Samsung SCH-A990 Review
The A990 continues the tradition of incorporating a camera built into the phone. What is unique about the A990 is that it uses a 3.2 Mega-Pixel CCD Camera. This is the first camera phone for Verizon to use a higher quality 3.2MP CCD camera sensor. The only other phone to use a CCD sensor was the LG VX8000, but it was limited to 1.3MP.
The operation of the camera is also unique for the A990. First, flip open the phone. Then rotate the display 180 degrees and flip it back down. This activates the camera. Just remember to first flip the switch next to the camera to open the lens cover. You then hold the camera so the screen is in landscape mode. On top of the display are the status icons. These include Options, Signal Strength, Flash, Image Resolution, number of pictures that you have room to store, and Battery level. Located on the top of the phone is the Options button, Zoom buttons, and Shutter button.
When you press the Option button, you are given a list of camera options that is displayed on the bottom of the screen. You can move between them by pressing the two W/T zoom buttons, and selections are made using the red Shutter button. The options are Picture Mode, Flash, Self Timer, Multi-Shot, Quality, Resolution, Brightness, White Balance, ISO, Color Effects, Metering, and Settings.
In the Picture Mode menu you can select Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night, Daylight, and Backlight. We found that Auto works best. However, if you want to take a Macro picture or Photo at night, you need to select those modes.
The Flash allows you to choose Flash Off, Always On, Auto, and Only This Shot. Again, Auto works best. The Flash would automatically turn on when the camera would sense that it needed to use a flash just like a real camera. This is a handy feature. Self-Timer gives you the choices of 2sec, 5sec, and 10 sec. Multi-Shot allows you to take multiple pictures fast in a row. I didn't find this useful since fast moving images would come out blurry. Quality has settings for Economy, Normal, and Fine. It is best to leave Fine selected.
Resolution gives you several options to choose from. The highest resolution is 2048x1536 (3.2MP). Other Resolutions are 1600x1200, 1280x960, 1024x764, 800x600, 640x480, 320x240, and Picture ID. The Picture ID will take photos sized 128x96. Photos taken at the 2048x1536 resolution average about 1MB per picture. There really isn't any reason to take pictures using the lower resolutions, but it's nice to know that the options are there.
The Brightness is set at 0 and can be changed from +4 to 4. The White Balance has settings for Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Tungsten, and Fluorescent. The Auto setting works best most of the time, but we did have to change it to Tungsten on occasion when taking photos indoors under incandescent lighting. White Balance seems to be a problem on most camera phones, but not as much on the A990. However, it's nice to see the option there. The ISO settings are Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800. ISO settings are used to adjust the amount of light needed for the image to have the proper exposure. For pictures taken outside in the sun, a low ISO number (100) would give the best results. Indoor pictures would use 200-400, and pictures at night with a flash 800. Leaving it set to Auto is best and should only be changed if the images are too dark or too bright.
Color Effects are more for fun than function. You can choose Normal, Black & White, Sepia, Negative, Emboss, and Sketch. We have never seen the Sketch option on any other phone. When a picture is taken, it turns it into a Black & White sketch drawing, almost like in PhotoShop. Very interesting, but I doubt most people would get much use out of it. Metering give you the choice of Average, Center, and Spot. The default selection was Center, but after a few tests we found that Average gave the best results. The images were more in-focus and had better exposure when using the Average setting.
The Settings menu has several choices. The first option is Memory and allows you to choose either the Phone or MicroSD when storing pictures. The next option is Auto Focus. It is turned on by default and I highly recommend using the Auto Focus system. When using the Auto Focus, the camera will take 3 seconds to first focus on the image before taking the picture. This provides the best image quality. The Auto Focus works best when taking a picture of a subject that is not moving. However, for moving subjects, you will need to turn Auto Focus off. The last option in the Settings is for turning on or off the shutter sound. It is nice that the A990 includes all of these settings for the camera, even though all the choices may be overwhelming for some users. As stated earlier, the Auto settings work best a majority of the time, but manual settings can be used when needed.
When using the Auto Focus setting, it takes 3 seconds for the camera to focus and take the picture once the shutter button is pressed. If Auto Focus is disabled, it only takes 1 second to take the picture. After the picture is taken it will be displayed on the screen. You then have to choose to erase it or save it. There is no option to have the camera automatically save pictures without asking. This option should have been added so you would not have to be asked after taking each picture. When using the Auto Focus, it takes 3 seconds to take the picture, and then 3 seconds to save it. All together you are looking at 6 seconds between being able to take pictures. Turning Auto Focus off will cut down the time to 4 seconds between taking pictures.
Picture quality on the A990 is better than any other Verizon phone currently offered. This is due to the 3.2MP CCD camera sensor. It is nice to see that Verizon has finally released a phone that takes photo-printable quality pictures. Outdoor pictures came out very nice with good color reproduction and detail. Only around the edges was the image slightly out-of-focus. Indoor pictures taken under incandescent light also came out very pleasing. The less light in a room, the grainer and darker the image would become, while loosing color saturation. The LED Flash is useful when taking a picture of a subject that is up to 5 feet away. Any further and the flash loses its effectiveness. The LED Flash on the A990, or any other phone for that matter, cannot compare with a flash on a standard camera. Because of this, taking pictures at night is not one of the strong points of camera phones. Phone manufactures should think about using a brighter LED Flash, or have a larger Flash that will produce more light.
The Camcorder mode allows you to record and save videos to the internal memory or to the MicroSD card. Videos can be recorded in either 320x240 or 176x144 resolution. If the 320x240 is selected, videos cannot be sent using Flix Messaging. They must be saved to the MicroSD card and then transferred from the card to the computer. Videos recorded at 176x144 can be sent using Flix messaging, but only if they are less than 15 seconds long. You can also have videos record up to 1 hour, as long as there is memory available on the MicroSD card. Therefore, selecting 320x240 will give you the highest resolution, and it can record up to 1 hour. A 2 minute video record at 320x240 uses 4MB of memory. A full hour video will use 120MB.
Some of the video settings are the same as the ones when taking pictures (Resolution, Flash, Self Timer, Quality, Brightness, White Balance, and Color Effects). However, once a video has started recording, you cannot access those menus until it's stopped. The top of the Display shows you status icons, including how much memory is left for recording.
Videos recorded outdoors have good color and decent quality if you use the 320x240 resolution. Indoor videos are also good as long as there is plenty of light. If it is too dark the Flash will stay on to provide additional light. Unfortunately, the range of the Flash when recording a video is only 2-3 feet. Videos that are transferred to a computer will require the latest version of Apple Quick Time in order to play. The recorded videos have jagged edges and the quality is far less than even VHS quality, but not terrible considering the A990 offers the highest video recording resolution than any other Verizon phone. Still, since the A990 has a 3.2MP sensor, the video resolution should not be limited to 0.0768MP. We wish that recorded videos could be taken at a higher resolution, like 640x480 for example. The only downside is that it would use more MB/sec, but with a 1GB MicroSD installed, that would not be an issue.
The A990 has the capability of playing WMA music files from the MicroSD card. First you must purchase a MicroSD memory card and USB Card Reader for your computer. Before transferring any music to the card, it must be formatted. Place the MicroSD card in the A990 and go to Menu, Settings & Tools, Memory, Card Memory, Options, and Format. This will format the card and create the proper directories to store music, pictures, and videos. Once this is done, connect the USB reader to the computer and insert the memory card into it.
On the computer, open Windows Media Player (version 10 or 11) and Sync to the memory card. Windows Media Player has to convert any MP3 files to WMA files before sending it to the memory card. This is because the A990's software only supports WMA. After Media Player converts the MP3 files to WMA it will transfer the songs to the memory card. You then have to go to Windows Explorer and Cut & Paste the files into the my_music directory. Then you remove the memory card and insert it back into the A990. Go to Menu, Get Tunes & Tones, and Manage Music. It will take a few minutes for the file list to be created for the first time. Music is listed by Genre, Album, Artist, and Song. The screen will show the current song playing, album art, and music timer. The A990 can be closed while the music is playing. On the left side of the phone is the Rew, Play/Pause, and FF buttons. When the phone is closed, you can use these buttons to Rewind, Pause, or Fast-Forward the Current song, and skip to another song. The W/T buttons on the right side of the phone are used for volume control. Overall we were very happy with the quality of the Music Player and didn't experience any problems. Music playback is loud and has very good quality through the stereo speakers. Stereo earbuds (2.5mm) can also be used. It is unfortunate that Verizon disabled the Bluetooth Stereo headset function. The only negative about the A990's Music player is the need to convert MP3 files to WMA in order to listen to music. There is no reason why you should be forced to do this. The A990 uses a Qualcomm chip that is capable of decoding MP3 and WMA files. However, the Verizon Software on the A990 will not read MP3 files; only WMA. For people that have large amounts of MP3 files, this poses a serious problem. Verizon should have allowed the software on the A990 to read MP3 files. This would eliminate having to convert them to WMA. Hopefully this will be added in a Software upgrade, considering the new LG VX8500 Chocolate can read MP3 and WMA files.
Like all other Verizon phones, the A990 uses Qualcomm's BREW format for application. There are no preloaded games on the A990. They must be downloaded from Get it Now. Games range from Action, Sports, TV/Movie, Classic, Puzzle, Casino, Strategy, and 3D V Cast. Most games cost under $3 per moth for a subscription or $10 for unlimited use.
Verizon also offers V Cast service for $15 per month (unlimited Mobile Web is also included). V Cast has pre-recorded video clips, updated daily, that you can play on the A990. The main categories are New, Sports, Entertainment, and Weather. News clips are available from NBC Mobile, CNNtoGO, ABC News Now, Market Watch, and CBS News. Sports clips are from ESPN, FOX Sports, MLB.com, V Cast Sports, and NASCAR.com. Entertainment has selections from AtomFilms, V Cast Showcase (Movie and TV clips), MTV, Comedy Central, Music Videos, Nickelodeon, E!, Sesame Street, CMT, Fox Mobile, ABC, VH1, Cartoon Network, and Loony Tunes Cartoons. Weather forecasts are available from AccuWeather.com and The Weather Channel. The resolution of the video clips are 176x144 and the quality is somewhat lacking. Videos will playback in a small window on the internal display. The Display can be flipped around (like if you were using the camera) and the Video will then change to full screen. This is the best way to watch the video clips. The Rew, Play/Pause, FF, and Volume buttons on the side of the phone can also be used. V Cast provides a useful service when on-the-go and you need to access this information. It does not compare to Sprint's new Media Service which has access to live TV broadcasts, since V Cast videos are all prerecorded. In 2007 Verizon plans to launch their MediaFLO network which will allow users to view live TV broadcasts. However, since MediaFLO is not released, it is unclear if current Verizon phones will be able to access this service.
Included with the A990 is a TV-Out cable. When the cable is connected to the phone, you connect the other end to your TV's RCA input (Yellow = Video, Red/White = Audio). You can have your TV act as the phone's display. The phone will not display V Cast, Mobile Web, or Get it Now applications on the TV. The best thing to use this for is to display photos and videos.
VZ Navigator is a new service available from Verizon. The application uses the GPS locator in the A990 to give you turn-by-turn directions. You simply enter an address in and the application will tell you where you are and how to get to the destination. If you do not know the address, you can also enter the Street Intersection in or Airport. When used while driving, the screen shows you the next turn and street, while a voice will tell you what to do. If you happen to miss a turn, the application will then recalculate the map and tell you how to get to the destination. We used this program in South-East and South-West Florida. It was very useful in an area that you are unfamiliar with. The directions on the screen are easy to follow, but the best part is having the voice guide you. You can download a free month trial of VZ Navigator on the A990. After the first month it is $10/month. Airtime is also used when downloading maps and directions. When used in a car, I highly recommend using a car-charger to power the phone. It took 2.5 hours to drive from Ft Lauderdale to Naples and the battery was almost empty after using the Navigation.