THE GOOD: The Samsung Sway SCH-U650 has a sleek design, great call and photo quality, and a solid midrange feature set.
THE BAD: The Samsung Sway SCH-U650 lacks a thumb grip for opening its slider. Its controls are flush and it uses a proprietary headset connection.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Its design could use a few tweaks, but the Samsung Sway SCH-U650 offers satisfying performance and a functional feature set.
It's clear that Samsung loves two things: slim slider phones and midrange camera phones with flip designs. Indeed, we've seen a deluge of such models over the last few years, with the latest in the slider camp being the Samsung SCH-U650 for Verizon Wireless. Also called the Sway, (why, we're not quite sure), the SCH-U650 has a tried-and-true Samsung design. It's thin, silver, and attractive, but it wouldn't stand out in the cell phone crowd. Features are solidly midrange and call quality was satisfying, if a little harsh. It debuts October 15 for $69.99 with a two-year contract and a mail-in rebate.
The Samsung Sway takes two big trends in cell phone design--thinness and sliders--and combines them into one device. The result is an attractive, though not terribly original, handset. The retro silver color catches the eye, and we like the textured battery cover. At 4.15 inches by 1.96 inches by 0.47 inch, and weighing 3.56 ounces, it is compact and lightweight, so you should be able to take it anywhere. The Sway also feels comfortable in the hand and the slider mechanism is sturdy. However, we have to gripe about the Sway's lack of a thumb grip. Too often, our finger slipped to one of the navigation keys when we were trying to open the phone.
The vibrant 2.2-inch display supports 262,000 colors. Graphics and photos are sharp; text is readable; and colors are bright. Three menu styles are available, and each option is attractive and easy to use. You can change the backlighting time, the menu-font size and style, the dial-font size and style, and the clock format. The display is difficult to see in direct light, but that's not unusual on a Samsung phone. The camera lens, flash, and a speaker are on the back of the slider. As a result, you'll need to have the phone open to take photos.
The navigation array is relatively well designed, but it could use a couple of refinements. Though the keys are spacious, the majority of the controls are flush, so dialing by feel is difficult. On the upside, the four-way toggle and its central OK button are raised above the surface of the phone and the toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The other controls include two soft keys, a clear control, and the Talk and End/power buttons.
The keypad buttons are flush as well, but that's not uncommon on a slider phone. Tactile ridges separate the individual rows, so dialing by feel was easier than we anticipated. The numbers on the keys are relatively large and a bright backlighting helps in dim situations.
The left spine is where you will find a volume rocker and the headset jack/charger port. The rocker is a tad small, but you can locate it easily when you're on a call. Unfortunately, the headset has a proprietary connection, while other manufacturers are moving toward a standard micro-USB charger. Also, the combined port means you can use only one peripheral at a time. The right spine has a camera shutter and the microSD-card slot.
The Samsung Sway has a 1,000-name phone book. Each contact has room for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and notes. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photo or one of 24 polyphonic ringtones. You also can save three "in case of emergency" contacts. As for other essentials, you'll find a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a tip calculator, a currency and unit converter, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad.
Added features include voice commands, USB mass storage, stereo Bluetooth, M4 hearing-aid compatibility, instant messaging, PC syncing, Web-based POP3 e-mail, Verizon's new City ID feature, and support for VZ Navigator. The Sway is not compatible with Verizon's V Cast Music, but it does offer a music player than you can stock with files transferred from a PC. Features on the music player are limited, but there is an airplane mode.
The Sway'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, autoshot, and night modes, three color tones, a digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution), and three shutter sounds--plus a silent option. Photo quality was quite good. Colors were sharp and there was little-to-no image noise.
The camcorder records videos in two lengths; clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds or you can shoot for as long as the available memory will permit. Budding filmmakers can take advantage of a set of editing options. The Sway offers just 50MB of shared-internal memory, so we recommend using a microSD card.
You can personalize the Sway with a variety of wallpapers, display themes, clock format, and alert tones. You can download more options and additional ringtones from Verizon using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The Sway doesn't come with any games, but a wide variety of titles is available for purchase.
We tested the Samsung Sway in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was very good, overall. The signal was clear and free of static and we had no trouble getting reception. What's more, the volume level was quite loud and voices sounded natural. At the highest volume levels, the audio did sound a little harsh, but it wasn't too bothersome.
On their end, callers said we sounded good, and a few did not realize we were using a cell phone. A few of our friends said the Sway picked up a fair share of wind noise, but that assessment wasn't universal. Automated-calling systems could understand us most of the time and the phone's whisper mode was equally satisfactory. Speakerphone calls also were good, thanks to the large speaker on the back of the slider. We also had no issues with calls over a Bluetooth headset. The Samsung Sway SCH-U650 has a rated battery life of 4.5 hours talk time and 13 days standby time. The Sway has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 15 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Sway has a digital SAR rating of 1.28 watts per kilogram.