Samsung's MM-A700 multimedia phone.
Samsung USA
Samsung's MM-A700 multimedia phone.
By Columnist
updated 10/22/2004 6:27:42 PM ET 2004-10-22T22:27:42

First there was the cell phone. Then came the smartphone and the cameraphone. Brace yourself: Here comes the TV-phone.

Skeptical about streaming video as the next big thing? Dispel all notions that you can’t watch TV on such a small screen. Everyone who has seen this demonstrated in person is amazed at the quality –- as well as the experience.

The first phone to do this is Samsung’s MM-A700, which works on Sprint's wireless network. The technology that turns the phone into a TV is called MobiTV, from a company named Idetic.

A sample screen from a NBC Mobile news story.  Large words are easy to read.

MobiTV provides live streaming television content for mobile phones and has been available to Sprint customers since November 2003.  For a monthly fee ($9.95 per month in addition to all your other cell phone charges) you can watch TV stories, news and sports clips and even get weather forecasts right on your cell phone screen.

Sprint’s basic MobiTV service allows you to sample content from a number of providers including NBC News.  NBC Mobile is constantly updating newscasts specially tailored for MobiTV’s small screen as well providing longer interviews and stories from NBC News shows and MSNBC.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

How does it work?
The answer is really well. No, make that amazingly well. The phone also works very well as a cell phone. That’s always a good thing. The camera takes nice pictures and videos plus, MobiTV lives up to its claims.

I’ve been able to watch news and sports updates everywhere I can find a Sprint signal.  Video streaming quality currently hovers around 12 frames per second.  Think of that as being the same as watching video via a 56K modem.  The service hopes to be at 16 frames per second very soon.

The video quality is very, very watchable and quite enjoyable. Everyone who has seen MobiTV’s streaming video come in live on the A700 is amazed at the quality. As for the audio, the Samsung phone’s speaker is good – but MobiTV is a much better experience when listening with an earphone.

I think the service is worth $9.95 a month, although I’m always looking for lower prices.  Cell phone fees, especially the charges for data services are already way too high. Some well-known TV providers are also asking for extra monthly fees for their video streams on top of the basic service charge. I’m hoping they reconsider and follow NBC Mobile’s lead to provide lots of content as part of the basic service.

Samsung’s MM-A700 is 3.5 by 1.97 by 1.0 inches and weighs 4.2 ounces.  The main display is a 262K color TFT measuring 176 by 220 pixels. Because it's designed to go with the Sprint wireless service, the phone is a CDMA dual band/tri-mode device (1900/800 MHz Digital PCS/Cellular, 800 MHz Analog).

Battery life with the standard rechargeable can last up to 4 hours of talk and 9 days of standby in the digital mode and up to 1.5 hours of talk and 17 hours of standby in the analog mode.  When you use the phone to take photos, videos and watch TV you should think about recharging every night just to be safe.

One word of caution, the A700 and MobiTV work only as well as the Sprint service in your area.  I have been pretty lucky.  Everything worked 90 percent of the time.  But a number of friends and colleagues have been complaining recently that they’ve been having problems with finding any Sprint signal here in New York City. You might not have those problems with Sprint or you might have similar problems with other carriers. My advice is with any cell phone: Test first, buy later.

For the record, MobiTV is also available on AT&T Wireless and will soon be available on a third carrier.  In addition, other phone manufacturers – Nokia, Sanyo, LG and Motorola - will be showing off their MobiTV-ready phones at next week’s CTIA convention in San Francisco.  I'll let you know what I find there.

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