Mobile : Expert Review: m320 Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung SPH-M320 has a slim, intuitive design with ergonomic controls. It offers Bluetooth, voice dialing, and good photo quality.

THE BAD: The Samsung SPH-M320 display has a lower-resolution than we'd like. Also, there was some static during calls.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung SPH-M320 has a decent camera and nice design, but its call quality could be just a bit better.

If you're looking for a low-end camera phone with a simple design, you can always count on Samsung. The company spins them out fast and furiously in the United States, particularly in the run-up to the holiday season. The Samsung SPH-M320 for Sprint is the newest model to fit this mold. Its design is minimalist and easy to use, and it offers a quality VGA camera. On the downside, the call quality is variable, and the display is a little two low-res for our tastes. But, in the end, it's not a bad handset for occasional callers. Alternatively, if you want the basic functionality without the shooter, the SPH-M220 is the SPH-M320's cameraless counterpart. The M320 is just $19.99 with service.

The SPH-M320 has a standard flip-phone design, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its good points. The red color is attractive, and the light-catching mirror goes easy on the fingerprints and smudges. At 3.6 inches tall by 1.86 inches wide by 0.85 inch deep, and weighing 2.68 ounces, the phone is also slim, lightweight, and compact. The handset feels comfortable in the hand, and the hinge is sturdy, but the plastic skin feels a tad flimsy.

The external display is no bigger than a postage stamp, but it shows all the information you need, including the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID. And with support for 65,000 colors (96×96 pixels), it also shows photo caller ID and works as a viewfinder for the external display, which sits just above. You can choose from a few clock styles and adjust the contrast. The remaining exterior controls include a volume rocker and a micro-USB port on the left spine, and a 2.5mm headset jack and a camera shutter on the right spine.

The SPH-M320's internal display measures a sizable 1.8 inches, but it supports just 65,000 colors (128×145 pixels). On a phone without a camera we wouldn't really mind, but even a handset with a VGA shooter deserves a higher-resolution screen. Colors were relatively bright and the menus are simple, but graphics and photos were far from sharp. You can change the backlighting time, the brightness, and the dialing-font size and color.

We very much approved of the SPH-M320's navigation array and keypad. Both have spacious layouts with tactile buttons. What's more, the numbers on the keys are large and the backlighting is bright. On the array there's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power controls, and a back key. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four features of your choice.

The SPH-M320's phone book holds 499 contacts, with room in each entry for five phone numbers, a URL, an e-mail address, a nickname, and notes. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, you can compose your own ringtones using the integrated voice recorder. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a scheduler, a task list, a countdown timer, a memo pad, a world clock, an alarm clock, and a calculator.

Though it is miles from being a smartphone, the SPH-M320 offers a couple of extra options. Inside you'll find Bluetooth, voice dialing, and an airplane mode. It also offers instant messaging and browser-based POP3 e-mail. The latter isn't the most user-accessible experience, but it works in a pinch.

The Samsung SPH-M320 lacks a flash.

The SPH-M320's VGA camera takes pictures in four resolutions, from 640×480 down to 224×168. Editing options include a night mode, four color effects, brightness and white-balance settings, three quality choices, a 10x digital zoom, six color tones, and three shutter sounds, plus a silent option. The SPH-M320 doesn't record video. Photo quality was pretty good for a VGA camera. Colors were relatively bright, there was little image noise, and we had enough light even without a flash. The SPH-M320 has a respectable 40MB of shared memory for storing your work.

The SPH-M320 has decent photo quality.

You can personalize the SPH-M320 with a variety of screen savers, wallpapers, and greetings. You can download more options and additional ringtones from Sprint using the WAP 2.0 wireless browser. The handset comes with three games: Burnout, Galaga, and Jeopardy. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was fair. Volume was loud and voices sounded natural, but there was a bit of static and distortion on our end. It hardly ruined our calls, but it was there just the same. Callers didn't notice the same thing on their end, but they had trouble hearing us in moderately noisy environments. The same was true for automated calling systems.

Speakerphone calls were about the same. We could hold a conversation, but it didn't deliver an optimal experience. In short, the SPH-M320 is fine for occasional callers, but heavier talkers might want to look elsewhere.

The SPH-M320 has a rated battery life of 4.4 hours talk time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 43 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SPH-M320 has a digital SAR of 1.11 watts per kilogram.

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