Just about four weeks from now, the mobile world is preparing to be turned on its head as the iPhone hits the store shelves. While many are waiting for the iPhone release, Sprint and Samsung have quietly introduced a phone that has so much going for it that it might steal some iPhone thunder. In fact, you might just ‘Flip’ over this phone.
The phone is the Samsung Upstage which is, for now, a Sprint exclusive. This is a very innovative phone with quite a feature set and a very reasonable price. Read on for my thoughts and a full review. A few months ago, Sprint was teasing us with promos on the Upstage – it didn’t even have a name at that point – but we knew it was going to be something very cool.
I was very fortunate to get an early release of the Upstage and I have been battling my 12 year old daughter for some time with this phone to check out its features. She made a deal with me – if she could ‘use’ this phone when she was home, she would help write the review. Done. So, you will not only get my thoughts on this phone – but those of a pre-teen who has found a new best friend. I will therefore credit my daughter, Sara, as a co-reviewer of the Samsung Upstage.
Here are the technical specs on the phone and the ‘official’ line from the Sprint web site:
Introducing the UpStageTM by Samsung – the flip side of mobility.
The UpStageTM – a mobile device that looks amazing no matter if you’re talking on one side or grooving to music on the other. The striking ultra thin design with dual LCD and touch navigation keypad gives it distinct functionality and style. Enjoy great videos, ringtones, and Sprint TVTM. Download your favorite songs from the Sprint Music StoreSM and listen to them while you IM or browse the web.
About this Phone
The unique dual-face design of the UpStage(tm) by Samsung(r) lets you get your groove on and have great calls. Wirelessly download music in a instant with one touch access to the Sprint Music Store. Other great features include the Sprint Power VisionSM Network, Bluetooth Wireless technology, and Extended Battery Wallet that allows up to 16 hours of listening.
Digital Dual Band Up to 2.5 hours continuous talk time, with the included extended battery wallet up to 6.3 hours. 1.7′ x 4.0′ x 0.37′ (size comparison) 2.57 oz
The Sprint Power VisionSM Network
Whatever you want to do, now the answer is yes you can. Sprint Power VisionSM gives you the choice and flexibility you need to make the most of your wireless service. Watch, listen, play and do at the speed of life.
Sprint Music StoreSM Enabled
Download stereo-quality, digital tracks instantly to your phone. Choose from hundreds of thousands of full-length songs from virtually every genre. Select songs directly from your wireless phone and listen to them wherever you go, even download them to your PC.
Sprint TVSM Enabled
Watch live TV on the go with full-motion video and vivid sound. Use your phone to watch news, sports, weather, movie trailers, entertainment channels.
Sprint PCS(r) Picture Mail
Shoot, share and print high-resolution digital photos instantly. Send short video clips with your picture and video-enabled Sprint PCS Vision Phone.
Stream music to your phone with Sprint Radio, offering both music and talk radio. Get over 30 channels – Hip Hop, Top Hits, Latin Pop, music videos and shows from NPR, Sporting News and more.
Slim, Dual-Faced Form
The UpStage is the first product that’s both a dedicated music player and a dedicated phone. And at only .37′ slim, it’s bound to pick up a ton of dedicated fans. Music (and Everything Else) Player
You can load up the UpStage with music from your PC or downloads from the Sprint Music StoreSM – then listen to it all through the stereo speaker or a stereo Bluetooth headset. Then there’s a big, beautiful, 262,000-color display so you can watch music videos or Sprint TVSM. Just hit ‘play.’ 1.3 Megapixel Camera
The same beautiful display that lets you enjoy music videos can also display your photos. The UpStage has a sweet 1.3 megapixel camera and camcorder so you’ll never miss a photo op again. Stereo Bluetooth(r) Wireless Technology
Connecting to Bluetooth-enabled headsets, handsfree car systems and compatible printers sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, connecting to your music with a stereo Bluetooth headset sounds even better.
According to Sara, ‘the upstage for the most part has a phenomenal design.’ The Upstage is small and very thin. It is comparable in size to the last generation of the iPod Nano – and that is a good thing. As Sara points out, ‘It is the first phone that flips from side to side.’ Early reports had this phone being called the Samsung ‘Flip.’ One side essentially serves as the ‘Phone’ and the other side serves as the Music player, Media Player and picture viewer (among other things.)
The Phone side of the Upstage has a small, color LCD screen. Under the screen are two ‘soft keys’ above the smaller d-pad. In the middle of the small d-pad is the Menu/OK key and to the sides are the dedicated Camera button and the Back button. Under the d-pad are the Green and Red phone keys. Sitting underneath is a standard set of number keys for dialing – each with the traditional three letters for the awkward texting using T-9 or other methods.
In short, on the first side we have a very basic phone that is a delight to hold – small, rubberized texture and it fits very neatly in your hand.
Along the right hand side is a volume rocker switch, a reset button and the proprietary jack for charging the phone and using stereo headphones. Along the left hand side is a convenient ‘Hold’ button, the ‘Flip’ switch (more on that later) and the Micro SD memory card slot. The idea is that some functions are controlled on this side of the phone and others on the ‘Media’ side of the phone. The phone prompts you to ‘Flip’ to the other side if that function is controlled there.
Now, to the other side of the phone. What you notice first on the second side of the Upstage is the large, gorgeous screen. It is on this side that the Upstage logo and the large ‘Samsung’ lettering can be found. Under the large screen is a large touchpad which is touch sensitive (emphasis on ‘sensitive’) with a Play/Pause button in the middle.
The touchpad is used for accessing all controls on this side of the phone – navigating through the menu screens, choosing the type of media to watch or listen to and even choosing contacts to dial or text.
In general, I found the controls easy to use, intuitive and the overall style is just beautiful. The function of the Touchpad is great, but as Sara aptly points out, ‘The touch pad on the side with the larger screen is amazing. It can be much easier than having to press a lot of buttons, but it isn’t always helpful. Since it is ultra touch sensitive the slightest movement can mess up what you are doing. You can adjust the sensitivity level, but that doesn’t always help.’
The Upstage as Phone: Sara point out that ‘One really amazing thing about this phone is its call quality. It is spectacular. All the times I have used it I have not once had a problem. You can clearly hear the person on the other side and hey can clearly hear you.’ I would agree with her assessment here. The call quality is good and the flat, dial keys have a very nice and very high tech feel to them.
The size of the phone makes it perfect to hold and use as a standard phone. The Upstage also support virtually all Bluetooth profiles, and call quality with various Bluetooth Headsets was also excellent. My only issue (which is a continued issue with this phone is that if you navigate through the large menu on the ‘Media’ side of the phone and say, select ‘Call History,’ once you choose to ‘dial contact’ you have to switch to the other side. There is a lot of ‘switching’ sides with this device.
Messaging on the Upstage:
Messaging occurs on the ‘Phone’ side with the smaller of the screens. You can navigate your messaging menus while on the ‘Media’ side, but as Sara points out: ‘When you go to send someone a message the phone automatically tells you to flip the phone onto the side with all of the buttons and on the screen is that exact same thing you just had on the other side. You don’t necessarily have to type on the number side, there is and option to type on the side with the touch pad. It is just a lot more difficult.’
Messaging uses either a Multi-tap sort of approach or more of a T-9 approach. The predictive text was actually pretty good on this phone. As with many phones, there are all kinds of options for your texting sounds and screens.
In the Messaging menu are also options to send picture mail, voice messaging, IM and email, chat and voicemail. While checking email is possible, the interface is a little cumbersome and without a keyboard, writing emails is time consuming.
Click on the Web icon from the Media side, and a very nice menu from the ‘Vision Home Page’ is displayed. Navigate to the desired option, news, sports, weather and more and push the center button. Many options are displayed and the speed was very good using Sprint’s EVDO network.
Web pages are navigated using the touchpad – which was sometimes a little tricky. A ‘rocker’ or trackwheel would have made web navigation much easier.
As Sara points out: ‘There are categories to choose from and if you don’t find what you are looking for you can search it on the search bar.’
The Upstage as a Music Player:
Without a doubt, this is one of the huge strengths of this device and why, I believe, it will take some of the thunder away from the iPhone.
My pre-teen certainly enjoyed this feature. She points out that ‘Most people either have an apple ipod or and mp3 player. Well this phone is both and so much more. There are thousands of songs to choose from and range from all ages. It is remarkably easy to download a song. All you have to do is click on the song title and then once the next page loads click buy.’ It is very easy for your kids to buy songs on this thing – maybe too easy. But, at the new price of $.99 – it is very reasonable. The Sprint music library is not as large as iTunes – but it is substantial.
One of the nice features is just how easy it is to both access your music library and buy new music. Along the bottom of the large screen are icons for the ‘Music library,’ ‘Buy Music’ and ‘Sync’ button for syncing music with the PC.
It was easy to create playlists and navigate through the music stored on the device. You will definitely want to purchase a larger Micro SD card – at least 1gig or 2 gigs in size. I found that after I let my daughter load her songs onto the Upstage that she barely touched her iPod – she didn’t need to.
Sound quality was great. The Upstage plays plenty loud and the detail in the music is quite good. There is a proprietary jack that plugs into the side which allows you to use your standard headphones. The jack contains a microphone, so that when a call comes in you can easily take the call – listening through the headphones and talking into the Mic. I should also point out that the Upstage supports A2DP – Streaming Stereo Bluetooth technology. If you add a Bluetooth Stereo headset – there will be no wires to hassle with.
The Upstage uses a 1.3 mega pixel camera which produced very nice images. The lens is on the ‘Phone’ side and the large screen is used as the viewfinder. Sara had fun with the camera and pointed out: ‘ Not only is there a camera, but there is also a camcorder. The one thing about this camera is when you are taking a picture and you hear the click the picture isn’t taken yet. After the click if your object you are photographing moves, then you have the picture of them moving. Otherwise from my experience it is almost as good as a digital camera.’
Power Vision Features:
I have long been a fan of the Spring Power Vision Network – and this phone does not disappoint. The options to access the Power Vision Network are available in several of the icons in the menu screen. One thing that was confusing to me was that if I wanted to listen to Sirrius Radio or other Streaming Radio, I had to go to Sprint TV instead of to ‘Music’ in the icon list. This was not a big deal – but it was not as intuitive as other options on the phone.
Sara observed that: ‘Watching television and videos is just like watching it on a small television. The games are one of my favorite parts about this phone. There is a large variety of games to choose from and they are very fun to play. One difficulty playing games is that the touch sensor can become quite a nuisance.’ I would add that the touch sensor touchpad made navigating through the many screens in the Sprint TV section and other Power vision sections a little challenging. Too many times (even after adjusting the sensitivity) I inadvertently clicked the wrong button and had to start over.
That being said, the options are too numerous to list – from all the various TV options (picture quality was great and streaming was pretty smooth) to music options (I love the Sirrius radio option) to other media content – this is a very capable Multi-Media Device.
One of the most creative and, at times, frustrating features of this phone is the ‘Flip’ button. As Sara points out: ‘Flipping this phone is not just moving it from side to side. Next to the lock button on the side of the phone is a button that says ‘flip’. When you w nt to flip the phone you press the flip button and a little picture of the phone and a red arrow will come up on your screen telling you to flip the phone over. You cannot flip the phone while text messaging or while any applications are running.
I completely understand the novelty of the ‘Flip’ and the need to, let’s say text from the side with the keys. The one thing I don’t understand is why Samsung put a dedicated ‘Camera’ button on the ‘Phone’ side which immediately prompts you to move to the other side to use the camera. All in all, it took a little while to get used to ‘flipping’ the phone. I do believe that non-technical folks might get a little frustrated with the continual ‘flipping’ that takes place. Gadget folks and younger users will simply think the Flip feature is very cool.
From the mouth of my twelve year old: ‘ This phone is just incredible. It has millions of excellent features, looks fantastic, and is just purely amazing. I love everything about this phone. Well not everything the only thing that sometimes gives me grief is the touch sensor pad. Otherwise I would not change one thing about this phone.’
He dad feels that this is truly a ‘revolutionary’ not ‘evolutionary’ kind of product. Making use of both sides of the phone is brilliant. Most features work very well. Menu navigation is a little tricky with the sensitive touch pad – but after some time, you do get used to it.
The overall look and feel of this phone rivals anything out there – it is small – it is nice in the hand and the functionality is great. Sprint and Samsung have a winner here with the Upstage. Time will tell whether this will take some air out of the iPhone bubble – but at $99.00 with a two year contract you get a lot of phone for the money – for about $400 less than what the iPhone will cost you.
Final Grade: A-
Pros: Great design, great build quality, good sound quality, loud speaker, innovative and fun to use
Cons: The touchpad is very sensitive and takes lots of getting used to, the ‘Flip’ button loses some of the novelty over time.