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5

Samsung A701 review

The Good Vivid super-bright screen. High-speed connection. Solid software bundle. Includes 512MB microSD card.

The Bad Proprietary charger and headphone connection. Low internal memory.

The Bottom Line While a decent phone in its own right, what makes the A701 stand out is what the Next G service brings to the mix, such as streaming video content and a high-speed connection to the Internet.

Design
The A701 is based on one of Samsung’s many mobile phone designs which are modified to suit whichever carrier is holding the cheque. In this case, Telstra got a stylishly cut phone decked out in “café black” (it sounds so much better than “Darth Vader black”, doesn’t it?).

As what’s these days a mid-sized mobile, the A701 shares roughly the same footprint as phones like the Motorola RAZR, although it’s noticeably thicker and heavier — not bad things if you like a little heft in your handset, and certainly nothing that will prevent it from slipping easily into a pocket.

Like many of its Samsung siblings, especially in the Asian market, the A701 is a clamshell flip phone on which the screen pivots open on a sturdy door-like hinge. The flat flush-sided panels afford no purchase for flipping the phone open with one hand.

On the left side is a concealed port for the A701’s battery charger, which continues Samsung’s trend of using a slim proprietary connector rather than the far more common mini USB jack. On the right there’s a door for a microSD memory card, making a welcome change from phones which bury the card slot behind the back panel and in some cases under the battery. The A701 generously includes a 512MB card and SD Card adaptor.

Both the external (one-inch) and internal (2.2-inch) displays are exceptionally bright and detailed, and show off the phone’s rich icons and vivid graphics to their best possible effect.

Features
The A701’s standout feature isn’t as much a function of the phone as of Telstra’s Next G network, and that’s the ability to tap into an exceptional range of streaming video content.

Video has been a part of 3G services since their launch, of course, but Next G’s superior reach and substantially higher download speed deliver the kind of video-in-your-hand experience that 3G first promised — depending on the signal strength to your current location, of course.

However, the A701 boasts several traits which are crucial to this. One is that the handset is rated for HSDPA (High Speed Download Packet Access) 1.8, which delivers a peak download rate of 1.8Mbps — four times that of standard 3G.

The playback experience is also enhanced by a gloss coating on the A701’s inner display, similar to many widescreen laptops, although the more ambient light you have, the less effective this screen becomes.

You can cue up your own entertainment with the A701’s MP3 music player which makes a decent fist of playlists and shuffle mode, and then delights with the touch-sensitive playback keys parked on the front panel under the external display. Like the main keypad, these are illuminated by a crisp white backlight.

The big let-down is that the headphone socket uses the same connection as the battery charger, which forces you to rely on the bundled and rather pedestrian earphones.

The pre-loaded software goes beyond the norm in areas such as a very flexible alarm clock, world clock, voice recorder and currency converter, plus a document viewer for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents. The PC connectivity is however hampered by a USB 1.1 connection.

Performance
Testing several of Telstra’s Next G services over the A701 showcases the capabilities of both the network and the phone. We tuned into live Foxtel services such as CNN as well as the update bulletins from Sky News and consistently enjoyed smooth playback with minimal delays and buffering. Moving between online menus and selecting content proved much faster and thus far less frustrating than on 3G.

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