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Gadget Review

Sprint’s Vision for the Future

By Kailas Narendran

Staff Writer

I’m not one to make sweeping generalities, but I see a change in the winds for what we all call cell “phones.” New technology is transforming cell phones from simple channels for voice, descended from the loins of Alexander Graham Bell, to more interactive and emotive channels of communication.

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate the new PCS Vision system from Sprint, along with the Samsung A500 phone. When the two are used in conjunction, they provide new and interesting communication opportunities.

Samsung A500 Phone

Right when I took this phone out of the box, images of Captain Kirk came to my mind. The phone is almost a replica of the communicator from Star Trek. It easily fits in the palm of your hand and has a flip out earpiece and screen. The LCD display is even visible when the phone is closed, providing the time, date and battery and signal information.

In that sense, the phone is almost reminiscent of a techno pocket watch. Opening the phone gives you a view of the brilliant screen. If nothing else, I loved the screen on this phone. It was ridiculously bright and easy to read in all lighting conditions with the touch of a button. The keys are large, lighted, and easy to press. An omni-directional arrow button sits above the keypad.

The reception on the phone is quite admirable. It kept a signal of reasonable strength even as I walked through the most enclosed segments of the infinite. The battery life was commendable, providing about 3 to 4 realistic days of standby time with changing signal conditions.

The most amusing feature of this phone is the 16-bit sound. You can download custom ringers ranging from songs to a clucking chicken. I find it amazing that this phone has a close approximation of the multimedia capabilities of my first computer. Integrated into the phone is a scheduler, games and a Web browser.

Unlike with its predecessors, you actually feel like you might be browsing the Web with this phone. The games are full color and sound, and you have the option of downloading new ones. They provide the perfect way to kill time as you sit in traffic, or wait in line to get your drop form in on drop date.

The unit I evaluated came with a camera that could take fair to poor quality, low resolution images (about 400x300 dpi). Once the camera is attached to the unit, the pictures can be uploaded to a Web site for everyone to see. Most of the special features of this phone (pictures, games, multiple ringers, e-mail, etc.), require a subscription to the PCS Vision service plan.

PCS Vision system

I think PCS Vision from Sprint is a vision of what’s to come, rather than what’s really here now. It definitely marks a paradigm shift that increases the connectivity of cell phones, really creating a personal communication system. The system utilizes a thin client of a low weight Web browser that runs on the phone, giving the user access to download e-mail, applications, and images.

The interface allows for a lot of functionality from a very small, relatively inexpensive device, since most of the work is done by the server. There are a variety of pricing plans available from Sprint that give you 2MB of data transfer for $10 on top of the existing plans. That’s about 35 images of transfer.

The data rate is pretty slow. It takes about 30 to 45 seconds to transfer one image of file size 40k bytes. You can set the connection to be persistent, but I found that it had to reconnect to the service every time I followed a link.

Sending a meaningful e-mail on the phone is a pain since you have to peck out your words on the alphanumeric keypad. If you need to send an emergency e-mail, it’s useful, but there needs to be a better solution before this catches on (like something as simple as an attachable QWERTY keyboard).

The total package

While I think the PCS Vision enabled phones and service are an impressive combo, the entire system has some room to grow. I had a fair amount of trouble actually getting connected to the network on numerous occasions. Since the software component of the handset has been significantly increased, I had to reboot the phone a couple times to fix login errors and connection problems.

The phone I evaluated had an external camera that was focus and flash free. The picture quality was marginal, but that should improve with models that are coming out soon, with real optics and flash integrated into the phone.

I assume that reliability problems will be fixed as the service becomes more popular and time tested. I think the basic concept of a wireless, personal communication system is very exciting, and I can see the potential in this technology.

The cost of the phone is about $300, and the service is, in most cases, about $10 more than an existing plan without the PCS Vision option. If you’re into cell phones (like a lot of people I know), this might be the thing for you. The phone definitely looks good, is functional, and it is very customizable and interactive, given the PCS Vision connectivity. For more information, check out <http://www.sprintpcs.com>.