The scoop: UpStage (model SPH-M620) with Sprint Nextel service, by Samsung, about US$300 ($100 with rebates and two-year activation).
What it is: With last week’s announcement by Apple that the heavily hyped
iPhone will be available June 29, time is running out for phone companies to come up with their own iPhone killer or iPhone alternative. Looking at the dual-sided Upstage mobile phone, one has to wonder why nobody thought of merging a mobile phone and a digital music player before. Until now, most vendors of mobile phones with multiple applications and features squeezed them into the phone interface and hoped users would be able to figure out how to use the cell-phone keypad for listening to music or taking a digital photo.
Samsung’s UpStage: Killer or alternative?
Along the way someone thought, “Let’s just have a second screen and put it on the back of the phone.” Brilliant. So, on one side of the UpStage is a larger screen that’s dedicated to playing music. Its thin silhouette reminds me of the iPod nano. If you want to make or answer a phone call, you push the “flip” button on the side and turn the phone around, and, voilà, you have a standard cell-phone user interface and keypad.
Why it’s cool: That the UpStage is dual-sided is its coolest feature, but the device also lets you download songs over the air from the Sprint Music Store — or you can “side load” music onto the miniSD card through a PC (it comes with an SD card adapter as well as a USB cable). Other features are a 1.3-megapixel digital camera and camcorder, Bluetooth connectivity for a hands-free headset, and Bluetooth headphones (for listening to music wirelessly).
Some caveats: The music-player side of the UpStage wants to be more like an iPhone, with a touch-sensitive keypad instead of buttons to push. Training yourself to apply the correct pressure on the keypad to make the right choice takes a while, and you’ll either get very frustrated by this process or you’ll bear with it and just curse at the menu on occasions. I think Samsung was trying to be too cute, providing the touch interface instead of a better system of navigating around menus.
Holding the UpStage can be tricky. No matter which side you’re looking at, the other side will be touching your hand, and both displays eventually will have to be cleaned of handprints, fingerprints and so forth. Fortunately, the UpStage comes with a cover battery pack that doubles as a second portable battery and case cover to protect it from scratches while you’re carrying it around.
Bottom line: With the Apple iPhone (available exclusively from AT&T) coming very soon, it should be interesting to see whether Sprint will market the UpStage as an iPhone killer or as an iPhone alternative. From a technical standpoint the UpStage has many (if not more) of the features the iPhone claims to support. Without the Apple mystique, however, it could face an uphill battle as other vendors and carriers come out with their own iPhone combatants.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)