Sprint’s latest Sanyo handset, the Katana LX, offers a unique design and bonus features such as GPS functionality, but Sanyo skimped on other areas that similarly priced $49.99 phones offer, such as 3G data speeds, a sideloading microSD slot, and support for Sprint’s over-the-air music store and video playback.
The thin Sanyo Katana LX has a beautiful mirrored surface, and it’s available in black/silver, blue, and pink. When the phone is off or idle, the outer display is invisible, but once a call or message comes through, a 1-inch white OLED shows such information as incoming calls, signal strength, the time, and text message notifications.
Despite its blocky form, the Katana LX’s smooth edges make it comfortable to hold and use. It measures 3.7 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches and weighs 3.4 ounces, on a par with other clamshells on the market. The left side of the unit features volume controls, a charging port, and a camera quick-launch button. The right side has a 2.5mm headphone jack, but headphones aren’t included.
The interior offers a 2-inch display with a low resolution of 160 x 128 pixels, which was bright enough for our tastes. Just below the display are four silver buttons set in a semi-circle (two soft keys, camera, and Back) and a d-pad. The keypad is large and offered good feedback, although it is perhaps the ugliest feature on the device. The keys, which have a dim, green backlight, look like they were taken off a house phone from the 1990s.
The Katana LX’ UI is basic, but it offers quick and easy access to most of the phone’s features. Inside the main menu are icons for Contacts, History, Messaging, Missed Alerts, My Content, Pictures, Settings, Tools, and Web. Our favorite feature is the customizable Favorites menu, which you can populate with a list of your most-used applications, Facebook, a favorite Web site, or the GPS application. You can access the favorites menu quickly by clicking the left soft-key inside the main menu. Perhaps the best feature of the Katana LX is its compatibility with Java applications, which you can download from Sprint, or from the Web. Given the vast number of available applications, this is a major plus for what is otherwise a fairly basic phone.
We downloaded the Sprint Navigation software, a 782KB file, in less than 1 minute. The GPS receiver took about 5 minutes to lock onto a signal; by comparison, the Samsung U550 took less than a minute. Given the phone’s low-res display, the GPS is quite useless on this handset. It offers only driving directions, so it’s not good for walking around town. It also wasn’t great at grabbing a GPS signal, so it’s unreliable while driving. However, it does offer directions to nearby points of interest, such as gas stations, hospitals, and restaurants.
The Katana LX has mediocre Web browsing capabilities. It runs on Sprint’s 2.5G network and offers a WAP 2.0 browser, which limited the way we could view Web pages. CNN.com loaded in 18 seconds; NYTimes.com loaded in 12 seconds. However, the sites were formatted awkwardly, offered small pictures, and primarily displayed only lists of links to stories. The browser is decent for grabbing quick information on the go, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend this phone to anyone who requires a good mobile Web browsing experience in their handset.
E-mail and Messaging
AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger clients were available under the IM and E-mail menu. Each costs $2.99 per month to use. We downloaded the 195KB AIM application in 12 seconds. However, the client shows only your AIM mobile buddies and not the whole buddy list. So plan on downloading another mobile messaging app to view all your friends.
The Sprint Mobile E-mail application says you can add accounts for AOL, AIM Mail, Gmail, MSN Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, but the phone actually limits you to just Sprint Mail, AOL, AIM Mail, MSN Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail. The interface in our AIM Mail account was crude and ugly. Also, there is no option to have the phone notify you when new e-mails arrive—such as on AT&T’s Sony Ericsson Z750a—so you’ll need to manually check it.
The LX does have a camera, but it’s only VGA resolution (640 x 480), which limits most users to taking pictures strictly for MMS purposes. You can also choose to send the pictures to a FujiFilm retailer such as Sam’s Club or Longs Drugs for pickup in store, but we doubt you’d ever want prints from this camera. The Katana LX has no camcorder feature.
Ho-Hum Call Quality
While we could hear our caller on a landline just fine, they reported pops and said they could hear wind blowing into the phone. We had some noise issues and one dropped call. But the Katana LX did live up to Sanyo’s claims of about 4.8 hours of talking and browsing the Web.
While the Sanyo Katana LX may look attractive, it doesn’t perform well. We were put off by our Web browsing experience, the mediocre GPS, and the overall lack of support for music and video playback. Other phones, such as the 3G Samsung M520, offer Sprint’s Music Store, Navigation, video playback, and Sprint TV for the same $49.99, and we recommend that handset instead.