Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Samsung a820 & STi Mobile Press&Talk

Note: This review was made into one big post on 8-7-07.


I had to have a pair of these phones for the feature that they, and only they, have as far as STi Mobile goes: Press&Talk, which is basically their rebranding of Sprint’s ReadyLink service (Sprint sells the same phone). Speaking of branding, this looks to be the first STi Mobile phone whose software is branded, though the hardware still (thankfully) bears no logo but Samsung’s own. The extent of the branding is to remove any references to “PCS Vision” (now it’s just plain old web access), to rename ReadyLink to “Press&Talk” and to put the STi Mobile logo at the end of the phone’s startup sequence, which is quite a bit shorter than that of the LG STi phones I’ve used, though shutdown times are probably a tad longer. “STi Mobile” is also the default standby screen text while Press&Talk isn’t on (if it is on the screen says “Press&Talk”).

But to the actual features of the phone. First off there’s that new feature, which promises to bring cometition to the prepaid walkie talkie scene: Press&Talk. The system uses just the cellular number of whoever you want to call, instead of the arcane combination of numbers and asterisks Nextel’s solution uses, which is nice, but it and web can’t coexist at the same time on the same phone. So if you want to use internet access you have to wait for about three seconds while walkie talkie is turned off, then another seven or so while the phone makes the web connection. A similar process occurs when you stop using web access and walkie talkie services resume. Needless to say, if you don’t have walkie talkie enabled you can’t receive any walkie calls, but you don’t have to worry about phone calls with walkie on; they still go through. As a side note, walkie talkie service is connected to, and takes the normal amount of time to do so, right after the phone boots up, if you have it enabled in the Settings menu of your phone. I not, the left softkey at the standby screen, normally reserved for the service, does nothing, as does the dedicated walkie talkie key on the left side of the phone, which is small but easy to press when needed.

Now to the actual walkie talkie experience. First off, I’m quite happy with the voice quality of the walkie talkie service. Since the phone is CDMA the voice quality is easily better than what Sprint’s iDEN “other half” can offer. The tradeoff for this better vice quality, and better text message delivery, and cheaper price (49 cents a day whether you use it or not vs. $1 a day if you use it for Boost Mobile) and faster web speed, is the significantly longer time it takes to connect the call...

Walkie Talkie

STi Mobile's ReadyLink-based PTT is no Nextel, but it doesn't cost as much either, so for casual use every day (STi is pay-per-day-whether-you-use-it-or-not; Boost is pay-when-used) STi should be perfectly fine. The great things about STi over Nextel is that voice quality is better and web access is much faster than its iDEN counterpart.

Performance-wise, the first connection on Press&Talk takes about 5 seconds on the sending end before a little bleep, quite unlike Nextel's "chirp", alerts you that you can talk. Another five seconds is needed before the person on the receiving end starts hearing you. This is on par with the time it takes to connect a CDMA phone call, which is to be expected (GSM is a whole lot worse in this regard), or what happens sporadically on the Nextel network.

After the initial connection though, things speed up quite a bit. The next time you press the walkie talkie button the "chirp" is almost instant, and there is only about a half-second delay between when you speak and when the other person hears you. Both these figures are on par with Nextel walkie talkie, or any other walkie talkie over cellular system for that matter. The connection speed may even be a little better than Nextel in some cases, such as when a network clog makes the connection time on Nextel skyrocket to five seconds or so.

So to sum it up, if you don't need Nextel-style initial connection speed you'll get two for the price of one if you get STi Mobile Press&Talk.

Build Quality

This phone has much better build quality, in my opinion, than the LGs I've used on STi. The flip action is nice and tight, as opposed to LG's flip, which is a little wobbly and maybe even creaky. The bad thing about the bild quality, though, is that on both my test phones (never opened before) the directional keypad and the buttons around it (send, end\power, back, two softkeys) seemed either too shallow or tended to ever so slightly bucke when one key was pressed, then another. Hopefully these buld quality issues are limited just to the phones that I tried, because otherwise these phones are nice that way, though when the flip closes the whole phone vibrates due to its sheer power.

Speaking of vibration, the phone's vibrate motor is strong enough and not loud at all. As an added bonus, it will vibrate in sync with the phone's ringtones. More on that the next time I write...

The speakerphone speaker isn't particularly loud, but it is nice and sharp and clear, and is seperate from the earpiece, unlike such as the LG 225 and 5225. Ringtones and voice sounds nicew and crisp, but if it could have only been louder...

Oh, and the vibe motor is nice. Somewhat subtle, but nice. And it vibes in time with the ringtone music, a nice bonus. Just don't expet it to move mountains.

And about the ringtones: they are many and varied, which is a good thing. And you can download more ringtones from 3gforfree.com using the phone and web access. By the way, Java works pretty well on the phone.

Battery Life
Hate to say it, but it seems like PTT drinks battery life. But then again I was using the phone A LOT while I reviewed it. I got maybe a day to a day and a half per charge, which isn't awful considering the fact that I was on the web a lot, used PTT a lot, went to areas with little signal or no signal, and played with the ringers a bit.

One problem I ran into: 611 on both the phones I was given did not go to STi Mobile customer service. It went to Sprint, which politely hung up on me with their voice response system. STi didn't seem to know how to fix it. BLEH!

Other warning: The phone comes with $100 in promotional airtime, which vanishes after 90 days. So use it up while you have it. Hey, that's why I don't like STi Mobile!

So yes, the Samsung is a nice phone and push to talk is quite bearable. But STi service is too full of gimmicks for me, and now that the phone's price on CheapPhoneCards is $119 with $100 in airtime included I can only reccommend the phone if you know people who either have this phone on STi or have Sprint ReadyLink, both small numbers of people, or are going to get multiple phones for multiple people to take advantage of the push to talk function. Oh, and you'd want the people to talk too, what with the vaporizing airtime deal.

No comments: