THE GOOD: The Samsung Z400 has a durable, functional design and a satisfying feature set. It's a good performer, too.
THE BAD: The Samsung Z400 has a tiny external display and its e-mail and instant messaging features aren't intuitive.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Samsung's Z400 offers Sprint customers all the hallmarks of a Nextel push-to-talk phone.
Though Sprint Nextel has been a combined company for three years, the carrier has pursued a rather circuitous post-merger strategy. At first, the carrier said it would move all voice calls to Sprint's CDMA technology, while keeping Nextel's iDEN network for push-to-talk communication. But when customers failed to catch on to the dual-mode CDMA/iDEN phones, Sprint had a problem. Its CDMA customers were left without access to a PTT network, particularly after the carrier decided to retire its former ReadyLink service. Since that situation suited no one, Sprint developed QChat as a solution.
QChat offers the first PTT interoperability between CDMA and iDEN networks. There's no mishmash of competing technologies here. Using a bridging technology, QChat phones make and receive PTT calls through Nextel's existing Direct Connect service. Sprint has released four QChat phones so far, the Sanyo Pro 200, the Sanyo Pro 700, the LG LX400, and the Samsung Z400, with two additional Motorola and Samsung models on the way. In this review we'll take a look at the Z400, which is the first Samsung phone to support Direct Connect. On the whole it's a reliable, easy-to-use handset with a rugged design that would look at home in Nextel's lineup. Its feature set is functional and call quality was dependable. The Z400 is $99 with a two-year service contract.
Though the Z400 has a basic design, you wouldn't confuse it with many other flip phones. Durable rubber sidings give the Z400 a sturdy and comfortable feel in the hand. This is one handset that will take its share of blows. The black sidings also contrast nicely with the handset's dark blue skin. But even with the added durability, the Z400 is relatively compact and lightweight (3.7 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.96 inch; 3.5 ounces).
Front and center is the Z400's external display. It's quite small, but it shows the time, battery life, and signal strength. It is monochrome, so it won't support photo caller ID, but it does function as a very rudimentary viewfinder for self-portraits. Only the screen's contrast is adjustable. Above the display are a pair speakers and the camera lens. The Z400 does not offer a flash. The external controls are very similar to those on a Nextel phone. A volume rocker, a 2.5mm headset jack, and a PTT button sit on the left spine, and a speakerphone control and recent calls list sit on the top of the phone. On the right spine are a camera shutter and a covered charger port.
The internal display supports 262,000 colors and measures 1.9 inches (176x220 pixels). We had no complaints about the resolution; graphics and text looked great, and the menus are simple and intuitive. You can change the brightness, the backlighting time, the dialing font size, and the menu font size.
The navigation array is quite spacious, and we liked the tactile controls. Though they're flush with the surface of the phone, the individual buttons have a sturdy feel and they give off and audible click when pressed. You'll find a four-way toggle with programmable shortcuts, a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons, and a Back control. The keypad buttons have a nice design as well; we like the large numbers on the keys and the bright backlighting.
The Z400 has a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers (including a Direct Connect number), an e-mail address, an instant message handle, a URL, a nickname, and notes. You can organize callers into groups and you can pair them with a photo or one of 22 ringtones. Other essential features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a memo pad, and a world clock.
The Z400 steps up with a decent assortment of work-friendly features. You'll find Bluetooth, voice dialing, USB mass storage, a speakerphone, GPS through the service, PC syncing, a voice recorder, and Sprint's Mobile Sync service. You'll also find instant messaging and basic e-mail, though both services require you to use Sprint's Web service. Neither makes for the most easy-to-use experience. Besides Direct Connect, the Z400 supports Group Connect, which lets you make PTT calls to up to 20 people simultaneously, and TeamDC, which lets you contact up to 35 people at one.
The Z400's 1.3-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other features include a night mode, brightness and white balance meters, a self-timer, spot metering, a multishot mode, six fun frames, five color tones, and five shutter sounds (pus a silent option). Photo quality was satisfactory, even if colors were a bit oversaturated.
The camcorder shoots offers a similar set of editing options. Messages meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. The Z400 offers a respectable 21MB of space. We like the easy-to-use menus in both camera and camcorder modes.
You can personalize the Z400 with variety of screensavers, color themes, clock styles, and greetings. You always download more options from Sprint via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The Z400 also comes with several games demos and trial applications of The Weather Channel Mobile and Sprint's Live Search, which integrates the phone's voice command function with GPS and 411 services.
We tested the Samsung Z400 in San Francisco using Sprint's service. Call quality was very sharp and clear. Voices sounded natural, and we had no trouble hearing our callers in a variety of environments. Occasionally the signal was interrupted by some interference, but it was a minimal problem. On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could hear us well and some couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. We didn't encounter problems with automated calling systems.
The Z400 has a great speakerphone. Audio on our end was quite clear and we were surprised at the speaker's powerful output. Similarly, PTT calls were more than satisfactory. In fact, we noticed improved quality over iDEN devices.
The Samsung Z400 has a rated talk time of 5.8 hours. The tested talk time is 4 hours and 56 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Z400 has a digital digital SAR rating of 1.36 watts per kilogram.