THE GOOD: The Samsung Knack SCH-U310 has a simple, easy-to-use design and outstanding call quality. The functional feature set includes voice dialing.
THE BAD: The Samsung Knack SCH-U310's external display is small and its OK button is cramped. Also, there's no Web browser and you can't organize callers into groups.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Knack SCH-U310 is one of the best basic phones on the market. If you need a handset for making calls, you can't go wrong.
In a world where gadgets strive to impress, it's comforting to see a phone that has absolutely no pretensions–a phone that doesn't fall over itself to have the flashiest features, or sport a runway-worthy design. The new Samsung Knack for Verizon Wireless is one such device. Also called the SCH-U310, the Knack (no, we don't get the name either) is one of the best basic phones we've seen. Behind an extremely well-built and intuitive design are excellent call quality and a solid, functional feature set that includes voice dialing. While this is an ideal phone for anyone looking for a basic phone for communication, large keys and simple menus also position it as a great option for seniors or cell phone newbies. You can get it for just $39.99 with a two-year contract. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
The Samsung Knack won't win beauty contests, but its straightforward, no-nonsense design is one of its greatest attributes. We were struck immediately by the simplicity of its style. The silver face is nicely offset by the dark gray skin while the sturdy construction gives the flip phone a comfortable, solid feel. The hinge, in particular, feels very nice; the Knack opens and closes with an audible click. The SCH-U310 is on the bulky side (3.78 by 2.01 by 0.74 inches) but its slim profile means that it can travel well. And at 3.63 ounces it won't weigh you down too much.
The Knack's one-inch external display is a bit smaller than we'd like, but it shows all the information you need, including the time, battery life, signal strength, and numeric caller ID. The display is monochrome (96×96 pixels), so it won't show photo caller ID, but that's not a problem on this caliber of phone. The text on the screen is relatively large but it's too bad the font size isn't adjustable. Also, we'd prefer being able to adjust its backlighting time.
A large, silver volume rocker sits on the left spine of the SCH-U310; we had no trouble finding it when on a call. On the right spine are the charger port, voice dialing control, and a 2.5mm headset jack, which are colored red, silver, and blue, respectively. Presumably the colors are meant to make the items more visible, but whatever the reason, we like the effect. We also like that the top half of the voice-dialing button gives convenient one-touch access to call your voice mailbox. The Knack's single speaker sits at the top of its rear face.
Inside the phone is the large (2.25-inch), eye-catching display. Though it supports 65,000 colors (220×176 pixels), you'd hardly know it. Colors were vivid, graphics were sharp, and the entire screen is very bright. Fortunately, you can adjust the backlighting time and font size. But the best thing about the display is that–at least for the Knack–Verizon has ditched its confusing and much-maligned standardized-menu interface. Navigation was a breeze, as all options are arranged in a simple format. The arrangement should be particularly simple for anyone new to cell phones. We also like the SCH-U310's nifty "Phone Info" menu, which puts a host of useful information at your fingerprints, including your phone number, the battery life percentage, the numbers of voice mails and messages, the volume setting, and an explanation of the onscreen icons. Again, it's all very straightforward and simple for a first time cell phone user.
The spacious navigation array is well-designed, too. We also like how the silver keys compare with the black toggle. The array consists of two soft keys, a dedicated "911" key, a speakerphone button, Talk and End/power controls, a clear key, and a user-programmable "ICE" (in case of emergency button). The large, tactile keys should limit misdials, even for clumsy fingers. Indeed, we had no issues during our test period. The Knack's toggle is spacious, as well, though it could be just a bit more tactile. On the downside, however, the central OK button is almost too small. The SCH-U310's keypad buttons have large numbers with a bright backlighting. Given their large size and tactile definition we had no problems dialing, testing quickly, or dialing by feel.
The Knack has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers. There's no space for extraneous information like e-mail addresses or job titles, but that's perfectly fine on a basic phone like this. You can't set caller groups, which is a bit of a disappointment, but you can pair individual contacts with one of 23, 32-chord polyphonic ringtones.
Other features on the SCH-U310 include a vibrate mode, text messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, a tip calculator, a unit and currency converter, and a speakerphone. There's no Bluetooth but the Knack offers speaker-independent voice dialing.
You can personalize the Knack with a variety of banners, wallpapers, and alert tones. There's no Web browser, so you can't download additional options. Though we understand the omission of the browser, it would be nice to have it just the same. The SCH-U310 doesn't come with any games.
We tested the dualband (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Knack SCH-U310 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was very good by all accounts. The signal was clear and free of static, the volume was loud and voices sounded sharp and natural. Indeed, we had no complaints, and callers had only positive things to say. They could hear and understand us nearly all of the time and a few couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. It was only when we were talking in a store with a loud PA system that callers had trouble with the connection. Automated-calling systems had trouble understanding us under the same conditions. The Knack is compatible with M4/T4 hearing aids.
Speakerphone calls were almost as satisfactory. The volume on our end was very loud, even though the speaker faces the rear of the phone. Voices sounded a bit tinny, but that's not unusual. On their end, callers reported few problems, as long as we were using the speakerphone in a quiet room.
The Knack has a rated battery life of 4.5 hours talk time and 14 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 37 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SCH-U310 has a digital SAR of 1.14 watts per kilogram.