When you compare the list of features available on CDMA handsets with its GSM counterpart, there is an obvious “gap” that no one wants to fill. One of the reasons for the lack of proactive stance is the domination of GSM technology worldwide. Although the basic looks of CDMA handsets are improving over time, there are still things on the inside still that lack the attention required.
Samsung’s latest CDMA handset, the SCH-N181, attempts to narrow this gap by incorporating various features from its other GSM models. The result is a CDMA mobile phone that goes beyond what most other similar models have on offer.
The most talked about feature of the N181 is its polyphonic ringer, the first CDMA phone we’ve seen here in Australia to incorporate this. Most of us know Samsung to be the pioneers of this concept - with other manufacturers quickly following suit.
Other features on the N181 include WAP browsing, SMS messaging capabilities and a basic set of organiser features - all the features necessary to complete the basic suite of mobile applications in today’s environment.
One thing that’s extremely familiar about the N181 is its similar look and size with the company’s GSM model, the SGH-N620. Some may want to call it the CDMA version of the N620 - but considering the differences in their features, I wouldn’t really put it in that light.
But on the physical side of things, they share virtually the same look and feel - with the exception of the retractable antenna and button type used on the numeric keypad. The N181 is lightweight and sized comfortably to fit in any shirt or jeans pocket, and the different type of button used for the numeric keypad (compared to the N620) seem to provide a higher level of accuracy in high usage situations (for example, typing messages with T9 enabled).
User Interface & display
Most of the N181’s menus are listed vertically (up/down), with the exception of the main menu level where an iconic horizontal display can be used instead. The little pictures for each menu item probably make it easier for an average person to logically categorise phone features and functions
Overall, navigating around the N181 wasn’t any hassle at all - but with one exception. When you adjust a particular setting in the phone, there is a chance that after you confirm the chance, it will immediately return you back out to the standby screen without any warning. This only happened on some function settings - and sometimes it gets a bit annoying when you’re trying to do a few at the same time, and having to go back and forth.
Lastly, a blue backlight complements the high-resolution black and white display that provides for improved display clarity and a new sense of style amongst CDMA handsets (the boring green backlight is really out of date now!)
Making and receiving calls
If you’re sceptical about the loudness of the N181’s polyphonic ringer, let me assure you readers out there that this phone has one of the loudest and sharpest when compared to other models. Samsung seems to have realised that people weren’t going to buy their phones if they can’t actually hear them ring - poly tones or not. Newer models, such as the S100 and T208, also improved on their ringer volume levels.
Something interesting that I noticed when using the handset and ear microphone to conduct phone conversations was the actual call quality. In most instances, I didn’t require the use of the ear microphone - where I noticed some noise in the background that I have since become accustomed to. Once I used the headset accessory, the background noise seemed to be eliminated - on top of slightly improved audio.
CDMA phones at this point in time don’t really have much to offer in terms of messaging capabilities (unlike GSM models). The N181 comes with basic SMS capabilities of up to 120 characters, with the ability to compose messages quickly with T9 and group-send the message to up to 10 numbers.
The N181 is as well built as any other mobile handset by Samsung - consisting of a tactile keypad, an exceptionally rigid construction, and the phone feeling very solid in the hand.
On a single charge, the N181 should be able to sustain a maximum standby time of up to 6 days - while on average use, expect up to 2 hours talk time and 2-3 days standby. You may also like to keep in mind that the displayed battery meter isn’t really 100% accurate - given that the meter only changed from being “full” to having two bars when it was really at around 40% capacity.