Review: Samsung UpStage
The UpStage is part of Samsung's Ultra series of phones, all of which are both extraordinarily thin and feature packed. The phone isn't much larger than a number of flash-based mp3 players on the market like the iPod nano or Samsung's own Yepp players.
In fact the media side of the UpStage looks almost exactly like Samsung's Yepp Z5. This side has a relatively large screen and touch-sensitive navigation controls with center select key. Because of the way the sides of the UpStage are beveled, it is most comfortable to hold it with this side towards you. This isn't a problem since the large screen and more complete menu choices offered on this side mean you'll spend more time using it.
The touch sensitive navigation pad works in a number of ways. It is a square track of touch sensitivity. Tapping the center of each side acts like hitting a directional key. Tapping the top two corners serve as soft keys while the bottom two are back and home. To add some confusion, the top center area you would press for up is labeled as menu, and brings up the main menu from the home screen.
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In addition you can run your finger down any side of the square to scroll. Despite the fact that the track is smoothly joined so that you could run your finger all the way around the square, you cannot continue to scroll this way. Instead you run your finger down one side and then hold at the end.
The touch sensitive track is a bit more responsive than what we've seen on other phones like the Chocolate. The center select key is the only real button on the media side of the phone. The other side of the phone only has real buttons - no touch sensitive trickery there.
To use the other side of the phone, you'll need to press the "flip" button on the side, or be told to flip the phone because of what you are trying to do. Although the UpStage is thoroughly modern, the phone side is reminiscent of low end phones from many years ago. It has large keys and tiny screen. It also has limited functionality you might associate with an old-school phone.
The large keys are easy-to-press, traditional-style buttons with a little bit of travel and a nice click action. While these keys are very easy to use, they present a mental challenge - remembering to actually press them. Because you can't press the touch keys on the phone's media side, and you use that side more often, you can actually forget you need to press the keys on the phone side.
Each key on the phone side only has a single purpose, making it a less confusing experience, even if we did forget to actually press the keys from time to time. The only oddity is a dedicated camera. Which wouldn't seem so odd except that the key is on the phone side, and yet you need to use the media side in order to take a picture.
The key labels have a bright white backlight that really stands out and makes the phone easy to navigate.
Next to the Flip key is a hold switch which will lock the keys on both sides, it will also turn both screens off unless music is playing. Music will continue to play and the screen on the media side of the phone will continue to display track information. On the other side from the Flip key and Hold switch are the volume controls.
The UpStage comes with a battery wallet that can triple the battery life of the phone, but adds quite a bit of bulk. When in the battery wallet, only the phone side is exposed, and though it probably doesn't look very suave, talking on the phone with it in the wallet is fairly comfortable. However using either side is far more comfortable when the phone is out of the wallet. The phone plus wallet is small and light and fits in the hand well.
Preview: Samsung UpStage
Our video hands-on with Sprint's newest music phone, a CDMA version of the Samsung Ultra Music.
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