As a longtime purveyor of basic cell phone with simple features, Alltel’s reputation wasn’t built on offering fancy, feature-laden handsets. But in the last year, the carrier has come a long way toward challenging its larger rivals. A few weeks ago it added the LG Glimmer to its lineup, and last month it picked up the LG Scoop messaging phone. And over the music side, the carrier introduced the quality Motorola Rokr Z6m and Motorola Razr2 V9m in the last half of 2007. So as you can imagine, all those hot phone happenings have kept us on the edge of our seats to see just what Alltel offers next. The Samsung Muse SCH-U706 perked our interest when we first heard about it, but now that we have it in our hands we have to admit it’s not quite as exciting as had hoped. It certainly offers a decent feature set and reliable performance, but its design is something we’ve seen many times before. The Muse is $269 if you pay full price, but you can get it for as cheap as $29 with service.
The Muse’s design is so ordinary that it almost put us to sleep. It’s not unattractive by any measure, but its thin flip design is taken straight from a long line of Samsung predecessors. Its closest relatives are the Samsung Gleam SCH-U700 and the Samsung SCH-U540. Like the Gleam, the Muse is slender with a reflective skin, and like the SCH-U540, its front face features a camera lens, an external display, dedicated music controls, and stereo speakers. Even if it’s not original, it’s a workable arrangement, and we like the Muse’s metallic blue hue. Just be careful, as the Muse attracts fingerprints by the ton.
The Muse’s external display supports 65,000 colors (96×96 pixels). Though it’s no bigger than a postage stamp, it shows all the necessary information including the date, time, signal strength, and battery life. It also functions as a viewfinder for self portraits, and it supports photo caller ID. Below the display are the music controls. As on the SCH-U540 and the Gleam, the controls are touch sensitive and are usable only when the player is active. Though they don’t offer tactile feedback, we like being able to scroll through the player menu and control our songs with the phone closed.
Completing the exterior of the Muse are a volume rocker and a camera shutter on the left spine. The rocker is easy to find when you’re on a call, but the camera shortcut could be a tad bigger. On the right spine are a headset jack and the charger port. We give points to Samsung for keeping the ports separate. There’s also a small shortcut control for the music player. The microSD card slot is hidden behind the battery cover, unfortunately. And even worse, you also must remove the battery to access it. Inside the SCH-U706 is a 262,144-color (320×140 pixels) display. At 2.1 inches, it takes full advantage of the Muse’s real estate. Colors were bright and everything from text to graphics shows up well. Also, the graphical menus are simple and easy to use. You can change the backlighting time, the clock style, and the dialing font size and style.
The Muse’s navigation array is fairly spacious, but as on many thin phones, it’s not very tactile. Only the square navigation toggle has a raised ridged surrounding it; all of the other keys are completely flush with no clear separation between the individual buttons. It’s fine after you get used to it but dialing by feel isn’t easy. Besides the toggle, you’ll find two soft keys, a speakerphone button, Talk and End/power controls, a music player shortcut, and a back key. There’s also an OK button in the middle of the toggle, and you can set the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions.
The keypad buttons are flush and a bit slippery. Thin ridges separate the individual rows, but the numbers are big and the backlighting is bright. We didn’t have any misdials, but fast texters may have a few problems when they start out.
The Muse has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can organize callers into groups and you can pair them with a photo and one of 10 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. The SCH-U706 also supports Alltel’s My Circle service, which gives you unlimited calling minutes to any 10 numbers on any network, even landlines.
Other basics include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a world clock, a currency and unit converter, a memo pad, a calculator, a stopwatch, and a tip calculator. The Muse also offers a few extra features for more demanding users. Inside you’ll find speaker-independent voice dialing and commands, stereo Bluetooth, and a voice recorder.