Sunday, January 7

Wrote the following as a sort of response to CNET's review of my Samsung SCH 3500 cell phone. Their submit form choked, probably because it's too long. Hate to see it go to waste, so:

I bought this phone largely on the basis of the CNET review. What I discovered was that the CNET review was accurate as far as it went -- but the review didn't go very far.

The phone really does have a lot of features: voice dial, web browser, memo recorder, data/fax support, etc. But the way these features are implemented and integrated with each other limit -- and in some cases, eliminate -- their utility.

Consider two related features: the built-in phone book, and voice dialing. The phone book works well: every time you make or get a call that isn't already in your phone book, the phone offers to add it. So you never actually need to edit the phone book -- which makes up nicely for the poor PDA support (more on that below).

Voice dialing also works well, Say a name a couple of times, and you've trained the phone to dial a number. But you can't simply dial a number from the phone book! You have to enter the number in the voice dialer's *separate* phone book. So the feature becomes more trouble than it's worth.

Voice memo's another example. For this feature to be useful, you should be able to whip the phone out of your pocket, press the record button, and talk. But the record button is blocked by the flip hinge. So you have to use both hands to open the phone, then reposition your hand to cradle the phone with one finger on the button, *then* press.

Another button that's *almost* handy is the ringer volume button. This one is properly located, so that your forefinger naturally falls on it when you're cradling the phone in your right hand. You can use this button to change the volume, and even the type, of the ring with a few presses. So in theory, you can quickly change the ringer to "vibrate" and enter a theater without fear of personal injury.

But not quite. The ringer button doesn't affect the sounds made by Voice Messages, Pages, Text Messages, or Alarms. Each of these can only be modified by complicated, menu commands, one at a time!

PDA integration: most yuppies keep their personal phone books on a PDA. But there's no simple way to copy the phone numbers to this phone. If I had it to do over, I'd try to find a phone with an infrared port. Except that it's *very* hard to find out which phones have this feature. CNET doesn't even provide a way to search for it.

I won't go into detail on the web browser. But it's worth noting that this is really a bundled product from phone.com. One wishes that CNET would review the wireless web browsers as separate products, and clearly specify which phone uses which browser.

I could go on and on, but I'll end with a comment on the most basic feature of the phone -- its ability to make voice calls. I live in a marginal reception area. So the phone is constantly beeping when I move around, even if it's only a few feet. The beeps occur as the phone loses and acquires the Sprint PCS network, often shifting to analog or even a non-Sprint network. Clearly reception here really sucks.

My first thought was that Sprint did a lousy job building up the local network. But I've observed that other Sprint phones actually work fairly well in this area. Which suggests that CNET really ought to test phones in more than one area before giving it high marks for reliability.