Posted on 24-Mar-2006 17:41 by Juha Saarinen.
Filed under: Reviews
Telecom launched its 3G network in New Zealand a year before Vodafone, but it took a different tack with the EV-DO service initially. The emphasis was on providing data devices for business users such as the Harrier and later the Apache unlike Vodafone, which launched a whole range of Live! services such as video calling, downloadable music, and games.
Now, however, there is a handset from Telecom New Zealand which caters for customers looking for similar content to what Vodafone provides: the Sanyo SCP-9000. Is a single 3G handset enough though to match Vodafoneís large range of phones?
Itís got a gig!
This is a premium phone, no doubt about that. The Sanyo SCP-9000 costs NZ$699 on an open term contract, and on Telecomís Mytime 12 to 24 month plans; those who sign up for the 36-month Anytime Go 400 or 800 at NZ$213.75 or NZ$337.50 per month respectively get phone thrown in for free, with discounts available on the lower-cost Anytime plans.
What do you get for that money then? The big draw-card is access to Telecomís T3G service, which is CDMA 1xRTT with an EV-DO Rev 0 data overlay. This means fast Internet connectivity: Telecom says 300-500kbit/s downloads are typical, but in good conditions, Iíve seen the EV-DO network hit 900kbit/s down and 120kbit/s up, with latency times of 90-110ms. Thatís not too shabby for a mobile network solution.
Voice calls go over the CDMA 1xRTT network however, and Telecom NZ defaults to the 8kbit/s EVCR CODEC even though thereís a higher bandwidth 13kbit/s QCELP CODEC option available. Voice quality is acceptable, but not as good what you get on a 3G call over Vodafoneís network.
Push-2-talk is also supported, but I didnít test this function for the review.
To capitalise on all that high-bandwidth goodness, Telecom ships the Sanyo SCP-9000 with a 1 gigabyte mini-SD card to store downloaded stuff. I would guess that Telecom wants that mini-SD card filled with as many music downloads as possible, at NZ$3.50 a pop.
A 128 gram clam-shell folder, the Sanyo SCP-9000 is similar to others in the South Korean electronic giantsí extensive range of mobile phones. Whether or not itís good-looking or ugly is a subjective matter, but in my opinion the phoneís fairy stylish both closed and open.
In use, Sanyo SCP-9000 feels pretty sturdy and almost passes the ďscrunch testĒ, with just a few annoying noises when you hold it. The phone lasted well over a day despite heavy use and the EV-DO radio going, despite the small 3.7V Li-Ion of unknown capacity. Charging the battery took just over an hour in most cases; the charger itself is nice and compact.
Great screen, but slightly awkward user interface
Making much functionality available without overloading a small device with buttons is a challenge. Itís even harder to do when in most cases said device will be operated by just your thumb.
Overall, Sanyoís done a good job here. The phone has four buttons surrounding a thumbwheel, which has another, round button in the middle, doubling up as the shortcut to the system menu and for confirming selections. The thumbwheel provides quick access to settings, messaging, contacts, and multimedia content stored on the phone.
The bottom two buttons fire up the camera and go back in menus, respectively. I found it somewhat counter-intuitive to use the back button, however, and to cancel out of an application, you press the End button further below, in the row that has the Speaker on/off and call initiation buttons.
I wasnít able to capture the user interface with my digital camera, unfortunately, but itís clean and fast to navigate. Not so quick is Sanyoís oddball interface for entering and viewing things like text messages. For instance, to send an SMS message, click the shortcut for messaging, the Compose button, pick either a phone book entry, or move the cursor down to add a mobile number in the next screen; then you press the Next button and in the screen that pops up, start writing your message (normal multi-press numeric pad or T9 predictive text entry are supported). Message composed, you press the OK button and then the Send button. Ugh. Thatís way too may steps for my liking. Nokia users donít have to press half as many buttons to do SMS.
The built-in Netfront WAP browser is pretty usable though, and as the Sanyo SCP-9000 runs Java, you can add better alternatives like the Opera Mini.
Not for power users
Despite the fast connectivity and a decent web browser, power users who want access on the hoof to network services should give the Sanyo SCP-9000 a miss.
The built-in email client is pretty terrible. First, it only offers POP3 access (leave messages on the server) to Xtra. No other provider or protocol is supported. Second, it doesnít display HTML email properly Ė that is, it will show the text of the message, and the HTML tags, in one big mess. Third, forwarding messages doesnít work. I tried with some from my Xtra account, but the client would only forward the subject of the message, and not the body.
Reading email and browsing the web on a small phone screen sucks though, so how about using the Sanyo SCP-9000 as a modem and hook up to Telecomís fast EV-DO network? Thereís no Bluetooth radio on the phone, and no infrared port either, so forget about using either as a modem.
The Sanyo SCP-9000 does come with a USB connection though, which I timed as being able to transfer files at around 5Mbit/s. It provides PICTbridge capability, so you can print out pictures simply by plugging in your Sanyo SCP-9000 to a printer that also speaks that USB protocol.
Unfortunately, once the USB connection is established to a computer, you canít make phone calls with Sanyo SCP-9000. That by itself is a major design miss, which is compounded by the fact you canít recharge the phone via the USB port and thereís no room for the charger plug with the USB connector attached.
Not quite a mean mobile multimedia machine
The target audience for the Sanyo SCP-9000 are people who want to use its multimedia capabilities. Starting with the imaging side of things, the phone comes with a decent-quality one megapixel camera that can shoot stills and short video clips up to 20 seconds in length.
For the video clips, Sanyo used the MPEG-4 format in 172-by-144 pixel size and 200kbit/s bit rate and 15 frames per second, which takes up around half a megabyte per file. Sound is recorded in mono, at 8kHz sampling rate and Qualcomm QCELP encoding.
Picture files on the other hand are 1,280*960 size with 72dpi horizontal and vertical resolution and 24-bit colour. As the lens is pretty fast, f2.8 and assisted by a flash as well, the Sanyo SCP-9000 takes decent pictures not just during the day. The camera also has close-up and landscape modes, and it works with the flip lid closed; the small LCD on the cover acts as a low-res preview screen.
Recording just voice is possible, during calls too. For playback, the Sanyo SCP-9000 has an incredibly loud speaker in the lid, given its small size. Speaker-phone calls are very audible. This can be something of a nuisance however, as you canít turn off some of the application sounds, like the grating ďSay cheese!Ē voice when taking pictures.
Telecomís EV-DO network doesnít support video calls at the moment Ė thatís for Rev A which should come out later this year. You can send short video clips however and watch recorded ones with news, entertainment, sports and music with the built in media player.
Games are available for the Sanyo SCP-9000 and they run well on the phone, helped by the good screen.
The Sanyo SCP-900 is one of Telecomís two phones for accessing its mobile music offerings, and thereís a good-sized catalogue available, some 300,000 titles of mainly contemporary stuff. Thanks to EV-DO, the tracks download very fast compared to Vodafoneís 3G service - but the files are also a lot smaller in comparison, at 7-800kbyte as opposed to well over a megabyte for Vodafone. Calls are diverted to voice mail while you download songs, so the faster that process goes, the better.
Just like Vodafone, Telecom has priced the music downloads way too high at $3.50 including GST per song. Add data and other mobile charges on top, and youíll stick with buying CDs or sourcing music downloads elsewhere.
The DRM-locked tracks themselves are converted to 32kbit/s KOZ format developed by Groove Mobile and quite simply, the audio quality isnít anywhere near Vodafoneís. The songs have hardly any bass and sound tinny overall. For what Telecom charges for the songs, this is not acceptable. You can play back MP3, AAC, AAC+ files as well, but Telecom doesnít offer these formats in its store.
In the US, Sprintís Music Store looks very similar to what Telecom offers. However, unlike Telecom, Sprint offers two versions of the songs Ė one optimised for the Sanyo handsets and another in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format that can be played back on PCs. While I canít imagine anyone wanting to fill that 1GB mini-SD card with expensive, low-quality songs, itíd be nice if the music you have bought at a great expense was transferable elsewhere.
A compact phone with fast network access and good performance that is let down by some strange omissions considering itís a premium price device.
Good WAP browser
Good battery life.
Using USB cable turns off phone
Not possible to charge phone via USB cable
Downloadable music tracks low quality and expensive