Beyond the Upstage, which Sprint and Samsung make a big ado about on Monday, Samsung only released a basic clamshell for Verizon, dubbed the SCH-u540. The u540 is a simple affair. It's an EV-DO-enabled phone that also has a 1.3 megapixel camera, microSD for media storage, and stereo speakerphone. It has plain black and silver styling clues and the metal shell on the front and back has a hit of sparkles in it, which seems to be a new design trend in Samsung phones. The back of the phone has no markings of any kind. There is a standard-sized screen on the front and touch capacitance buttons for access to the music player.
On the left side of of the phone are where the volume keys are and a keyboard lock button. The keyboard lock button prevents the music keys from being activated when the phone is grabbed out of your pocket. The right side of the phone has the voice-command button. The phone has a medium weight, but because of the smooth metal casing, it has a bit of a slippery feel to it. It just sort of feels very vanilla-y. Nothing makes the in-hand experience stand out.
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Opening it up, you'll see a big screen, which wasn't overly impressive in terms of quality, but it was bright. The standard Verizon UI was there, as was a Samsung skin that mirrored the Verizon UI, but had its own look and feel. It featured the same five selections across the top of the screen, but they were customized blue icons over a white background. The icons are all animated and do their little dance when you scroll over them. A nice improvement over the standard Verizon UI is that when scrolling up and down through the menu selections, the selection that is highlighted enlarges itself and the font becomes bold, and the other selections sort of grey themselves out.
The real standout feature of the phone was the keypad. It has a nice rubbery soft touch feel that is just pleasant to use. The keys are all large and easy to reach and use and they simply feel great under your thumbs. The click of each button was also good, not too harsh, not too click-y.
The camera UI was very usable. It was easy to adjust zoom and brightness on the fly while composing pictures, but anything more than that requires diving down into the options menu. The rest of the features were in line with Verizon's standard feature set, including the music player and video player.
The UbiCell is Samsung's femtocell product. Femtocells are essentially tiny base stations for your home. They work similarly to Wi-Fi hotspots in that you plug them into a broadband connection and it provides wireless coverage for your home. The one they announced at the show was unofficially slated to Sprint and should be available in late 2007. It overs enhanced voice and 1xRTT data coverage. They are trialling EV-DO Rev. A/C, and will upgrade the device if and when those trials are successfully completed.
The UbiCell can cover 5000 square feet, which is large enough to blanket most homes, plus a short distance outside the house, with coverage. The UbiCell self monitors and can tell if it is bumping into the larger main network and can scale itself down accordingly to avoid any interference issues.
The UbiCell will be offered through the carriers' retail channels. The users' phone numbers must be registered with the carrier at the time of purchase. This means friends and guests in your home - even ones use that same carrier - will not be able to access your UbiCell. While the UbiCell can support a long list of registered phones, we hear Sprint will be only be allowing four phones to be associated with each unit. Regardless of how the carrier configures it, only four users can access the UbiCell simultaneously. Calls will be automatically transferred to the main network once the cell phone ranges away from the house.
Once you get the UbiCell home, you can simply plug it into your broadband connection, follow some on-screen menus, and it will automatically configure itself to your carrier's network and provide voice and data coverage in your home. As offered by Sprint, the UbiCell will only work in your home. Other carriers may choose to enable the feature that lets you take the UbiCell with you to other locations to provide enhanced on-the-spot coverage.
Samsung is working on a WCDMA version of the UbiCell that will be trialled in 2008. The UbiCell does not provide Wi-Fi coverage. It will work with any broadband connection.
We also spotted the Samsung SGH-i600 (like the BlackJack but for Europe) in the booth, running a new home screen plugin that borrows UI elements from the next generation of Windows Mobile:
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