Review of the Samsung A540


The Samsung A540 is a handsome CDMA clamshell phone offered in Canada by Telus Mobility.

Last Updated: 11-Nov-2002

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

General

I had a chance to test a Samsung A540 in Kitchener, Ontario over the weekend, and along with it I was able to compare its capabilities with an older Samsung T300, also owned by the person who was loaning me the A540. Being able to put these two Samsung models in side-by-sides tests was a bit of an eye-opener, since I came away with a lot more respect for the T300, and not a whole lot for the A540.

That wasnít to say that the A540 was a bad phone, nor did it lack charms, but when it came to the all-important core functionality, the T300 I tested along side to it was a much better phone. However, this does highlight a problem that reviewing phones tends to create. In previous tests Iíve had the chance to try a T300 along side other models, and the consistency in performance is rather sketchy.

Some T300s seem to be excellent performers, while others are mediocre. That begs the question: are all phones like that? In other words, is the A540 I tested a typical example of its kind, or will you most likely have different experiences with one if you owned it? I canít really say, but keep this in mind when reading the remainder of the review.

Like all Samsungs, the A540 looks solid as a rock. Its physical construction gives one the impression that engineers at Samsung put very high priority on this aspect of design. Fit and finish is excellent, the flip hinge looks sturdy enough be used on your car doors, and overall feel is very slick.

I didnít especially like the flush keypad, but to Samsungís credit, the keys did seem to press easily, and they provide reasonable feedback to the user. I couldnít really say the same for the four-way joystick ďpadĒ however, as it was rather difficult to use effectively. The phoneís owner agreed with that assessment.

The main screen is large, but not overly so. It provides fairly handsome fonts in black & white, with 4 distinct gray levels, and a reasonable electro luminescent backlight. The phone also includes an external screen that can display various bits of information without the phone being opened. Itís tall, but not very wide, and so while the font used for the digital clock is very readable, the Caller ID information is extremely tiny. If you donít have excellent eyesight, youíre either going to have to squint, or guess whoís calling you.

Quite a bit of the screen real estate is wasted on huge icons. They should have provided an option for menus that didnít include the icons (which were pretty much pointless anyway, except as a cute conversation starter). The menus themselves are quite well organized, and they should be easy to navigate for beginners and old salts alike.

The ringer is of the polyphonic variety, which is all the rage recently. Unfortunately, it doesnít provide any standard ringtones that would be better suited for noisy environments. In fact, none of the polyphonic ringers are very audible with the phone tucked away in your jacket pocket, even in less-than-noisy conditions. In other words, youíll have to rely on the vibrator to get your attention, and depending upon how thick you coat is, that might not be enough. Expect to miss a number of calls.

The phone book was of the hierarchal design, with up to 6 phone numbers per entry, and the option to storing an e-mail address. However, that is as far as it goes. There are no options for storing any other type of information, such as a street address, general notes, etc.

Other features include Samsungís excellent calendar utilities, which made good use of the screen (despite earlier comments about how wasteful the menus are). There are also 3 games, but they are all of the arcade variety. There are no thinking games, and so once the novelty of them wears off, it is unlikely that youíll spend much time playing them. I keep hoping someone will put a great computer-opponent or over-the-air-opponent chess game on a phone. However, the lack of such games is the norm for phones at this time, and I can hardly fault Samsung for including what they did.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

When it comes to incoming audio quality, the A540 is a disappointment. Okay, it sounds much better than the LG TM-520, but then so do virtually all CDMA phones on the market today. Compared to the T300, the A540 was tinny and somewhat harsh. It also didnít provide enough earpiece volume for cranking up those faint callers.

When used on a headset however, the A540 actually performed better than the T300. It provided reasonable audio quality (which suggests that its main problem with it is a low-grade earpiece speaker) and it gets fairly loud. The T300 didnít sound any better or worse on a headset, but it provided far less volume.

Outgoing audio is good, but not excellent. The quality is about the same as the T300, but nowhere near as good as my Motorola ST-7868W. Iíd have to say that outgoing quality is slightly better than the Ericsson T206, but it will depend a lot on your voice, how you tend to hold the phone while talking, and what sort of background noise is present.

RF performance is okay, but hardly stellar. The T300 that I had on hand was clearly superior. This applied to holding onto a call-in-progress, and retaining service while the phone was idling. It seems to have more trouble finding Bell Mobility service (when Telus service fades out), especially compared to the T300.

So in summary then, I would only recommend the A540 to those who value style over substance (and if youíve gone to the trouble of reading a review, I rather doubt you are one them). Although the phone is fairly capable, there are other phones on the market that will sound and perform better (even if they donít look as good doing it).

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