THE GOOD: The Samsung Renown has a slim design with a brilliant display and easy-to-use controls. It also offers good call quality, and its respectable feature set includes support for 3G networks.
THE BAD: The Samsung Renown's streaming video quality is poor and the external display is small.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Renown has solid call and photo quality, and it offers Verizon customers true world phone support. Yet, its poor streaming video quality keeps it from being an all-around good multimedia device.
After three touch-screen phones in a row, it's nice to see a Samsung phone that doesn't try too hard to make a statement. The new Samsung Renown for Verizon Wireless is one such device; it has a standard flip phone design that Samsung has become...wait for it...renowned for and its midrange feature set is what you'd expect from a Verizon 3G phone. The chocolate color scheme is unique, and the Renown has dual-mode CDMA/GSM support, but ultimately, there's not much to distinguish the Renown from other phones in its class. Performance was mixed with good call and photo quality, but poor streaming videos. The Renown (aka the SCH-U810) is rather costly--$179 with service or $229 if you pay full price.
In many ways the Renown looks a lot like the Verizon's Samsung Gleam. They have similar shapes, are about the same size (3.87 inches by 1.95 inches by 0.69 inch), and both have a glossy skin that catches the light. We haven't seen anything quite like the chocolate brown hue before and we suspect it will be a matter of personal taste. We like it, but we realize other people may not. It's also worth noting that the phone tends to attract fingerprints and smudges. The Renown is a tad heavier than the Gleam at 4.04 ounces. It has a solid feel, even if much of its skin is plastic.
The external display is a little small for the phone's size, but it supports 262,000 colors (96x96-pixels). It shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. It also works as a viewfinder for the camera lens that sits above the screen. Three touch controls for the music player sit just below the display; they allow you to access the media player and control your tunes without opening the phone.
On the left spine of the phone, there is a charger port and a volume rocker. The former uses a proprietary connection. On the right spine, there is a 2.5mm headset jack, a camera shutter, and a key that locks the touch controls. The Renown's single speaker sits on its back. You must remove the battery cover to access the memory card slot.
The internal display is a sizeable 2.25 inches. It supports 262,000 colors, which makes it bright, vibrant, and pleasing to the eye. The menus are easy to use and we're glad they represent Verizon's tweaked design. You can change the brightness, the menu font size, the backlighting time, the clock style, and the dialing font and size.
The Renown's navigation array is spacious and intuitive. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a voice command shortcut, a speakerphone control, a clear button, and the Talk and End/power keys. Though all buttons are flush, tactile ridges between the individual controls give them some definition. You can set the toggle as a shortcut to four user-defined functions.
The keypad buttons have a similar design. Though they're also flat, they are spacious and separated from each other. We could dial and text quickly and comfortably. We could dial by feel and the backlighting helps in dim situations.
The Renown has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 12 polyphonic ringtones. You also can save three "in case of emergency" contacts and store a personal business card that you can send to other people. As for other essentials, you'll find a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a tip calculator, a currency and unit converter, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad.
Additional features are relatively plentiful. The Renown offers voice commands, USB mass storage, stereo Bluetooth, M3 and T4 hearing-aid compatibility, instant messaging, PC syncing, Web-based POP3 e-mail, Verizon's Visual Voice Mail, and support for VZ Navigator.
The Renown's dual-mode support means that it's compatible with both CDMA and GSM networks. In the United States, you'll use Verizon's network, but when traveling in a GSM-only country, the phone will continue to operate on a local frequency. Though it supports four GSM bands, thus making it a true world phone, you won't be able to switch over to GSM when in the United States--that's Verizon's way of keeping the phone locked. It will come with a SIM card, and it won't work with a SIM card from AT&T or T-Mobile. Though the dual-mode support is convenient for world travelers--they no longer have to get another phone for European travel--keep in mind that you will pay roaming fees and you'll be forced to use Verizon's roaming partners abroad. You won't be able to buy a prepaid SIM card and use it to make calls.
As an EV-DO phone, the Renown supports the full range of Verizon's 3G services, including V Cast streaming video content, and the V Cast Music with Rhapsody. Both the V Cast menu and music store interface are pretty much unchanged from other Verizon phones. Player options include the usual limited shuffle and repeat modes, but V Cast Music also will recommend other songs based on your playlist. Music player features are limited to shuffle and repeat modes and playlists,
The Renown's 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in three resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 down to 160x120, and it offers a choice of three quality settings. Other options include a self-timer, spot metering, an adjustable ISO, brightness and white-balance controls, multishot, and night modes, three color tones, a digital zoom, and three shutter sounds--plus a silent option. Photo quality was admirable. Colors were bright, focus was sharp, and there was little-to-no image noise. Without a flash, however, you will need adequate light.
The camcorder records videos in two lengths; clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds or you can shoot for longer in the standard mode. Editing options are smaller than on the still camera, but you get a decent assortment. The Renown offers just 50MB of shared internal memory, so we recommend using a microSD card.
You can personalize the Renown with a variety of wallpaper, display themes, and alert tones. If you want more options, or additional ringtones, you can download them from Verizon with the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The Renown doesn't come with any games, but Verizon offers a range of BREW-enabled titles for sale.
We tested the (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO, GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Renown world phone in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. We didn't travel abroard during our testing period, so we weren't able to test the phone's GSM reception. However, CDMA call quality was pleasant. There was enough volume and the signal was clear and strong. For the most part, voices sounded natural, but we noticed a bit of a hiss on our end. It wasn't always noticeable, so we wouldn't say it was a big problem, but it was there nonetheless. The Renown supports Verizon's "whisper mode," which promises to amplify your voice when speaking in a whisper. It makes a difference as long as there's not a lot of background noise.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but they didn't report a hissing issue. On the upside, most of our callers could hear us plainly, even when we were talking in a noisy location. Automated answer systems could understand us most the time, but it worked best when we were in a quiet room. Speakerphone calls were decent as well. The speaker is on the rear of the phone, but it has a respectable output. Voice quality on our end was clear and callers could understand us if as we were in a relatively quiet room.
On the downside, steaming video quality was poor. The EV-DO signal was strong--videos loaded quickly and played without interruption--but the clips were overly pixelated and blurry. While that can be a common occurrence with 3G streaming videos, these clips just made us want to turn the feature off completely--not good. Music quality was better, fortunately. Thanks to the zippy EV-DO connection, we downloaded a 2.62MB song in about 30 seconds. Music over the external speaker sounds good enough, but a headset will provide the best experience. On one occasion, the phone froze in music mode and we had to remove the battery to fix the problem. That's troubling even if it happened that one time.
The Renown has a rated battery life of 5 hours and 13.3 days. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 42 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Renown has a digital digital SAR rating of 0.958 watts per kilogram.