Review of the UTStarcom 860

The UTStarcom 860 is a low-end phone offered by Telus PCS. Despite lack of familiarity with the manufacturer, I found the 860 to be one of the better-performing models offered by Telus.

Last Updated: 04-May-2006

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: My tests at Square One revealed that the 860 is a very competent performer. It handily out-performed my old Motorola ST-7868W, which is common for all CDMA phones with excellent RF sensitivity. Unfortunately I didnít have any of the other CDMA phones that have shown to have top-notch RF to compare against, but my guess is that based upon how much it beat out my Startac, it would most certain rate as one of the better CDMA phones out there.

Over-the-road Performance:
It also backs up the great RF sensitivity with excellent over-the-road performance. Oddly it seems to do a far better job of taming the almost-constant frame errors on Telus PCS better than any other phone based on the Qualcomm chipset. Only Nokia CDMA phones seem to do better at taming frame errors, but they sound scratchy.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: The phone sounded pretty good on the native earpiece, but it leaned just a bit too much toward the tinny side for my liking. It also had a rather harsh nature to it, but overall it was one of the nicer-sounding Telus PCS phones Iíd tested of late. When I plugged in my trusty Samsung earbud however, the results were nothing short of terrific. The tonal balance through the earbud was about as good as Iíve ever heard on a CDMA model.

Sound Reproduction: The overall quality of the sound was good, but nothing special. Like most Qualcomm chipset phones it sounded way better than the current crop of Nokia CDMA phones, but Iíve tested a number of other models that have sounded cleaner than this one. Just the same, donít take this as a huge criticism, because the 860 does sound fairly decent.

Outgoing sound quality is above average for a CDMA phone, but it still punishes your callers with mediocre sound whenever there is background noise present. It just doesnít do it quite as badly as other CDMA models.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: For a phone that uses musical ringtones, this one is about the loudest Iíve ever heard. The sounder (which is right next to the camera lens) pumps out a surprising number of decibels, so long as you donít obstruct the opening. That same sounder probably would have made a kick-ass speakerphone, but for whatever reason the 860 does not include this feature.

Keypad Design: I wasnít all that happy with the keypad, which was both too cramped and too indistinct to use well without looking at what youíd typed. In fact, the main number keys werenít ever separate keys at all, but rather just big bumps on an amorphous piece of plastic. The feel of the keys was cheap; tactile feedback was lackluster; and key spacing was too tight. Given how well the phone performs otherwise, this is a glaring piece of poor engineering on an otherwise well-conceived model.

Display: The color display on the 860 is definitely of good quality, though like many current phones I felt that the programmers made too little use of the screen real estate. Color clarity and brightness were great for day-to-day stuff, like menus and messaging, but the phone didnít display pictures particularly well, but this is hardly a multimedia phone.


Why is it that I continually find that the better-performing CDMA phones are usually the inexpensive entry models like the UTStarcom 860? Youíd think that as price went up, the quality would go up with it, but that never seems to be the case. For those of you not interested in spending a boatload of cash on a phone however, this is great news. The 860 is one of those entry-level phones youíre going to love BECAUSE it does what it does so well.

The only thing I canít comment on based on a short test is the durability of the phone. The overall construction quality seemed solid, but that doesnít necessarily mean it can back it up with real sturdiness. You canít really make any judgments based on appearance, because Iíve seen phones that look rugged but break easily, and phones that look fragile and hold up to immense punishment.