Review of the Samsung SPH-a920


While thereís nothing special-looking about the SPH-a920 (also known by the stupid name ďThe JiveĒ), its non-descript appearance hides a rather competent phone that did extremely well in my testing.

 

This phone is available through Bell Mobility

Last Updated: 06-May-2006

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

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: I tested the phone over at Rockwood Mall, which is an excellent place to test Bell Mobility phones, because the network has such poor service there. The Samsung performed exceptionally well in all of the places where the network was known to be weak and it outperformed my old ST-7868W by a very substantial margin. However, it was the equal of the UTStarcom PPC6670 that I was also testing at the time.

Over-the-road Performance: This aspect of the performance was stellar, in that the phone made network problems sound only like minor dropouts, rather than disruptions. Unlike the current crop of Nokia CDMA phones however, it couldnít gloss over the problems quite so well, but it more than makes up for that (as do most phones based on the Qualcomm chipset) by having much nicer audio.

This section of my reviews for CDMA phones has become admittedly a bit stale of late, but thatís simply because the Qualcomm chipsets provide approximately equal performance across virtually all the phones that use them.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: The tonal balance on this particular Samsung CDMA model is better than what Iíd become accustomed to with their previous attempts. Audio volume through the native earpiece is excellent and it can handle fairly high volumes without distorting. The only fly in the ointment is that the sound gets a bit harsh as volume increases.

This means that it has a piercing quality to it that makes you want to pull the phone away from your ear. The extent of the harshness depends upon the overall quality of the source material, so some callers will sound harsher than others. Surprisingly few phones provide what could be called smooth audio reproduction (with little or no harshness), so the a920 is not unusual in this respect.

The harshness may be the result of the speaker theyíre using for the native earpiece. When I plugged in my trusty Samsung earbud I was rather impressed by general lack of harshness there. The volume was once again excellent and the tonal balance was actually better than the native earpiece. Note that the quality of sound on any earbud or headset is dependent upon the quality of the product being used. One would expect a Samsung earbud to work well with a Samsung phone.

Sound Reproduction: Like most CDMA phones based on the Qualcomm chipset the overall sound reproduction was good, but a little coarse compared to a GSM or iDEN phone. To be fair, I have misgivings about the general quality of the EVRC CODEC used on CDMA networks in North America. Within the limitations of this CODEC however, the a920 does about a good job as can be expected.

When it came out outgoing sound quality, I was very impressed. In a quiet environment the quality of the samples I recorded to my voicemail were among the best-sounding Iíve heard regardless of underlying technology (CDMA, GSM, iDEN). There was virtually no clue that the recording was made from a CDMA phone, which is unusual. The UTStarcom PPC6670 I was testing at the same time didnít provide anywhere near that level of competence under similar circumstances.

Under moderately noisy conditions (at the not-so-crowded food court at Rockwood Mall) the phone produced very consistent and understandable outgoing audio (a marked difference to the UTStarcom PPC6670, which did very poorly). When tested in a moving car the outgoing audio was once again surprisingly good, even with the window wide open. Thereís no question that this CDMA phone has the best outgoing audio Iíve heard since I tested the Kyocera Slider.

Speakerphone: The speakerphone feature on the a920 is hardly a prize-winner, but itís loud enough and clear enough to use in real conversations, so long as you are in a reasonably quiet place. The sound comes out of grills on the ends of the flip hinge. This location ensures that itís clearly audible under most circumstances and itís nearly impossible to muffle it.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: The ringer volume on the a920 is about mid-pack. Itís loud enough to hear in most circumstances, but it doesnít have the oomph to work in really noisy environments. The phone supports waveform ringtones, which sound fairly good on the built-in speaker, which is also used for the speakerphone.

Keypad Design: This is actually one of the nicest keypad designs Iíve seen in ages. The keys are well-spaced, reasonably distinct, and they have really great tactile feel. I didnít like the location of the BACK key, but aside from that the keypad was a joy to use. The 4-way cursor was reasonably distinct, as was the OK/Menu button in the middle of it. I made no keying mistakes during my time with the a920.

Display: The color display on the a920 is crisp and bright. It displays photographs well, but it isnít quite the match of a desktop LCD display. The display can be seen quite clearly in bright sunlight, especially if the background is white and the characters are black. Even viewing pictures is possible under these conditions. While not the best color display Iíve seen on a phone, itís certainly in the top 5.

The external display on the phone is of similar quality, but it seems to be a bit tougher to see in bright sunlight. This display is used for various purposes, but the most obvious is for Caller ID presentation (with picture ID capabilities) when the phone is closed. The external backlight isnít as bright as the main display, and so it isnít quite as easy to see.

Conclusions

I was very impressed with this phone overall, as there is very little to be critical of. It has excellent RF performance, very good over-the-road performance, a loud earpiece, a loud ringer, okay audio quality for a CDMA phone (though excellent through an earbud), a good keypad, and a great display. How can you go wrong? If I were considering switching to CDMA right this minute, Iíd be hard pressed to think of another phone Iíd rather have.

About the only gripes I have about this phone are: the harshness of the sound on the built-in earpiece; the less-than-super-loud ringer; and the lack of a Profiles feature. The latter is something that Nokia introduced almost 8 years ago and it has become common on many phones since then. The feature allows for quick changing of multiple phone attributes (like ringer volume, display style, etc) to suit different environments. Sadly, with the a920, you must change all of the attributes manually, which usually means you limit those changes only to the ringer volume.

The a920 isnít a cheap phone (selling for $350 without a contract at Bell Mobility), but itís a such a good phone that you may not mind paying the extra bucks to have it.

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