Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Convoy SCH-U640 (Verizon Wireless)

THE GOOD: The Samsung Convoy has a durable, easy-to-use design and a respectable feature set. Call and photo quality were excellent.

THE BAD: The Samsung Convoy has a 2.5mm headset port and a proprietary charger jack. 3G performance was a bit slow.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite a couple of design complaints and a missing feature, the Samsung Convoy is an easy-to-use phone with great performance.

Editors' note: This review originally reported that the Convoy does not support Verizon's push-to-talk network. In fact, the phone does support the service. We apologize for the error.

Hot on the rugged heels of the Motorola Barrage comes an equally durable phone for Verizon Wireless called the Samsung Convoy. Similar in form and function to AT&T's Samsung Rugby, the Convoy is built to withstand the elements while offering 3G, a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, and a music player. We consider it an easy-to-use phone with admirable voice quality. It will cost you $99 with service and after a $50 mail-in rebate.

You'll know right away that the Convoy is meant to be a rugged phone. It has a tough plastic skin, rubber sidings, and a battery cover that locks firmly into place. It's not completely waterproof, but it is certified to the usual military specifications for humidity, dust, shock, temperature, and salt fog. Indeed, the Convoy has a solid, comfortable feel in the hand and the hinge is sturdy.

The postage stamp external display supports 65,000 colors (128×128 pixels). You can adjust the contrast only, but the screen shows the date, time, signal strength, and photo caller ID. It also works as a viewfinder for the camera lens and you can use it to access a selection of features like your calendar, Bluetooth, the music player, and voice commands. Below the display are three dedicated music controls, while below them is a large speaker. The camera lens sits above the display, and there is no flash.

The internal display measures 2.2 inches and supports 262,000 colors (220×176 pixels). It's not exactly eye-popping, but it's bright and vibrant with sharp colors and graphics. Outside of your usual Verizon complaints, the menu interface is easy to use. We like that you can choose from three menu styles and that you can adjust the position of icons and replace the standard menu choices with your favorite apps. Other editing options include the backlight time, clock format, dial font size, and menu font size and style.

The navigation array includes a large toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a camera shutter, a voice dial control, a clear button, and the talk and End/power keys. The buttons are flush, but their spacious design makes them easy to use. You also can set the toggle to offer shortcuts to four user-defined features. The keypad buttons are equally spacious. Though they're flat, we could dial and text quickly without making mistakes. The numbers on the keys are large as well and they have a bright backlighting.

On the right spine you'll find a microSD card slot, a speakerphone control, and a 2.5mm headset jack. It's disappointing that we don't get a 3.5mm jack on a music phone. On the left spine are a programmable shortcut button, a volume rocker, and the port for Samsung's proprietary charger. Samsung is making good strides toward the Micro-USB charger standard, but it didn't happen here. Also, since the rubber flaps covering the ports and memory card slots aren't completely secure, we suggest taking care that the Convoy doesn't get a full dunking.

The Convoy has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, a street address, and notes. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with a photo and one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad.

For more demanding users, the Convoy offers speaker-independent voice commands and dialing, USB mass storage, PC syncing, stereo Bluetooth, instant messaging and chat, and support for POP3 e-mail. Thanks to the integrated GPS, you also can connect with Verizon's VZ Navigator. On the whole that's a fairly strong feature set, and you can access Verizon's push-to-talk network for an extra $5 per month.

The Convoy has dedicated music controls and a larger speaker.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600×1,200 down to 160×120. Other editing options include a self-timer, three quality settings, five color effects, four white balance choices, a 10x digital zoom, an adjustable ISO, spot metering, and a brightness meter. You also get several shooting modes–divided multishot, autoshot, and panoramic–and a selection of shutter sounds. The camcorder has a smaller number of editing options. Videos for a multimedia message are capped at 60 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode.

The Convoy has very nice photo quality.

Photo quality was very good for a 2-megapixel shooter. Colors were bright and there was little to no image noise. Some of our shots had a slight pinkish tone, but that was our only complaint. Just remember that without a flash, you'll need to have enough light to get a decent image. Videos were fine, but nothing great. You can transfer images off the phone in a message, via Bluetooth, or through a wired connection to your computer. Verizon also gives you an online album. The Convoy has a respectable 90MB of integrated shared memory and can accommodate microSD cards up to 16GB.

As an EV-DO phone, the Convoy supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including V Cast streaming video content, and the V Cast Music with Rhapsody. Both the V Cast menu and music store interface are pretty much unchanged from other Verizon phones. Player options include the usual limited shuffle and repeat modes, but V Cast Music also will recommend other songs based on your playlist. The Convoy includes an airplane mode for listening to your tunes while aloft.

The Convoy can take a self-portrait, but it doesn't have a flash.

You can personalize the Convoy with a banner, wallpaper, and display themes. The Convoy doesn't come with any additional games or applications, but you can download options form Verizon with the WAP 2.0 browser.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Samsung Convoy in San Francisco using Verizon service. Call quality was quite respectable on the whole. The signal was clear and strong, voices sounded natural and the volume was sufficiently loud. We also didn't encounter any interference from other electronic devices. We used the phone in a variety of places and could hear clearly in each one. Honesty, we have no gripes. The Convoy is compatible with M4 and T4 hearing aids.

On their end, callers said we sounded great as well. We heard no complaints even when we were calling from a noisy place. Some couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone quality also was admirable. The external speaker gets quite loud and the audio remained clear on both ends. We also were pleased with Bluetooth headset calls and with the quality of the voice-command feature.

The 3G connection was shaky when downloading music tracks from the V Cast Music Store. It took almost 2 minutes to download a 3.73MB song, which is quite long. But once the music was on the phone we were impressed with the quality, both over the external speaker and headphones.

The Convoy has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 22.37 days standby time. Our tested talk time is much longer at 7 hours and 32 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Convoy has a digital SAR of 0.912 watt per kilogram.

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