. While perhaps a bit too complicated for the basic phone user, the u740 neatly packs a full QWERTY keyboard into a sleek form factor while being comfortable to use. Unfortunately, Verizon's user interface is less than comfortable to use, and their messaging and email applications definitely don't make the most of the hardware they run on. Still, if you're looking for a great texting phone without the bulk of a true smartphone, the u740 is well worth a look. Just be sure to sign up for an unlimited messaging plan when you get one!